This is the place where the fire broke out within twenty minutes after the flood. It has burned ever since. The stone arch bridge acted as a dam to the flood, and five towns were crushing each other against it. A thousand houses came down on the great wave of water, and were held there a solid mass in the jaws of a Cyclopean vise.
A kitchen stove upset. The mass took fire. A thousand people were imprisoned in these houses. A thousand more were on the roofs. For most of them there was no escape. The fire swept on from house to house. The prisoners saw it coming and shrieked and screamed with terror, and ran up and down their narrow quarters in an agony of fear.
Sights to Freeze Their Blood.
Thousands of people stood upon the river bank and saw and heard it all and still were powerless to help. They saw people kneeling in the flames and praying. They saw families gathered together with their arms around each other and waiting for death. They saw people going mad and tearing their hair and laughing. They saw men plunge into the narrow crevices between the houses and seek death in the water rather than wait its coming in the flames. Some saw their friends and some their wives and children perishing before them, and some in the awful agony of the hour went mad themselves and ran shrieking to the hillsides, and stronger men laid down on the ground and wept.
All that night and all the next day, and far into the morning of Monday, these dreadful shrieks resounded from that place of doom. The fire burned on, aided by the fire underneath, added to by fresh fuel coming down the river. All that time the people stood helpless on the bank and heard those heartrending sounds. What could they do? They could not fight the fire. Every fire engine in the town lay in that mass of rubbish smashed to bits. For hours they had to wait until they could get telegraph word to surrounding towns, and hours more until the fire engines arrived at noon on Monday.
Wrecks of Five Iron Bridges.
The shrieks ceased early in the morning. Men had began to search the ruins and had taken out the few that still lived. The fire engines began to play on the still smouldering fire. Other workmen began to remove the bodies. The fire had swept over the whole mass from shore to shore and burned it to the water. A great field of crushed and charred timbers was all that was left. The flood had gorged this in so tightly that it made a solid bridge above the water. A tremendous, irresistible force had ground and churned and macerated the debris until it was a confused, solid, almost welded, conglomerate, stretching from shore to shore, jammed high up against the stone bridge and extending up the river a quarter of a mile, perhaps half as wide. In this tangled heap and crush of matter were the twisted wrecks of five iron bridges, smashed locomotives, splintered dwellings and all their contents; human beings and domestic animals, hay and factory machinery; the rich contents of stores and brick walls ground to powder—all the products of human industry, all the elements of human interests, twisted, turned, broken in a mighty mill and all thrown together.
A Sickening Spectacle.
I walked over this extraordinary mass this morning and saw the fragments of thousands of articles. In one place the roofs of forty frame houses were packed in together just as you would place forty bended cards one on top of another. The iron rods of a bridge were twisted into a perfect spiral six times around one of the girders. Just beneath it was a woman's trunk, broken up and half filled with sand, with silk dresses and a veil streaming out of it. From under the trunk men were lifting the body of its owner, perhaps, so burned, so horribly mutilated, so torn from limb to limb, that even the workmen, who have seen so many of these frightful sights that they have begun to get used to them, turned away sick at heart.
I saw in one place a wrecked grocery store—bins of coffee and tea, flour, spices and nuts, parts of the counter and safe mingled together. Near it was the pantry of the house, still partly intact, the plates and saucers regularly piled up, a waiter and a teapot, but not a sign of the woodwork, not a recognizable outline of a house. In another place a halter, with a part of a horse's head tied to a bit of a manger, and a mass of hay and straw about, but no other signs of the stable in which the horse was burned. Two cindered towels, a cake of soap in a dish, and a bit of carpet were taken to indicate the location of a hotel. I saw a child's skull in a bed of ashes, but no sign of a body.
Recognized by Fragments.
In another place was a human foot and crumbling indications of a boot, but no signs of a body. A hay rick, half ashes, stood near the centre of the gorge. Workmen who dug about it to-day found a chicken coop, and in it two chickens, not only alive but clucking happily when they were released. A woman's hat, half burned; a reticule, with a part of a hand still clinging to it; two shoes and part of a dress told the story of one unfortunate's death. Close at hand a commercial traveller had perished. There was his broken valise, still full of samples, fragments of his shoes and some pieces of his clothing.
Scenes like these were occurring all over the charred field where men were working with pick and axe and lifting out the poor, shattered remains of human beings, nearly always past recognition or identification, except by guesswork, or the locality where they were found. Articles of domestic use scattered through the rubbish helped to tell who some of the bodies were. Part of a set of dinner plates told one man where in the intangible mass his house was. In one place was a photograph album with one picture recognizable. From this the body of a child near by was identified. A man who had spent a day and all night looking for the body of his wife, was directed to her remains by part of a trunk lid.
Dead Bodies Caressed.
Poor old John Jordan, of Conemaugh! Many a tear ran over swarthy cheeks for him to-day. All his family, his wife and children, had been swept from his sight in the flood. He wandered over the gorge yesterday looking for them, and last night the police could not bring him away. At daylight he found his wife's sewing machine and called the workmen to help him. First they found a little boy's jacket that he recognized and then they came upon the rest of them all buried together, the mother's burned arms still clinging to the little children. Then the white headed old man sat down in the ashes and caressed the dead bodies and talked to them just as if they were alive until some one came and led him quietly away. Without a protest he went to the shore and sat down on a rock and talked to himself, and then got up and disappeared on the hills.
To Blow Up the Gorge.
Was this the only such scene the day saw? There were scores like it. People worked in ruins all day to find their relatives and then went home with horrible uncertainty. People found what they were looking for and fainted at the sight. People looked and cried aloud and came and stood on the banks all day, afraid to look and still afraid to go away. The burned bodies are not the only ones in the gorge. Under the timbers and held down in the water there must be hundreds that escaped the fire, but were drowned. To get at these the gorge is to be blown up with dynamite. The sanitary reasons for such a step are becoming hourly more apparent. It is the belief of the physicians that a pestilence will be added to the other horrors of the place if such a thing is not done. All day the bodies have been brought to shore. Those that were not recognized were carried on stretchers to the Morgue. One hundred and twenty of the identified bodies were carried over the bridge in one procession.
Relief work for the suffering goes on at the headquarters of the Relief Committee on that little, muddy, rubbish-filled street which escaped destruction at the edge of the flood.
The building is a wretched shanty, once a Hungarian boarding-house, and a long line of miserable women stretches out in front of it all day waiting for relief. They are the unfortunate who have lost everything in the flood.
Quarters for five thousand of these people are provided in tents on the hillside. For provisions they are dependent on the charity of the country. Bread and meat are served out to them on the committee's order.
