History of the Johnstown Flood

Written by Amber Moeller

A tragedy that you only thought possible for a screenwriter to come up with for a movie, happened in real life to the people that lived in a valley among the Conemaugh Mountains in Pennsylvania.

It was spring-time in the mountains, in the year 1889. Along the valley, there are several towns (from the south to the north: Sang Hollow, Sherdan, Cambria City, the bustling city of Johnstown, Woodvale, Conemaugh, Mineral Point, and South Forks). The Pennsylvania Railroad follows along the side of the mountains above the Conemaugh River and South Fork Creek. Upstream from all of these was the South Fork Dam.

A few years before the tragedy took place, the dam, which lay at the top of the valley, was bought by a new company and was allowed to become neglected. For a while, people were warned that the dam would break if it was not repaired and maintained properly. On the day that the warnings should have been heeded the most, they weren’t taken seriously enough. How may lives would have been saved if they had heeded the warnings? They were given plenty of time to move to higher ground…

“Friday, May 31, 1889. Record that awful date in characters of funeral hue. It was a dark and stormy day, and amid the darkness and the storm the angel of death spread his wings over the fated valley, unseen, unknown. Midday came. Disquieting rumors rush down the valley. There is a roar of an approaching storm – approaching doom! The water swiftly rises! A horseman thunders down the valley: “To the hills, for God’s sake! To the hills, for your lives!” They stare at him as at a madman, and their hesitating feet linger in the valley of the shadow of death, and the shadow swiftly darkens, and the everlasting hills veil their faces with rain and mist before the scene that greets them…”
~ from Chapter Three

Intrigued? You will have to read “The History of the Johnstown Flood” (by Willis Fletcher Johnson) to see how the tragedy unfolded and read vivid word pictures of what the before/during/after was like on that terrible day.

This book is not for the faint of heart. You will read testimonies of survivors and the accounts of those who lost their lives, of rescue successes and failures. Then finally, the aftermath of the devastation – husbands without their wives and children, children orphaned, others were spared their lives but were left homeless.

This book will touch your heart. You will come away feeling more grateful for each day that you live and more thankful for your loved ones.

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