Folsom Museum News That Was

More information about Sally Rooke and the 1908 Flood is on display at the Folsom Museum

 

Sally Rooke Memorial

The Sally Rooke Memorial Ceremony

Mountain States Monitor, June 26, 1916 by Betty Devine

After eighteen years, May 15, 1926, Sally Rooke was commemorated for her heroic act of staying at her telephone switchboard, warning and pleading with others to take heed and save themselves, at the unveiling of a monument erected in her honor at Folsom, New Mexico.

Sally Rooke came to Folsom from Preston, a small town in Jackson County, Iowa, three years before her tragic death. She came to visit a friend (Virginia Morgan), but became so enamored of the country and its climate that she decided to remain permanently. Sally took up a homestead, a difficult task for a person sixty-five years of age with curvature of the spine. Soon the Des Moines Telephone Company offered her the position of the telephone operator at the little Folsom exchange.

A story of Sally Rooke's heroic death and her unmarked grave was printed in The Monitor in July, 1925, suggesting that her co-workers throughout the Mountain States Company might like to contribute a dime a piece to erect a granite monument. (This is interesting because Sally did not work for the Mountain States Company).

One exchange after another contributed. Operators occupying similar positions in small towns asked to be permitted to do their bit. From New York came offerings. Everyone was eager to have a part in purchasing the huge round mound of granite bearing a bronze plaque.

Friends and neighbors in the little town of Folsom set about their tasks a bit earlier on the morning of Saturday, May 15, 1926, so that they might be ready to join in the ceremonies that afternoon. A committee composed of her old friends, Dr. I. J. Morgan, and ex-mayor Mrs. Jennie Milliken, met the morning train and welcomed a group of her fellow workers from the Mountain States Telephone Company. They had come down from Denver for the unveiling of the monument, bearing a tribute from the 4,334 co-workers who had subscribed to it.

Small groups of townspeople and those who had driven in from the country gathered together in earnest conversation in front of the hotel. Others milled in and out, shaking hands and reminiscing, each anxious to tell his or her story of how Sally Rooke had saved them or some member of their family; and, of how many of the seventeen lost lives might have been saved had they but heeded her warning.

The first call of warning was telephoned in by Mrs. Ben Owen from eight miles above town. In the two hours before the flood reached its height in Folsom, Sally Rooke, alone at her switchboard, worked furiously: calling one after another of her subscribers, warning them of the flood. But Folsom had never had a serious flood and it was hard to realize the danger.

With no thought for herself but only to save others, Sally Rooke kept on calling. Young Alcutt McNaghten, telegraph operator at the depot, and his mother were having a three way conversation with Sally when a terrific crash of lightning was heard and Sally's voice ceased.

A few hours later, when the storm had subsided, Mrs. Mellon, mother of the boy at the depot, stepped falteringly out on her porch (for the house of stone had withstood the flood). Holding high a lantern, she began signaling toward the depot. A moment later the signal was returned! Mother and son knew that each was safe, but Sally Rooke was gone. Eighteen years later, a cortege of automobiles drove through Folsom and wound its way to the cemetery. Located high on a mesa overlooking the little city, a gathering of friends from far and near threaded their way through a carpet of wild flowers to the plot of ground which held all that was mortal of Sally Rooke.

Little Theresa McNaghten, granddaughter of Mrs. Mellon with whom Sally had been talking when so ruthlessly torn away, and Helen Harvey, daughter of Elbert Harvey and granddaughter of Dan Harvey, who had found her body on the John's Ranch seven months after the flood, walked up and took their places beside the monument in readiness to unveil it at the appointed time.

There were Mr. and Mrs. John Rankin from Johnson Mesa, those dear friends who had so often brought their lunch in to eat with her and have a little chat; J. E. Cox, whom the flood had robbed of nine close relatives; Guy Morrow, who had escaped only through good head work and quick action in climbing to the loft of the livery barn. Later, when he felt the barn shifting and slipping along with the waters, he clutched the rafters and kicked a hole in the tin roof, through which he crawled. Taking quick survey, he grasped an opportunity to jump from it to the roof of a building it had jammed against and in which he knew tons of coal and feed to be stored. The weight held this building and saved him from death in the flood waters.

Master of Ceremonies was William Guyer, brother of Mrs. H. C. Thompson. On that fateful night when the waters had rushed into the home of her father, George Guyer, Mrs. Thompson had courageously gathered her children about her on the bed and amid the fury of the storm had reached out in the darkness to the piano and had played and sung to calm their fears.

Mrs. Morgan, wife of Dr. Morgan, her brother, and some friends visiting at the home were saved by a trick of fate. They had no telephone and therefore were not within the reach of the voice of Sally Rooke. The brother, John Young, had but a short time nailed some large timbers to a post at the side of the house for a corral. As the flood shifted, the house struck this post which held it against the lashing of the waters.

A blanket of green cedar boughs, courtesy of Mrs. Jennie Milliken and other loving friends, was placed over the grave. Gay little yellow wild flowers marked the four cement corner blocks, and an American flag was draped over the monument. America was sung. William Guyer introduced Dr. I. J. Morgan, who in the unavoidable absence of Mayor Ben Owen, gave an address. As the Doctor concluded his talk, two little girls unveiled the monument and a group of other children marched by slowly placing apple blossoms on the grave. J. E. MacDonald, secretary and treasurer of the Mountain States Telephone Company, spoke.

The Reverend Hamilton of First M. E. Church of Folsom, closed the ceremony with a brief and appropriate benediction. "Our lives are not worth much, after all, if they are not used for the good of others."

 

IN HONORED MEMORY OF SARAH J. ROOKE

TELEPHONE OPERATOR

WHO PERISHED IN THE FLOOD WATERS OF

THE DRY CIMARRON AT FOLSOM, N. M.,

AUGUST 27, 1908,

WHILE AT HER SWITCHBOARD WARNING

OTHERS OF THEIR DANGER

_______________

WITH HEROIC DEVOTION SHE GLORIFIED HER

CALLING BY SACRIFICING HER OWN

LIFE THAT OTHERS MIGHT LIVE

"Greater Love Hath No Man Than This"

_______________

ERECTED BY HER FELLOW WORKERS