A Day of Work and Worship

Governor Beaver has assumed the command. He arrived in Johnstown yesterday, the 8th, and will take personal charge of the work of clearing the town and river. For that purpose $1,000,000 from the State Treasury will be made available immediately. This action means that the State will clear and clean the town.

It was a day of prayer but not a day of rest in Johnstown. Faith and works went hand in hand. The flood-smitten people of the Conemaugh, though they met in the very path of the torrent that swept their homes and families into ruin, offered up their prayers to Almighty God and besought His divine mercy. But all through the ruin-choked city the sound of the pick and the shovel mingled with the voice of prayer, and the challenge of the sentinel rang out above the voice of supplication. There was no cessation in the great task the flood has left them with its legacy of woe. Four charges of dynamite last night completed the wreck of the Catholic Church of St. John, which had been left by the flood in a worthless but dangerous condition.

The thousands of laborers continued their work just as on any week day, except that there was no dynamite used on the gorge and that the Cambria Iron Works were closed. There was the usual reward of the gleaners in the harvest-field of death, fifty eight bodies having been recovered. The most of those have been in Stony Creek, up which they were carried by the back rush of the current after the bridge broke the first wave.

Roman Catholic services were held in the open air.

Father Smith’s Exhortation

A railroad train delayed by the flood
A railroad train delayed by the flood

When the mass was over and Father Troutwine, who conducted it, had retired, Father Smith stood before them. “We have had enough of death lately,” he said in a voice full of sympathy, “the calamity that has visited us is the greatest in the history of the United States. You must not be discouraged. Other places have been visited by disaster at times, yet we know that they have risen again. You must not look on the fearful past. The lives of the lost cannot be restored.”

Here he paused because they were weeping around him, and his own voice was broken, but continuing with an effort, he told them to reflect for consolation upon the manner in which their friends had gone to death. They had looked to God, he said, and wafted in prayers and acts of contrition, their souls had left their bodies and appeared at the throne in heaven. “Surely never such prayers fell save from the lips of saints, and the lost of the valley are saints to-day while you mourn for them. God, who measures the acts of men by their opportunities, had pardoned their sins. You who are left living must go to work with a will. Be men, be women. The eyes of the world are upon you, the eyes of all civilized nature. They listen, they wait to see what you are going to do.”

Father Smith closed by telling them that the coming fast days of this week need not be observed in the midst of such destitution as this, and they might eat without sinning any food that would give them life and strength. When the father had finished the congregation filed slowly out past the high pile of coffins, for St. Columba’s was a morgue in the days just passed.

The Protestant Services

Chaplain Maguire held service in the camp of the 14th to-day. His pulpit was a drygoods box with the lid missing. It had been emptied of its freight into the wide lap of suffering. Before him stood the blue-coated guardsmen in a deep half circle. There was a shed at his back and a group of flood survivors, some in old clothing of their own, some in the new garments of charity. They were for the most part members of the Methodist congregation of Johnstown to which he had preached for three years.

“I hunted a long time yesterday for the foundations of my little home,” he said, “but they were swept away, like the dear faces of the friends who used to gather around my table. But God doesn’t own this side alone; He owns the other side too, and all is well whether we are on this side or the other. Are your dear ones saved or lost? The only answer to that question is found in whether they trusted in God or not. Trust in the Lord and verily ye shall dwell in the land and be fed.”

It was not a sermon. Nobody had words or voice for preaching. Others spoke briefly and prayed. They sang, “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.”

A Song in the Waters

The shrill treble of the weeping women in the shed was almost lost in the strong bass of the soldiers. “Cora Moses, who used to sing in our church choir, sang that beautiful hymn as she drifted away to her death amid the wreck,” said the chaplain. “She died singing it. There was only the crash of buildings between the interruption of the song of earth and its continuation in heaven.”

Dr. Beale’s Address

Dr. Beale, whose own Presbyterian Church was one of the first morgues opened and who has lived among dead bodies ever since is the cheeriest man in Johnstown. He made a prayer and an address. It was all straight-from-the-shoulder kind of talk, garbed in homely phrase.

In the address he said: “I have been asked to say something about this disaster and its magnitude, but I haven’t the heart. Besides I haven’t the words. If I was the biggest truth teller in the world I could not tell the tale.”

Then the preacher went hammer and tongs at the practical teachings of the flood. “That night in Alma Hall when we thought we would all die I heard men call on God in prayer and pledge themselves to lead better lives if life was given them. Since then I heard those same men cursing and swearing in these streets. Brethren, there was no real prayer in any of those petitions put up by those of godless lives that night. They were merely crying out to a higher power for protection. They were like the death-bed fears of the infidel, for I have seen seventeen infidels die and everyone showed the white feather. Nay, those prayers were unsanctified by the spirit, but let us who are here now living, dedicate ourselves to the service of Almighty God. There were those who were to be dedicated that night. I know one who, when it came, sent his family up the staircase, and taking up his Bible from his parlor table, opened at the 46th Psalm, first verse, and, following them, read, and the waters followed him closely. And through the flood he read the word of God and there was peace in that house while terror was all around it.”

Mothering the Orphans

Dr. Beale announced that Miss Walk wanted twenty-five children for the Northern Home and then began shaking hands with his congregation and pressing on them the lessons of his sermon. “Ah, old friend,” he said, to a sandy moustached man in the grand army uniform, “You came safe out of the flood, now give that big heart of yours to Jesus.”

