- Access Genealogy - http://www.accessgenealogy.com -
Stories of the Flood
Posted By Judy On In Pennsylvania | No Comments
War, death, cataclysm like this, America, Take deep to thy proud, prosperous heart.
E’en as I chant, lo! out of death, and out of ooze and slime, The blossoms rapidly blooming, sympathy, help, love, From west and east, from south and north and over sea, Its hot spurr’d hearts and hands humanity to human aid moves on; And from within a thought and lesson yet.
Thou ever-darting globe! thou Earth and Air! Thou waters that encompass us! Thou that in all the life and death of us, in action or in sleep. Thou laws invisible that permeate them and all! Thou that in all and over all, and through and under all, incessant! Thou! thou! the vital, universal, giant force resistless, sleepless, calm, Holding Humanity as in the open hand, as some ephemeral toy, How ill to e’er forget thee!
“Are the horrors of the flood to give way to the terrors of the plague?” is the question that is now agitating the valley of the Conemaugh. To-day opened warm and almost sultry, and the stench that assails one’s senses as he wanders through Johnstown is almost overpowering. Sickness, in spite of the precautions and herculean labors of the sanitary authorities, is on the increase and the fears of an epidemic grow with every hour.
“It is our impression,” said Dr. T.L. White, assistant to the State Board of Health, this morning, “that there is going to be great sickness here within the next week. Five cases of malignant diphtheria were located this morning on Bedford street, and as they were in different houses they mean five starting points for disease. All this talk about the dangers of epidemic is not exaggerated, as many suppose, but is founded upon all experience. There will be plenty of typhoid fever and kindred diseases here within a week or ten days in my opinion. The only thing that has saved us thus far has been the cool weather. That has now given place to summer weather, and no one knows what the next few days may bring forth.”
Even among the workmen there is already discernible a tendency to diarrhoea and dysentery. The men are living principally upon salt meat, and there is a lack of vegetables. I have been here since Sunday and have tasted fresh meat but once since that time. I am only one of the many. Of course the worst has passed for the physicians, as our arrangements are now perfected and each corps will be relieved from time to time. Twenty more physicians arrived from Pittsburgh this morning and many of us will be relieved to-day. But the opinion is general among the medical men that there will be more need for doctors in a week hence than there is now.
Dr. R.L. Sibbel, of the State Board of Health, is in charge of Sanitary Headquarters. “We are using every precaution known to science,” said he this morning, “to prevent the possibility of epidemic. Our labors here have not been confined to any particular channel, but have been extended in various directions. Disinfectants, of course, are first in importance, and they have been used with no sparing hand. The prompt cremation of dead animals as fast as discovered is another thing we have insisted upon. The immediate erection of water-closets throughout the ruins for the workmen was another work of the greatest sanitary importance that has been attended to. They, too, are being disinfected at frequent intervals. We have a committee, too, that superintends the burial of the victims at the cemeteries. It is of the utmost importance in this wholesale interment that the corpses should be interred a safe distance beneath the surface in order that their poisonous emanations may not find exit through the crevices of the earth.
“Another committee is making a house-to-house inspection throughout the stricken city to ascertain the number of inhabitants in each standing house, the number of the sick, and to order the latter to the hospital whenever necessary. One great danger is the overcrowding of houses and hovels, and that is being prevented as much as possible by the free use of tents upon the mountain side. So far there is but little contagious disease, and we hope by diligent and systematic efforts to prevent any dangerous outbreak.”
It is now rumored that the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club is a thing of the past. No one admits his membership and it is doubtful if outside the cottage owners one could find more than half a dozen members in the city. Even some of the cottage owners will repudiate their ownership until it is known whether or not legal action will be taken against them. If it were not for the publicity which might follow one could secure a transfer of a large number of shares of the club’s stock to himself, accompanied by a good sized roll of money. It is certain that the cottage owners cannot repudiate their ownership. None of them, however, will occupy the houses this summer.
Coroner Hammer, of Westmoreland county, who has been sitting on the dead found down the river at Nineveh, concluded his inquests to-day. His trip to South Fork Dam on Wednesday has convinced him that the burden of this great disaster rests on the shoulders of the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club of Pittsburgh. The verdict was written to-night, but not all the jury were ready to sign it. It finds the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club responsible for the loss of life because of gross, if not criminal negligence, and of carelessness in making repairs from time to time. This would let the Pennsylvania Railroad Company out from all blame for allowing the dam to fall so badly out of repair when they got control of the Pennsylvania Canal and abandoned it. The verdict is what might have been expected after Wednesday’s testimony.
Mr. A.M. Wellington, with P. Burt, associate editor of the “Engineering News”, of New York, has just completed an examination of the dam which caused the great disaster here. Mr. Wellington states that the dam was in every respect of very inferior construction, and of a kind wholly unwarranted by good engineering practices of thirty years ago. Both the original and reconstructed dams were of earth only, with no heart wall, but only riprapped on the slopes.
The original dam, however, was made in dammed and watered layers, which still show distinctly in the wrecked dam. The new end greatly added to its stability, but it was to all appearances simply dumped in like an ordinary railroad fill, or if rammed, the wreck shows no evidence of the good effect of such work. Much of the old part is standing intact, while the adjacent parts of the new work are wholly carried off. There was no central wall of puddle or masonry either in the new or old dam. It has been the invariable practice of engineers for thirty or forty years to use one or the other in building high dams of earth. It is doubtful if there is a single dam or reservoir in any other part of the United States of over fifty feet in height which lacks this central wall.
The reconstructed dam also bears the mark of great ignorance or carelessness in having been made nearly two feet lower in the middle than at the ends. It should rather have crowned in the middle, which would have concentrated the overflow, if it should occur, at the ends instead of in the centre. Had the break begun at the ends the cut of the water would have been so gradual that little or no harm might have resulted. Had the dam been cut at the ends when the water began running over the centre the sudden breaking would have been at least greatly diminished, possibly prolonged, so that little harm would have resulted. The crest of the old dam had not been raised in the reconstruction of 1881. The old overflow channel through the rock still remains, but owing to the sag of the crest in the middle of the dam only five and a half feet of water in it, instead of seven feet, was necessary to run the water over the crest.
And the rock spillway, narrow at best, had been further contracted by a close grating to prevent the escape of fish, capped by a good-sized timber, and in some slight degree also as a trestle footbridge. The original discharge pipe indicates that it was made about half earth and half rock, but if so there was little evidence of it in the broken dam. The riprapping was merely a skin on each face with more or less loose spauls mixed with the earth. The dam was seventy-two feet above water, two to one inside slope, one and a half to one outside slope and twenty feet wide on top. The rock throughout was about one foot below the surface. The earth was pretty good material for such a dam, if it was to be built at all, being of a clayey nature, making good puddle. To this the fact of it standing intact since 1881 must be ascribed, as no engineer of standing would have ever tried to so construct it. The fact that the dam was a reconstructed one after twenty years’ abandonment made it especially hard on the older part of the dam to withstand the pressure of the water.
Cyrus Elder, general counsel for the Cambria Iron Company and a wealthy and prominent citizen of Johnstown, lost a wife and daughter in the recent disaster and narrowly escaped with his own life.
