Millions of Money for Johnstown

Never before in our country has there been such a magnificent exhibition of public sympathy and practical charity. As the occasion was the most urgent ever known, so the response has been the greatest. All classes have come to the rescue with a generosity, a thoughtfulness and heartfelt pity sufficient to convince the most stubborn misanthrope that religion is not dead and charity has not, like the fabled gods of Greece, forsaken the earth.

The following lines, cut from one of our popular journals, aptly represents the public feeling, and the warm sympathy that moved every heart:

I stood with a mournful throng On the brink of a gloomy grave, In a valley where grief had found relief On the breast of an angry wave! I heard a tearful song That told of an orphan’s love–‘Twas a song of woe from the valley below, To the Father of Heaven above!

‘Twas the wail of two lonely waifs–Two children who prayed for bread! ‘Twas a pitiful cry–a mournful sigh–From the home of the silent dead! ‘Twas a sad and soulful strain; It made the teardrops start; ‘Twas an echo of pain–a weird refrain–And a song that touched my heart.

Poor, fatherless, motherless waifs, Come, dry your tearful eyes! Not in vain, not in vain, have ye sung your refrain; It’s echo has pierced the skies! The angels are watching you there, For your “home” is now above, And your Father is He who forever shall be A Father of infinite love!

Blest be the noble throng, With generous impulse stirred, Who are bringing relief to the Valley of Grief, Where the orphan’s song was heard! Peace to them while they live, Peace when their souls depart, For a friend in need is a friend indeed And a friend that reaches my heart!
Among the first to start a fund for the sufferers was the New York “Herald”. The following is a specimen of the announcement made by that journal from day to day:

Great interest is being taken in the “Herald” fund for the Johnstown sufferers. In the city, employees of all sorts of business houses, and of railroad, steamboat and other companies, are striving to see who can collect the most money.

In the country, ministers, little girls, school children and busy workers are all collecting for the fund. It is being boomed by rich and poor, far and near.

With the checks for hundreds of dollars yesterday came this note, enclosing a dime:

“NEW YORK, June 8, 1889.

“MR. EDITOR:

“I am a little orphan girl. I saved ten cents, it is all I have, but I should like to send it to the sufferers of the flood.

“ANNIE ABEL.”

Another letter written in a lady’s hand read this way:

“BROOKYN.

“DEAR HERALD:–

“Enclosed please find $1.17 left by little Hame Buckler in his purse when he died last September. Also twenty-five cents from Albert Buckler and twenty-five cents from Paul D. Buckler. Hoping their mites will help to feed or clothe some little ones, I am, with sympathy for the sufferers,

“S.A.B.”

Felix Simonson, a twelve-year-old schoolboy, took it into his head on Friday to go among his friends and get help for the sufferers. Here is what he wrote on the top of his subscription paper:

“I am very sorry for the poor people who have lost everything by the flood, and I am trying to collect some money to send to them. Would you like to give something to help them?”

How Felix succeded is shown by a collection of $30.15 the first day.

A large amount of clothing for men, women and children is being sent to the “Herald” office, as well as liberal contributions of money.

The same story was, in effect, repeated from day to day. It only indicated what was going on throughout the country; in fact, throughout the world. London, Paris, and other European towns, were only a few hours behind our American cities in starting funds for relief. The enthusiasm with which these responses were made is indicated by the following from one of the New York dailies:

Charity Running Rampant

Everybody’s business seems to be raising funds for Pennsylvania. The Mayor’s office has been transformed into a counting room. More than a dozen clerks are employed in acknowledging the receipt of money for the Pennsylvania sufferers. A large number, many of them of the poorer class, bring their own contributions. Up to noon $145,257.18 had been subscribed. This does not include sums subscribed but not paid in. All the city departments are expected to respond nobly.

The Executive Committee of the Conemaugh Valley Relief Association met in the Governor’s room at the City Hall yesterday, with General W.T. Sherman in the chair. Treasurer J. Edward Simmons announced that the fund in the Fourth National Bank amounted to $145,000 and that Governor Beaver’s draft for $50,000 had been honored. John T. Crimmins reported that more than $70,000 had been received at the Mayor’s office during the morning. He also reported that the Leake and Watts Orphan Asylum had offered, through the Rev. Dr. Morgan Dix, to take twenty-five of Johnstown’s orphans, between the ages of five and twelve, and care for them until they were sixteen and then provide them with homes. H.C. Miner reported that many packages of clothing had been sent to Johnstown and that the theatrical guild was arranging for benefit performances.

