Terrible Pictures of Woe

Johnstown after the Flood
Johnstown after the Flood

The proportion of the living registered since the flood as against the previous number of inhabitants is even less than was reported yesterday. It was ascertained to-day that many of the names on the list were entered more than once and that the total number of persons registered is not more than 13,000 out of a former population of between 40,000 and 50,000.

A new and more exact method of determining the number of the lost was inaugurated this morning. Men are sent out by the Relief Committee, who will go to every abode and obtain the names of the survivors, and if possible those of the dead.

The lack of identification of hundreds of bodies strengthens the inference that the proportion of the dead to the living is appalling. It is argued that the friends who might identify these unclaimed bodies are themselves all gone.

Another significant fact is that so large a number of those whom one meets in the streets or where the streets used to be are non-residents, strangers who have come here out of humane or less creditable motives. The question that is heard very often is, “Where are the inhabitants?” The town does not appear to have at present a population of more than 10,000.

It is believed that many of the bodies of the dead have been borne down into the Ohio, and perhaps into the Mississippi as well, and hence may finally be deposited by the waters hundreds of miles apart, perhaps never to be recovered or seen by man again.

The General Situation

General Hastings directing the police
General Hastings directing the police

Under the blue haze of smoke that for a week has hung over this valley of the shadow of death the work which is to resurrect this stricken city has gone steadily forward. Here and there over the waste where Johnstown stood in its pride black smoke arises from the bonfires on which shattered house-walls, rafters, doors, broken furniture and all the flotsam and jetsam of the great flood is cast.

Adjutant General Hastings, who believes in heroic measures, has been quietly trying to persuade the “Dictator”–that is, the would-be “Dictator”–to allow him to burn up the wrecked houses wholesale without the tedious bother of pulling them down and handling the débris. The timorous committees would not countenance such an idea. Nothing but piecemeal tearing down of the wrecked houses tossed together by the mighty force of the water and destruction by never-dying bonfires would satisfy them. Yet all of them must come down. Most of the buildings reached by the flood have been examined, found unsafe and condemned. Can the job be done safely and successfully wholesale or not? That is the real question for the powers that be to answer, and no sentiment should enter into it.

Four thousand workmen are busy to-day with ropes and axe, pick and shovel. But the task is vast, it is herculean, like unto the cleaning of the Augean stables.

“To clean up this town properly,” said General Hastings to-day, “we shall need twenty thousand workmen for three months.”

The force of the swollen river upturned the town in a half hour. These same timorous managers weakened to-day, after having the facts before their eyes brought home to their understanding by constant iteration. They have found out that they have, vulgarly speaking, bitten off more than they can chew. Poisons of the foulest kind pollute the water which flows down the turgid Conemaugh into the Allegheny River, whence is Pittsburgh’s water-supply, and thence into the Ohio, the water-supply of many cities and towns. Fears of a pestilence are not to be pooh-poohed into the background. It is very serious, so long as the river flows through the clogged and matted mass of the bridge so long it will threaten the people along its course with pestilence. The committee confess their inability to do this needed work, and to-day voted to ask the Governors of the several States to co-operate in the establishment of a national relief committee to grapple with the situation. Action cannot and must not be delayed.

Hope Out of Despair

The fears of an outbreak of fever or other zymotic diseases appear to be based on the alleged presence of decomposed animal matter, human and of lower type, concealed amid the débris. The alleged odor of burnt flesh coming from the enormous mass of conglomerated timber and iron lodged in the cul-de-sac formed by the Pennsylvania Railroad bridge is extremely mythical. There is an unmistakable scent of burnt wood. It would not be strange if the carcasses of domestic animals, which must be hidden in the enormous mass, were finally to be realized by the olfactory organs of the bystanders.

Blasting Continues

All day long the blast of dynamite resounded among the hills. Cartridges were let off in the débris, and a cloud of dust and flying spray marked the result of the mining operation. The interlaced timbers in the cul-de-sac yielded very slowly even to the mighty force of dynamite. There were no finds of especial import. At the present rate of clearing, the cul-de-sac will not be free from the wreckage in two months.

There was a sad spectacle presented this morning when the laborers were engaged in pulling over a vast pile of timber and miscellaneous matter on Main street. A young woman and a little puny baby girl were found beneath the mass, which was as high as the second story windows of the houses near by.

Together in Death

The girl must have been handsome when in the flush of youth and health. She had seized the helpless infant and endeavored to find safety by flight. Her closely cut brown hair was filled with sand, and a piece of brass wire was wound around the head and neck. A loose cashmere house-gown was partially torn from her form, and one slipper, a little bead embroidered affair, covered a silk-stockinged foot. Each arm was tightly clasped around the baby. The rigidity of death should have passed away, but the arms were fixed in their position as if composed of an unbendable material instead of muscle and bone. The fingers were imbedded in the sides of the little baby as if its protector had made a final effort not to be separated and to save if possible the fragile life. The faces of both were scarred and disfigured from contact with floating débris. The single garment of the baby–a thin white slip–was rent and frayed. The body of the young woman was identified, but the babe remained unknown. Probably its father and mother were lost in the flood, and it will never be claimed by friendly hands.

A Strange Discovery

This is only one among the many pathetic incidents of the terrible disaster. There were only nine unidentified bodies at the Adams street morgue this afternoon, and three additions to the number were made after ten o’clock. Two hundred and eight bodies have been received by the embalmers in charge. The yard of the school house, which was converted into a temporary abode of death, contains large piles of coffins of the cheaper sort. They come from different cities within two or three hundred miles of Johnstown, and after being stacked up they are pulled out as needed. Coffins are to be seen everywhere about the valley, ready for use when a body is found. A trio of bodies was found near the Hurlburt House under peculiar circumstances. They were hidden beneath a pile of wreckage at least twenty-five feet in height. They were a father, a mother and son. Around the waist of each a quarter inch rope was tied so that the three were bound together tightly. The hands of the boy were clasped by those of the mother, and the father’s arms were extended as if to ward off danger. The father probably knotted the rope during the awful moments of suspense intervening between the coming of the flood and the final destruction of the house they occupied. The united strength of the three could not resist the mighty force of the inundation, and like so many straws they were swept on the boiling surge until life was crushed out.

