David McCullough is known to millions as the author of the critically acclaimed, best-selling books The Great Bridge, The Path Between the Seas, and Mornings on Horseback, and as host of the popular PBS television series "Smithsonian World?' The Johnstown Flood, David McCullough's first... read more
The area around Johnstown, Pennsylvania, was mountainous and beautiful. On top of one of the Allegheny mountains, a large lake, Lake Conemeau, had been allowed and encouraged to form with the installation of an enormous earthen dam and was fed by several streams. In 1877, the lake, the dam... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
The area around Johnstown, Pennsylvania, was mountainous and beautiful. On top of one of the Allegheny mountains, a large lake, Lake Conemeau, had been allowed and encouraged to form with the installation of an enormous earthen dam and was fed by several streams. In 1877, the lake, the dam and about 160 acres of land was bought and later, a club for the wealthy took advantage of the marvelous boating and fishing possibilities but didn't spend much on maintaining the dam. Spring rains and snow melts often resulted in the towns below having flooding situations and residents groused and feared, but since everything went back to normal, they stopped complaining until the next time. Several famous men, including Andrew Carnegie, were part of this area's rise. Also, the Philadelphia Railroad, and other rail companies, had their lines though the area.
Among the important facts noted as the story began:
1) When the club was opened, its charter was approved and signed in Allegheny County by a Judge who ignored the provision that the charter be registered in the county where the club's chief operations were carried on. That, actually, was Cambria County!
2) The dam had had some previous breaks and only minimal repairs, but wasn't very deep at that time.
3) Many important men's names were on the list of members
On the day before the flood, Memorial Day of 1889, planned events went off without a hitch. Rain began that afternoon, bothering some but it wasn't unusual in Spring. When the steady, pouring rain made the Little Conemeau River rise, Johnstown residents again had to prepare for flooding - and the water in the town streets kept rising until eventrain service was interrupted. As the water rose and important people became concerned, a few blunders were made. People who should have paid attention to warnings didn't; but several took those warning seriously and did what they could toward safety. A telegraph line break made it more difficult when, finally, three messages were attempted, to alert the town below that the dam had given way. Meanwhile, an enormous wave of water was gathering debris and making its way down the mountain, following the riverway but spreading wider. So many lives were in the path of that wave. The horrors that many went through were told later, in news accounts and writings. The water barreled down from the top of the mountain, through the gap, past and through towns, then completely over a town, on into Johnstown. It left massive destruction in its wake and thousands dead, many never identified. The recovery was not only awful, ut slow. Volunteers from all around lent their help and the railroad was able to be up and running to bring in needed provisions in just a few days. The railroad was beneficial; it made such a large difference in what could be done. Hundreds of reporters and photographers, and thousands of others (some with evil intent) descended on the area, making cleanup much more difficult. There was a terrible lack, for a while, of sufficient food and housing for all these people and it took its toll on everyone. Some reporters made up outrageous stories that nobody could deny, a ficticious "savior on horseback" was invented, and newspapers all over the country had a heady time for a week as all kinds of publications took advantage of the disaster. But the sympathy they raised resulted in many staggering donations from all over both this country and other countries. Many trainloads of food and goods and millions of dollars were donated. Then the dreaded disease Typhoid Fever arrived! But with care, most of the victims survived.
On the Sunday after the flood, a prayer service was held. Afterward, John Fulton noted that he'd warned that the dam was unsafe. This unleashed a furor.
I The Sky was red pg. 19
II Sailboats on the mountain pg. 39
III "There's a man came from te lake." pg. 79
IV Rush of the torrent pg. 101
V "Run for your lives!" pg. 145
VI A message from Mr. Pitcairn pg. 174
VII In the valley of death pg. 183
VIII "No pen can describe ..." pg. 205
IX "Our misery is the work of man." pg. 238
List of Victims pg. 269
Bibliography pg. 287
Index pg. 293
List of illustrations (about 33)
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