They are the most mournful and pitiable sight. There was not one in the line who had not lost some one dear to her. Most of them were the wives of merchants or laborers who went down in the disaster. They were the sole survivors of their families. Very few had any more clothes than they wore when their houses were washed away. They stood there for hours in the rain yesterday without any protection, soaked with the drizzle, squalid and utterly forlorn—a sight to move a heart of stone.
They did not talk to one another as women generally do even when they are not acquainted. They got no words of sympathy from any one, and they gave none. Not a word was spoken along the whole line. They simply stood and waited. In truth there is nothing about the survivors of the disaster that strikes one so forcibly as their evident inability to comprehend their misfortune and the absence of sympathetic expressions among them. It is not because they are naturally stolid, but the whole thing is so vast and bears upon them so heavily they cannot grasp it.
People in California know much more about the disaster than any resident of Johnstown knows; more information about it can be gotten from towns-people forty miles away than from those who saw it. The people here are not at all lacking in sympathy or kindliness of heart, but what words of sympathy would have any meaning in such a tremendous catastrophe? Every person of Johnstown has lost a relative or a friend, and so has every other resident he meets. They seem to see instinctively that condolence would be meaningless.
Famine Happily Averted.
On the west side of the lower town one or two little streets are left from the flood. They are crowded all the time with the survivors. As I have gone among them I have heard nothing but such conversations as this, which is literally reproduced:—
"Hello, Will! Where's Jim?"
"Is that so! Goodby."
"Good morning, Mr. Holden; did you save Mrs. Holden?"
"No; she went with the house. You lost your two boys, didn't you?"
"Yes. Good morning."
Two women met on the narrow rope bridge which spans the creek. As they passed one said:—
"How about Aunt Mary?"
"Oh, she's lost; so is Cousin Hattie."
It gives an outside listener a strange sensation to hear people talk thus with about as little emotion as they would talk about the weather. But the people of Johnstown had so much to do with death that they think about nothing else. I will undertake to say that half the people have not the slightest idea what day of the week or month this is.
A Rope Bridge of Sighs.
To get from one part of the town to another it is necessary to cross the river or creek which is now flowing over the sites of business blocks. Of course every vestige of a bridge was swept far away, and to take their places two ropes have been hung from high timbers built upon the sandy island that was the city's site. On these ropes narrow boards are tied. The whole structure is not more than four feet wide, and it hangs trembling over the water in a way that makes nervous people shudder. Over this frail thing hundreds of people crowd every hour, and why there has not been another disaster is something no one can understand.
The river is rising steadily, and all the afternoon the middle of the bridge sagged down into the water, but the people kept on struggling across. Many of them carried coffins containing bodies from the Morgue. There are no express wagons, no hearses—scarcely any vehicles of any kind in the town—and all the coffins have to be carried on the shoulders of the men.
Coffins are a dreadfully common sight. It is impossible to move a dozen steps in any direction without meeting one or very likely a procession of of them. One hundred of them were piled up in front of the Morgue this morning. Twice as many more were on the platform of the Pennsylvania station. Carloads of coffins were being unloaded from freight cars below town and carried along the roads. Almost every house has a coffin in it. Every boat that crosses the river carries one, and rows of them stood by the bank to receive the bodies.
Merely a Mud Plain.
There is a narrow fringe of houses on each side of the empty plain, which escaped because they were built on higher ground. Fine brick blocks and paved streets filled the business part of the town, which was about a mile long and half a mile wide. Where these blocks stood mud is in some places six feet deep. Over and through it all is scattered an extraordinary collection of rubbish—boilers, car wheels, fragments of locomotives, household furniture, dead animals, clothing, sewing machines, goods from stores, safes, passenger and street cars, some half buried in the sand, some all exposed, helter-skelter.
It is simply impossible to realize the tremendous force exercised by the flood, though the imagination is assisted by the presence of heavy iron beams twisted and bent, railroad locomotives swept miles away, rails torn up, the rocks and banks slashed away, and brick walls carried away, leaving no traces of their foundations. The few stone houses that resisted the shock were completely stripped of all their contents and filled four feet deep with sand and powdered debris.
A Glimpse from a Window.
As I write this, seated within a curious circular affair, which was once a mould for sewer pipe, are two operators busy with clicking instruments. The floor is a foot deep with clay. There are no doors. There are no windows which boast of glass or covering of any kind. The lookout embraces the bulk of the devastated districts. Just below the windows are the steep river banks, covered with a miscellaneous mass thrown up by the flood. The big stone bridge is crowded with freight cars loaded with material for repairing the structure and with people who are eager to see something horrible.
That Funeral Pyre.
The further half of the bridge which was swept away has been replaced by a trembling wooden affair, wide enough only for two persons to walk abreast. To the left of the bridge and across the river are the great brick mills of the Cambria Iron and Steel Company, crushed and torn out of a semblance to workshops. Just in front of the office is what has been called the "funeral pyre," and which threatens to become a veritable breeding spot of pestilence.
Just before me a group of red-capped firemen are directing a stream of water upon such portions of the mass as can be reached from the shore.
Where Death Was Busiest.
Over to the right, at the edge of a muddy lagoon which marks the limit of the levelling rush of the mad torrent, there are dozens and dozens of buildings leaning against each other in the oddest sort of jumble. The spectacle would be ludicrous if it were not so awfully suggestive of the tragic fate of the inmates. Behind this border land are the regions where death was wofully busy. In some streets a mile from any railroad track locomotives and cars are scattered among the smouldering ruins. In the river the rescuers are busy, and so are the Hungarians and native born thieves.
Men take queer souvenirs away sometimes. One came up the bank a short time ago with a skull and two leg bones, all blackened and burned by the fire.
There is, of course, no business done, and those who have been spared have little to do save watch for a new phase of the greatest tragedy of the kind in modern history. On Prospect Hill is a town of tents where the homeless are housed and fed, and where also a formidable city of the dead has been just prepared. Such are some of the scenes visible from the window.
The Skeleton of Its Former Self.
The water has receded in the night almost as rapidly as it came, and behind it remains the sorriest sight imaginable. The dove that has come has no green leaf of promise, for its wings are draped with the hue of mourning and desolation. There now lies the great skeleton of dead Johnstown. The great ribs of rocky sand stretch across the chest scarred and covered with abrasions. Acres of mud, acres of wreckage, acres of unsteady, tottering buildings, acres of unknown dead, of ghastly objects which have been eagerly sought for since Friday; acres of smoky, streaming ruin, of sorrow for somebody, lie out there in the sunshine.
Like Unto Arcadia After the Fire.
The awful desolation of the scene has been described often enough already to render a repetition of the attempt here unnecessary. These descriptions have been as truthful and graphic as it is possible for man to make them; but none have been adequate—none could be. Where once stood solid unbroken blocks for squares and squares, with basements and subcellars, there is now a level plain as free from obstruction or excavation as the fair fields of Arcadia after they had been swept by the British flames. The major and prettier portion of the beautiful city has literally been blotted from the face of the earth.
