The Johnstown Flood

( 84 )

Overview

David McCullough is known to millions as the author of the critically acclaimed, best-selling books The Great Bridge, The Path Between the Seas, and Mornings on Horseback, and as host of the popular PBS television series "Smithsonian World?' The Johnstown Flood, David McCullough's first book, was praised by Time magazine as a "meticulously researched, vivid account of one of the most stunning disasters in U.S. history."

At the end of the last century, Johnstown, Pennsylvania, ...

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Overview

David McCullough is known to millions as the author of the critically acclaimed, best-selling books The Great Bridge, The Path Between the Seas, and Mornings on Horseback, and as host of the popular PBS television series "Smithsonian World?' The Johnstown Flood, David McCullough's first book, was praised by Time magazine as a "meticulously researched, vivid account of one of the most stunning disasters in U.S. history."

At the end of the last century, Johnstown, Pennsylvania, was a booming coal-and-steel town filled with hard-working families striving for a piece of the nation's burgeoning industrial prosperity. In the mountains above Johnstown, an old earth dam had been hastily rebuilt to create a lake for an exclusive summer resort patronized by the tycoons of that same industrial prosperity: among them Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and Andrew Mellon. Despite repeated warnings of possible danger, nothing was done about the dam. Then came May 31, 1889, when the dam burst, sending a wall of water thundering down the mountain, smashing through Johnstown, and killing more than 2,000 townspeople. It was a tragedy that became a national scandal.

From research in the voluminous records, diaries, letters, interviews with numbers of survivors, and a rare, previously unknown transcript of a private investigation conducted by the Pennsylvania Railroad, David McCullough vividly re-creates the chain of events that led to the catastrophe, and then unfolds the incredible story of the flood itself and its aftermath.

Graced by David McCullough's remarkable gift for writing richly textured, sympathetic social history, The Johnstown Flood is an absorbing,classic portrait of life in 19th-century America, of overweening confidence, energy, and tragedy. It also offers a powerful historical lesson for our century and all times: the danger of assuming that because people are in positions of responsibility they are necessarily behaving responsibly.

The bestselling author of The Path Between the Seas and Mornings on Horseback makes available again his classic chronicle of the tragic Johnstown, Pennsylvania flood of 1889.

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Editorial Reviews

John Leonard
We have no better social historian.
The New York Times
From the Publisher
The New Yorker A first rate example of the documentary method....Mr. McCullough is a good writer and painstaking reporter and he has re-created that now almost mythic cataclysm...with the thoroughness the subject demands.

The New York Times We have no better social historian.

Book World McCullough has resurrected the flood for a generation that may know it in name only. He proves the subject is still fresh and spectacular.

John Leonard The New York Times We have no better social historian.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780594496915
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 1/15/1987
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

David McCullough has twice received the Pulitzer Prize, for Truman and John Adams, and twice received the National Book Award, for The Path Between the Seas and Mornings on Horseback. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.

Biography

Critics have called David McCullough America's premier narrative historian, and rightly so: McCullough is both a scholar and a storyteller, a meticulous researcher and a highly engaging writer. Given his ability to turn a 750-page biography of an often-overlooked, one-term president into a national bestseller, it might even be said that McCullough is a magician. Gordon Wood, author of The Radicalism of the American Revolution and a professor of history at Brown University, has said McCullough "is without doubt the most celebrated of what you could call our 'popular historians,' and he's also respected by academic historians."

McCullough, who majored in English literature at Yale, began his career as a magazine writer, but turned to history after reading some uninspired accounts of the disastrous 1899 flood of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He wrote his own history of the flood and its aftermath, and went on to chronicle two great feats of engineering: the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and the creation of the Panama Canal.

Both The Great Bridge and The Path Between the Seas were bestsellers, and the latter won a National Book Award. Critics praised McCullough for his vivid descriptions and lively excerpts of firsthand accounts. The Great Bridge, wrote Robert Kirsch in The Los Angeles Times, is "a book so compelling and complete as to be a literary monument, one of the best books I have read in years." McCullough then progressed from the Panama Canal to its great proponent Theodore Roosevelt, the subject of his first biography. Mornings on Horseback, about the young Teddy Roosevelt, was hailed as a "masterpiece" by Newsday 's John A. Gable and praised as "a beautifully told story, filled with fresh detail" by The New York Times Book Review.