Child and Doll in One Coffin

I beheld a touching spectacle when the corpse of a little girl was extricated and placed on a stretcher for transportation to the morgue. Clasped to her breast by her two waxen hands was a rag doll. It was a cheap affair, evidently of domestic manufacture. To the child of poverty the rag baby was a favorite toy. The little mother held fast to her treasure and met her end without separating from it. The two, child and doll, were not parted when the white coffin received them, and they will moulder together.

I saw an old-fashioned cupboard dug out of a pile of rubbish. The top shelf contained a quantity of jelly of domestic manufacture. Not a glass jar was broken. Indeed there have been some remarkable instances of the escape of fragile articles from destruction. In the débris near the railroad bridge you may come upon all manner of things. The water-tanks of three locomotives which were borne from the roundhouse at Conemaugh, two miles away, are conspicuous. Amid the general wreck, beneath one of these heavy iron tanks, a looking glass, two feet by one foot in dimensions, was discovered intact, without even a scratch on the quicksilver.

Johnstown people surviving the destruction appear to bewail the death of the Fisher family. “Squire” Fisher was one of the old time public functionaries of the borough. He and his six children were swept away. One of the Fisher girls was at home under peculiar circumstances. She had been away at school, and returned home to be married to her betrothed. Then she was to return to school and take part in the graduating exercises. Her body has not yet been recovered.

Something to be Thankful For

There is much destitution felt by people whose pride prevents them from asking for supplies from the relief committees. I saw a sad little procession wending up the hill to the camp of the Americus Club. There was a father, an honest, simple German, who had been employed at the Cambria works during the past twelve years. Behind him trooped eight children, from a girl of fourteen to a babe in the arms of the mother, who brought up the rear. The woman and children were hatless, and possessed only the calico garments worn at the moment of flight. Forlorn and weary, they ranged in front of the relieving stand and implored succor.

“We lost one only, thank God!” exclaimed the mother. “Our second daughter is gone. We had a comfortable house which we owned. It was paid for by our savings. Now all is gone.” Then the unhappy woman sat down on the wet ground and sobbed hysterically. The children crowded around their mother and joined in her grief. You will behold many of these scenes of domestic distress about the ruins of Johnstown in these dolorous days.

Saw a Flood of Helpless Humanity

Mr. L.D. Woodruff, the editor and proprietor of the Johnstown “Democrat”, tells his experiences during the night of horrors. He was at the office of the paper, which is in the upper portion of the Baltimore and Ohio Railway station. This brick edifice stands almost in the centre of the course of the flood, and its preservation from ruin is one of the remarkable features of the occasion. A pile of freight cars lodged at the corner of the building and the breakwater thus formed checked the onslaught of floating battering rams. Mr. Woodruff, with his two sons, remained in the building until the following day. The water came up to the floor of the second story. All night long he witnessed people floating past on the roofs of houses or on various kinds of wreckage. A number of persons were rescued through the windows.

A man and his wife with three children were pulled in. After a while the mother for the first time remembered that her baby of fifteen months was left behind. Her grief was violent, and her cries were mingled with the groans of her husband, who lay on the floor with a broken leg. The next day the baby was found, when the waters subsided, on a pile of débris outside and it was alive and uninjured.

During the first few hours Mr. Woodruff momentarily expected that the building would go. As the night wore away it became evident the water was going down. Not a vestige of Mr. Woodruff’s dwelling has been found.

The newspapers of Johnstown came out of the flood fairly well. The “Democrat” lost only a job press, which was swept out of one corner of the building.

The Flood’s Awful Spoil

In the broad field of débris at the Pennsylvania Railroad viaduct, where the huge playthings of the flood were tossed only to be burned and beaten to a solid, intricate mass, are seen the peculiar metal works of two trains of cars. The wreck of the day express east, running in two sections that fatal Friday, lie there about thirty yards above the bridge. One mass of wreckage is unmistakably that of the Pullman car section, made up of two baggage cars and six Pullman coaches, and the other shows the irons of five day coaches and one Pullman car. These trains were running in the same block at Johnstown and were struck by the flood two miles above, torn from their tracks and carried tumbling down the mighty torrents to their resting place in the big eddy.

Railroad Men Suppressing Information

The train crew, who saw the waters coming, warned the passengers, escaped, and went home on foot. Conductor Bell duly made his report, yet for some unknown reasons one of Superintendent Pitcairn’s sub-ordinates has been doing his best to give out and prove by witnesses, to whom he takes newspaper men, that only one car of that express was lost and with it “two or three ladies who went back for overshoes and a very few others not lively enough to escape after the warnings.” That story went well until the smoke rolled away from the wreckage and the bones of the two sections of the day express east were disclosed. Another very singular feature was the apparent inability of the conductor of the express to tell how many passengers they had on board and just how many were saved. It had been learned that the first section of the train carried 180 passengers and the second 157. It may be stated as undoubtedly true that of the number fifty, at least, swell the horrible tale of the dead.

From the wreck where the trains burned there have been taken out fifty-eight charred bodies, the features being unrecognizable. Of these seven found together were the Gilmore family, whose house had floated there. The others, all adults, which, with two or three exceptions, swell the list of the unidentified dead, are undoubted corpses of the ill-fated passengers of the east express.

The Church Loses a Missionary

To-day another corpse was found in the ruins of a Pullman car badly burned. It was fully identified as that of Miss Anna Clara Chrisman, of Beauregard, Miss., a well-developed lady of about twenty-five years, who was on her way to New York to fill a mission station in Brazil. Between the leaves of her Greek testament was a telegram she had written, expecting to send it at the first stop, addressed to the Methodist Mission headquarters, No. 20 East Twelfth street, New York, saying that she would arrive on “train 8″ of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the day express east. In her satchel were found photographs of friends and her Bible, and from her neck hung a $20 gold piece, carefully sewn in a bag.

