Back James Thurber, “The Day the Dam Broke”

James Thurber (1894–1961)
From James Thurber: Writings & Drawings

“Two thousand people were in full flight.” © 1933 James Thurber. Image reproduced by arrangement with Rosemary A. Thurber c/o The Barbara Hogenson Agency.

This week we’re celebrating the 125th anniversary of the birth of James Thurber, born December 8, 1894.

Thurber was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, a city that had an outsized role in the success of some of his most popular stories and sketches. In 1959, two years before he died, he wrote: “Such readers as I have collected through the years are all aware of where I was born and brought up and they know that half of my books could not have been written if it had not been for the city of my birth.”

In his biography of Thurber, Harrison Kinney notes that Thurber’s mockery of Columbus was too gentle and endearing to generate long-term resentment. “If Thurber was granted instant forgiveness for satirizing his hometown, and Wolfe, Faulkner, and Lewis were not, it was because Thurber’s truth was softened with a rich comedy too enjoyable to offend. He could always go home again—and to a red-carpet treatment, at that.” And most of his barbs were aimed at himself, his family, or things that happened decades earlier. “Jamie is a great hand to enlarge on those little things that used to happen when he was a kid,” his father said.

“The Day the Dam Broke” is a case in point. The event it describes actually happened when Thurber was a senior in high school, but the story departs from reality in its comic evocation of the panic-stricken antics of various individuals in his hometown. We present the story in full as our Story of the Week selection.

Read “The Day the Dam Broke” by James Thurber

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