Under date of Paris, June 5th, the following despatch conveyed intelligence of the gratifying response of Americans in that city:

Duty Nobly Done

A meeting of Americans was held to-day at the United States Legation on a call in the morning papers by Mr. Whitelaw Reid, the United States Minister, to express the sympathy of the Americans in Paris with the sufferers by the Johnstown calamity. In spite of the short notice the rooms of the Legation were densely packed, and many went away unable to gain admittance. Mr. Reid was called to the chair and Mr. Ernest Lambert was appointed secretary. The following resolutions were offered by Mr. Andrew Carnegie and seconded by Mr. James N. Otis:

A Sympathetic Message

“Resolved, That we send across the Atlantic to our brethren overwhelmed by the appalling disaster at Johnstown our most profound and heartfelt sympathy. Over their lost ones we mourn with them, and in every pang of all their misery we have our part.

“Resolved, That as American citizens we congratulate them upon and thank them for the numerous acts of noble heroism displayed under circumstances calculated to unnerve the bravest. Especially do we honor and admire them for the capacity shown for local self-government upon which the stability of republican institutions depends, the military organizations sent from distant points to preserve order during the chaos that supervened having been returned to their homes as no longer required within forty-eight hours of the calamity. In these few hours the civil power recreated and asserted itself and resumed sway without the aid of counsel from distant authorities, but solely by and from the inherent power which remains in the people of Johnstown themselves.”

Brief and touching speeches were made by General Layton, late United States Minister to Austria; Mr. Abram S. Hewitt, General Meredith Read and others.

A Flow of Dollars

The resolutions were then unanimously adopted and a committee was appointed to receive subscriptions. About 40,000f. were subscribed on the spot. The American bankers all agreed to open subscriptions the next day at their banking houses. “Buffalo Bill” subscribed the entire receipts of one entertainment to be given under the auspices of the committee.

As a sequel to the foregoing the following will be of interest to the reader:

NEW YORK, June 17.–John Monroe & Co. have received cable instructions from United States Minister Reid, at Paris, to pay Messrs. Drexel & Co., of Philadelphia, an additional sum of $2,266, received from the Treasurer of the Paris Johnstown Relief Committee. Of this sum $1066 are the proceeds of a special performance by the Wild West show, and with the previous contribution from Paris makes a total of $14,166.

The pathetic story of sympathy and generous aid from every town and hamlet in the land can never be told; there is too much of it.

Contributing to the Relief Fund in Philadelphia
Contributing to the Relief Fund in Philadelphia

Philadelphia alone contributed over a million dollars, and New York showed equal generosity. In Philadelphia it was not uncommon to see glass jars in front of stores and at other places to receive contributions from passers-by. In one of these an unknown man deposited $500 one day; this is indicative of the feeling pervading the whole community that stricken Johnstown must not suffer for houses, clothing, nor bread.

So rapidly did gifts pour in that within eight days after the disaster the following statement was made from Harrisburg:

The Governor’s fund for the relief of the survivors of the flood in the Conemaugh Valley and other portions of the State is assuming large proportions and the disposition to contribute appears to be on the increase. To-day letters and telegrams were received requesting the Governor to draw for $68,000 additional, swelling the aggregate sum at his disposal to about $3,000,000. Many of the remittances are accompanied with statements that more may be expected. Governor Beaver telegraphed as follows from Johnstown:

“The situation is simply indescribable. The people have turned in with courage and heroism unparalleled. A decided impression has been made on the débris. The next week will do more, as they have many points opened for work. Everything is very quiet. People are returning to work again and gaining courage and hope as they return. There need be no fear of too much being contributed for the relief of the people. There is a long, steady pull ahead requiring every effort and determination on the part of the people here, which is already assured, and the continued systematic support and benefactions of this generous people.”

Feeding the Hungry

Three car loads of tents, enough to accommodate four thousand people, were sent to Johnstown to-day from the State arsenal at the request of General Hastings.