Is it possible that the Pennsylvania Railroad is keeping back the knowledge in order simply to avoid a list of “passengers killed” in its annual report, solely to keep its record as little stained as possible? It can hardly be that they fear suits for damages, for the responsibility of the wreck does not rest on them.

Two hundred bodies were recovered from the ruins yesterday. Some were identified, but the great majority were not. This number includes all the morgues–the one at the Pennsylvania Railroad station, the Fourth ward school, Cambria City, Morrellville, Kernville and the Presbyterian Church.

At the latter place a remarkable state of affairs exists. The first floor has been washed out completely and the second, while submerged, was badly damaged, but not ruined. The walls, floors and pews were drenched, and the mud has collected on the matting and carpets an inch deep. Walking is attended with much difficulty, and the undertakers and attendants, with arms bared, slide about the slippery surface at a tremendous rate. The chancel is filled with coffins, strips of muslin, boards, and all undertaking accessories. Lying across the tops of the pews are a dozen pine boxes, each containing a victim of the flood. Printed cards are tacked on each. Upon them the sex and full description of the enclosed body is written with the name, if known.

The Nameless Dead

Carrying children to burial
Carrying children to burial

The great number of bodies not identified seems incredulous and impossible. Some of these bodies have lain in the different morgues for four days. Thousands of people from different sections of the State have seen them, yet they remain unidentified.

At Nineveh they are burying all the unidentified dead, but in the morgues in this vicinity no bodies have been buried unless they were identified.

The First Presbyterian Church contains nine “unknown.” Burials will have to be made to-morrow. This morning workmen found three members of Benjamin Hoffman’s family, which occupied a large residence in the rear of Lincoln street. Benjamin Hoffman, the head of the family, was found seated on the edge of the bedstead. He was evidently preparing to retire when the flood struck the building. He had his socks in his pocket. His twenty-year-old daughter was found close by attired in a night-dress. The youngest member of the family, a three-year-old infant, was also found beside the bed.

Where the Dead are Laid

I made a tour of the cemeteries to-day to see how the dead were disposed in their last resting place. There are six burying grounds–two to the south of this place, one to the north, and three on Morrellsville to the west. The principal one is Grand View, on the summit of Kernville Hill.

But the most remarkable, through the damage done by the flood, is Sandy Vale Cemetery, at Hornersville, on Stony Creek, and about half a mile from the city of Johnstown. It is a private institution in which most of the people of the city buried their dead until two years ago, when the public corporation of Grand View was established. Its grounds are level, laid out in lots, and were quite picturesque, its dense foliage and numerous monuments attracting the eyes of every passenger entering the city by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which passes along one side the creek forming its other boundary. The banks of the creek are twenty feet high, and there was a nice sandy beach through its entire length.

A Sorry Scene

When the floods came the first of the wreckage and the backwater sent hundreds of houses, immense quantities of logs and cut lumber over it and into the borough of Hornersville. As the angry waters subsided the pretty cemetery was wrecked as badly as was the city, a portion of the débris of which has destroyed its symmetry. To make way for the burial of the numerous bodies sent there by the town committees it became necessary to burn some of the débris. This was commenced at the nearest or southern end, and at the time of my visit I had, like the corpses, to pass through an avenue of fire and over live ashes to make my inspection. There were no unknown dead sent here, consequently they were interred in lots, and here and there, as the cleared spots would allow, a body was deposited and the grave made to look as decently as four or five inches of mud on the surface and the clay soil would allow.

Masses of Débris

Scarcely a monument was left standing. Tall columns were broken like pipe-stems, and fences and evergreen bowers were almost a thing of the past. Whole houses on their sides, with their roofs on the ground, covered the lots, the beach, or blocked up the pathways, while other houses in fragments strewed the surface of the ground from one end to the other of the cemetery, once the pride of Johnstown. I found that some of the trees which were standing had feather beds or articles of furniture up in their boughs. Here and there a dead cow or a horse, two or three wagons, a railroad baggage car. Add to this several thousand logs, heaps of lumber, piled just as they left the yards, and still other single planks by the hundred thousand of feet, and some idea of the surroundings of the victims of the flood placed at rest here can be obtained.

On Kernville Hill

Grand View Cemetery, a beautiful spot, was started as a citizens’ cemetery and incorporated two years ago, and is now the finest burying place in this section of Pennsylvania. It is situated on the summit of Kernville hill, between six hundred and seven hundred feet above the town. It is approached by a zigzag roadway about one mile and a half in length, and a magnificent view of the valley is obtained from the grounds, making it well worth a visit under any circumstances. Here those whose relatives did not hold lots are to be buried in trenches four feet deep, sixty bodies to a trench. At present the trenches are not complete, and their encoffined bodies are stored in the beautiful stone chapel at the entrance. Of the other bodies they are entombed in the lots, where more than one were buried together. A wide grave was dug to hold them side by side. A single grave was made for Squire Fisher’s family, one grave and one mound holding eight of them.

Snatched from the Flood

One of the most thrilling incidents of narrow escapes is that told by Miss Minnie Chambers. She had been to see a friend in the morning and was returning to her home on Main street, when the suddenly rising waters caused her to quicken her steps. Before she could reach her home or seek shelter at any point, the water had risen so high and the current became so strong that she was swept from her feet and carried along in the flood. Fortunately her skirts served to support her on the surface for a time, but at last as they became soaked she gave up all hope of being saved.

Just as she was going under a box car that had been torn from its trucks floated past her and she managed by a desperate effort to get hold of it and crawled inside the open doorway. Here she remained, expecting every moment her shelter would be dashed to pieces by the buildings and other obstructions that it struck. Through the door she could see the mass of angry, swirling waters, filled with all manner of things that could be well imagined.

An Ark of Refuge

Men, women and children, many of them dead and dying, were being whirled along. Several of them tried to get refuge in the car with her, but were torn away by the rushing waters before they could secure an entrance. Finally a man did make his way into the car. On went the strange boat, while all about it seemed to be a perfect pandemonium. Shrieks and cries from the thousands outside who were being driven to their death filled the air.