McCullough spent the next ten years researching and writing about Harry Truman, and the resulting book was a complex, compelling and affectionate portrait of America's 33d president. Truman won the Pulitzer Prize for biography and sold well over 1 million copies. Another Pulitzer Prize was awarded to McCullough's next book, John Adams, also a bestseller.

"McCullough's appreciation for Adams, like his appreciation for Truman, depends on an adherence to certain old-fashioned moral guidelines, which is to say on strength of character," wrote New York Times reviewer Pauline Maier. McCullough is eloquent about his subjects' honesty, unpretentiousness and deep sense of civic duty, though critics have sometimes charged that he is too quick to excuse or pass over their failings. But McCullough has his own reservations about "a certain school of historians who don't just want to prove somebody from the past had feet of clay, they want to show he's nothing but clay."

McCullough can admire his subjects in spite of their faults; as he once said, "The more we see the founders as humans the more we can understand them." Through his books, millions of readers have found American heroes whose human characters are as well worth studying as their historic accomplishments.

Good To Know

In researching John Adams, McCullough went to every place in Europe that Adams had lived, in England, France and Holland. He also traveled with his wife along the same route Adams and Jefferson took when they toured the gardens of England. "If I had been able to sail across the Atlantic in a 24-gun frigate, as John Adams did, I would have done that, too," he said.

In addition to his work as a writer, McCullough has hosted the public television shows Smithsonian World and The American Experience, and narrated Ken Burns's documentary The Civil War.

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Read an Excerpt

The Johnstown Flood


By David McCullough

Peter Smith Publisher Inc

Copyright ©1990 David McCullough
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0844662925

Excerpt

Chapter 1

The sky was red

Again that morning there had been a bright frost in the hollow below the dam, and the sun was not up long before storm clouds rolled in from the southeast.

By late afternoon a sharp, gusty wind was blowing down from the mountains, flattening the long grass along the lakeshore and kicking up tiny whitecaps out in the center of the lake. The big oaks and giant hemlocks, the hickories and black birch and sugar maples that crowded the hillside behind the summer colony began tossing back and forth, creaking and groaning. Broken branches and young leaves whipped through the air, and at the immense frame clubhouse that stood at the water's edge, halfway among the cottages, blue wood smoke trailed from great brick chimneys and vanished in fast swirls, almost as though the whole building, like a splendid yellow ark, were under steam, heading into the wind.

The colony was known as the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. It was a private summer resort located on the western shore of a mountain lake in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, about halfway between the crest of the Allegheny range and the city of Johnstown. On the afternoon of Thursday, May 30, Memorial Day, 1889, the club was not quite tenyears old, but with its gaily painted buildings, its neat lawns and well-tended flower beds, it looked spanking new and, in the gray, stormy half-light, slightly out of season.

In three weeks, when the summer season was to start, something like 200 guests were expected. Now the place looked practically deserted. The only people about were a few employees who lived at the clubhouse and some half dozen members who had come up from Pittsburgh for the holiday. D. W. C. Bidwell was there; so were the young Clarke brothers, J. J. Lawrence, and several of the Sheas and Irwins. Every now and then a cottage door slammed, voices called back and forth from the boathouses. Then there would be silence again, except for the sound of the wind.

Sometime not long after dark, it may have been about eight thirty, a young man stepped out onto the long front porch at the clubhouse and walked to the railing to take a look at the weather. His name was John G. Parke, Jr. He was clean-shaven, slight of build, and rather aristocratic-looking. He was the nephew and namesake of General John G. Parke, then superintendent of West Point. But young Parke was a rare item in his own right for that part of the country; he was a college man, having finished three years of civil engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. For the present he was employed by the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club as the so-called "resident engineer." He had been on the job just short of three months, seeing to general repairs, looking after the dam, and supervising a crew of some twenty Italian laborers who had been hired to install a new indoor plumbing system, and who were now camped out of sight, back in the woods.

In the pitch dark he could hardly see a thing, so he stepped down the porch stairs and went a short distance along the boardwalk that led through the trees to the cottages. The walk, he noticed, was slightly damp. Apparently, a fine rain had fallen sometime while he was inside having his supper. He also noticed that though the wind was still up, the sky overhead was not so dark as before; indeed, it seemed to be clearing off some. This was not what he had expected. Windstorms on the mountain nearly always meant a heavy downpour almost immediately after - "thunder-gusts" the local men called them. Parke had been through several already in the time he had been at the lake and knew what to expect.