The following special dispatch bears date of June 5th:

Car loads of provisions and clothing are arriving hourly and being distributed. The cynic who said that charity and gratitude were articles seldom to be met with in Republics and among corporations would have had ample reason afforded him to-day to alter his warped philosophy several degrees had he been in this erstwhile town and seen train after train hourly rolling in, on both the Baltimore and Ohio and the Pennsylvania railroads, laden with clothing and provisions from every point of the compass. Each train bore messengers sent especially to distribute funds and provisions and clothing, volunteer physicians in large numbers, trained nurses and a corps of surgeons equipped with all needed instruments and medicines. Fortunately the latter are not needed.

Philadelphia’s quota consists of clothes, boots, shoes, cotton sheeting, hard breads, salt fish, canned goods, etc., all of which will be gratefully received and supply the most pressing needs of the stricken people.

Relief Systematized

The relief work has been so systematized that there is no danger of any confusion. At the several distributing depots hundreds assemble morning, noon and night, and, forming in line, are supplied with provisions. Men and women with families are given bread, butter, cheese, ham and canned meats, tea or coffee and sugar, and unmarried applicants sliced bread and butter or sandwiches.

The 900 army tents brought on by Adjutant-General Axline, of Ohio, have been divided, and two white-walled villages now afford shelter to nearly six thousand homeless people.

At the Main Commissary

At the Johnstown station, on the east side of the river, everything is quiet, and considerable work is being done. This is the chief commissary station, and this morning by two o’clock 15,000 people were fed and about six hundred families were furnished with provisions. Five carloads of clothing were distributed, and now almost every one is provided with clothing.

The good work done by the relief committees in caring for the destitute can never be fully told. It was ready, generous and very successful.

The scenes at the distributing points through the week have been most interesting. Monday and Tuesday saw lines of men, women and children in the scantiest of clothing, blue with cold, unwashed and dishevelled, so pitifully destitute a company as one would wish to see. Since the clothing cars have come the people have assumed a more presentable appearance and food has brought life back to them and warmth, but their condition is still pitiful. The destitute ones are almost altogether from the well-to-do people of Johnstown, who have lost all and are as poor as the poorest.

Altoona to the Rescue

Altoona has been so hemmed in by floods and the like, and her representatives have been so busy, that they had but little to say of the prompt action and excellent work done by open-handed citizens of that beautiful interior Pennsylvania city. Altoona first became alarmed by the non-arrival and reported loss of the day express east on the Pennsylvania Railroad Friday afternoon. Soon the station was thronged with an anxious crowd, and the excitement became intense as the scant news came slowly in. Saturday the anxiety was relieved by a telegram from Ebensburg, which a blundering telegraph operator made “three hundred lost,” instead of “three thousand.” That was soon corrected by later news, and the citizens immediately were called upon to meet for action. The Mayor presided, and at once $2,600 was subscribed and provisions offered. By three o’clock that afternoon a car had been loaded and started for Ebensburg, thirty-two miles away in charge of a committee. At Ebensburg that evening ten teams were secured after much trouble and the supplies sent overland seventeen miles to the desolated valley. The night was an awful one for the committee in charge. The roads were badly washed and all but impassible. The hours dragged on. At last, Sunday morning, the wagons drove into desolate Conemaugh. There were no cheers to greet them, no cries of pleasure. The wretched sufferers were too wretched, too dazed for that. They simply crowded around the wagons, pitifully begging for bread or anything to eat.

The committee report: “Impostors have not bothered us much, and, singular enough, the ones that have were chiefly women, though to-day we sent away a man who we thought came too frequently. On questioning he owned up to having fifteen sacks of flour and five hams in his house. On Tuesday we began to keep a record of those who received supplies, and we have given out supplies to fully 550 families, representing 2,500 homeless people. Our district is only for one side of the river. On the other is a commissary on Adams street, near the Baltimore and Ohio Railway station, another at Kernville, a third at Cambria City, a fourth at Morrellville and a fifth at Cambria. The people are very patient, though, of course, in their present condition they are apt to be querelous.

Wanted A Better Dress

“One woman who came for a dress indignantly refused the one I offered her. ‘I don’t want that,’ she said. ‘I lost one that cost me $20, $15 for the cloth and $5 for making, and I want a $20 dress. You said you would make our losses good;’ and she did not take the dress.

“A clergyman came to me and begged for anything in the shape of foot covering. I had nothing to give him. Men stand about ready to work, but barefooted. The clothing since the first day or two, when we got only worn stuff, fit only for bandages, has been good, and is now of excellent quality. Most of the children’s garments are outgrown clothes, good for much service. Pittsburgh has sent from thirty to forty car loads of supplies, all of good quality and available, and in charge of local commissary men who had sense enough to go home when they turned over their supplies and did not stay and eat up the provisions they brought.