“When the rebuilding of the dam was begun some years ago,” he said, “the president of the Cambria Iron Company was very seriously concerned about it, and wished, if possible, to prevent its construction, referring the matter to the solicitor of the company. A gentleman of high scientific reputation, who was then one of the general engineers, inspected the dam. He condemned several matters in the way of construction and reported that this had been changed and that the dam was perfectly safe. My son, George R. Elder, was at that time a student in the Troy Polytechnic University.
“His professor submitted a problem to the class which he immediately recognized as being the question of the safety of the South Fork dam. He sent it to me at the time in a letter, which, of course, is lost, with everything else I possessed, in which he stated that the verdict of the class was that the dam was safe. The president of the Cambria Iron Company being still anxious, thought it might be good policy to have some one inside of the fishing and hunting corporation owning the dam. The funds of the company were therefore used to purchase two shares of its stock, which were placed in the name of D.J. Morrell. After his death these shares were transferred to and are still held by me, although they are the property of the Cambria Iron Company. They have not been sold because there was no market for them.”
So far as the Signal Service is concerned, the amount of rainfall in the region drained by the Conemaugh river cannot be ascertained. The Signal Service authorities here, to whom the official there reported, received only partial reports last Friday. There had been a succession of rains nearly all of last week. The last rain commenced Thursday evening and was unusually severe.
Mrs. H.M. Ogle, who had been the Signal Service representative in Johnstown for several years and also manager of the Western Union office there, telegraphed at eight o’clock Friday morning that the river marked 14 feet, rising; a rise of 13 feet in twenty-four hours. At eleven o’clock she wired: “River 20 feet and rising, higher than ever before; water in first floor. Have moved to second. River gauges carried away. Rainfall, 2 3-10 inches.” At twenty-seven minutes to one P.M., Mrs. Ogle wired: “At this hour north wind; very cloudy; water still rising.”
Nothing more was heard from her by the bureau, but at the Western Union office here later in the afternoon she commenced to tell an operator that the dam had broken, that a flood was coming, and before she had finished the conversation a singular click of the instrument announced the breaking of the current. A moment afterward the current of her life was broken forever.
Sergeant Stewart, in charge of the bureau, says that the fall of water on the Conemaugh shed at Johnstown up to the time of the flood was probably 2 5-10 inches. He believes it was much heavier in the mountains. The country drained by the little Conemaugh and Stony Creek covers an area of about one hundred square miles. The bureau, figuring on this basis and 2 5-10 inches of rainfall, finds that 464,640,000 cubic feet of water was precipitated toward Johnstown in its last hours. This is independent of the great volume of water in the lake, which was not less than 250,000,000 cubic feet.
It is therefore easily seen that there was ample water to cover the Conemaugh Valley to the depth of from ten to twenty-five feet. Such a volume of water was never known to fall in that country in the same time.
Colonel T.P. Roberts, a leading engineer, estimates that the lake drained twenty-five square miles, and gives some interesting data on the probable amount of water it contained. He says:–”The dam, as I understand, was from hill to hill about one thousand feet long and about eighty-five feet high at the highest point. The pond covered above seven hundred acres, at least for the present I will assume that to be the case. We are told also that there was a waste weir at one end seventy-five feet wide and ten feet below the comb or top of the dam. Now we are told that with this weir open and discharging freely to the utmost of its capacity, nevertheless the pond or lake rose ten inches per hour until finally it overflowed the top, and, as I understand, the dam broke by being eaten away at the top.
“Thus we have the elements for very simple calculation as to the amount of water precipitated by the flood, provided these premises are accurate. To raise 700 acres of water to a height of ten feet would require about 300,000,000 cubic feet of water, and while this was rising the waste dam would discharge an enormous volume–it would be difficult to say just how much without a full knowledge of the shape of its side walls, approaches and outlets–but if the rise required ten hours the waste river might have discharged perhaps 90,000,000 cubic feet. We would then have a total of flood-water of 390,000,000 cubic feet. This would indicate a rainfall of about eight inches over the twenty-five square miles. As that much does not appear to have fallen at the hotel and dam it is more than likely that even more than eight inches were precipitated in the places further up. These figures I hold tentatively, but I am much inclined to believe that there was a cloud burst.”
Six thousand men were at work on the ruins to-day. They are paid two dollars a day, and have to earn it. The work seems to tell very little, however, for the mass of débris is simply enormous. The gangs have cleaned up the streets pretty thoroughly in the main part of the city, from which the brick blocks were swept like card houses before a breeze. The houses are pulled apart and burned in bonfires. Nowhere is anything found worth saving.
It is not probable that the mass of débris at the bridge, by which the water is tainted, can be removed in less than thirty days with the greatest force possible to work on it. That particular job is under the control of the State Board of Health. Every day adds to its seriousness. The mass is being cleared by dynamite at the bridge where the current is strongest, and the open place slowly grows larger. Not infrequently a body is found after an explosion has loosened the wreckage.
So-called relief corps are still moving to and fro in the city, but the most serious labor of many of the members is to carry a bright yellow badge to aid them in passing the guards while sight-seeing. The militia men are little better than ornamental. The guards do a good deal of changing, to the annoyance of workers who want to get into the lines, but they rarely stop any one. The soldiers do a vast deal of loafing. A photographer who had his camera ready to take a view among the ruins was arrested to-day and made to work for an hour by General Hastings’ order. When his stint was done he did not linger, but went at once.
“What is the condition of the valley now?” I asked Colonel Scott.
“It is improving with every hour. The perfect organization which has been effected within the past day or two has gradually resolved all the chaos and confusion into a semblance of order and regulation.”
“Are many bodies being discovered now?”
“Very few; that is to say, comparatively few. Of course, as the waters recede more and more between the banks, we have come upon bodies here and there, as they were exposed to sight. The probabilities are that there will be a great many bodies yet discovered under the rubbish that covers the streets, and our hope and expectation is that the majority of all the dead may be recovered and disposed of in a Christian manner.”
“How about the movement to burn the rubbish, bodies and all?”
“I do not think that will be done–at least only as a last extremity. While there is great anxiety in regard to the sanitary condition, all possible precautions are being taken, and we hope to prevent any disease until we shall have time to thoroughly overhaul the wreck.
“The greatest consideration is being given to this matter of the recovery of the dead and treatment of the bodies after discovery. I think an impression has gone abroad that the dead are being handled here very much as one would handle cord wood, but this is a great mistake. As soon as possible after discovery they are borne from public gaze and taken to the Morgue, where only persons who have lost relatives or friends are admitted. Of course the general exclusion is not applied to attendants, physicians and representatives of the press, but it is righteously applied to careless sight-seers. We have no room for sight-seers in Johnstown now. It is earnest workers and laborers we want, and of these we can hardly have too many.”
Some long headed men are trying to make a neat little stake quietly out of the disaster. A syndicate has been formed to buy up as much real estate as possible in Johnstown, trusting to get a big block as they got one to-day, for one-third of the valuation placed on it a week ago. The members of the syndicate are keeping very much in the background and conducting their business through a local agent.