Disease Succeeds to Calamity.
Up the ragged surface of Prospect Hill, whither hundreds of terrified people fled for safety Friday night, I scrambled this afternoon. I came upon a pneumonia scourge which bids fair to do for a number of the escaped victims what the flood could not. Death has pursued them to their highest places, and terror will not die. Every little house on the hill—and there are a hundred or two of them—had thrown its doors open to receive the bruised, half-clad fugitives on the dark day of the deluge, and every one was now a crude hospital. Half the women who had scaled the height were so overcome with fright that they have been bedridden ever since. There had been pneumonia on the hill, but only a few cases. To-day, however, several fresh cases developed among the the flood fugitives, and a local physician said the prospects for a scourge are all too promising. The enfeebled condition of the patients, the unhealthy atmosphere pervading the valley and the necessarily close quarters in which the people are crowded render the spread of the disease almost certain.
The Military Called Out.
At the request of the Sheriff, Adjutant General Hastings called out the Fourteenth regiment of Pittsburgh, who are to be stationed at Johnstown proper, to guard the buildings and against emergencies. Other reasons are known to exist for this precaution. Bodies were recovered to-day that have been robbed by the ghouls. It is known that one lady had several hundred dollars in her possession just before the disaster, but when the body was recovered there was not a cent in her pocket.
The Hungarians attacked a supply wagon between Morrellville and Cambria City to-day. The drivers of the wagon repulsed them, but they again returned. A second fight ensued, but after lively scrambling the Hungarians were again driven away. After that drivers and guards of supply wagons were permitted to go armed.
General Hastings was seen later in the day, and when asked what caused him to order the militia said: "There is no need of troops to quell another disturbance, but now there are at least two thousand men at work in Johnstown clearing up the debris, and I think that it will not hurt to have the Fourteenth regiment here, as they can guard the banks and all valuables. The Sheriff consulted me in the matter. He stated that his men were about worn out, and he thought that we had better have some soldiers. So I ordered them."
The people, aroused by repeated outrages, are bitterly hounding the Hungarians, and a military force is essential to see that both sides preserve order.
Indignant Battery B.
A number of the members of Battery B and the Washington infantry, who were ordered back from Johnstown, are very indignant at Adjutant General Hastings, who gave the order. They claim that General Hastings not only acted without a particle of judgment, but when they offered to act as picket, do police duty or anything else that might be required of them, they state that they were treated like dogs.
They also insist that their services are badly needed for the reason that the hills surrounding Johnstown are swarming with tramps, who are availing themselves of every opportunity to secure plunder from the numerous wrecks or dead bodies.
They told the General that they came more as private citizens than as soldiers, and were willing to do what they could. The General abruptly ordered them back to Pittsburgh. Lieutenant Gammel, who had charge of the men, said: "We would like to have stayed but we had to obey orders and we took the first train for home. Even the short time we were there the fifty-five men had pulled out thirty-five bodies."
Members of the battery said: "This is a fine Governor we have, and as for Hastings, the least said about his actions the better."
The Adjutant General's order calling out the Fourteenth regiment and ordering them to this place is not looked upon as being altogether a wise move by many citizens.
Narrow Escape from Lynching.
About eleven o'clock this morning, Captain W.R. Jones, of Braddock, and his men discovered a man struggling in the hands of an angry crowd on Main street. The crowd were belaboring the man with sticks and fists, and Captain Jones entered the house where the disturbance occurred, and the man shouted: "I have a right here, and am getting what belongs to my folks!"
The crowd then demanded that he show what he had in his possession. He reluctantly produced a handful of jewelry from his pocket, among which was a gold watch, which was no sooner shown than a gentleman who was standing nearby claimed it as his own, saying that the house where they were standing was the residence of his family. He then proceeded to identify clearly the property. The crowd, convinced of the thief's guilt, wanted to lynch him, but after an exciting scene Captain Jones pacified them. The man was escorted out of town by officers, released and ordered not to return.
There will be no more charity except for the helpless. The lengthening of the death roll has fearfully shortened the list to be provided for. There is now an abundance of food and clothing to satisfy the present necessities of all who are in need. Beginning to-morrow morning, June 5th, aid will not be extended to any who are able to work except in payment for work. All the destitute who are able and willing will be put to work clearing up the wreck in the river and the wastes where the streets stood. They will be paid $2.50 and $3.00 per day for ordinary laboring work, and thus obtain money with which to buy provisions, which will be sold to them at reduced prices.
Those who will not work will be driven off. The money collected will be paid out in wages, in defraying funeral expenses and in relieving those whose bread providers have been taken away.
Dainties Not Wanted.
The supplies of food and clothing are far in excess of the demand to-day. The mistake of sending large quantities of dainties has been made by some of the relief committees. Bishop Phelan has been on the ground all day in company with a number of Catholic priests from Pittsburgh.
He has ordered provisions for all the sufferers who have taken shelter in the buildings over which he has placed the Little Sisters of the Poor. There are several hundred people now being cared for by the relief corps, and as the work of rescue goes on the number increases.
Bent on Charity.
Mrs. Campbell, president of the Allegheny Woman's Christian Temperance Union, arrived this morning, and with Miss Kate Foster, of Johnstown, organized a temporary home for destitute children on Bedford street. On the same train came a delegation from the Smithfield Methodist Episcopal Church. They began relieving the wants of the suffering Methodists.
Committees from the Masonic and Odd Fellows from Pittsburgh are looking after their brethren.
Mr. Moxham, the iron manufacturer, is Mayor pro. tem. of Johnstown to-day. He is probably the busiest man in the United States; although for days without sleep, he still sticks nobly to his task. Hundreds of others are like him. Men fall to the earth from sheer fatigue. There are many who have not closed an eye in sleep since they awoke on Friday morning; they are hollow-eyed and pitiful looking creatures. Many have lost near relatives and all friends.
Men and horses are what are most needed to-day. Some of the unfortunates who could not go to the relief trains endeavored to obtain flour from the wrecked stores in Johnstown. One dealer was charging $5 a sack for flour, and was getting it in one or two cases. Suddenly the crowd heard of the occurrence.
Several desperate men went to the store and doled the flour gratuitously to the homeless and stricken. Another dealer was selling flour at $1.50 a sack. He refused to give any away, but would sell it to any one who had the money. Otherwise he would not allow any one to go near it, guarding his store with a shotgun.
Masons on the Field.
