Lyman and Lillian Curtis (nee Dorset). Engagement or wedding photo.
Lyman Walter Curtis and Lillian Luzelta Dorset were married Aug. 16, 1921, in Bakersfield. Lyman was a construction
worker who helped build the roads at the St. Francis Dam site in the 1920s. In 1928, Lyman and Lillian lived with their
three children — daughters Marjorie and Mazie and their 3-year-old younger brother, Danny — in the encampment
immediately below the dam. When the dam ruptured just before midnight on March 12, 1928, Lyman and the girls were among the
first casualties. Lillian and Danny survived.
Seven miles up San Francisquito Canyon Road from today's Copper Hill Drive, construction on the 700-foot-long, 205-foot-high St. Francis Dam started in August 1924. With a 12.5 billion-gallon capacity, the reservoir began to fill with water on March 1, 1926. It was completed two months later.
At 11:57:30 p.m. on March 12, 1928, the dam failed, sending a 180-foot-high wall of water crashing down San Francisquito Canyon. An estimated 431 people lay dead by the time the floodwaters reached the Pacific Ocean south of Ventura 5½ hours later.
It was the second-worst disaster in California history, after the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, in terms of lives lost — and America's worst civil engineering failure of the 20th Century.