Saturday, May 31, 2014

Johnstown Flood 125 Years -- May 31, 2014

This article from the 02-June-1889 Pittsburgh Dispatch describes the horrors of the Johnstown Flood, which struck 125 years ago, on 31-May-1889.   

Johnstown. the Pretty Mountain City, Swept From the Surface of the Earth.
The first Terrible News Far More Than Verified by the Latest Reports.
Hundreds of Bodies Recovered, and the Seceding Waters Disclose Many More.

The Whole Horror an Awful Reality -- Not a Hideous Dream -- An Awful Stench From the Valley of the Conemaugh -- Aid for the Sufferers as Far as Received -- Many Prominent and Wealthy Men Among the Drowned -- John Fulton, the Father of the ttempt at Prohibition, One of the victims -- Fire Breaks Out and Adds a Climax to the Work of the Flood -- A Hotel Filled With Guests, of Whom but Seven Were Saved -- The Police Force Increased to Keep Off Thieves, Who Are Growing Bolder --
Some of the Scenes Beyond the Power of Imagination.
[From Our Staff Correspondents.]

HOOVERSVILLE, PA., June 1. -- A stench arises throughout the whole valley of the Conemaugh.  It is more awful, more fetid, as the hours go by.  "With each receding ripple of the sullen river, a score of additional corpses are revealed, with ghastly faces upturned to an unfriendly sky of clouds.

Death stares you in the eyes at every turn. You cannot escape it, nor can you stay away from the dark, haunting waters. Some strange fascination attracts you back, and there you see what was not there before, another fresh body.

Not a Hideous Dream.

It is no hideous dream. Almighty God, in the majesty of His swiftness, thrust His arm across the mountain tops and transformed the rugged scenery of the Chestnut Ridges, "Packsaddle" and the sylvan glories of Laurel Hill into a monstrous valley of the shadow of death. Push your way cautiously up the tortuous gorge and you suddenly come to a halt in a living hell.  This hell is Johnstown.

I reached Johnstown at 12:20 this afternoon, by horse, across the mountain from New Florence, a distance of 12 miles. Just at the borders of the ruined city I met your other staff correspondent, who drove overland from Somerset.

The Pioneer of the Newsgatherers.

Thus The Dispatch was the first newspaper in the United States to penetrate this hole in the Allegheny Mountains which was more completely shut off from the world than Charleston was when an earthquake shook her silent.

The nation wants the news. Well, here it is. Fifteen thousand people within a radius of two miles of the public square in Johnstown are absolutely suffering for food and clothing. Many are starving. Couriers have been sent in every direction on horseback to beg farmers to send in stores of provisions.  The Governor of the State has been telegraphed to for aid.

Butchering Blooded Stock Free.

A. J. Moxham, President of the Johnston Company, has generously telegraphed a New York firm for a train load of provisions. The Cambria Iron Company has sent a corps of butchers to its farms, two miles back in the country, to slaughter all its blooded cattle for the supply of everyone free. A formal appeal was sent out to every city of the Union, asking for food and (page is damaged - JT) quickly.

The number of cussing people can only be conjectured. It is variously estimated by some as "away up in. the hundreds and by others

From 5,000 to 10,000.

It begins to look as though the first estimate of 1,500 will not fall far short of the mark. The most discouraging feature is that no Johnstown people are found who can bring themselves to hope that the total casualties will be under 500. Nobody puts it less than that. The majority of the people say from 3,000 to 10,000, but in this, as in all other great catastrophes, intense excitement is liable to interfere with accuracy.

As to the actual number of bodies being taken from the water and debris. The Dispatch telegrams from points below Johnstown will supply figures, ranging all the way from the reported finding of over 100 bodies at Ninevah down to the sad discovery of one little girl's remains at Bolivar.

Fire Adds Another Awful Horror.
We also found large fires raging in Johnstown, and the unaccessibility of the interior of the city prevented thorough investigation of a report that many persons have been burned to death. A detailed account of these fires follow below.
It is true, as rumored, that nothing is left of Johnstown proper. Large churches, big hotels, substantial brick business houses, and even the beautiful public library building have been torn more completely asunder than though an earthquake had occurred. In the old city of Johnstown only one-third of the buildings are left standing. Several suburban boroughs, really composing parts of Johnstown,
are utterly annihilated.
Many Wealthy. Well-Known Men Gone.

Perhaps the day has revealed no more startling fact than that several of the wealthiest and most eminent citizens of Johnstown were drowned, with their entire families. The first is James McMillen, one of the Vice Presidents of the great Cambria Iron Works. He was about 60 years of age, and has long been a resident of the city.  His residence was the handsomest and most richly furnished in Johnstown. It was utterly demolished. He was a widower and had living with him a widowed daughter and her children. All went down the flood with the house, and have not been heard of
since. His fortune was estimated at over a million.
Prohibition's Father a Victim.

John Fulton, general manager of the Cambria Iron Works, was the second of this group. He is said to be positively drowned, with wife and children. No more popular man lived in Cambria county than he. He had become widely known all over the State as president of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Amendment Association, and had been one of the people instrumental in bringing the present prohibition question to a popular vote.
Howard J. Roberts, Cashier of the First National Bank, and John Dibert, a banker, were also drowned. All of the family of Mr. Roberts were saved except his son, who perished with him.
Hon. Cyrus Elder, one of the greatest authorities on tariff in the United States, and solicitor for the Cambria Iron Company, had just returned from Chicago. He tried to reach his home in a skiff, but failed, and went to the home of his brother, Virgil, just before the deluge came down from South Fork. The house fell, but the family managed to escape to the hills.  Today Mr. Elder learned that his daughter Genevieve and his little son had been saved, but his wife and daughter Minnie were lost.
The Saddest Scenes Ever Witnessed.

