“The enormous sympathy aroused by the newspaper accounts, the pictures, the songs and poems, brought on the greatest outpouring of popular charity the country had ever seen.”
On May 31, 1889, water poured over and broke through a dam releasing water that would damage a countryside and kill thousands of people – the Johnstown Flood. It had been a wet spring and there was a lot of rain released by a strange and powerful storm the night before. However, the dam should have had drainage pipes and should have been managed by the South Fork club members who used the lake behind the dam as a personal retreat space. While nature played its part, the decisions made by the club while rebuilding the dam were the reason there was so much damage and destruction.
The Johnstown Flood, along with all of David McCullough’s books, have been on my to-read list ever since I decided to read all of his books last year. I have now read several of his books and it only took a few to know I would want to read them all. I really liked The Wright Brothers and 1776. McCullough has the ability to take history and make it come alive and not be boring.
While many floods have happened in the history of America, the Johnstown Flood is unique in that the towns didn’t take the warnings of the dam breaking seriously, the dam break was directly due to decisions made during its rebuilding and the generosity that poured out from all over the world for the survivors. Living below a dam, the people in the towns knew there was always the remote possibility the water could crest over the dam, but nothing had ever happened and they had gotten to the point where they doubted anything would. The water did unbelievable damage, even tearing survivors’ clothes right off their bodies. Once the world heard about the flood, money and supplies flowed in and the people got to rebuilding after mourning the more than 2,000 souls lost. Even Clara Barton’s Red Cross came to help.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys history. I learned so much as I had never heard about this flood before. It is a part of American history that should be taught as there are so many lessons that can be learned from the Johnstown Flood.