I asked Adjutant General Hastings to-day what he thought of the situation.
“It is very good so far as reported,” was the reply. “Bodies are being gradually recovered all the time, but of course not in the large number of the first few days. Last night we arrested several ghouls that were wandering amid the wreck on evil intent, and they were promptly taken to the guard house. This morning they were given the choice of imprisonment or going to work at two dollars a day, and they promptly chose the latter. We are getting along very well in our work, and very little tendency to lawlessness, I am happy to say, is observed.”
The Red Cross flag now flies over the society’s own camp beside the Baltimore and Ohio tracks, near the bridge to Kernville. The tents were pitched this morning and the camp includes a large supply tent, mess tent and offices. Miss Clara Barton, of Washington, is, of course, in charge, and the work is being rapidly gotten into shape. I found Miss Barton at the camp this morning.
“The Red Cross Society will remain here,” she said, “so long as there is any work to do. There is hardly any limit to what we will do. Much of the present assistance that has been extended is, of course, impulsive and ephemeral. When that is over there will still be work to do, and the Red Cross Society will be here to do it. We are always the last to leave the field.
“We need and can use to the greatest advantage all kinds of supplies, and shall be glad to receive them. Money is practically useless here as there is no place to buy what we need.”
Dr. J. Wilkes O’Neill, of Philadelphia, surgeon of the First Regiment, is here in charge of the Philadelphia division of the Red Cross Society. He is assisted by a corps of physicians, nurses and attendants. Within two hours after establishing the camp this morning about forty cases, both surgical and medical, were treated. Diphtheria broke out in Kernville to-day. Eleven cases were reported, eight of which were reported to be malignant. The epidemic is sure to extend. There are also cases of ulcerated tonsilitis. The patients are mostly those left homeless by the flood and are fairly well situated in frame houses. The doctors do not fear an epidemic of pneumonia. The Red Cross Society has established a hospital camp in Grubbtown for the treatment of contagious diseases. An epidemic of typhoid fever is feared, two cases having appeared. The camp is well located in a pleasant spot near fine water. It is supplied with cots, ambulances and some stores. They have an ample supply of surgical stores, but need medical stores badly.
At the commissary station at the Pennsylvania Railroad depot there was considerable activity. A crowd of about one thousand people had gathered about the place after the day’s rations. The crowd became so great that the soldiers had to be called up to guard the place until the Relief Committee was ready to give out the provisions. Several carloads of clothing arrived this morning and was to be disposed of as soon as possible. The people were badly in need of clothing, as the weather had been very chilly since Saturday.
B.F. Minnimun, a wealthy contractor of Springfield, Ohio, arrived this forenoon with a despatch from Governor Foraker offering 2,000 trained laborers for Johnstown, to be sent at once if needed. The despatch further stated that if anything else was needed Ohio stood ready to respond promptly to the call.
“It is like a blow on the head; there are no tears, they are stunned; but, ah, sir, I tell you they will awake after awhile and then the tears will flow down the hills of this valley from thousands of bleeding hearts, and there will be weeping and wailing such as never before.”
That is what Clara Barton, president of the National Red Cross, said this afternoon as she stood in a plain black gown on the bank of Stony Creek directing the construction of the Red Cross tents, and she looked motherly and matronly, while her voice was trembling with sympathy.
“You see nothing but that dazed, sickly smile that calamity leaves,” she went on, “like the crazy man wears when you ask him, ‘How came you here?’ Something happened, he says, that he alone knows; all the rest is blank to him. Here they give you that smile, that look and say ‘I lost my father, my mother, my sisters,’ but they do not realize it yet. The Red Cross intends to be here in the Conemaugh Valley when the pestilence comes to them, and we are making ready with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength. The militia, the railroad, the Relief Committees and everybody is working for us. The railroad has completely barricaded us so that none of our cars can be taken away by mistake.”
When the great wave of death swept through Johnstown the people who had any chance of escape ran hither and thither in every direction. They did not have any definite idea where they were going, only that a crest of foaming waters as high as the housetops was roaring down upon them through the Conemaugh and that they must get out of the way of that. Some in their terror dived into the cellars of their houses and clambered over the adjoining roofs to places of safety. But the majority made for the hills, which girt the town like giants. Of the people who went to the hills, the water caught some in its whirl.
The others clung to trees and roots and pieces of débris which had temporarily lodged near the banks, and managed to save themselves. These people either stayed out on the hills wet, and in many instances walked all night, or they managed to find farmhouses which sheltered them. There was a fear of going back to the vicinity of the town. Even the people whose houses the water did not reach abandoned their homes and began to think of all of Johnstown as a city buried beneath the water. But in the houses which were thus able to afford shelter there was not food enough for all. Many survivors of the flood went hungry until the first relief supplies arrived from Pittsburgh.
From all this fright, destitution and exposure is coming a nervous shock, culminating in insanity, pneumonia, fever and all the other forms of disease. When these people came back to Johnstown on the day after the wreck of the town they had to live in sheds, barns and in houses which had been but partially ruined. They had to sleep without any covering, in their wet clothes, and it took the liveliest kind of skirmishing to get anything to eat. Pretty soon a citizen’s committee was established, and nearly all the male survivors of the flood were immediately sworn in as deputy sheriffs. They adorned themselves with tin stars, which they cut out of pieces of the sheets of metal in the ruins, and pieces of tin with stars cut out of them are now turning up continually, to the surprise of the Pittsburgh workmen who are endeavoring to get the town in shape.
The women and children were housed, so far as possible, in the few houses still standing, and some idea of the extent of the wreck of the town may be gathered from the fact that of 300 prominent buildings only 16 are uninjured. For the first day or so people were dazed by what had happened, and for that matter they are dazed still. They went about helpless, making vague inquiries for their friends, and hardly feeling the desire to eat anything. Finally the need of creature comforts overpowered them and they woke up to the fact that they were faint and sick.
Now this is to some extent changed by the arrival of tents and by the systematic military care for the suffering. But the daily life of a Johnstown man who is a refugee in his own city is still aimless and wandering. His property, his home, in nine cases out of ten, his wife and children, are gone. The chances are that he has hard work to find the spot where he and his family once lived and were happy. He meditates suicide, and even looks on the strangers who have flocked in to help him and to put him and his town on their feet again with a kind of sullen anger. He has frequent conflicts with the soldiers and with the sight-seers, and he is crazy enough to do almost anything.
The first thing that Johnstown people do in the morning is to go to the relief stations and get something to eat. They go carrying big baskets, and their endeavor is to get all they can. There has been a new system every day about the manner of dispensing the food and clothing to the sufferers. At first the supplies were placed where people could help themselves. Then they were placed in yards and handed to people over the fences. Then people had to get orders for what they wanted from the citizens’ committee and their orders were filled at the different relief stations. Now the matter has been arranged this way, and probably finally. The whole matter of receiving and dispensing the relief supplies has been placed in the hands of the Grand Army of the Republic men.
