September 28


Travel to our hometown allowed me to visit with my sister The Johnstown Flood Museum.  I was thankful to hear more of the story and tried to write about it.


In Western Pennsylvania the Little Conemaugh

becomes the Conemaugh River which is a main tributary

of the Allegheny which like the Monongahela receives

overflow rainfall from the Allegheny Mountains.


From Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, passengers in 1840

were transported down interlocking canals and soon a dam was built

to supply water for the canal for visitors going back and forth

between Johnstown and Pittsburgh to the west


to hold the water from the mountain streams

to feed the canal when the rivers were low in summer.

That Memorial Day in the last week of May, 1889

the dam, they said, was in perfect condition.


Industrial barons and their families traveled

from Pittsburgh to Johnstown to hotel and cottages

that had been built up above the reservoir at

what they named the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club.


Fishing, boating and swimming were enjoyed by those members

who demanded privacy from the people who lived below;

they raced their sailboats and walked along the water

and the dam, they said, was in perfect condition.


One man sent his engineer to inspect the lake and its stability

and he wrote a report to the founder of the Hunting and Fishing

Club who insisted: “You and your people are in no danger;

the dam is in perfect condition.”


On the evening of Memorial Day, 1889, the rain began to fall in

downpours—cloudbursts thundered all through the mountains.

Families began to visit friends on high ground while others

refusing to believe the warnings scoffed at such foolishness.


Offices in Johnstown closed; some children played in the streets

while others moved to attics and watched the water rise.

Visitors to town from Kansas laughed at the talk of flood which

they could not imagine; they had plans after all to attend a wedding.


As a small crowd of workmen watched from above

suddenly twenty million tons of water burst through at its

weakest place tossing the nearest houses in the air like toys

then dashed them to splinters against the bluff.


Down the valley for fourteen miles the water raged

taking with it the houses and cattle and people who lived below

until it reached the bottom of the valley and smashed into

Johnstown killing almost three thousand people in a few hours.


Some were saved to tell the story of the dam that

flooded that valley:  babies flying through windows–alive;

the man who floated past his home three times, calling

to his wife not to spend too much on his funeral


only to return a third time and be deposited like Jonah

back on land to tell the story of the day he survived that

great body of water that came crashing down the valley

breaking out of the dam that was in perfect condition.