It would be as though the whole sky were laying siege to the burly landscape. The rain would drum down like an unyielding river. Lightning would flash blue-white, again and again across the sky, and thunderclaps would boom back and forth down the valley like a cannonade, rattling every window along the lakeshore.

Then, almost as suddenly as it had started, the siege would lift, and silent, milky steam would rise from the surface of the water and the rank smell of the sodden forest floor would hang on in the air for hours.

Tonight, however, it appeared there was to be no storm. Parke turned and walked back inside. About nine-thirty he went upstairs, climbed into bed, and went to deep.

About an hour and a half later, very near eleven, the rain began. It came damming through the blackness in huge wind-driven sheets, beating against the clubhouse, the tossing trees, the lake, and the dark, untamed country that stretched off in every direction for miles and miles.

The storm had started out of Kansas and Nebraska, two days before, on May 28. The following day there had been hard rains in Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Trains had been delayed, roads washed out. In Kansas, along the Cottonwood River, a dozen farms had been flattened by tornado-force winds and several people had been killed. In northern Michigan and parts of Indiana there had been sudden snow squalls. Warnings had been telegraphed east. On the night of the 29th the U.S. Signal Service issued notices that the Middle Atlantic states were in for severe local storms. On the morning of May 30 all stations in the area reported "threatening weather."

When the storm struck western Pennsylvania it was the worst downpour that had ever been recorded for that section of the country. The Signal Service called it the most extensive rainfall of the century for so large an area and estimated that from six to eight inches of rain fell in twenty-four hours over nearly the entire central section. On the mountains there were places where the fall was ten inches.

But, at the same time, there were astonishing disparities between the amount of rainfall at places within less than a hundred-mile radius. At the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, for example, a pail left outside overnight would have five inches of water in it the next morning when the rain was still coming down. The total rainfall at the clubhouse would be somewhere near seven inches. In Pittsburgh, just sixty-five miles to the west as the crow flies, the total rainfall would be only one and a half inches.

But as the storm beat down on the mountain that night, John G. Parke, Jr., who would turn twenty-three in less than a month, slept on, never hearing a thing.

Most of the holiday crowds were back from the cemetery by the time the rain began Thursday afternoon. It had been the customary sort of Memorial Day in Johnstown, despite the weather.

People had been gathering along Main Street since noon. With the stores closed until six, with school out, and the men off from the mills, it looked as though the whole town was turning out. Visitors were everywhere, in by special trains from Somerset, Altoona, and other neighboring towns. The Ancient Order of Hibernians, "a stalwart, vigorous looking body of men," as the Johnstown Tribune described them, was stopping over for its annual state convention. Hotels were full and the forty-odd saloons in Johnstown proper were doing a brisk business.

The Reverend H. L. Chapman, who lived two doors off Main, in the new Methodist parsonage facing the park, later wrote, "The morning was delightful, the city was in its gayest mood, with flags, banners and flowers everywhere...we could see almost everything of interest from our porch. The streets were more crowded than we had ever seen before."

The parade, late starting as always, got under way about two-thirty, marched up Main, past the Morrell place, on by the Presbyterian Church and the park, clear to Bedford Street. There it turned south and headed out along the river to Sandy Vale, where the war dead were buried. The fire department marched, the Morrellville Odd Fellows, the Austrian Music Society, the Hornerstown Drum Corps, the Grand Army Veterans, and the Sons of Veterans, and half a dozen or more other groups of various shapes and sizes, every one of them getting a big cheer, and especially the Grand Army men, several of whom were beginning to look as though the three-mile tramp was a little more than they were up to.

How much things had changed since they had marched off to save the Union! It had been nearly thirty years since Lincoln had first called for volunteers. Grant and Lee were both dead, and there were strapping steelworkers with thick, black mustaches standing among the crowds along Main Street who had been born since Appomattox.

At the start of the war Johnstown had been no more than a third the size it was now; and ten years before that, it had been nothing but a sleepy little canal town with elderbushes growing high along Main, and so quiet you could hear the boat horns before the barges cleared the bend below town.

But ever since the war, with the west opening up, the Cambria Iron Company had had its giant three-ton converters going night and day making steel for rails and barbed wire, plowshares, track bolts, and spring teeth for harrows. The valley was full of smoke, and the city clanked and whistled and rumbled loud enough to be heard from miles off. At night the sky gleamed so red it looked as though the whole valley were on fire. James Quinn, one of Johnstown's most distinguished-looking Grand Army veterans and its leading dry-goods merchant, enjoyed few sights more. "The sure sign of prosperity," he called it.