Now to go from the rich to the poorer victims and sufferers. Yon find them everywhere.  The road I traveled over the mountains this morning is at best only a trail through dense forests. I met no less than a score of crazed women and broken-hearted men, trudging across that mountain in the hope of reaching Florence or Bolivar, to find their missing ones, dead or alive. Their questions about bodies and rescued people were agonizing, but they prepared me for worse to come.
Sunshine never once dispersed the clouds in the mountain country, to-day. It was high noon when, descending the eastern slope, Morrelville was seen in the distance. That is one of the suburban wards of Johnstown.  It was
Not a Pretty View.

Ordinarily it would have been an arena of hills, wavy in their alternating lines of pine, fir and hemlock boughs, that wreathed the white, trim houses of Morrelville around about, but the clouds dropped their mist of melancholy upon the landscape.
There was something about it all that even a mile away impressed one with a sense of indescribable sadness. Drawing nearer I hailed a stalwart fellow who was listlessly carrying a bundle of clothes under his arm.  He kindly gave me the desired information and then I asked him if he knew of any casualties. The same sense of sadness that the clouds overhead inspired hovered about the man's answer:
Some of the Sorrowful Stories.

"I might tell you of my own," be replied.  "My name is Gabriel Fleck. My boy, aged 12 years, my wife's mother, and my three sisters-in-law were all drowned before my eyes. But there is still a merciful God in heaven, for He has spared me my wife."
1 went a little farther. John D. Jones, a former policeman, spurred a horse in the opposite direction. Something inspired me to speak to him, too. My inquiry brought back this piteous reply: "I and a little son are all who are alive of a family of 14. I saw most of them go down."
It was still a quarter of a mile to Morrelville. But here was the next testimony, heard from a garden gate: "A friend of mine, W. S, Weaver, a prominent confectioner, was saved by us, but 20 of his nearest relatives are all lost."
Arrived at last on the Scene.

In Morrelville at last. "You want news, do you?" remarked a pale-faced young woman. "Go there to Young's livery stable and look upstairs." I did so.  There, in a long barn of a hall, were grouped some 80 people men, women and children. They were wounded from battles with the debris, or sick from exposure.  Some were lying down, others sat up, while a very few limped about. A single country
surgeon labored among them. It was an improvised hospital to make a city doctor weep.
 Over in Johnstown proper it was found that another hospital had been formed in the Parks Opera House. Thirty-three homeless persons were housed there. One of these, Edward Fisher, a young man,
tried to commit suicide three times during the previous night, because of grief over the drowning of his parents and sisters.

A Hotelfull, of People Drowned.

When the Hurlburt House fell in, it is said that 53 guests wire within its walls.  All were drowned except seven. The proprietor, Frank Bentford, was saved.

Mr. John Lowman, one of the prominent doctors here, was drowned. He was one of the earliest surgeons to advocate the system of immediate amputation, and his loss is a blow to science, he having been practicing both surgery and medicine in this county for over 50 years.

Chief Harris, of the police department, saved himself and smallest child by climbing out on the roof of a neighbor's house.  His wife and eight children in attempting to follow were all lost.

To-night twelve special policemen are hiring all the assistants they can find to stop

Wholesale Robberies that are Going On.

Thieves have grown so bold that they are now carrying chisels with them to break open safes and chests. The Cambria and Johnstown Companies have offered to pay for all police protection for three days.  It is simply impossible to attempt to count up the number of the dead. People have gotten accustomed to estimating the missing by the amount of population in the districts where loss of life was heaviest.  This is the way the number reaches a thousand or more. Still, many of the missing are known to have been rescued alive below.

Fighting the Flames and Flood.

Fire was added to the terror of the flood last night, and many, perhaps hundreds, of persons, swept down from points above, perished within sight of the shore at the big stone bridge of the Pennsylvania Railroad.  Their cries and groans could be heard from the shore all last night by crowds who were attempting to aid them. From East Conemaugh hundreds of houses were washed away and lodged against the bridge.  Perhaps fire in a stove in one of the houses started the flames.

As the houses dashed against the immense stone structure and were crushed like eggshells, the flames spread, and Johnstown last night was illuminated by them so that a person a mile away could see to read a newspaper. The victims of the flood were wedged in among shattered boards and timbers, and so became

Victims of the Flames.

Persons who were on the Pennsylvania Railroad side of the Conemaugh this afternoon say the cries of the ill-fated people could be heard issuing from the ruins as the flames spread toward them. The bridge itself was intact, hut the approaches to it on the east side were washed away by the mighty wash of water, and a boiling, roaring torrent seethed between, either end of it and the shore.
This afternoon men succeeded in reaching the ruins, but were powerless to aid. No appliances were at hand to do proper work, and the people who are wedged in among the ruins of their houses against the immense stone bridge, facing death by flood, by fire, by hunger and by exposure, are in all human probability beyond hope. How many of them are in this awful plight may never be fully known. [The only operator here completely played out.] (Telegraph operator - JT)

Stofiel and Simpson.

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