Miss Chambers says it was a scene that will haunt her as long as she lives. Many who floated by her could be seen kneeling on the wreckage that bore them, with clasped hands and upturned faces as though in prayer. Others wore a look of awful despair on their faces. Suddenly, as the car was turned around, the stone bridge could be seen just ahead of them. The man that was in the car called to her to jump out in the flood or she would be dashed to pieces. She refused to go.

He seized a plank and sprang into the water. In an instant the eddying current had torn the plank from him, and as it twisted around struck him on the head, causing him to throw out his arms and sink beneath the water never to reappear again. Miss Chambers covered her face to avoid seeing any more of the horrible sight, when with an awful crash the car struck one of the stone piers. The entire side of it was knocked out. As the car lodged against the pier the water rushed through it and carried Miss Chambers away. Again she gave herself up as lost, when she felt herself knocked against an obstruction, and instinctively threw out her hand and clutched it.

Here she remained until the water subsided, when she found that she was on the roof of one of the Cambria mills, and had been saved by holding on to a pipe that came through the roof.

A Night of Agony

All through that awful night she remained there, almost freezing to death, and enveloped in a dense mass of smoke from the burning drift on the other side of the bridge. The cries of those being roasted to death were heard plainly by her. On Saturday some men succeeded in getting her from the perilous position she occupied and took her to the house of friends on Prospect Hill. Strange to say that with the exception of a few bruises she escaped without any other injuries.

Another survivor who told a pathetic story was John C. Peterson. He is a small man but he was wearing clothes large enough for a giant. He lost his own and secured those he had on from friends.

“I’m the only one left,” he said in a voice trembling with emotion. “My poor old mother, my sister, Mrs. Ann Walker, and her son David, aged fourteen, of Bedford county, who were visiting us, were swept away before my eyes and I was powerless to aid them.

“The water had been rising all day, and along in the afternoon flooded the first story of our house, at the corner of Twenty-eighth and Walnut streets. I was employed by Charles Mun as a cigarmaker, and early on Friday afternoon went home to move furniture and carpets to the second story of the house.

“As near as I can tell it was about four o’clock when the whistle at the Gautier steel mill blew. About the same time the Catholic church bell rang. I knew what that meant and I turned to mother and sister and said, ‘My God, we are lost!’

Here’s A Hero

“I looked out of the window and saw the flood, a wall of water thirty feet high, strike the steel works, and it melted quicker than I tell it. The man who stopped to blow the warning whistle must have been crushed to death by the falling roof and chimneys. He might have saved himself, but stopped to give the warning. He died a hero. Four minutes after the whistle blew the water was in our second story.

“We started to carry mother to the attic, but the water rose faster than we could climb the stairs. There was no window in our attic, and we were bidding each other good-by when a tall chimney on the house adjoining fell on our roof and broke a hole through it. We then climbed out on the roof, and in another moment our house floated away. It started down with the other stuff, crashing, twisting and quivering. I thought every minute it would go to pieces.

“Finally it was shoved over into water less swift and near another house.

“I found that less drift was forced against it than against ours, and decided to get on it. I climbed up on the roof, and in looking up saw a big house coming down directly toward ours, I called to sister to be quick. She was lifting mother up to me. I could barely reach the tips of her fingers when her arms were raised up while I lay on my stomach reaching down. At that moment the house struck ours and my loved ones were carried away and crushed by the big house. It was useless for me to follow, for they sank out of sight. I floated down to the bridge, then back with the current and landed at Vine street.

“I saw hundreds of people crushed and drowned. It is my opinion that fully fifteen thousand people perished.”

When the whistles of the Gautier Steel Mill of the Cambria Iron Company blew for the shutting down of the works at 10 o’clock last Friday morning nearly 1400 men walked out of the establishment and went to their homes, which were a few hours later wiped off the face of the earth. When the men to-day answered the notice that all should present themselves ready for work only 487 reported. That shows more clearly than anything else that has yet been known the terrible nature of the fatality of the Conemaugh. The mortality wrought among these men in a few hours is thus shown to have been greater than that in either of the armies that contended for three days at Gettysburg.

“Report at 9 o’clock to-morrow morning ready for work,” the notice posted read. It did not say where, but everybody knew it was not at the great Gautier Mill that covered half a dozen acres, for the reason that no mill is there. By a natural impulse the survivors of the working force of the steel plant began to move from all directions, before the hour named, toward the general office of the company.

What the Superintendent Saw

This office is located in Johnstown proper and is the only building in that section of the town left standing uninjured. It is a large brick building, three stories high, with massive brick walls. L.L. Smith, the commercial agent of the company, arrived at eight o’clock to await the gathering of the men, pausing a minute in the doorway to look at two things. One was an enormous pile of débris, bricks, iron girders and timbers almost in front of the office door which swarmed with 200 men engaged in clearing it away. This is the ruins of the Johnstown Free Library, presented to the town by the Cambria Iron Company, the late I.V. Williamson and others, and beneath it Mr. Smith knew many of his most intimate friends were buried. The other thing he looked at was his handsome residence partly in ruins, a few hundred yards away. When he entered the office he found that the men who had been shoveling the mud out of the office had finished their work and the floor was dark and sticky. A fire blazed in the open grate. A table was quickly rigged up and with three clerks to assist him, Mr. Smith prepared to make up the roster of the Gautier forces.

The Survivor’s Advance Corps

Soon they began to come like the first reformed platoon of an army after fleeing from disaster. The leader of the platoon was a small boy. His hat was pulled down over his eyes and he looked as if he were sorely afraid. After him came half a dozen men with shambling gait. One was an Irishman, two were English, one was a German and one a colored man. Two of them carried pickaxes in their hands, which they had been using to clear away the wreckage across the street.

“Say, mister,” stammered the abashed small boy, “is this the place?”

“Are you a Gautier man?” asked Mr. Smith kindly.

“Yes, sir, me and me father, but he’s gone.”