Years after, Charlie Schwab, the most flamboyant of Carnegie's men, described the view of Johnstown from his boyhood home in the mountain town of Loretto, nearly twenty miles to the northeast.

"Along toward dusk tongues of flame would shoot up in the pall around Johnstown. When some furnace door was opened the evening turned red. A boy watching from the rim of hills had a vast arena before him, a place of vague forms, great labors, and dancing fires. And the murk always present, the smell of the foundry. It gets into your hair, your clothes, even your blood."

Most of the men watching the parade that Memorial Day would have taken a somewhat less romantic view. In the rolling mills they worked under intense heat on slippery iron floors where molten metal went tearing by and one false step or slow reaction could mean horrible accidents. Most of them worked a ten- or even twelve-hour day, six days a week, and many weeks they worked the hated "long turn," which meant all day Sunday and on into Monday. If they got ten dollars for a week's work they were doing well.

A visiting journalist in 1885 described Johnstown as "new, rough, and busy, with the rush of huge mills and factories and the throb of perpetually passing trains." The mills were set just below town in the gap in the mountains where the Conemaugh River flows westward. On the hillside close to the mills the trees had turned an evil-looking black and grew no leaves.

Johnstown of 1889 was not a pretty place. But the land around it was magnificent. From Main Street, a man standing among the holiday crowds could see green hills, small mountains, really, hunching in close on every side, dwarfing the tops of the houses and smokestacks.

The city was built on a nearly level flood plain at the confluence of two rivers, down at the bottom of an enormous hole in the Alleghenies. A visitor from the Middle West once commented, "Your sun rises at ten and sets at two," and it was not too great an exaggeration.

The rivers, except in spring, appeared to be of little consequence. The Little Conemaugh and Stony Creek, or the Stony Creek, as everyone in Johnstown has always said (since it is the Stony Creek River), are both more like rocky, oversized mountain streams than rivers. They are about sixty to eighty yards wide. Normally their current is very fast; in spring they run wild. But on toward August, as one writer of the 1880's said, there are places on either river where a good jumper could cross on dry stones.

The Little Conemaugh, which is much the swifter of the two, rushes in from the east, from the Allegheny Mountain. It begins near the very top of the mountain, about eighteen miles from Johnstown, at a coal town called Lilly. Its sources are Bear Rock Run and Bear Creek, Trout Run, Bens Creek, Laurel Run, South Fork Creek, Clapboard Run and Saltlick Creek. From an elevation of 2,300 feet at Lilly, the Little Conemaugh drops 1,147 feet to Johnstown.

The Stony Creek flows in from the south. It is a broader, deeper river than the other and is fed by streams with names like Beaver Dam Run, Fallen Timber Run, Shade Creek, and Paint Creek. Its total drainage is considerably more than that of the Little Conemaugh, and until 1889 it had always been thought to be the more dangerous of the two.

When they meet at Johnstown, the rivers form the Conemaugh, which, farther west, joins the Loyalhanna to form the Kiskiminetas, which in turn flows into the Allegheny about eighteen miles above Pittsburgh.

At Johnstown it was as though the bottom had dropped out of the old earth and left it angry and smoldering, while all around, the long, densely forested ridges, "hogbacks" they were called, rolled off in every direction like a turbulent green sea. The climb up out of the city took the breath fight out of you. But on top it was as though you had entered another world, clean, open, and sweetsmelling.

In 1889 there were still black bear and wildcats on Laurel Hill to the west of town. Though the loggers had long since stripped the near hills, there were still places within an hour's walk from Main Street where the forest was not much different than it had been a hundred years before.

Now and then an eagle could still be spotted high overhead. There were pheasants, ruffed grouse, geese, loons, and wild turkeys that weighed as much as twenty pounds. Plenty of men marching in the parade could remember the time before the war when there had been panthers in the mountains big enough to carry off a whole sheep. And it had been only a few years earlier when passenger pigeons came across the valley in numbers beyond belief. One January the Tribune wrote: "On Saturday there were immense flocks of wild pigeons flying over town, but yesterday it seemed as if all the birds of this kind at present in existence throughout the entire country were engaged in gyrating around overhead. One flock was declared to be at least three miles in length by half a mile wide."