The Grand Army men have made the Adams Street Relief Station a central relief station and all the others at Kernville, the Pennsylvania depot, Cambria City and Jackson and Somerset Streets, sub-stations. The idea is to distribute supplies to the sub-stations from the central station and thus avoid the jam of crying and excited people at the committee’s headquarters. The Grand Army men have appointed a committee of women to assist in their work. The women go from house to house ascertaining the number of people lost from there in the flood and the exact needs of the people. It was found necessary to have some such committee as this, for there were women actually starving who were too proud to take their places in lines with the other women with bags and baskets. Some of these people were rich before the flood.
Now they are not worth a dollar. One man who was reported to be worth $100,000 before the flood now is penniless and has to take his place in the line along with others seeking the necessaries of life.
Though the Adams street station is now the central relief station, the most imposing display of supplies is made at the Pennsylvania Railroad freight and passenger depots. Here on the platform and in the yards are piled up barrels of flour in long rows three and four barrels high. Biscuits in cans and boxes by the carload, crackers under the railroad sheds in bins, hams by the hundred strung on poles, boxes of soap and candles, barrels of kerosene oil, stacks of canned goods and things to eat of all sorts and kinds are here to be seen.
The same sight is visible at the Baltimore and Ohio road and there is now no fear of a food famine in Johnstown, though of course everybody will have to rough it for weeks. What is needed most in this line are cooking utensils. Johnstown people want stoves, kettles, pans, knives and forks. All the things that have been sent so far have been sent with the evident idea of supplying an instant need, and that is right and proper. But it would be well now if instead of some of the provisions that are sent, cooking utensils should arrive. Fifty stoves arrived from Pittsburgh this morning, and it is said more are coming. At both the depots where the supplies are received and stored a big rope line encloses them in an impromptu yard so as to give room to those having the supplies in charge to walk around and see what they have got. On the inside of this line, too, stalk back and forth the soldiers with their rifles on their shoulders, and by the side of the lines pressing against the ropes there stands every day from daylight until dawn a crowd of women with big baskets who make piteous appeals to the soldiers to give them food for their children at once before the order of the relief committee.
The following letters from a young woman to her mother, written immediately after the disaster at Johnstown from her home in New Florence, a few miles west of that place, though not intended for publication, picture in graphic manner the agony of suspense sustained by those who escaped the flood, and give side pictures of the scenes following the disaster. They were received in Philadelphia:
NEW FLORENCE, PA.–My Darling Mother: I am nearly crazed, and thought I would try and be quiet and write to you, as it always comforts me to feel you are near your child, though many miles are now between us. I have said my prayers over and over again all day long, and to-night I am going to spend in the watch-tower, and am trying to be quiet and brave, although my heart is just wrung with anguish. Andrew sent me word from Johnstown this afternoon about half-past three he was safe and would be home shortly. Well, he has never come, and I have had many reports of the work train, but no one seems to know anything definite about him. I have telegraphed and telegraphed, but no news yet, and all I can find out is he was seen on the bridge just before it went down. I am trying to be brave.
You see, dearest mother, I could not write, and now I am happy, though tired, for Andrew is home and safe, and I thank God for the great mercy he has shown his child. I won’t dwell on my anxiety, it can better be imagined than described. From the letter I had from him at Johnstown, written at 9 A.M. Friday, until 6.30 last evening, I never knew whether he was living or dead. Thomas, our man, brought the news. God bless him, and it nearly cost him his life to do it, poor man. Andrew got separated from the party, and was close to the bridge when it was carried away, but escaped by going up the mountain. He tried to signal to his men he was safe, but could not make them see him, nor could those men that were with him; all communication was impossible. Thomas left him at nine o’clock Friday night on the mountain and tried to get home. He got a man to ferry him across the river above Johnstown, and the boat was upset, but all managed to get ashore, and Thomas walked all night and all yesterday, and came straight to me and told me my husband was safe, and an hour later I had a telegram from Andrew. He had walked from the Conemaugh side to Bolivar. The bridge at Nineveh was the only bridge left standing. He took the first train home from Bolivar and got home about 9.30.
I telegraphed you in the morning, or rather Uncle Clem, that I was safe and Andrew reported safe, though now they tell me every one here thought he was lost and Thomas with him. Thomas’s wife was met at the station and informed of his death by some of the men, and six hours afterwards Thomas came home, yet more dead than alive, poor man. It is very hard to write, as all the country people and men have been here to tell me how glad they are “I got my husband safely back, and that I am a powerful sight lucky young woman.” Well, mother darling, make your mind easy about your children now. Andrew is safe and well, though pretty well exhausted, and his feet are so sore and swollen he can hardly stand, and can’t wear anything but rubbers, as his mountain shoes he cut to pieces. He left early this morning, but will be back to-night. I cannot begin to tell you of the horrors, as the papers do not half picture the distress. New Florence was not flooded, though some of the people left the place on Friday night and went up on Squirrel Hill.
I went down to the river once, and that was enough, as I knew Andrew would not like me to see the sorrow, for which there was no help. I went just after the bridge fell, saw Centreville flooded and the people make a dash for the mountain. Yesterday two hundred and three bodies were taken from the river near here, and yet every train takes away more. The freight cars have taken nothing but human freight, and wagon load after wagon load of dead bodies have been right in front of the house. There was a child about Nellie’s age, with light hair, dead in the wagon, with her hands clasped, saying her prayers, and her blue eyes staring wide open. By her side lay a man with a pipe in his mouth, naked children, and a woman with a baby at her breast. Oh, the terror on their faces. Two women and three men were rescued here, and a German family of mother, four children and father. I had them all on my hands to look after; no one could make them understand, and how I ever managed it I don’t know, but I did. They lost two children and their home, but had a little money and were going to his brother’s, at Hazleton. They got here in the night and left at noon, and it would have done your heart good to see them eat. One was a baby five weeks old.
Now, mother, I want you to go around among the family and get me everything in the way of clothes you possibly can, and get Uncle Clem to express them to me. I should also like money, and as much as you can get can be used. I am pretty well cleaned out of everything, as all the cattle and stock have been lost and nothing can be bought here, and all I have in the way of provisions is some preserves, chocolate, coffee, olives and crackers. We can’t starve, as we have the chickens. I got the last meat from the butcher’s yesterday, and he said he didn’t expect to have any more for a week, so I told Uncle Clem I would not mind having two hams from Pittsburgh, and was very grateful for his telegram. I telegraphed him in the morning; also, Uncle White at Germantown, so that they might know I was all right, but from Auntie’s telegram I judge Uncle Clem’s telegrams were the only ones that got through. If I find I need provisions I will let you know, but do not think I will need anything for myself, and the poor are being fed by the relief supplies, and what is needed now is money and clothes.
There’s not a house in the place that is not in trouble from the loss of some dear one, nor one that does not hold or shelter some one or more of the sufferers. Tell everybody anything you can get can be used, and by the time you get this letter I will know of more cases to provide for, so take everything you can get, and don’t worry about me, for I am all right now that Andrew is safe. This letter has been written by installments, as I have been interrupted so many times, so pardon the abruptness of it, and please send it to Germantown, as I have too much to do now. My hands and heart are both full. Milk is as scarce as wine, as the pasturage was all on the other side, and cows were lost, and bread is as scarce as can be, and, instead of a dozen eggs, we only get one a day. I am proud of New Florence, as all it has done to help the sufferers no one knows, and as for Mr. Bennett, he is one in a thousand. Mr. Hay’s son has worked like a Trojan. Tell Cousin Hannah that the new tracks will be sure to be straight, as Andrew will superintend the whole business. With heart full of love to one and all and a kiss to the children. Lovingly,
NEW FLORENCE, Sunday Night.