“Give us your name, my boy, and report at the lower works at 4 o’clock. Now, my men, we want to get to work and pull each other out of the hole, this dreadful calamity has put us in. It’s no use having vain regrets. It’s all over and we must put a good face to the front. At first it was intended that we should go up to the former site of the Gautier Mill and clean up and get out all the steel we could. Mr. Stackhouse now wants us to get to work and clear the way from the lower mills right up the valley. We will rebuild the bridge back of the office here and push the railroad clear up to where it was before.”

Not Anxious to Turn In

The men listened attentively, and then one of them asked: “But, Mr. Smith, if we don’t feel just like turning in to-day we don’t have to, do we?”

“Nobody will have to work at all,” was the answer, “but we do want all the men to lend a hand to help us out as soon as they can.”

While Mr. Smith was speaking several other workmen came in. They, too, were Gautier employees, and they had pickaxes on their shoulders. They heard the agent’s last remark, and one of them, stepping forward, said: “A good many of us are working cleaning up the town. Do you want us to leave that?”

“It isn’t necessary for you to work cleaning up the town,” was the reply. “There are plenty of people from the outside to do that who came here for that purpose. Now, boys, just give your names so we can find out how many of our men are left, and all of you that can, go down and report at the lower office.”

All the time the members of the decimated Gautier army were filing into the muddy-floored office. They came in twos and threes and dozens, and some bore out the idea of an army reforming after disaster, because they bore grievous wounds. One man had a deep cut in the back of his head, another limped along on a heavy stick, one had lost a finger and had an ugly bruise on his cheek. J.N. Short, who was the foreman of the cold-rolled steel shafting department, sat in the office, and many of the men who filed past had been under him in the works.

Mutual Congratulations

There were handshakes all the more hearty and congratulations all the more sincere because of what all had passed through. When the wall of water seventy-five feet high struck the mill and whipped it away like shot Mr. Short was safe on higher ground, but many of the men had feared he was lost.

“I tell you, Mr. Short,” said J.T. Miller, “I’m glad to see you’re safe.”

“And how did you make out, old man?”

“All right, thank God.”

Then came another man bolder than all and apparently a general favorite. He rushed forward and shook Mr. Smith’s hand. “Mr. Smith,” he exclaimed, “good morning, good morning.”

“So you got out of it, did you, after all?” asked Mr. Smith.

“Indeed I did, but Lord bless my soul, I thought the wife and babies were gone.” The man gave his name and hurried away, brushing a tear from his eye.

Mr. Shellenberger, one of the foremen, brought up the rear of the next platoon to enter. He caught sight of Mr. Smith and shouted: “Oh, Mr. Smith: good for you. I’m glad to see you safe.”

“Here to you, my hearty,” was the answer. “Did you all get off?”

“Every blessed one of us,” with a bright smile. “We were too high on the hill.”

He was Tired of Johnstown.

A little bit later another man came in. He looked as if he had been weeping. He hesitated in front of the desk. “I am a Gautier employee,” he said, speaking slowly, “and I have reported according to orders.”

“Well, give us your name and go to work down at the lower works,” suggested Mr. Smith.

“No, sir, I think not,” he muttered, after a pause. “I am not staying in this town any longer than I can help, I guess. I’ve lost two children and they will be buried to-day.”

“All right, my man, but if you want work we have plenty of it for you.”

The reporting of names and these quiet mutual congratulations of the men went on rapidly, but expected faces did not appear. This led Mr. Smith to ask, “How about George Thompson? Is he alive?”

“I do not know,” answered the man addressed. “I do not think so.”

“Who do you know are alive?” asked Mr. Smith, turning to another man. Mr. Smith never once asked who was dead.

“Well,” answered the man speaking reflectively, “I’m pretty sure Frank Smith is alive. John Dagdale is alive. Tom Sweet is alive, and I don’t know any more, for I’ve been away–at Nineveh.” The speaker had been at Nineveh looking for the body of his son. Not another word was said to him.

“Say, boys,” exclaimed Mr. Smith suddenly, a few minutes after he had looked over the list, “Pullman hasn’t reported yet.”

“But Pullman’s all right,” said a man quickly, “I was up at his sister’s house last night and he was there. That’s more than I can say of the other men in Pullman’s shift though,” added the speaker in a low tone. Mr. Short took this man aside, “That is a fact,” said he, “yesterday I knew of a family in which five out of six were lost. To-day I find out there were twenty people in the house mostly our men and only three escaped.”

Each Thought the Other Dead

Just then two men met at the door and fairly fell on each other’s necks. One wore a Grand Army badge and the other was a young fellow of twenty-three or thereabouts. They had been fast friends in the same department, and each thought the other dead. They knew no better till they met at the office door. “Well, I heard your body had been found at Nineveh,” said the old man.

“And I was told you had been burned to death at the bridge,” answered the other. Then the two men solemnly shook hands and walked away together.

A pale-faced woman with a shawl over her shoulders entered and stood at the table. “My husband cannot report,” she said simply, in almost a whisper. “He worked for the Gautier Mill?” she was asked. She nodded, bent forward and murmured something. The man at the desk said: “Make a note of that; so-and-so’s wife reports him as gone, and his wages due are to be paid to her.”

The work of recording the men went on until nearly one o’clock. Then, after waiting for a long time, Mr. Smith said, “Out of 1400 men we now have 487. It may be there are 200 who either did not see the notice or who are too busy to come. Anyway, I hope so–my God, I hope so.” All afternoon the greater part of the 487 men were swinging pickaxes and shovels, clearing the way for the railroad leading up to the Gautier Steel Works of the future.

The Morbidly Curious

To-day the order “Halt!” rang out in earnest at the footbridge over the rushing river into Johnstown. It was the result of a cry as early as the reveille, that came from among the ruins and from the hoarse throats of the contractors–“For God’s sake, keep the morbid people out of here; they’re in the way!”