The special train of the Masonic Relief Association which left Pittsburgh at one o'clock yesterday afternoon on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad did not reach here until just before midnight, at which time it was impossible to do anything. Under the circumstances, the party concluded to pass the night in the cars, making themselves as comfortable as possible with packing boxes for beds and candle boxes for pillows.
They spent the morning distributing the food and clothing among the Masonic sufferers. In addition to a large quantity of cooked food, sandwiches, etc., as well as flour and provisions of every description, the Relief Committee brought up 100 outfits of clothing for women and a similar number for girls, and a miscellaneous lot for men and boys. The women's outfits are complete, and include underwear, stockings, shoes, dresses, wraps and hats. They are most acceptable in the present crisis, and much suffering has already been relieved by them.
The Knights of Pythias have received a large donation of money from Pittsburgh lodges.
Appeal to President Harrison.
Adjutant General Hastings yesterday afternoon telegraphed to President Harrison requesting that government pontoons be furnished to enable a safe passageway to be made across the field of charred ruins above Johnstown Bridge for the purpose of prosecuting search for the dead. Late last night an answer was received from the President stating that the pontoons would be at once forwarded by the Secretary of War.
A despatch of sympathy has been received by Adjutant General Hastings from the Mayor of Kansas City, who states that the little giant of the West will do her duty in this time of need.
The various fraternities, whose work has been referred to in various despatches, have established headquarters and called meetings of surviving local members. These meetings are held in Alma Hall, belonging to the Odd Fellows, which, owing to its solid construction, withstood the pressure of the flood. From the headquarters at Alma Hall most of the committees representing the various secret societies are distributing relief.
The first hopeful view of the situation taken by the Odd Fellows' Committee has been clouded by the dismal result of further investigations. At last night's meeting at the old school-house on Prospect Hill definite tidings were received from but thirty members out of a total of 501.
Cambria Lodge, with a membership of eighty-five, mostly Germans, seems to have been entirely wiped out, not a single survivor having yet reported.
Call for Workers.
Last night Robert Bridgard, a letter carrier of Johnstown, marched at the head of three hundred men to the corner of Morrell avenue and Columbia street, where he mounted a wagon and made a speech on the needs of the hour. Chiefest of these, he considered, was good workmen to clear away the debris and extract the bodies from the wreckage.
He closed with a bitter attack on the lazy Huns and Poles, who refused to aid in the work of relief and yet are begging and even stealing the provisions that are sent here to feed the sufferers. The crowd numbered nearly one thousand, and greeted Bridgard's words with cheers.
Another resident of the city then mounted a barrel and made a ringing speech condemning the slothful foreigners, who have proven themselves a menace to the valley and its inhabitants. The feelings of the crowd were aroused to such an alarming extent that it was feared it would culminate in an attack on the worthless Poles and Hungarians.
The following resolution was adopted with a wild shout of approval, and the meeting adjourned:—
"Resolved, That we, the citizens of Johnstown, in public meeting assembled, do most earnestly beg the Relief Corps of the Johnstown sufferers to furnish no further provisions to the Hungarians and Poles of this city and vicinity except in payment of services rendered by them for the relief of their unfortunate neighbors.
"Resolved, Further, that in case of their refusal to render such service they be driven from the doors of the relief trains and warned to vacate the premises."
Hospitals and Morgues.
Those who doubt that many thousands lost their lives in this disaster have not visited the morgues. There are three of these dreadful places crowded so full of the unidentified dead that there is scarcely room to move between the bodies. To the largest morgue, which I visited this morning, one hundred and sixty bodies have been brought for identification. When it is remembered that most of the bodies were swept below the limits of Johnstown, that many more found here have been identified at once by their friends and that it is certain that many bodies were consumed entirely in the fire at the gorge, the fact gives some idea of the extent of the calamity.
The largest morgue is at the Fourth ward school-house, a two-story brick building which stands just at the edge of the high mark of the flood. The bodies were laid across the school children's desks until they got to be so numerous that there was not room for them, excepting on the floor. Soldiers with crossed bayonets keep out the crowd of curious people who have morbid appetites to gratify. None of these people are of Johnstown. People of Johnstown do not have time to come to look for friends, and they give the morgue a wide berth. Those who do come have that dazed, miserable look that has fallen to all the residents of the unhappy town. They walk through slowly and look at the bodies and go away looking no sadder nor any less perplexed than when they came in. One of the doctors in charge at the morgue told me that many of these people had come in and looked at the bodies of their own fathers and brothers and gone away without recognizing them, though not at all disfigured.
In some instances it had been necessary for other persons, who knew the people, to point out the dead to the living and assure them positively of the identification before they could be aroused. I saw a railroad laborer who had come in to look for a friend. He walked up and down the aisles like a man in a trance. He looked at the bodies, and took no apparent interest in any of them. At last he stopped before one of them which he had passed twice before, muttered, "That's Jim," and went out just as he had come in. Two other identifications I saw during the hour I was there were just like this. There was no shedding of tears nor other showing of emotion. They gazed upon the features of their dead as if they were totally unable to comprehend it all, and reported their identification to the attendants and watched the body as it was put into a coffin and went away. Many came to look for their loved ones, but I did not see one show more grief or realization of the dreadful character of their errand than this. Arrangements with the morgues are complete and efficient. The bodies are properly prepared and embalmed and a description of the clothing is placed upon each.
The same praise cannot be given the hospital arrangements. The only hospital is a small wooden church, in which apartments have been roughly improvised, with blankets for partitions. Only twenty patients can be cared for here, and the list of wounded is more than two hundred. The rest have been taken to the private houses that were not overcrowded with the homeless survivors, to farmers in the country and to outlying towns. Two have died. It did not occur to any one until lately to get any nurses from other places to take care of the patients, and even now most of the nurses are Johnstown people who have lost relatives and have their own cares. These persons sought out the hospital and volunteered for the work.
A Procession of Coffins.
A sight most painful to behold was presented to view about noon to-day, when a procession of fifty unidentified coffined bodies started up the hill above the railroad to be buried in the improvised cemetery there. Not a relation, not a mourner was present. In fact, it is doubtful if these dead have any surviving relatives.
The different graveyards are now so crowded that it will take several days to bury all the bodies that have been deposited in them. This was the day appointed by the Citizens' Committee for burying all the unidentified dead that have been laying in the different morgues since Sunday morning, and about three hundred bodies were taken to the cemeteries to-day.
It was not an unusual sight to see two or three coffins going along, one after another. It is impossible to secure wagons or conveyances of any kind, consequently all funeral processions are on foot.
Several yellow flags were noticed sticking up from the black wreckage above the stone bridge. This was a new plan adopted by the sanitary corps to indicate at what points bodies had been located. As it grows dark the flags are still up, and another day will dawn upon the imprisoned remains. People who had lost friends, and supposed they had drifted into this fatal place, peered down into the charred mass in a vain endeavor to recognize beloved features.