The Baptist congregation also held an open-air service. The unfortunate Episcopal congregation is quite disorganized by the loss of their church and rector. They held no service, yet in a hundred temporary houses of the homeless the beautiful old litany of the faith was read by the devout churchmen.

The Soldiers’ Sunday

Sunday brought to the soldiers of the 14th no rest from the guard and police work which makes the Johnstown tour of duty everything but holiday soldiering. Even those who were in camp fared no better than those who were mounted guards over banks, stores and supply trains, or driving unwilling Italians to work down at Cambria City. There was no shade nor a blade of grass in sight. The wreck of the city was all their scenery, and the sun beat down upon their tents till they were like ovens. They policed the camp thoroughly, sweeping the bare ground until it was as clean as a Dutch kitchen. The boys had heard that Chaplain Maguire was to preach and they didn’t leave a straw or a chip in his way.

A Young Guardsman’s Suicide

A crazed soldier commits suicide
A crazed soldier commits suicide

A sun-browned young soldier of C Company, 14th Regiment, sat on the river bank in front of the camp this afternoon and watched across the valley the fire-scarred tower of the Catholic Church, blown to complete ruin under the force of dynamite. After the front had sunk into a brick heap, he arose, looked down once at the sunny river and the groups of many soldiers doing there week’s washing at the foot of the bank, and then strode slowly to his tent. A moment later there seemed to be a lingering echo of the fall of the tower in C Company’s street. Captain Nesbitt, dozing in his quarters, heard the sound, and running in the direction of it found that Private William B. Young, aged 28, of Oakdale, had placed the muzzle of his rifle against his left temple and gone to swell by one the interminable list of the Conemaugh Valley’s dead.

Despondency, caused by a slight illness and doubtless intensified by a night’s guard duty among the gloomy ruins, is the only known cause of the soldier’s act. He had been somewhat blue for a day, but there seemed to be no special weight upon his mind. His brother-in-law, private Stimmler, of the same company, said that he was always despondent when ill, but had never threatened or attempted his life. He was a farmhand, and leaves a wife and two children.

The Dinner “Shad” Jones Cooked

The Sunday dinner was a great success. The bill of fare was vegetable soup, cold ham, beans, canned corn, pickled tripe and black coffee. It is worthy of note that the table in the officers’ quarters did not have a delicacy upon it which was not shared by the men. The commissary ran short and had to borrow from the workmen’s supplies. The dinner to-day was cooked by “Shad” Jones, a colored man known to every traveling man who has ever stopped at Johnstown for his ability to hold four eggs in his mouth and swallow a drink of water without cracking a shell. He lost his wife in the flood and the 14th has adopted him.

On this, the ninth day, the waters began to give up their dead. Stony Creek first showed their white faces and lifeless bodies floating on the surface, and men in skiffs went after them with their grappling rods. Several of them were taken ashore during the afternoon and carried to the Presbyterian Church morgue, which was the nearest. Then, too, the dead among the wreckage on shore came to light just the same as on other days. Their exhumation excites no notice here now. Dr. Beale, keeper of the records of morgues, counted the numbers on his finger tips and said there were more than fifty found to-day in Johnstown alone.

In one dead man’s pocket was $3,133.62. He was Christopher Kimble, an undertaker and finisher, who, when he saw the water coming, rushed down stairs to the safe to save his gold and there he was lost. Several bodies were taken from the human raft burned beyond all recognition.

The body of Miss Bessie Bryan, the young Philadelphian, was identified to-day as it lay in a coffin by a grave from which it had been exhumed in Grand View Cemetery. “Returning home from a wedding in Pittsburgh with her friend, Miss Paulsen, caught by the flood on the day express, found dead and buried twice,” will be the brief record of her wild sad fate.

Whiskey and Rioting

Rioting
Rioting

Lieutenant Wright, Company I, with a detail of ninety-eight men, was called to the banks of Stony Creek over the raft to-night, to protect the employees of the Philadelphia Gas Company. There they found a gang of rioters. The rioters this afternoon found a barrel of whiskey in the field of débris, and before the militia could destroy it they had managed to take a large quantity of it up on the mountain. To-night they came down to the camp intoxicated, attacked the cook, cleared the supper table and were managing things with a high hand when a messenger was despatched for the guard. Before Lieutenant Wright’s men reached there they had escaped. The Beaver Falls gang was surprised this afternoon by the militia, and gallons of whiskey, which they had hidden, were destroyed. A dozen saloons were swept into the creek at the bridge, and it is supposed that a hundred or more barrels are buried beneath the raft.

Among the most interesting relics of the flood is a small gold locket found in the ruins of the Hurlbut house yesterday. The locket contains a small coil of dark brown hair, and has engraved on the inside the following remarkable lines: “Lock of George Washington’s hair, cut in Philadelphia while on his way to Yorktown, 1781.” Mr. Benford, one of the proprietors of the house, states that the locket was the property of his sister, who was lost in the flood, and was presented to her by an old lady in Philadelphia, whose mother and herself cut the hair from the head of the “Father of His Country.”




MLA Source Citation:

Walker, James Herbert. The Johnstown Horror! or Valley of Death: being A Complete and Thrilling Account of the Awful Floods and Their Appalling Ruin. H. J. Smith & Co. 1889. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 16 April 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/pennsylvania/a-day-of-work-and-worship.htm - Last updated on Feb 10th, 2013


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