General Hastings ordered the picket out on the high embankment east of the freight depot, where every man, woman and child must pass to reach the bridge. Colonel Perchment detailed Captain Hamilton, of G Company, there with an ample guard, and all who came without General Hastings’ pass in the morning were turned aside. This afternoon a new difficulty was encountered. When you flashed your military pass on the sentinel who cried “Halt!” he would throw his gun slantwise across your body, so that the butt grazed your right hip and the bayonet your left ear and say: “No good unless signed by the sheriff.” The civil authorities had taken the bridge out of the hands of the militia, and the sheriff sat on a camp stool overlooking the desolate city all the forenoon making out passes and approving the General’s.

No Conflict of Authority

The military men say there was no conflict of authority, and it was deemed proper that the civil authorities should still control the pass there. The sheriff came near getting shot in Cambria City this morning during a clash with one of his deputies over a buggy. Yet he looked calm and serene. Some beg him for passes to hunt for their dead. One man cried: “I’ve just gotten here, and my wife and children are in that town;” another said, “I belong in Conemaugh and was carried off by the flood,” while an aged, trembling man behind him whispered, “Sheriff, I just wanted to look where the old home stood.” When four peaceful faced sisters in convent garb, on their mission of mercy, came that way the sentinels stood back a pace and no voice ordered “Halt!”

At noon the crane belonging to the Pennsylvania Railroad was taken away from the débris at the bridge, and Mr. Kirk had to depend on dynamite alone. Later it was ordered back, and after that the work went on rapidly. An opening 400 feet long, which runs back in some places fifty feet, was made during the afternoon. A relief party yesterday found a ladies’ hand satchel containing $91 in cash, deeds for $26,000 in property and about $10,000 in insurance policies. Mrs. Lizzie Dignom was the owner, and both she and her husband perished in the flood.

Remembering the Orphans

Made orphans by the flood
Made orphans by the flood

Miss H.W. Hinckley and Miss E. Hanover, agent of the Children’s Aid Society and Bureau of Information of Philadelphia, arrived here this morning, and in twenty minutes had established a transfer agency. Miss Hinckley said:

“There are hundreds of children here who are apparently without parents. We want all of them given to us, and we will send them to the various homes and orphanages of the State, where they shall be maintained for several months to await the possibility of the reappearance of their parents when they will be returned to them. If after the lapse of a month they do not reclaim their little ones, we shall do more than we ordinarily do in the way of providing good homes for children in their cases. Think of it, in the house adjoining us are seven orphans, all of one family. We have been here only a half hour, but we have already found scores. We shall stay right here till every child has been provided for.”

There is no denying that a great deal of ill-feeling is breeding here between the survivors of the flood over the distribution of the relief supplies. The supplies are spread along the railroad track down as far as Morrellville in great stacks; provisions, clothing, shoes, and everything else. The people come for them in swarms with baskets and other means of conveyance. Lines are drawn, which are kept in trim by the pickets, and in this way they pass along in turn to the point where the stock is distributed.

It was not unusual yesterday to hear women’s tongues lashing each other and complaining that the real sufferers were being robbed and turned away, while those who had not fared badly by flood or fire were getting lots of everything from the committee. One woman made this complaint to a corporal.

“Prove it; prove it,” he said, and walked away. She cried after him, “The pretty women are getting more than they can carry.”

Twice the line of basket-carriers was broken by the guard to put out wranglers, and all through the streets of Cambria City could be heard murmurs of dissension. There is no doubt but that a strong guard will be kept in the town day and night, for in their deplorable condition the husbands may take up the quarrel of their wives.

Danger of Insanity

The “Medical News”, of Philadelphia, with rare enterprise, despatched a member of its staff to Johnstown, and he telegraphed as follows for the next issue of that paper:

“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 your correspondent 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.

“The State Board of Health should warn the people of the portions of the country supplied by the Conemaugh of the danger of drinking its waters for weeks to come.”

The Women and Children

New Johnstown will be largely a city of childless widowers. One of the peculiar things a stranger notices is the comparatively small number of women seen in the streets. Of the throngs who walked about the place searching for dear friends there is not one woman to ten men. Occasionally a little group of two or three women with sad faces will pick their way about looking for the morgues. There are a few Sisters of Charity–their black robes the only instance in which the conventional badge of mourning is seen upon the streets–and in the parts of the town not totally destroyed the usual number of women are seen in the houses and yards.

But, as a rule, women are a rarety in Johnstown now. This is not a natural peculiarity of Johnstown nor a mere coincidence, but a fact with a terrible reason behind it. There are so many more men than women among the living in Johnstown now because there are so many more women than men among the dead. Of the bodies recovered there are at least two women to every one man. Besides the fact that their natural weakness made them an easier prey to the flood, the hour at which the disaster came was one when the women would most likely be in their homes and the men at work in the open air or in factory yards, from which escape was easy.

An Almost Childless City

Children also are rarely seen about the town and for a similar reason. They are all dead. There is never a group of the dead discovered that does not contain from one to three or four children for every grown person. Generally the children are in the arms of the grown persons, and often little toys and trinkets clasped in their hands indicate that the children were caught up while at play and carried as far as possible toward safety.

Johnstown, when rebuilt, will be a city of many widowers and few children. In turning a school-house into a morgue, the authorities probably did a wiser thing than they thought. It will be a long time before the school-house will be needed for its original purpose.

The Flood on the Flat

The flood, with a front of twenty feet high, bristling with all manner of débris, struck straight across the flat, as though the river’s course had always been that way. It cut off the outer two-thirds of the city with a line as true and straight as could have been drawn by a survey. On the part over which it swept there remains standing but one building, the brewery. With this exception, not only the houses and stores, but the pavements, sidewalks and curbstones, and the earth beneath for several feet are washed away. The pavements were of cinders from the Iron Works; a bed six inches thick and as hard as stone and with a surface like macadam. Over west of the washed-out portion of the city not even the broken fragments of these pavements are left.

Aside from the few logs and timbers left by the afterwash of the flood, there is nothing remaining upon the outer edge of the flat, including two of the four long streets of the city, except the brewery mentioned before and a grand piano. The water-marks on the brewery walls show the flood reached twenty feet up its sides and it stood on a little higher ground than buildings around it at that.