Unrecognizable Victims of Fire.
There are now nearly two thousand men employed in different parts of the valley clearing up the ruins and prosecuting diligent search for the undiscovered dead, and bodies are discovered with undiminished frequency. It becomes hourly more and more apparent that not a single vestige will ever be recognized of hundreds that were roasted in the flames above the bridge.
A party of searchers have just unearthed a charred and unsightly mass from the smouldering debris. The leader of the gang pronounced the remains to be a blackened leg, and it required the authoritative verdict of a physician to demonstrate that the ghastly discovery was the charred remains of a human being. Only the trunk remained, and that was roasted beyond all semblance to flesh. Five minutes' search revealed fragments of a skull that at once disintegrated of its own weight when exposed to air, no single piece being larger than a half dollar, and the whole resembling the remnants of shattered charcoal.
Within the last hour a half dozen discoveries in no way less horrifying than this ghastly find have been made by searchers as they rake with sticks and hooks in the smouldering ruins. So difficult is it at times to determine whether the remains are those of human beings that it is apparent that hundreds must be burned to ashes. The number that have found a last resting place beneath these ruins can at the best never be more than approximated.
A Vast Charnel House.
Every moment now the body of some poor victim is taken from the debris, and the town, or rather the remnants of it, is one vast charnel house. The scenes at the extemporized morgue are beyond powers of description in their ghastliness, while the moans and groans of the suffering survivors, tossing in agony, with bruised and mangled bodies, or screaming in a delirium of fever as they issue from the numerous temporary hospitals, make even the stoutest hearted quail with terror. Nearly two thousand bodies have already been recovered, and as the work of examining the wreckage progresses the conviction grows that the magnitude of the calamity has not yet been approximated.
The Pile of Debris Still Burning.
The debris wedged against the big Pennsylvania Railroad stone bridge is still burning, and the efforts of the firemen to quench or stay the progress of the flames are as futile as were those of Gulliver's Lilliputian firemen. The mass, which unquestionably forms a funeral pyre for thousands of victims who lie buried beneath it, is likely to burn for weeks to come. The flames are not active, but burn away in a sullen, determined fashion.
There are twenty-six firemen here now—all level-headed fellows—who keep their unwieldy and almost exhausted forces under masterful control.
Although they were scattered all over the waste places to-day, the heavy work was done in the Point district, where a couple hundred mansions lie in solid heaps of brick, stone and timbers.
One Corpse Every Five Minutes.
Here the labors of the searchers were rewarded by the discovery of a corpse about every five minutes. As a general thing the bodies were mangled and unrecognizable unless by marks or letters on their persons. In every case decomposition has set in and the work of the searchers is becoming one that will test their stomachs as well as their hearts. Wherever one turns Pittsburghers of prominence are encountered. They are busy, determined men, rendering valuable service.
Chief Evans, of the Pittsburgh Fire Department, was hustling around with a force of twenty-four more firemen, just brought up to relieve those who have been working so heroically since Saturday. Morris M. Mead, superintendent of the Bureau of Electricity, headed a force of sixteen sanitary inspectors from Pittsburgh, who are doing great work among the dead.
How Bodies are Treated.
There are six improvised morgues now in Johnstown. They are in churches and school-houses, the largest one being in the Fourth Ward school-house, where planks have been laid over the tops of desks, on which the remains are placed. A corpse is dug from the bank. It is covered with mud. It is taken to the anteroom of the school, where it is placed under a hydrant and the muck and slime washed off. With the slash of a knife the clothes are ripped open and an attendant searches the pockets for valuables or papers that would lead to identification. Four men lift the corpse on a rude table, and there it is thoroughly washed and an embalming fluid injected in the arm. With other grim bodies the corpse lies in a larger room until it is identified or becomes offensive. In the latter case it is hurried to the large grave, a grave that will hereafter have a monument over it bearing the inscription "Unknown Dead."
The number of the latter is growing hourly, because pestilence stalks in Johnstown, and the bloated, disfigured masses of flesh cannot be held much longer.
Levelled by Death.
Bodies of stalwart workmen lie beside the remains of refined ladies, many of whom are still decked with costly earrings and have jewels glittering on the fingers. Rich and poor throng these quarters and gaze with awe-struck faces at the masses of mutilations in the hope of recognizing a missing one, so as to accord the body a decent burial.
From Death's Gaping Jaws.
We give here the awful narrative of George Irwin's experience. Irwin is a resident of Hillside, Westmoreland county, and was discovered in a dying condition in a clump of bushes just above the tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad, about a mile below Johnstown. When stretched upon two railroad ties near the track his tongue protruded from his mouth and he gasped as if death was at hand. With the assistance of brandy and other stimulants he was in a degree revived. He then told the following story:
"I was visiting friends in Johnstown on Friday when the flood came up. We were submerged without a moment's warning. I was taken from the window of the house in which I was then a prisoner by Mr. Hay, the druggist at Johnstown, but lost my footing and was not rescued. I clung to a saw log until I struck the works of the Cambria Iron Company, when I caught on the roof of the building. I remained there for nearly an hour, when I was knocked again from my position by a piece of a raft. I floated on top of this until I got down here and I stuck in an apple tree.
Preferred Death to Such Sights.
"I saw and heard a number of other unfortunate victims when swept by me appealing for some one to save them. One woman and two children were floating along in apparent safety; then they struck the corner of a building and all went down together.
"I would rather have died than have been compelled to witness that sight.
"I have not had a bit to eat since Friday night, but I don't feel hungry. I am afraid my stomach is gone and I am about done for."
He was taken to a hospital by several soldiers and railroad men who rescued him.
A Young Lady's Experiences.
Miss Sue Caddick, of Indiana, who was stopping at the Brunswick Hotel, on Washington street, and was rescued late Friday evening, returned home to-day. She said she had a premonition of danger all day and had tried to get Mrs. Murphy to take her children and leave the house, but the lady had laughed at her fears and partially dissipated them.
Miss Caddick was standing at the head of the second flight of stairs when the flood burst upon the house. She screamed to the Murphys—father, mother and seven children—to save themselves. She ran up stairs and got into a higher room, in which the little children, the oldest of whom was fourteen years, also ran. The mother and father were caught and whirled into the flood and drowned in an instant.
The waters came up and the children clung to the young lady, who saw that she must save herself, and she was compelled to push the little ones aside and cling to pieces of the building, which by this time had collapsed and was disintegrating. All of the children were drowned save the oldest boy, who caught a tree and was taken out almost unhurt near Blairsville. Miss Caddick clung to her fraction of the building, which was pushed into the water out of the swirl, and in an hour she was taken out safe. She said her agony in having to cut away from the children was greater than her fear after she got into the water.