Still, many days there were in the valley itself when the wind swept away the smoke and the acrid smell of the mills and the air was as good as a man could ask for. Many nights, and especially in winter, were the way mountain nights were meant to be, with millions of big stars hanging overhead in a sky the color of coal.

Looking back, most of the people who would remember Johnstown as it was on that Memorial Day claimed it was not as unpleasant a place as one might imagine. "People were poor, very poor by later standards," one man said, "but they didn't know it." And there was an energy, a vitality to life that they would miss in later years.



Continues...


Excerpted from The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough Copyright ©1990 by David McCullough. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
I The sky was red
II Sailboats on the mountain
III "There's a man came from the lake."
IV Rush of the torrent
V "Run for your lives!"
VI message from Mr. Pitcairn
VII In the valley of death
VIII "No pen can describe"
IX "Our misery is the work of man."
List of Victims
Bibliography
Index
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First Chapter

Chapter 1

The sky was red

Again that morning there had been a bright frost in the hollow below the dam, and the sun was not up long before storm clouds rolled in from the southeast.

By late afternoon a sharp, gusty wind was blowing down from the mountains, flattening the long grass along the lakeshore and kicking up tiny whitecaps out in the center of the lake. The big oaks and giant hemlocks, the hickories and black birch and sugar maples that crowded the hillside behind the summer colony began tossing back and forth, creaking and groaning. Broken branches and young leaves whipped through the air, and at the immense frame clubhouse that stood at the water's edge, halfway among the cottages, blue wood smoke trailed from great brick chimneys and vanished in fast swirls, almost as though the whole building, like a splendid yellow ark, were under steam, heading into the wind.

The colony was known as the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. It was a private summer resort located on the western shore of a mountain lake in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, about halfway between the crest of the Allegheny range and the city of Johnstown. On the afternoon of Thursday, May 30, Memorial Day, 1889, the club was not quite ten years old, but with its gaily painted buildings, its neat lawns and well-tended flower beds, it looked spanking new and, in the gray, stormy half-light, slightly out of season.

In three weeks, when the summer season was to start, something like 200 guests were expected. Now the place looked practically deserted. The only people about were a few employees who lived at the clubhouse and some half dozen members who had come up fromPittsburgh for the holiday. D. W. C. Bidwell was there; so were the young Clarke brothers, J. J. Lawrence, and several of the Sheas and Irwins. Every now and then a cottage door slammed, voices called back and forth from the boathouses. Then there would be silence again, except for the sound of the wind.

Sometime not long after dark, it may have been about eight thirty, a young man stepped out onto the long front porch at the clubhouse and walked to the railing to take a look at the weather. His name was John G. Parke, Jr. He was clean-shaven, slight of build, and rather aristocratic-looking. He was the nephew and namesake of General John G. Parke, then superintendent of West Point. But young Parke was a rare item in his own right for that part of the country; he was a college man, having finished three years of civil engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. For the present he was employed by the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club as the so-called "resident engineer." He had been on the job just short of three months, seeing to general repairs, looking after the dam, and supervising a crew of some twenty Italian laborers who had been hired to install a new indoor plumbing system, and who were now camped out of sight, back in the woods.

In the pitch dark he could hardly see a thing, so he stepped down the porch stairs and went a short distance along the boardwalk that led through the trees to the cottages. The walk, he noticed, was slightly damp. Apparently, a fine rain had fallen sometime while he was inside having his supper. He also noticed that though the wind was still up, the sky overhead was not so dark as before; indeed, it seemed to be clearing off some. This was not what he had expected. Windstorms on the mountain nearly always meant a heavy downpour almost immediately after -- "thunder-gusts" the local men called them. Parke had been through several already in the time he had been at the lake and knew what to expect.

It would be as though the whole sky were laying siege to the burly landscape. The rain would drum down like an unyielding river. Lightning would flash blue-white, again and again across the sky, and thunderclaps would boom back and forth down the valley like a cannonade, rattling every window along the lakeshore.

Then, almost as suddenly as it had started, the siege would lift, and silent, milky steam would rise from the surface of the water and the rank smell of the sodden forest floor would hang on in the air for hours.

Tonight, however, it appeared there was to be no storm. Parke turned and walked back inside. About nine-thirty he went upstairs, climbed into bed, and went to deep.

About an hour and a half later, very near eleven, the rain began. It came damming through the blackness in huge wind-driven sheets, beating against the clubhouse, the tossing trees, the lake, and the dark, untamed country that stretched off in every direction for miles and miles.