My Darling Mother: This is my second letter to you to-day. It is after 11 o’clock, and one of the men has just brought me word that Andrew will be home, he thought, by 1 o’clock; so I am waiting up for him, so as to give him his dinner, and I have been through so much I cannot go to bed until I know he is safe home again. I put him up a good lunch, and know he cannot starve.
Oh the horrors of to-day! I have only had one pleasant Sunday here, and that was the one after we were married. I have had a very busy day, as I have been through our clothes, and routing out everything possible for the sufferers and the dead, and the cry to-day for linen sheets, etc., was something awful. I have given away all my underclothes, excepting my very best things–and all my old ones I made into face-cloths for the dead. To-day they took five little children out of the water; they were playing “Ring around a rosy,” and their hands were clasped in a clasp which even death did not loosen, and their faces were still smiling.
One man identified his wife among those who came ashore here, and Rose said that he was nearly crazy, and that her face was the most beautiful thing she ever saw, and that she had very handsome pearls in her ears and was so young looking. The dead are all taken from here to Johnstown and Nineveh and other places, where they will be most likely to be identified; about thirty have been identified here and taken away. I feel hardened to a great deal, and feel God has been so merciful to me I must do all I can for the unfortunate ones. I hope soon to have some help from you all, for I have given willingly of my little and my means are exhausted. I expect we will have to live on ham and eggs next week, but we are thankful to have that, as I would rather live low and give all I can, than not to give. All I care about is that Andrew gets enough to eat, as he needs a great deal to keep his strength up, working as hard as he does. Now I will close as it is nearly time for him to be home. Lovingly,
There are over 30,000 people at Johnstown who must be fed from the outside world. Of these 18,000 are natives of the town that a week ago had 29,500 inhabitants; all the others are dead or have gone away. Over 12,000 people are here clearing the streets, burying the dead, attending the sick, and feeding and sheltering the homeless; all these people have to be fed at least three times a day, for days are very long in Johnstown just now. They begin at five o’clock in the morning, two hours before the whistles in the half-mired Cambria Iron Company’s building blow, and end just about the time the sun is going down. If the people who are on the outside and who are engaged in the labor of love of sending the food that is keeping strength in Johnstown’s tired arms and the clothing that is covering her nakedness could understand the situation as it is they would redouble their efforts. Johnstown cannot draw on the country immediately around about her, for that was drained days ago. To be safe, there should be a week’s supply of food ahead. At no time has there been a day’s supply or anything like it.
Twice within the last forty-eight hours the commissary department at the Pennsylvania Railroad Depot, where nearly 10,000 people are furnished with food, have been in a state of mind bordering on panic. They had run out of food; people who had trudged down the hill with expectant faces and empty baskets had to trudge back again with hearts heavy and baskets still empty. That was the case on Wednesday night. Then the Citizens’ Committee had to send to the refugee camp, the smallest food station in the city, and take away 1500 loaves of bread. The bread supply in the central portion of the town had suddenly given out and there was a clamoring crowd demanding to be fed.
The same thing happened again last night. It was not so bad as on the night before, but there were anxious faces enough among the men under the direction of Major Spangler, who realized the awful responsibility of providing the mouths of the thousands with food. The supply had given out, but fortunately not until almost everybody had been supplied. Telegrams announced that eight carloads of provisions had been shipped from the West and were somewhere in the line between Pittsburgh and Johnstown. At midnight nothing could be heard of them. The delay was maddening. If the food did not arrive it meant fully 10,000 breakfastless and possibly dinnerless people in Johnstown to-day, with consequent suffering and possible disorder among the rough and rowdy element.
Before daylight the expected cars came in from Ohio and Pittsburgh and the danger was over for the time being. This serves, however, to show the perilous condition the town is in, living as it is in a hand-to-mouth fashion. It should be remembered that the only direct access to Johnstown from the West is by way of the Pennsylvania, which is handicapped as she has never been before, and from the East and South, of the Baltimore and Ohio. If the Pennsylvania were opened through to the East a steady stream of 200 cars already loaded for the sufferers would pour over the Alleghenies, but the Pennsylvania does not see light ahead much more clearly than yesterday. The terrible breaks and washouts will require days yet to repair, and supplies that come from the interior of the State must come by means of wagons.
The Baltimore and Ohio is piling the supplies in to-day faster than the men can unload them. In the neighborhood of 100 carloads were received. The Pennsylvania during to-day has handled something like twenty-eight carloads all told. In the way of food the articles most needed are fresh, salt meats, sugar, rice, coffee, tea, and dried and canned fruits. The supply of sugar gave out entirely to-day. Twenty thousand pounds of Cincinnati hams arrived to-day and they melted like 20,000 pounds of ice beneath the scorching heat of this afternoon’s sun. Much of the clothing that is received here is new and serviceable, but thousands of pieces are so badly worn that, to use the words of General Axline, of Ohio, who is doing noble service here with the thousands of other self-sacrificing men, “it is unfit to be worn by tramps.” Many old shoes with the soles half torn off have been received. Shoes are badly needed at once or all Johnstown will be barefooted.
Even in the rush of distribution the officials who have it in charge can find time to say a hearty word of praise for those towns which have contributed to the sufferers. Philadelphia’s first installment was the first to arrive from the East, and more goods have been coming in steadily ever since. W.H. Tumblestone, the president of the Retail Grocers’ Association of Pennsylvania, who was appointed first lieutenant of the Philadelphia relief by the Mayor, arrived here first. He set at work handling coffins, but as soon as the first freight car of goods arrived he was put in charge of their distribution and has been working like threemen ever since. The eight freight cars from Philadelphia which arrived with the relief party on Monday, at 4 o’clock, were distributed from a great storehouse at the terminus of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The goods are carried in bulk from the cars to the warehouse by a gang of twenty-eight men, who are identified by red flannel hat-bands. When they fail to enthuse over their work Mr. Tumblestone gets off his coat and shoves boxes himself.
Inside the warehouse a score of volunteers and Pittsburgh policemen break open the boxes and pile the goods in separate heaps; the women’s clothing, the men’s, the children’s and the different sizes being placed in regular order. Then the barriers are opened and the crowd surges in like depositors making a run on a savings bank. The police keep good order and the ubiquitous Tumblestone and his assistants dole out the goods to all who have orders. Special orders call for stoves, mattrasses and blankets.
If the Philadelphians could see the faces of the people they are helping before and after they have passed the distribution windows they would feel well repaid for their visible sympathy. Chairman Scott says the class of goods from Philadelphia have been of the highest quality. “We have been delighted with the thought and excellence of the selections and amiable nature of the contributions. The two miles of track lying between here and Morrellville are still blocked with cars stretched from one end to the other, and fresh arrivals are coming in daily over the Baltimore and Ohio.” Although it is impossible to say how much has been received from Philadelphia, Mr. Tumblestone says that so far as many as eighteen freight cars, each filled from the sides to the roof, have arrived from the Quaker City, and their contents have been distributed.