An Old Lady's Great Peril.
Mrs. Ramsey, mother of William Ramsey and aunt of Lawyer Cassidy, of Pittsburgh, was alone in her house when the flood came. She ran to the third story, and although the house was twisted off its foundation, it remained intact, and the old lady was rescued after being tossed about for twenty-four hours.
James Hines, Jr., of Indiana, one of the survivors, to-day said that he and twelve of the other guests took refuge on the top of the Merchants' Hotel. They were swept off and were carried a mile down the stream, then thrown on the shore. One of the party, James Ziegler, he said, was drowned while trying to get to the top of the building.
One hundred and seventy-five of the corpses brought to Nineveh by the flood were buried this afternoon and to-night on the crest of a hill behind the town. Three trenches were dug two hundred feet long, seven feet wide and four feet deep. The coffins were packed in very much as grocers' boxes are stored in a warehouse. Of the two hundred bodies picked up in the fields after the waters subsided 117 were unidentified and were buried marked "Unknown." Twenty-five were shipped to relatives at outside points. In many cases friends of those who were recognized were unable to do anything to prevent their consignment to the trenches. Altogether twenty-seven were identified to-day. The bodies as fast as they were found were taken to the storehouse of Theodore F. Nimawaker, the station agent here, and laid out on boards. It was impossible on account of their condition to keep them any longer. The County Commissioners bought an acre of ground for $100, out of which they made a cemetery.
By Locomotive Headlights.
It was sad to see the coffins going up the steep hill on farm wagons, two or three on each wagon. No tender mourners followed the mud-covered hearses. Enough laborers sat on each load to handle it when it reached its destination. The Commissioners of Cumberland county have certainly behaved very handsomely. The coffins ordered were of the best. Some economical citizens suggested that they buy an acre of marsh land by the river, which could be had for a few dollars, but they declared that the remains should be placed in dry ground. The lifeless clay reposes now far out of the reach of the deadly waters which go suddenly down the Conemaugh Valley. It is a pretty spot, this cemetery, and one that a poet would choose for a resting place. Mountains well wooded are on every hand; no black factory smoke defaces the sky line.
Two locomotive headlights shed their rays over the cemetery to-night and gave enough light for the men to work by. They rapidly shoveled in the dirt. No priests were there to consecrate the ground or say a prayer over the cold limbs of the unknown. Upon the coffins I noticed such inscriptions as these: "No. 61, unknown girl, aged eight years, supposed to be Sarah Windser." "No. 72, unknown man, black hair, aged about thirty-five years, smooth face." Some of the bodies were more specifically described as "fat," "lean," and to one I saw the term "lusty" applied.
Some of the really pathetic scenes of the flood are just coming to the public ear. John Henderson, his wife, his three children, and the mother of Mrs. Henderson remained in their house until they were carried out by the flood, when they succeeded in getting upon some drift. Mr. Henderson took the babe from his wife, but the little thing soon succumbed to the cold and the child died in its father's arms. He clung to it until it grew cold and stiff and then, kissing it, let it drop into the water. His mother-in-law, an aged lady, was almost as fragile as the babe, and in a few minutes Mr. Henderson, who had managed to get near to the board upon which she was floating saw that she, too, was dying. He did what little he could to help her, but the cold and the shock combined were too much. Assuring himself that the old lady was dead, Mr. Henderson turned his attention to his own safety and allowed the body to float down the stream.
In the meantime Mrs. Henderson, who had become separated from her husband, had continued to keep her other two children for some time, but finally a great wave dashed them from her arms and out of her sight. They were clinging to some driftwood, however, and providentially were driven into the very arms of their father, who was some distance down the stream quite unconscious of the proximity of his loved ones. Another whirl of the flood and all were driven over into some eddying water in Stony Creek and carried by backing water to Kernville, where all were rescued. Mrs. Henderson had nearly the same experience.
Dr. Holland's Awful Plunge.
Dr. Holland, a physician who lived on Vine street, saw both of his children drown before his eyes, but they were not washed out of the building. He took both of them in his arms and bore them to the roof, caring nothing for the moment for the rising water. Finally composing himself, he kissed them both and watched them float away. His father arrived here to-day to assist his son and take home with him the bodies of the children, which have been recovered. Dr. Holland, after the death of his children, was carried out into the flood and finally to a building, in the window of which a man was standing. The doctor held up his hands; the man seized them and dextrously slipping a valuable ring from the finger of one hand, brutally threw him out into the current again. The physician was saved, however, and has been looking for the thief and would-be murderer ever since.
Crushed in His Own House.
David Dixon, an engineer in the employ of the Cambria Iron Works, was with his family in his house on Cinder Street, when the flood struck the city. The shock overturned his house against that of his neighbor, Evans, and he, with his infant daughter, Edith, was pinned between the houses as a result of the upturning. Both houses were carried down against the viaduct of the Pennsylvania Railroad and there, in sight of his wife and children, excepting a 15-year-old lad, he was drowned, the water rising and smothering him because of his inability to get from between the buildings. His wife was badly crushed and it is thought will be an invalid the remainder of her days. The children, including the babe in its father's arms, were all saved, and the other boy, Joe, one of the brightest, bravest, handsomest little fellows in the world, was in his news-stand near the Pennsylvania passenger station, and was rescued with difficulty by Edward Decker, another boy, just as the driftwood struck the little store and lifted it high off its foundation.
Babies who Died Together.
This morning two little children apparently not over three and four years old, were taken from the water clasped in each other's arms so tightly that they could not be separated, and they were coffined and buried together.
A bright girl, in a gingham sun-bonnet and a faded calico dress came out of the ruins of a fine old brick house next the Catholic church on Jackson street this afternoon. She had a big platter under her arm and announced to a bevy of other girls that the china was all right in the cupboard, but there was so much water in there that she didn't dare go in. She chatted away quite volubly about the fire in the Catholic church, which also destroyed the house of her own mother, Mrs. Foster. "I know the church took fire after the flood," she said, "for mother looked out of the window and said: 'My God! Not only flood, but fire!'" It was a burning house from Conemaugh that struck the house the other side of the church and set it on fire.
Aunt Tabby's Trunk.
"I didn't think last Tuesday I'd be begging to-day, Emma," interrupted a young man from across the stream of water which ran down the centre of Main Street. "I'm sitting on your aunt Tabby's trunk." The girl gave a cry, half of pained remembrance, half of pleasure. "Oh, my dear Aunt Tabby!" she cried, and, rushing across the rivulet, she threw herself across the battered leather trunk—sole surviving relic of Aunt Tabby; but Aunt Tabby and the finding thereof was a light among other shadows of the day.
Nothing but a Baby.