The storm had started out of Kansas and Nebraska, two days before, on May 28. The following day there had been hard rains in Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Trains had been delayed, roads washed out. In Kansas, along the Cottonwood River, a dozen farms had been flattened by tornado-force winds and several people had been killed. In northern Michigan and parts of Indiana there had been sudden snow squalls. Warnings had been telegraphed east. On the night of the 29th the U.S. Signal Service issued notices that the Middle Atlantic states were in for severe local storms. On the morning of May 30 all stations in the area reported "threatening weather."

When the storm struck western Pennsylvania it was the worst downpour that had ever been recorded for that section of the country. The Signal Service called it the most extensive rainfall of the century for so large an area and estimated that from six to eight inches of rain fell in twenty-four hours over nearly the entire central section. On the mountains there were places where the fall was ten inches.

But, at the same time, there were astonishing disparities between the amount of rainfall at places within less than a hundred-mile radius. At the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, for example, a pail left outside overnight would have five inches of water in it the next morning when the rain was still coming down. The total rainfall at the clubhouse would be somewhere near seven inches. In Pittsburgh, just sixty-five miles to the west as the crow flies, the total rainfall would be only one and a half inches.

But as the storm beat down on the mountain that night, John G. Parke, Jr., who would turn twenty-three in less than a month, slept on, never hearing a thing.

Most of the holiday crowds were back from the cemetery by the time the rain began Thursday afternoon. It had been the customary sort of Memorial Day in Johnstown, despite the weather.

People had been gathering along Main Street since noon. With the stores closed until six, with school out, and the men off from the mills, it looked as though the whole town was turning out. Visitors were everywhere, in by special trains from Somerset, Altoona, and other neighboring towns. The Ancient Order of Hibernians, "a stalwart, vigorous looking body of men," as the Johnstown Tribune described them, was stopping over for its annual state convention. Hotels were full and the forty-odd saloons in Johnstown proper were doing a brisk business.

The Reverend H. L. Chapman, who lived two doors off Main, in the new Methodist parsonage facing the park, later wrote, "The morning was delightful, the city was in its gayest mood, with flags, banners and flowers everywhere...we could see almost everything of interest from our porch. The streets were more crowded than we had ever seen before."

The parade, late starting as always, got under way about two-thirty, marched up Main, past the Morrell place, on by the Presbyterian Church and the park, clear to Bedford Street. There it turned south and headed out along the river to Sandy Vale, where the war dead were buried. The fire department marched, the Morrellville Odd Fellows, the Austrian Music Society, the Hornerstown Drum Corps, the Grand Army Vet

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2002

    This brings the Johnstown flood to life!

    David McCullough shows that fact really is, at times, stranger than fiction. He obviously did a lot of research; there were many facts given to help set the record straight. His book reveals the people behind the events; you can see it happening before you. I appreciated reading the newspapers' headlines and inflated stories told, the maps and photos, along with the (lack of) justice served by the S.F. Hunting & Fishing Club. Lawyers would have a hay-day if the flood would happen in our time! I can't wait to travel to Johnstown to see the site of a long-ago nightmare and pay my respects to a town of survivors.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2005

    Awesome!!!

    I stumbled across this book by accident about two months ago. I had never heard of David McCullough before. This book just sounded so interesting, and I like history, so I thought I'd give it a try. It really makes you feel as though you were there!!! Now that I have 'discovered' this author (thank goodness on my own, but now he is all over the news for 1776, and rightly so) I am certain I will be reading other books of his soon!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2001

    'INCREDIBLE'

    This book was so well written that I almost felt that I was going through the flood myself. This is an incredible book! I live about a hundred miles from Johnstown but have never really read much about the flood. All I knew was 'hearsay'. But as I read this book, I came to realize that all the stories I heard about the Johnstown Flood were just that. Stories! This book told everything. I went through the 1972 Agnes Flood and it was nothing.....nothing like what these people went through. I can't imagine having to endure such a tragedy as this. They've made movies about the Titanic and Mt. St. Helens. Why not this? This book would make a great movie! Read this book! I guarantee you won't be able to put it down!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2012

    Great PA History

    As a forner resident of PA, the Johnstown Flood is a part of my history, albeit one that aside from the basic facts I was unfamiliar with. McCullough dispelled myths and set the record straight, providing facts while also telling a captivating story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 25, 2012

    A detailed historical disaster- Oh the humanity!