The principal hotels of the town were bunched in a group about the corner of Main and Clinton streets. They were the Merchants’, a large old-fashioned, three-story tavern, with a stable yard behind, a relic of staging days; the Hurlburt House, the leading hotel of the place, a fine four-story brick structure with a mansard roof and all the latest wrinkles in furnishing inside and out; the Fritz House, a narrow, four-story structure, with an ornate front, and the Keystone, a smaller hotel than any of the others.
These few inns stood in the path of the flood. The Hurlburt, the largest and handsomest, was absolutely obliterated. The Keystone’s ruin was next in completion. It stood across Clinton Street from Fritz’s, and Landlord Charles West has not yet recovered from the surprise of seeing the rival establishment thrown bodily across the street against his second story front, tearing it completely out.
After the water subsided it fell back upon the pavement in front of its still towering rival, and in the meantime Landlord West had saved mine host of the Keystone and his family from the roof which was thrust in his windows.
Back of Fritz’s there was a little alley, which made a course for a part of the torrent. Fully half a dozen houses were sent swimming in here. They crushed their way through the small hotel’s outhouses straight to the rear of the Merchants’, and sliced the walls off the old inn as a hungry survivor to-day cut a Philadelphia cheese. You can see the interior of the rooms. The beds were swept out into the flood, but a lonesome wardrobe fell face downward on the floor and somehow escaped. There are bodies under the rear wall. How many is not known, but Landlord West, of Fritz’s, says he is certain there were people on the rear porch of the Merchants’. The story of Landlord West’s rival being thrown into his front windows has its parallels.
Colonel Higgins, the manager of the Cambria Club House, was in the third story of the building with his family. Suddenly a man was hurled by the torrent rapidly through the window. He was rescued, then fainted, and upon inspection was found to have a broken leg. The leg was bandaged and the man resuscitated, and when this last act of kindness was accomplished he said faintly: “This ain’t so bad. I’ve been in a blow-up.”
This remark showed the greatest sang-froid known to be exhibited during the flood, but the most irreverent was that of an old man who was saved by E.B. Entworth, of the Johnson works. On Saturday morning Mr. Entworth rowed to a house near the flowing débris at the bridge, and found a woman, with a broken arm, and a baby. After she had got into the boat she cried: “Come along, grandpap.” Whereupon an old man, chilled but chipper, jumped up from the other side of the roof, slid down into the boat, and ejaculated: “Gentlemen, can any of you give me a chew of tobacco?”
One of the curious finds in the débris yesterday was two proofs from cabinet-size negatives of two persons–a man and a woman. The prints were found within two feet of each other in the ruins near the Merchants’ Hotel. They were immediately recognized as portraits of Mamie Patton, formerly a Johnstown girl, and Charles DeKnight, once a Pullman palace car conductor. The two were found dying together in a room in a Pittsburgh hotel several months ago, the woman having shot the man and then herself. She claimed that he was her husband. The dress in which the picture showed her was the same that she wore when she killed DeKnight.
If Pennsylvania Railroad trains ever ran over tougher-looking tracks than those used now through Johnstown it must have been before people began to ride on it. The section from the north end of the bridge to the railroad station has a grade that wabbles between 50 and 500 feet to the mile and jerks back and forth sideways as though laid by a gang of intoxicated men on a dark night. When the first engine went over it everybody held his breath and watched to see it tumble. These eccentricities are being straightened out, however, as fast as men and broken stones can do it.
The railroad bridge at Johnstown deserves attention beyond that which it is receiving on account of the way it held back the flood. It is one of the most massive pieces of masonry ever set up in this country. In a general way it is solid masonry of cut sandstone blocks of unusual size, the whole nearly 400 feet long, forty wide, and averaging about forty deep. Seven arches of about fifty feet span are pierced through it, rising to within a few feet of the top and leaving massive piers down to the rock beneath. As the bridge crosses the stream diagonally, the arches pierce the mass in a slanting direction, and this greatly adds to the heavy appearance of the bridge. There has been some disposition to find fault with the bridge for being so strong, the idea being that if it had gone out there would have been no heaping up of buildings behind it, no fire, and fewer deaths. This is probably unfair, as there were hundreds of persons saved when their houses were stopped against the bridge by climbing out or being helped out upon the structure. If the bridge had gone, too, the flood would have taken the whole instead of only half of Cambria City.
The camera fiend has about ceased his wanderings. An order was issued yesterday from headquarters to arrest and put to work the swarms of amateur photographers who are to be found everywhere about the ruins. Those who will not work are to be taken uptown under guard. This order is issued to keep down the number of useless people and thus save the fast diminishing provisions for the workers.
A man who stood on the bluff and saw the first wave of the flood come down the valley tried to describe it. “I looked up,” he said, “and saw something that looked like a wall of houses and trees up the valley. The next moment Johnstown seemed coming toward me. It was lifted right up and in a minute was smashing against the bridge and the houses were flying in splinters across the top and into the water beyond.”
A 13-year-old girl, pretty and with golden hair, wanders about from morgue to morgue looking for ten of a family of eleven, she being the sole survivor.
There were half a dozen bulldogs in one house that was heaped up in the wreck some distance above the bridge. They were loose among the débris, and it is said by those who claim to have seen it that after fighting among themselves they turned upon the people near them and were tearing and biting them until the flames swept over the place.
Irregular is a weak word for the manner in which passenger trains run between this place and Pittsburgh. The distance is seventy miles and the ordinary time is two hours. The train that left here at 4.30 yesterday afternoon reached there at midnight. This is ordinarily good time nowadays. A passage in five hours is an exceptional one.
Engine 1309, the one that faced the flood below Conemaugh and stood practically unharmed, backed down to the station as soon as the tracks were laid up to where it stood and worked all right. Only the oil cups and other small fittings, with the headlight, were broken.
The superintendent of the Woodvale Woolen Mills, one of the Cambria Iron Company’s concerns, was one of the very few fortunate ones in that little place. He and all his family got into the flouring mill just below the woolen mill and upon the roof. The woolen mill was totally wrecked, though not carried away, and the flouring mill was badly damaged, but the roof held and all were saved. These two parts of the mill were the only buildings left standing in Woodvale.
A man in Kernville, on Friday last, had jet black hair, moustache and beard. That night he had a battle with the waters. On Saturday morning his hair and beard began to turn gray, and they are now well streaked with white. He attributes the change to his awful Friday night’s experience.
It is the impression of the medical corps and military surgeons who arrived here early in the week that hundreds, maybe thousands of men, women and children were insensible to all horror on that awful afternoon, just a week ago, before the waters of the valley closed in over them. Their opinion is based on the fact that hundreds and hundreds of the bodies already brought to light are terribly wounded somewhere, generally on the head. In many instances the wounds are sufficient in themselves to have caused death.
The crashing of houses together in the first mad rush of the flood with a force greater than the collision of railroad trains making fast time, and the hurling of timbers, poles, towers and boulders through the air is believed to have caused a legion of deaths in an instant, before the lost knew what was coming. Even the survivors bear testimony to this.