Gruesome incidents came oftener than pathetic ones or serio-comic. General Axline, the Adjutant General of Ohio, was walking down the station platform this afternoon, when a boy came sauntering up from the viaduct with a bundle in a handkerchief. The handkerchief dripped water. "What have you there, my boy?" asked the General. The boy cowered a minute, though the General's tone was kindly, for the boy, like every one else in Johnstown, was prepared for a gruff accostal every five minutes from some official, from Adjutant General to constable. Finally he answered: "Nothing but a baby, sir," and began to open his bundle in proof of the truth of his statement. But the big soldier did not put him to the proof. He turned away sick at heart. He did not even ask the boy if he knew whose baby it was.
How the Coffins Were Carried.
A strangely utilitarian device was that of a Pittsburgh sergeant of Battery B. With one train from the West came several hundred of the morbidly curious, bent upon all the horrors which they could stomach. A crowd of them crossed the viaduct and stopped to gaze round-eyed upon a pile of empty coffins meant for the bodies of the identified dead found up and across the river in the ruins of Johnstown proper. As they gazed the Sergeant, seeking transportation for the coffins, came along. A somewhat malicious inspiration of military genius lighted his eye. With the best imitation possible of a regular army man, he shouted to the idlers, "Each of you men take a coffin." The idlers eyed him.
"What for?" one asked.
"You want to go into town, don't you?" replied the Sergeant. "Well, not one of you goes unless he takes a coffin with him."
In ten minutes time way was made at the ticklish rope bridge for a file of sixteen coffins, each borne by two of the Sergeant's unwilling conscripts, while the Sergeant closed up the rear.
Some of the scenes witnessed here were heartrending in the extreme. In one case a beautiful girl came down on the roof of a building which was swung in near the tower. She screamed to the operator to save her and one big, brave fellow walked as far into the river as he could and shouted to her to try to guide herself into the shore with a bit of plank. She was a plucky girl, full of nerve and energy, and stood upon her frail support in evident obedience to the command of the operator. She made two or three bold strokes and actually stopped the course of the raft for an instant.
Then it swerved and went out from under her. She tried to swim ashore, but in a few seconds she was lost. Something hit her, for she lay quietly on her back, with face pallid and expressionless. Men and women in dozens, in pairs and singly; children, boys, big and little, and wee babies were there in among the awful confusion of water, drowning, gasping, struggling and fighting desperately for life.
Two men on a tiny raft shot into the swiftest part of the current. They crouched stolidly, looking at the shores, while between them, dressed in white and kneeling with her face turned heavenward was a girl seven years old. She seemed stricken with paralysis until she came opposite the tower and then she turned her face to the operator. She was so close they could see big tears on her cheeks and her pallor was as death. The helpless men on shore shouted to her to keep up courage, and she resumed her devout attitude and disappeared under the trees of a projection a short distance below. "We could not see her come out again," said the operator, "and that was all of it."
"Do you see that fringe of trees?" said the operator, pointing to the place where the little girl had gone out of sight.
"Well, we saw scores of children swept in there. I believe that when the time comes they will find almost a hundred bodies of children in there among those bushes."
Floated to their Death.
A bit of heroism is related by one of the telegraph operators at Bolivar. He says: "I was standing on the river bank about 7.30 last evening when a raft swept into view. It must have been the floor of a dismantled house. Upon it were grouped two women and a man. They were evidently his mother and sister, for both clung to him as though stupefied with fear as they were whirled under the bridge here. The man could save himself if he had wished by simply reaching up his hand and catching the timber of the structure. He apparently saw this himself, and the temptation must have been strong for him to do so, but in one second more he was seen to resolutely shake his head and clasp the women tighter around the waist.
"On they sped. Ropes were thrown out from the tree tops, but they were unable to catch them, though they grasped for the lines eagerly enough. Then a tree caught in their raft and dragged after them. In this way they swept out of view."
Still finding bodies by scores in the burning debris; still burying the dead and caring for the wounded; still feeding the famishing and housing the homeless, and this on the fourth day following the one on which Johnstown was swept away. The situation of horror has not changed; there are hundreds, and it is feared thousands, still buried beneath the scattered ruins that disfigure the V-shaped valley in which Johnstown stood. A perfect stream of wagons bearing the dead as fast as they are discovered is constantly filing to the improvised morgues, where the bodies are taken for identification. Hundreds of people are constantly crowding to these temporary houses, one of which is located in each of the suburban boroughs that surround Johnstown. Men armed with muskets, uniformed sentinels, constituting the force that guard the city while it is practically under martial law, stand at the doors and admit the crowd by tens.
In the Central Dead House.
In the Central dead house in Johnstown proper, as early as 9 o'clock to-day there lay two rows of ghastly dead. To the right were twenty bodies that had been identified. They were mostly women and children and they were entirely covered with white sheets, and a piece of paper bearing the name was pinned at the feet. To the left were eighteen bodies of the unknown dead. As the people passed they were hurried along by an attendant and gazed at the uncovered faces seeking to identify them. All applicants for admission if it is thought they are prompted by idle curiosity, are not allowed to enter. The central morgue was formerly a school-house, and the desks are used as biers for the dead bodies. Three of the former pupils yesterday lay on the desks dead, with white pieces of paper pinned on to the white sheets that covered them, giving their names.
Looking for Their Loved Ones.
But what touching scenes are enacted every hour about this mournful building. Outside the sharp voices of the sentinels are constantly shouting: "Move on." Inside, weeping women and sad-faced, hollow-eyed men are bending over loved and familiar faces. Back on the steep grassy hill which rises abruptly on the other side of the street are crowds of curious people who come in from the country round about to look at the wreckage strewn around where Johnstown was. "Oh, Mr. Jones," a pale-faced woman asks, walking up, sobbing, "can't you tell me where we can get a coffin to bury Johnnie's body?"
"Do you know," asks a tottering old man, as the pale-faced woman turns away, "whether they have found Jennie and the children?"
"Jennie's body has just been found at the bridge," is the answer, "but the children can't be found." Jennie is the old man's married daughter, and she was drowned, with her two children, while her husband was at work over at the Cambria Mills.
They Ran for Their Lives.
Miss Jennie Paulson, who was on the Chicago day express, is dead. She was seen to go back with a companion into the doomed section of the day express in the Conemaugh Valley, and is swept away in the flood.
Last evening, after the evening train had just left Johnstown for Pittsburgh, it was learned that quite a number of the survivors of the wrecked train, who have been at Altoona since last Saturday, were on board. After a short search they were located, and quite an interesting talk was the result. Probably the most interesting interview, at least to Pittsburghers, was that had with Mrs. Montgomery Wilcox, of Philadelphia, who was on one of the Pullman sleepers attached to the lost express train. She tells a most exciting tale and confirms beyond the shadow of a doubt the story of Miss Jennie Paulson's tragic death.
