Thursday, September 8, 2016

Johnstown: the Day the Dam Broke

Author: Richard O'Connor
Stars: 4
Review by: Mandy Apgar

The day in question was May 31, 1889 - when the mud dam holding up the waters of Conemaugh Lake in Western Pennsylvania split (after a deluge of rain) and the resulting flood destroyed the town below, leaving over three thousand dead. Efforts to repair the dam (which was often plugged with sticks) were fruitless but constant and there wasn't a resident in Johnstown that wasn't afraid of the monster. But many could not afford to leave, and as the area's prices were so low (kept that way as an incentive by the area mills) they stayed. And who plugged the dam with sticks, refused to do anything when he rains came and the dam spouted torrents? The wealthy members of the fishing club with their lakefront houses of course. They didn't have to look at the thing. They didn't get their houses flooded, or swept away when the dam burst. Or incinerated when a fire broke out amidst the ruins. They didn't have to worry about a bloody thing but at least many were smart enough to pack away and never return after the waters receded. Johnstown attracted its share of ghouls after, as well as angels like Clara Barton, and today the town has been rebuilt and stands somewhat as a memoriam to the floods of 1889 and a later (but heralded, and much less dangerous) one in 1937. Told via eyewitness accounts and very well presented.

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