Surgeon Foster, of the 14th Regiment, who was first to have charge of the hospital, tells how he treated long lines of men, women and children for wounds too terrible to mention and they themselves know not how it happened only that they fell in a moment. In connection with his experience he speaks of the tender, yet heroic, work of four Sisters of Mercy, two from Pittsburgh and two here, who went ahead of him down the ranks of the wounded with sponges, chloroforming the suffering, before his scalpel aid reached them. Sometimes there were a dozen victims ahead of his knives.
Once these sisters stopped, for the first time showing horror, by a great pile of dead children and infants on the river bank laid one on top of the other. By one man each little body was seized and the clothing quickly cut from it. Then he passed it to another, who washed it in the river. Then a third man took it in the line of the dead. But the Sisters of Mercy saw they were too late there, and passed on among the living.
Most of the Pennsylvania Railroad passengers who left Pittsburgh for the East last Friday and were caught in the flood in the Conemaugh Valley reached Philadelphia in a long special train at 5 o’clock Friday morning, June 7th, after a week of adventure, peril and narrow escapes which none of them will ever forget. A few of their number who lost presence of mind when the flood struck the train were drowned. The survivors are unanimous in their appreciation of the kindness shown them by Pennsylvania officials, and in their praise of the hospitality and generosity of the country folk, among whom they found homes for three days. The escapes in some instances seem miraculous.
An hour before the flood the first section of the day express stopped at Conemaugh City, about ten miles below the dam at South Fork, on account of a washout farther up the valley. The second section of the express and another passenger train soon overtook the first and half an hour before the dam broke all these trains stood abreast on the four-track road. The positions now occupied seems providential. If the railroad men had foreseen the disaster they could not have shown greater prudence, for the engine of the first section of the express, on the track nearest the mountain side, stood about a car’s length ahead of the second. The engine of the third train came to a stop a car’s length behind the second and on the outer track, which was within a few feet of the swollen Conemaugh River, stood a heavily laden freight train.
When the flood came it struck the slanting front of the four locomotives. Most of the passengers had, in the meantime, escaped up the mountain side. Three of the locomotives were carried down by the irresistible torrent, but the fourth turned on its side and was soon buried under sand, tree trunks and other débris. This served as a breakwater for the flood and accounts for the fact that the trains of cars were not reduced to kindling wood while the railroad roundhouse and its twelve locomotives, a little farther down the valley, was taken up bodily, broken into fragments and its mighty inmates carried like chips for miles down the valley.
From end to end of the train, upon its arrival at Philadelphia, there was an aspect of absolute exhaustion, varied in its expression according to the individual. Phlegmatic men lay upon their backs, across the seats, with their legs dangling in the aisles. One might send them spinning round or toss their feet out of the passage, and their worn faces showed no more sign than if they were lifeless. Women lay swathed in veils and wraps, sometimes alone, sometimes huddled together, and sometimes guarded by the arms of their husbands–husbands who themselves had given way and slept as heavily as if dosed with narcotics.
But here and there is the typical American girl, full of nerve. She is worn out, too, but sleeps only fitfully, starting up at every sound and dropping uneasily off again. Now and then one encountered the man and woman of restless temperament, whose sleepless eyes looked out thinking, thinking–thinking on the trees and grass and bushes, faintly showing form now in the gray light of the very earliest dawn.
In the midst of it all a girl of six or seven, with a light shawl thrown over her figure, slept as peacefully as if she lay in the comfortable embrace of her own crib at home. She was little Bertha Reed, who had been sent out from Chicago in the care of the conductor on a trip to Brooklyn, where she was to meet her aunt. At Pittsburgh she was taken in charge by a Miss Harvey, a relative. She was a passenger on the Chicago limited, the last train to get safely across the bridge at South Fork. She was a model of patience and cheerfulness through all the discomforts and drawbacks of the voyage, and her innocent prattle made every man and woman love her.
It might have been supposed that if one were to waken any of these sleeping passengers to obtain their names and ask them of the disaster they might surlily have resented it. But they didn’t. Now and then one of them would half-sleepily hand out his ticket under the mistaken notion that the reporter was the conductor. Another shake brought them round and they answered everything as kindly as if the unavoidable breaking in upon their comfort were a matter of no concern whatever. Sometimes it would seem that great sorrow must have a chastening effect upon everyone.
It was a strange gathering altogether, and made one think again of the remark so often repeated in “No Thoroughfare,” “How small the world is.” All the ends of the earth had sent their people to meet at the disaster, and the tide of human life flows on as recklessly as the current of any sea or river. Here weary, sleepy and sad, was Jacob Schmidt, of Aspen, Col. He had been a passenger on the Pittsburgh day express. He was standing on the platform when the flood came and by a lurching of the car he was thrown into the boiling torrent. He managed to seize a floating plank and was saved, but all his money and other valuables were lost. That was a particularly hard loss to him, because he was on his way to South Africa to seek his fortune. Behind him was R.B. Jones, who had come from the other side of the globe; in particular from Sydney, Australia, and met the others at Altoona. He was on the way for a visit to his parents in York County. He was on the Chicago Limited and just escaped the danger.
In a front car was Peter Sherman, of Pawtucket, R.I. He was tall and broad shouldered and his sun-browned face was shaded by a big soft hat. He was on his way from Texarkana, way down in Texas, and he too was at Conemaugh. He was a passenger on the first section of the day express. He had not slept a wink on the way down from Altoona, and he told his story spiritedly. He said: “I heard a voice in the car crying the reservoir is burst; run for your lives! I got up and made a rush for the door. A poor little cripple with two crutches sat in front of me and screamed to me to save him or he would be drowned. I grabbed him up under one arm and took his crutches with my free hand. As we stepped from the car the water was coming. I made my way up the hill toward a church. The water swooped down on us and was soon up to my knees. I told the cripple I could not carry him further; that we should both be lost. He screamed to me again to save him, but the water was gaining rapidly on us. He had a grip of my arm, but finally let go, and I laid him, hopefully, on the wooden steps of a house. I managed to reach the high land just in time. I never saw the cripple afterwards, but I learned that he was drowned.”
A tall, heavily built man, with tattered garments, walked along the platform with the help of a cane. His face was covered with a beard, and his head was bowed so that his chin almost touched his breast. One foot was partially covered by a cut shoe, while on the other foot he wore a boot from which the heel was missing. This was Stephen Johns, a foreman at the Johnson Steel Rail Works at Woodvale. He was a big, strong man, but his whole frame trembled as he said: “Yes, I am from Johnstown. I lost my wife and three children there, so I thought I would leave.”
It was only by the greatest effort that Mr. Johns kept the tears back. He then told his experience in this way: “I was all through the war. I was at Fair Oaks, at Chancellorsville, in the Wilderness, and many other battles, but never in my life was I in such a hot place as I was on Friday night. I don’t know how I escaped, but here am I alone, wife and children gone. I was at the office of the company on Friday. We had been receiving telephonic messages all morning that the dam was unsafe. No one heeded them. I did not know anything about the dam. The bookkeeper said there was not enough water up there to flood the first floor of the office. I thought he knew, so I didn’t send my family to the hills.