Thieves Had Rifled His Safe

Mr. Steires, who on last Friday was the wealthiest man in town, on Sunday was compelled to borrow the dress which clothed his wife. When the flood began to threaten he removed some of the most valuable papers from his safe and moved them to the upper story of the building to keep them from getting wet. When the dam burst and Conemaugh Lake came down these, of course, went with the building. He got his safe Monday, but found that thieves had been before him, they having chiseled it open and taken everything but $65 in a drawer which they overlooked. Mr. Steires said to-day: “I am terribly crippled financially, but my family were all saved and I am ready to begin over again.”

Rebuilding Going On Apace

Oklahoma is not rising more quickly than the temporary buildings of the workmen’s city, which includes 5,000 men at least, and who are mingling the sounds of hammers on the buildings they are putting up for their temporary accommodation, with the crash of the buildings they are tearing down. It seemed almost a waste of energy two days ago, but the different gangs are already eating their way towards the heart of the great masses of wreckage that block the streets in every direction.

A dummy engine has already been placed in position on what was the main street, and all the large logs and rafters that the men can not move are fastened with ropes and chains, and drawn out by the engine into a clear space, where they are surrounded by smaller pieces of wood and burned. Carloads of pickaxes, shovels and barrows are arriving from Baltimore for the workmen.

First Store Opened

The first store was opened to-day by a grocer named W.A. Kramer, whose stock, though covered with mud and still wet from the flood, has been preserved intact. So far the greater part of his things have been bought for relics. The other storekeepers are dragging out the débris in their shops and shoveling the mud from the upper stories upon inclined boards that shoot it into the street, but with all this energy it will be weeks before the streets are brought to sight again.

As a proof of this, there was found this morning a passenger car fully half a mile from its depot, completely buried beneath the floor and roofs of other houses. All that could be seen of it by peering through intercepting rafters was one of the end windows over which was painted the impotent warning of “Any person injuring this car will be dealt with according to law.”

Curious Finds of Workmen

The workmen find many curious things among the ruins, and are, it should be said to their credit, particularly punctilious about leaving them alone. One man picked up a baseball catcher’s mask under a great pile of machinery, and the decorated front of the balcony circle of the Opera House was found with the chairs still immediately about its semi-circle, a quarter of a mile from the theatre’s site.

The mahogany bar of a saloon, with its nickel-plated rail, lies under another heap in the city park, and thousands of cigars from a manufactory are piled high in Vine street, and are used as the only dry part of the roadway. Those of the people who can locate their homes have gathered what furniture and ornaments they can find together, and sit beside them looking like evicted tenants.

The Grand Army of the Republic, represented by Department Commander Thomas J. Stewart, have placed a couple of tents at the head of Main street for the distribution of food and clothing. A census of the people will be taken and the city divided into districts, each worthy applicant will be furnished with a ticket giving his or her number and the number of the district.

The Post-office Uniforms

Across the street from the Grand Army tents is the temporary post-office, which is now in fairly good working order. One of the distributing clerks hunted up a newspaper correspondent to tell him that the post-office uniforms sent from Philadelphia by the employees of that city’s office have arrived safely and that the men want to return thanks through this paper.

The Red Cross Army people from Philadelphia have decided to remain, notwithstanding General Hastings’ cool reception, and they have taken up their quarters in Kernville, where they say the destitution is as great as in what was the city proper.

The Tale the Clocks Tell

The clocks of the city in both public and private houses tell different tales of the torrent that stopped them. Some of them ceased to tick the moment the water reached them. In Dibert’s banking-house the marble time-piece on the mantel stopped at seven minutes after 4 o’clock. In the house of the Hon. John M. Rose, on the bank of Stony Creek, was a clock in every room of the mansion from the cellar to the attic. Mr. Rose is a fine machinist, and the mechanism of clocks has a fascination for him that is simply irresistible. He has bronze, marble, cuckoo, corner or “grandfather” clocks–all in his house. One of them was stopped exactly at 4 o’clock; still another at 4.10; another at 4.15, and one was not stopped till 9 P.M. The “grandfather” clock did not stop at all, and is still going.

The town clocks, that is the clocks in church towers, are all going and were not injured by the water. The mantel piece clocks in nearly every house show a “no tick” at times ranging from 3.40 to 4.15.

Dead in the Jail

This morning a man, in wandering through the skirts of the city, came upon the city jail, and finding the outer door open, went into the gloomy structure. Hanging against the wall he found a bunch of keys and fitting them in the doors opened them one after another. In one cell he found a man lying on the floor in the mud in a condition of partial decomposition. He looked more closely at the dead body and recognized it as that of John McKee, son of Squire McKee, of this city, who had been committed for a short term on Decoration Day for drunkenness. The condition of the cell showed that the man had been overpowered and smothered by the water, but not till he had made every effort that the limits of his cell would allow to save himself. There were no other prisoners in the jail.

Heroes of the Night

Thomas Magee, the cashier of the Cambria Iron Company’s general stores, tells a thrilling story of the manner in which he and his fellow clerks escaped from the waters themselves, saved the money drawers and rescued the lives of nineteen other people during the progress of the flood. He says:

It was 4.15 o’clock when the flood struck our building with a crash. It seemed to pour in from every door and window on all sides, as well as from the floors above us. I was standing by the safe, which was open at the time, and snatched the tin box which contained over $12,000 in cash, and with other clerks at my heels flew up the stairs to the second floor. In about three minutes we were up to our waists in water, and started to climb to the third floor of the building. Here we remained with the money until Saturday morning, when we were taken out in boats. Besides myself there were in the building Michael Maley, Frank Balsinger, Chris Mintzmeyer, Joseph Berlin and Frank Burger, all of whom escaped. All Friday night and Saturday morning we divided our time between guarding the money, providing for our own safety and rescuing the poor people floating by. We threw out ropes and gathered logs and timbers together until we had enough to make a raft, which we bound together with ropes and used in rescuing people. During the night we rescued Henry Weaver, his wife and two children; Captain Carswell, wife and three children, and three servant girls; Patrick Ravel, wife and one child; A.M. Dobbins and two others whose names I have forgotten. Besides this we cut large pieces of canvas and oilcloth and wrapped it around bread and meat and other eatables and threw it or floated it out to those who went by on housetops, rafts, etc., whom we could not rescue without getting our raft in the drift and capsizing. We must have fed 100 people in this way alone.

