Hero of 1913 flood given proper burial stone in Troy

More than 110 years after Robert Kenney gave his life attempting to save others from the waters of the 1913 flood, a stone graces his previously unmarked grave at Troy’s Riverside Cemetery.

Kenney and fellow Troy area resident Raymond Harrison, who survived, were recognized for their efforts to save the others as recipients of the Carnegie Hero Medal in 1914.

The story of Kenney and Harrison was part of information collected during a Troy Historical Society project a decade ago in researching a book on Troy and the Great Flood of 1913 for the flood’s 100th anniversary, said Judy Deeter, historical society president.

Because that research focused on many flood stories, each individual story was not delved into too deeply, Deeter said. More details were learned this year as the Local History Library staff worked on plans for a cemetery walk at the city’s Riverside Cemetery. “It was realized that Robert Kenney … had been buried in Riverside Cemetery for 110 years without a tombstone. There was nothing at his gravesite,” Deeter said.

Archivist Patrick Kennedy and assistants Megan Bradshaw and Sandy Gurklies at the Local History Library researched digital newspaper records to learn more about Kenney.

“It seems that Kenney was forgotten because only a few people knew of him and his background,” Deeter said.

That changed when added information was found and an effort began to provide a proper marker.

Gurklies said two cemetery walks per year are typically coordinated with the local history staff wanting this spring to highlight people who were not well known.

“One of the stories kept coming up about Robert Kenney. We were brain storming about if we could raise money, how could we provide a stone for this long forgotten hero buried in an unmarked grave,” she said. Gurklies said she contacted Tami Baird at Baird Funeral Home in Troy to see if she could offer any ideas.

Baird, she said, “said she would take care of it,” and enlisted help from the cemetery, Edwin F. Nichol Monuments in Versailles and Dan Chapman of DLC Concrete. Trojan Florists provided a floral arrangement.

The marker was in place for the spring cemetery walk on May 2, which was a cold, windy rainy day. Because of the weather, the walk will again be offered June 13 at 6 p.m. For more information, call 937-335-4082

Deeter provided the following description of the heroism of Kenney and Harrison as the Great Flood came to Troy and the Great Miami River on Easter Sunday, March 23, 1913:

“On Monday, March 24th, four African-American people were clinging to a tree at Nineveh as flood waters rose: pool hall owner Reuben Jones, women Olive Bolden and Lydia White and a 13 year old girl named Josephine Stewart. Nineveh was a mostly African-American community at the southeast corner of North Market Street and Staunton Road. On Tuesday, the first attempt to rescue those in the tree was made by an employee of the Hayner Distillery named Harrison Dorsey. His boat was slammed into a railroad bridge. He was saved by men standing on the bridge. Later that day, Raymond Harrison of Casstown and employee of the Springfield, Troy and Piqua Interurban Railway and an African-American man named Robert Kenney made an attempt to rescue the people in the tree. Kenney is referred to in old local records as a junk man and a tramp. Harrison and Kenney made it to the tree and tied a rope from the boat to the tree. As the rescue was being made, the boat capsized. All those who had been clinging to the tree and Robert Kenney drowned. Raymond Harrison cling to the tree and was rescued the next day. Kenney’s body was found at Staunton about three weeks later, according to an article in the Springfield News-Sun newspaper (April 21, 1913 edition). Kenney was buried in an unmarked grave in Riverside Cemetery.”

Contact this contributing writer at nancykburr@aol.com

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