    It's easy to look back from my comfortable chair in 2012 and say, " How could they not see this coming?". A vast lake, high in the hills held back by a decaying dam, looms over a wary populace below held back from strong protest by their belief that the millionaire industrialist dam owners know best and the complacency that comes with generations of coexisting with the threat.
    Add an epic storm and you have a disaster story that will keep you turning the pages.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2012

    Masterful Storyteller

    McCullough knows how to engage the reader into story. I couldn't put this book down...which made for a couple sleepless nights!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2011

    Typical McCullough Thoroughness

    David McCullough brings history to life in another book. I thought at first that this was a new book by McCullough, until it referred to an event which happened over 120 years ago as happening almost 100 years ago. That explained how he was able to interview actual survivors in his research. The book displays his usual attention to detail and thorough research. I liked also that he didn't stop with the flood and its causes as other treatments of the subject that I have read have, but continued on to the aftermath of the event. What happened to those who survived--and how the courts dealt (or didn't) with those most responsible for the tragic flood.

    If you like history well-told, I recommend this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2007

    Tourism

    If you liked the book so much, go to Johnstown and visit, but don't just go into Johnstown itself to the museums, go to Sidman/St. Michaels and see the actual dam and the tourist sites in the area. Johnstown is an amazing place that has memorialized this tragedy. It is so good to know that McCullough helped to put them back on the map.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2013

    Well researched

    I grew up near Johnstown so I was familiar with the area but not all the details and pictures. I enjoyed it.

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  • Posted August 8, 2013

    highly recommend

    very interesting story about the lives of the flood victims and survivors

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  • Posted April 26, 2012

    This was one of the best books I've ever read...in fact, I've re

    This was one of the best books I've ever read...in fact, I've read it 3 times! I love the detail David McCullough weaves into his writing..you almost feel like you're there. I don't quite know what it is about him, but he's one of my favorite authors. This book is one of my favorites..you won't be disappointed.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2012

    Amazing book

    Have always heard about the famous flood but this book describes it in such great detail. Its a wonder anyone survived it. Good read.

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  • Posted February 11, 2012

    great book of forgotton american history

    David McCullough is one of my favorite historians. His books never let me down and this is no exception. You feel as though you are there as the waters descend down the hill. I highly recommend this book.

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  • Posted February 1, 2012

    Very well written

    David McCullough is an excellent historian and author. You feel as though you could see what was happening from his descriptions, which appear to be very well researched. In addition, the background on the various people involved at that time makes you truly feel that you know what they went through. I recommend it for everyone who has an interest in American history.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2011

    An amazing story

    McCulloch brings the story of the Johnstown flood to vivid life. When the flood hits, he takes you on a wild ride. A great read.

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  • Posted October 10, 2011

    Well written well researched and an extremely good read!

    As a native of Pittsburgh I grew up hearing about the Johnstown flood and had been looking for some time for an accurate accounting of the incident. After reading several of David McCullough's other books I decided his was probably one to look into. I was not in the least disappointed. His depth of research and his easy style of writing almost makes this a novel instead of a lesson in history. It is dramatic to the point of feeling as if you are fleeing from the flood yourself and as maddening as can be that no one was found at fault for what was truly a man made disaster just waiting for the right circumstances of events. The story was new but the names of the players were familiar. Anyone who has lived in western pennsylvania should read this book.

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  • Posted October 9, 2011

    Highly recommended!

    I loved this book! It read like a fiction novel. It was so interesting for me because the last time I read about the Johnstown Flood, I was 10 years old. So this book of course, explained everything at a higher educational level but easy reading. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves history of any kind. David McCullough did an excellent job writing this book!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 7, 2011

    Great book!

    I had never heard of this story before. The details are amazing and it puts you right in the book as you read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2011

    The story of an unexpected flood that destroyed a town by a master historian.

    This was McCullough's first major book. He is always accurate and interesting but it is amazing to see how his presentation improves over the years. Get this book just because it is one of his. The bad side of the edition I got is that the pictures are terrible, perhaps they are better in a hard cover edition?

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  • Posted February 7, 2011

    Must Read

    I am a big fan of this historical writer and this book is no exception. I like that the author is objective and brings all sides to the table. I was sorely disappointed there were not any pictures as this would have made for better visual clarity. I did peruse thru a hard copy at the store which helped but one of the points of the Nook is NOT having to go to the store! Otherwise was happy with this read.

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