“I don’t know what time it was in the afternoon that I saw the flood coming down the valley. I was standing at the gate. Looking up the valley I saw a great white crowd moving down upon us. I made a dash for home to try to get my wife and children to the hills. I saw them at the windows as I ran up to the house. That is the last time I ever saw their faces. No sooner had I got into the house than the flood struck the building. I was forced into the attic. It was a brick house with a slate roof. I had intended to keep very cool, but I suppose I forgot all about that.
“It seemed a long time, but I suppose it was not more than a second before the house gave way and went tumbling down the stream. It turned over and over as it was washed along. I was under the water as often as I was above it. I could hear my wife and children praying, although I could not see them. I did not pray. They were taken and I was left for some purpose, I suppose. My house finally landed up against the stone railway bridge. I was then pinned down to the floor by a heavy rafter or something. Somehow or other I was lifted from the floor and thrown almost out upon the bridge. Then some people got hold of me and pulled me out and took me over to a brickyard. My eyes and nose were full of cinders. After I reached the brickyard I vomited fully a pint of cinders which I had swallowed while coming through that awful stream of water. I can’t tell you what it was like. No one can understand it unless he or she passed through it.”
“Did you find your wife and children?”
“No. I searched for them all of Saturday, Sunday and Monday, but could find no trace of them. I think they must have been among those who perished in the fire at the bridge. I would have staid there and worked had it not been the place was so near my old home that I could not stand it. I thought I would be better off away from there where I could not see anything to recall that horrible sight.”
With a view of showing the character of living in and about Johnstown, how the people pass each day and what the conveniences and deprivations of domestic life experienced under the new order of things so suddenly introduced by the flood are, an investigation of a house-to-house nature was made to-day. As a result, it was noted that the degrees of comfort varied with the people as the types of human nature. As remarked by a visitor:
“The calamity has served to bring to the surface every phase of character in man, and to bring into development traits that had before been but dormant. Generally speaking all are on the same footing so far as need can be concerned. Whether houses remain to them or not, all the people have to be fed, for even should they have money, cash is of no account, provisions cannot be bought; people who still have homes nearly all of them furnish quarters for some of the visitors. Militia officers, committeemen, workmen, &c., must depend upon the supply stations for food.”
The best preserved borough adjoining Johnstown is Prospect, with its uniformly built gray houses, rising tier upon tier against the side of the mountain, at the north of Johnstown. There are in the neighborhood of 150 homes here, and all look as if but one architect designed them. They are large, broad gabled, two-story affairs, with comfortable porches, extending all the way across the front, each being divided by an interior partition, so as to accommodate two families. The situation overlooked the entire shoe-shaped district, heretofore described.
Nearly every householder in Prospect is feeding not only his own family, but from two to ten others, whom he has welcomed to share what he has. Said one of these “We are all obliged to go to the general department for supplies, for we could not live otherwise. Our houses have not been touched, but we have given away nearly everything in the way of clothing, except what we have on. There were two little stores up here, but we purchased all they had long ago. It does not matter whether the people are rich or poor, they are all compelled to take their chances. In Prospect are the quarters of the Americus Club, of Pittsburgh, an organization which is widely spoken of as having distinguished itself by furnishing meals to any and every hungry person who applied.”
As two newspaper men were about to descend the hill, after visiting a number of points, a little woman approached and made an inquiry about the running of trains. She was one of the survivors and wished to reach Clearfield, where her grown-up sons were. “I’d walk it if I could,” she said, “but it’s too far, and I’m too old now.” She was living with her friends, who have taken care of her since her home was swept away.
At the base of the long flight of wooden steps that lead to Prospect is the path extending across to the Pennsylvania Railroad station. Here is one of the principal distributing points. Three times each day a remarkable sight is here to be witnessed. Along the track at the eastern end, from the station platform back as far as the freight house, standing upon railroad ties, resting upon piles of lumber, and trying to hold their places in the line of succession in any position possible, crowds of people wait to be served. Aged, decrepit men and women and little girls and boys hold baskets, boxes, tin cans, wooden buckets, or any receptacle handy in which they may carry off provisions for the day.
The women have, many of them, tattered or ill-fitting clothing, taken at random when the first supply of this character arrived, their heads covered with thin shawls or calico sun shades. They stand there in the chilly morning wind that blows through the valley along the mountains, patiently waiting their turn at the provision table, making no complaint of cold feet and chilled bodies. In the line are people who, ten days ago, had sufficient of this world’s goods to enable them to live comfortably the remainder of their lives. They are massed in solidly.
Guards of soldiers stand at short intervals to keep them back and preserve the lines, and sentries march up and down the entire length of the station challenging the approach of any one who desires to pass along the platform. For a distance of about one hundred feet to the railroad signal tower are piled barrels of flour, boxes of provisions, and supplies of all descriptions. Under the shed of the station an incongruous collection of clothing is being arranged to allow of convenient distribution. While they waited for the signal to commence operations, a guard entered into conversation with a woman in the line. She was evidently telling a story of distress, for the guard looked about hastily to a spot where canned meats and bread were located and made a movement as if to obtain a supply for the woman, but the eyes of brother soldiers and a superior officer were upon him and he again assumed his position. It is said to be not unusual for the soldiers, under cover of dusk, to overstep their duty in order to serve some applicant who, through age or lack of physical strength, is poorly equipped to bear the strain. All sorts of provisions are asked for. One woman asks boldly for ham, canned chicken, vegetables and flour. Another approaches timidly and would be glad to have a few loaves of bread and a little coffee.
Before complete system was introduced complaint was made of discrimination by those dealing out supplies, but under the present order of things the endeavor is made to treat everybody impartially. Provisions are given out in order, so that imposition is avoided. It would seem that there could be no imposition in any case, however. The people who are here, and who are able to get within the lines at all, have a reason for their presence, and this is not curiosity. They are here for anything but entertainment, and there is no possibility of purchasing supplies. All must needs apply at the commissary department.
A big distributing point for clothing is at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad station, in the Fourth Ward, known as Harpville, on the east bank of the Stony creek. A rudely constructed platform extends over a washed-out ditch, partially filled with débris. In the vicinity is a large barn and several smaller outhouses, thrown in a tumble-down condition. Piled against them are beams and rafters from houses smashed into kindling wood. All about the station are boxes, empty and full, scattered in confusion, and around and about these crowds are clustered as best they can. A big policeman stands upon a raised platform made of small boxes, and as he is supplied with goods from the station he throws about in the crowds socks, shoes, dresses, shirts, pantaloons, etc., guessing as rapidly as possible at proportion and speedily getting rid of his bundle. Around the corner, on a street running at right angles with the tracks, is the provision department. These two are sample stations. They are scattered about at convenient points, and number about ten in all.
Article printed from Access Genealogy: http://www.accessgenealogy.com
URL to article: http://www.accessgenealogy.com/pennsylvania/stories-of-the-flood.htm
Copyright © 2013 Access Genealogy (http://www.accessgenealogy.com/). All rights reserved.