Ohio’s Timely Work

“But above all, I want to praise the supplies sent by the Ohio people in Cleveland and Columbus. These cities forwarded eight cars each. These were stocked with beautiful stuff, wisely chosen, and were in charge of Adjutant General Axline, sent by Governor Foraker, who worked like a wise man.”

Grave Mental Conditions

The mental condition of almost every former resident of Johnstown is one of the gravest character, and the reaction which will set in when the reality of the whole affair is fully comprehended can scarcely fail to produce many cases of permanent or temporary insanity. Most of the faces that one meets, both male and female, are those of the most profound melancholia, associated with an almost absolute disregard of the future. The nervous system shows the strain it has borne by a tremulousness of the hand and of the lip in man as well as in woman. This nervous state is further evidenced by a peculiar intonation of words, the persons speaking mechanically, while the voices of many rough looking men are changed into such tremulous notes of so high a pitch as to make one imagine that a child on the verge of tears is speaking. Crying is so rare that I saw not a tear on any face in Johnstown, but the women that are left are haggard, with pinched features and heavy, dark lines under their eyes. Indeed the evidence of systemic disturbance is so marked in almost every individual who was present at the time of the catastrophe that it is possible with the eye alone to separate the residents from those outside.

Everything required in the way of surgical appliances seem to be on hand, but medicines are scarce, and will probably be needed more in the next few days than heretofore.

A fact in favor of the controlling of any malady is to be found in the very general exodus of the town’s people, who crowd the platforms of departing trains. There can be no doubt that this movement should be encouraged to the greatest possible extent, and it would be well if places away from Johnstown, at no too great distance, could be opened for the reception of those who, while not entirely disabled, are useless at home. The scarcity of pure spring water which is not tainted by dead animal matter is a pressing evil for consideration, but we doubt if this is as important a fact at Johnstown as it is further down the river, owing to the large amount of decomposing flesh in the water at this latter point. No disinfectant can reach such a cause of disease save the action of the large volume of water which dilutes all poisonous materials.

The Torch for Safety

There is a strong movement on foot in favor of applying the torch to the wrecked buildings in Johnstown, and although the suggestion meets with strong opposition at this time, there is little doubt the ultimate solution of existing difficulties will be by this method. An army of men have been for two days employed in clearing up the wreck in the city proper, and although hundreds of bodies have been discovered, not one-fifth of the ground has yet been gone over. In many places the rubbish is piled twenty or thirty feet high, and not infrequently these great drifts cover an area of nearly an acre. Narrow passages have been cut through in every direction, but the herculean labor of removing the rubbish has yet hardly begun.

At a meeting of the Central Relief Committee this afternoon General Hastings suggested the advisability of drawing a cordon around the few houses that are not in ruins and applying the torch to the remaining great sea of waste. He explained briefly the great work yet to be accomplished if it were hoped to thoroughly overhaul every portion of the débris, and insisted that it would take 5,000 men to complete the task. Of the hundreds of bodies buried beneath the rubbish, sand and stones, the skeleton or putrid remains of many was all that could be hoped to be recovered.

A motion was made that after forty-eight hours’ further search the débris of the city be consumed by fire, the engines to be on hand to play upon any valuable building that despite previous precautions, might become ignited by the general conflagration. This motion was debated pro and con for nearly half an hour. Those whose relatives or friends still rest beneath the wreck remonstrated strongly against any such summary action. They insisted that all the talk of threatened epidemic was only the sensation gossip of fertile brains and that the search for the bodies should only be abandoned as a last extremity. The physicians in attendance warned the committee that the further exposure of putrid bodies in the valley could have but one result–the typhus or some other epidemic equally fatal to its victims. It was a question whether the living should be sacrificed to the dead, or whether the sway of sentiment or the mandate of science should be the ruling impulse. Although the proposition to burn the wreck was defeated, it was evident that the movement was gaining many adherents, and the result will doubtless be that in a few days the torch will be applied, not only to the field of waste in Johnstown, but also to the avalanche of débris that chokes the stream above the Pennsylvania bridge.



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. 31 October 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/pennsylvania/millions-of-money-for-johnstown.htm - Last updated on Feb 10th, 2013


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