David McCullough is in the news for his new book, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. By coincidence, I just read one of his early books, The Johnstown Flood, published in 1968.
I grew up in Pennsylvania and although I had heard of the Johnstown flood, I knew nothing about it. I’m a fan of McCullough’s and when I realized one of his earliest works was about the flood, I knew it would be a readable account of this tragedy.
The flood occurred on Memorial Day, 1889, when a huge storm caused the dam and lake at the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club to give way and rush fifteen miles down the mountain destroying everything in its path, including much of Johnstown. Over 2200 people perished.
The Club was a mountain resort with large “cottages” of Pittsburgh’s wealthiest – Carnegie, Frick, Mellon, among others. When they bought the property the dam was neglected and “repairs” were made. Although there were many lawsuits, none were won and the club assumed no responsibility.
Of course floods are in the news currently. Now, unlike 122 years ago, there is some advance warning and preparation time, and a realization of the devastation that can occur.
This is yet another very readable, historical narrative from McCullough. Even though I knew the outcome of course, there is feeling of terror as the water approaches and the town is swept away.
The Johnstown Flood