When we were rescued ourselves we took the money over to Prospect Hill, and sent to the justice of the peace, who swore us all in to keep guard over our own money and that taken by Paymaster Barry from the Cambria Iron Company’s general offices, amounting to $4000, under precisely the same circumstances that marked our escape. We remained on guard until Monday night, when the soldiers came over and escorted us back to the office of the Cambria Iron Company, where we placed the money in the company’s vault.

So far as known at this hour only eighteen bodies have been this morning recovered in the Conemaugh Valley. One of these was a poor remnant of humanity that was suddenly discovered by a teamster in the centre of the road over which his wagons had been passing for the past forty-eight hours. The heavy vehicles had sunk deeply in the sand and broken nearly every bone in the putrefying body. It was quite impossible to identify the corpse, and it was taken to the morgue and orders issued for its burial after a few hours’ exposure to the gaze of those who still eagerly search for missing friends.

Only the hardiest can bear to enter the Morgue this morning, so overwhelming is the dreadful stench. The undertakers even, after hurriedly performing their task of washing a dead body and preparing it for burial, retreat to the yard to await the arrival of the next ghastly find. A strict order is now in force that all bodies should be interred only when it becomes impossible to longer preserve them from absolute putrefaction. There is no iron-clad rule. In some instances it is necessary to inter some putrid body within a few hours, while others can safely be preserved for several days. Every possible opportunity is afforded for identification.

Four bodies were taken from the ruins at the Cambria Club House and the company’s store this morning. The first body was that of a girl about seventeen years of age. She was found in the pantry and it is supposed that she was one of the servants in the house. She was terribly bruised and her face was crushed into a jelly. A boy about seven years of age was taken from the same place. Two men and a woman were taken from in front of a store on Main street. The remains were all bruised and in a terrible condition. They had to be embalmed and buried immediately, and it was impossible to have any one identify them.

Only Fifty Saved at Woodville

The number of people missing from Woodville is almost incredible, and from present indications it looks as if only about fifty people in the borough were saved. Mrs. H.L. Peterson, who has been a resident at Woodville for a number of years, is one of the survivors. While looking for Miss Paulsen, of Pittsburg, of the drowned, she came to a coffin which was marked “Mrs. H.L. Peterson, Woodville Borough, Pa., age about forty, size five feet one inch, complexion dark, weight about two hundred pounds.” This was quite an accurate description of Mrs. Peterson. She tore the card from the coffin and one of the officers was about to arrest her. Her explanations were satisfactory and she was released.

In speaking of the calamity afterward she said: “The people of Woodville had plenty of time to get out of the town if they were so minded. We received word shortly before two o’clock that the flood was coming, and a Pennsylvania Railroad conductor went through the town notifying the people. I stayed until half-past three o’clock, when the water commenced to rise very rapidly, and I thought it was best to get out of town. I told a number of women that they had better go to the hills, but they refused, and the cause of this refusal was that their husbands would not go with them and they refused to leave alone.”

Terrific Experience of a Pullman Conductor

Mr. John Barr, the conductor of the Pullman car on the day express train that left Pittsburgh at eight o’clock, May 31, gave an account of his experience in the Conemaugh Valley flood: “I was the last one saved on the train,” he said. “When the train arrived at Johnstown last Friday, the water was up to the second story of the houses and people were going about in boats. We went on to Conemaugh and had to halt there, as the water had submerged the tracks and a part of the bridge had been washed away. Two sections of the day express were run up to the most elevated point.

“About four o’clock I was standing at the buffet when the whistle began blowing a continuous blast–the relief signal. I went out and saw what appeared to be a huge moving mountain rushing rapidly toward us. It seemed to be surmounted by a tall cloud of foam.

Sounding the Alarm

Wreck of the Day Express
Wreck of the Day Express

“I ran into the car and shouted to the passengers, ‘For God’s sake follow me! Stop for nothing!’

“They all dashed out except two. Miss Paulsen and Miss Bryan left the car, but returned for their overshoes. They put them on, and as they again stepped from the car they were caught by the mighty wave and swept away. Had they remained in the car they would have been saved, as two passengers who stayed there escaped.

“One was Miss Virginia Maloney, a courageous, self-possessed young woman. She tied securely about her neck a plush bag, so that her identity could be established if she perished. Imprisoned in the car with her was a maid employed by Mrs. McCullough. They attempted to leave the car, but the water drove them back. They remained there until John Waugh, the porter, and I waded through the water and rescued them.

“The only passengers I lost were the two unfortunate young ladies I have named. I looked at the corpses of the luckless victims brought in during the two days I remained in Johnstown, but the bodies of the two passengers were not among them.

“At Conemaugh the people were extremely kind and hospitable. They threw open their doors and provided us with a share of what little food they had and gave us shelter.

Stripped of Her Clothing

“While at Conemaugh, Miss Wayne, of Altoona, who had a miraculous escape, was brought in. She was nude, every article of her clothing having been torn from her by the furious flood. There was no female apparel at hand, and she had to don trousers, coat, vest and hat.

“We had a severe task in reaching Ebensburg, eighteen miles from Conemaugh. We started on Sunday and were nine hours in reaching our destination. At Ebensburg we boarded the train which conveyed us to Altoona, where we were cared for at the expense of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company.

“I had a rough siege. I was in the water twelve hours. The force of the flood can be imagined by the fact that seven or eight locomotives were carried away and floated on the top of the angry stream as if they were tiny chips.”



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. 25 October 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/pennsylvania/terrible-pictures-of-woe.htm - Last updated on Feb 10th, 2013


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