A Fatal Pair of Rubbers.
She says: "We had been making but slow progress all the day. Our train laid at Johnstown nearly the whole day of Friday. We then proceeded as far as Conemaugh, and had stopped for some cause or other, probably on account of the flood. Miss Paulson and a Miss Bryan were seated in front of me. Miss Paulson had on a plaid dress with shirred waist of red cloth goods. Her companion was dressed in black. Both had lovely corsage bouquets of roses. I had heard that they had been attending a wedding before they left Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh lady was reading a novel. Miss Bryan was looking out of the window. When the alarm came we all sprang toward the door, leaving everything behind us. I had just reached the door when poor Miss Paulson and her friend, who were behind me, decided to return for their rubbers, which they did.
Chased as by a Serpent.
"I sprang from the car into a ditch next the hillside in which the water was already a foot and a half deep and with the others climbed up the mountainside for our very lives. We had to do so as the water glided up after us like a huge serpent. Any one ten feet behind us would have been lost beyond a doubt. I glanced back at the train when I had reached a place of safety, but the water already covered it and the Pullman car in which the ladies were was already rolling down the valley in the grasp of the angry waters. Quite a number of us reached the house of a Mr. Swenzel, or some such name, one of the railroad men, whom we afterward learned had lost two daughters at Johnstown. We made ourselves as comfortable as possible until the next day, when we proceeded by conveyances as far as Altoona, having no doubt but what we could certainly proceed east from that point. We found the middle division of the Pennsylvania Railroad was, if anything, in a worse condition than the western, so we determined to go as far as Ebensburg by train, whence we reached Johnstown to-day by wagon."
Mrs. G.W. Childs' Escape.
Mrs. George W. Childs, of Philadelphia, was also a member of the party. She was on her way West, and reached Altoona on Friday, after untold difficulties. She is almost prostrated by the severe ordeal through which she and many others have passed, and therefore had but little to say, only averring that Mrs. Wilcox and her friends, who were on the lost train, had passed through perils beside which her own sank into insignificance.
Assistant Superintendent Crump telegraphs from Blairsville Junction that the day express, eastbound from Chicago to New York, and the mail train from Pittsburgh bound east, were put on the back tracks in the yard at Conemaugh when the flooded condition of the main tracks made it apparently unsafe to proceed further. When the continued rise of the water made their danger apparent, the frightened passengers fled from the two trains to the hills near by. Many in their wild excitement threw themselves into the raging current and were drowned. It is supposed that about fifteen persons lost their lives in this way.
After the people had deserted the cars, the railroad officials state, the two Pullman cars attached to the day express were set on fire and entirely consumed. A car of lime was standing near the train. When the water reached the lime it set fire to the car and the flames reaching the sleepers they were entirely consumed.
Exhuming the Dead.
Three hundred bodies were exhumed to-day. In one spot at Main and Market streets the workmen came upon thirty, among whom were nine members of the Fitzparis family—the father, mother, seven children and the grandfather. Only one child, a little girl of nine years, is left out of a family of ten. She is now being cared for by the citizens' committee. The body of a beautiful young girl was found at the office of the Cambria Iron Company. When the corpse was conveyed to the morgue a man entered in search of some relatives. The first body he came to he exclaimed: "That's my wife," and a few feet further off he recognized in the young girl found at the Cambria Iron Company's office his daughter, Theresa Downs. Both bodies had been found within a hundred yards of each other.
A dozen instances have occurred where people have claimed bodies and were mistaken. This is due to the over-zeal of people to get their relatives and bury them. Nine children walked into one of the relief stations this morning, led by a girl of sixteen years. They said that their father, mother and two other children had been swallowed up by the flood, the family having originally comprised thirteen persons in all. Their story was investigated by Officer Fowler, of Pittsburgh, and it was found to be true. Near Main street the body of a woman was taken out with three children lying on her. She was about to become a mother.
Nursing Their Sorrows.
The afflicted people quietly bear their crosses. The calamity has been so general that the sufferers feel that everybody has been treated alike. Grouped together, the sorrows of each other assist in keeping up the strength and courage of all. In the excitement and hurry of the present, loss of friends is forgotten, but the time will come when it is all over and the world gradually drifts back to business, forgetful that such a town as Johnstown ever existed.
Then it is that sufferers will realize what they have lost. Hearts will then be full of grief and despair and the time for sympathy will be at hand. Michael Martin was one of those on the hillside when the water was rushing through the town. The spectacle was appalling. Women on the hills were shrieking and ringing their hands—in fact, people beyond reach of the flood made more noise than those unfortunate creatures struggling in the water. The latter in trying to save themselves hadn't time to shriek.
Michael Martin said: "I was on the hillside and watched the flood. You ask me what it looked like. I can't tell. I never saw such a scene before and never expect to again. On one of the first houses that struck the bridge there was standing a woman wearing a white shawl. When the house struck the bridge she threw up her hands and fell back into the water. A little boy and girl came floating down on a raft from South Fork. The water turned the raft toward the Kernville hill and as soon as it struck the bank he jumped on the hill, dragging his little sister with him. Both were saved.
"I saw three men and three women on the roof of a house. When they were passing the Cambria Iron Works the men jumped off and the women were lost. Mr. Overbeck left his family in McM. row and swam to the club house, then he tried to swim to Morrell's residence and was drowned. His family was saved. At the corner of the company's store a man called for help for two days, but no one could reach him. The voice finally ceased and I suppose he died.
A Brave Girl.
"Rose Clark was fastened in the debris at the bridge. Her coolness was remarkable and she was more calm than the people trying to get her out. She begged the men to cut her leg off. One man worked six hours before she was released. She had an arm and leg broken. I saw three men strike the bridge and go down. William Walter was saved. He was anchored on Main street and he saw about two hundred people in the water. He believes two-thirds of them were drowned. A frightened woman clung to a bush near him and her long hair stood straight out. About twenty people were holding to those in the neighborhood, but most of them were lost.
"John Reese, a policeman, got out on the roof of his house. In a second afterward the building fell in on his wife and drowned her. She waved a kiss to her husband and then died. Two servant girls were burned in the Catholic priest's house. The church was also consumed."
Along the Valley of Death.
Fifteen miles by raft and on foot along the banks of the raging Conemaugh and in the refugee trains between Johnstown and Pittsburgh. Such was the trip, fraught with great danger, but prolific of results, which the writer has just completed. All along the line events of thrilling interest mingled with those of heartrending sadness transpired, demonstrating more than ever the magnitude of the horrible tragedy of last Friday.
Just as the day was dawning I left the desolate city of Johnstown, and, wending my way along the shore of the winding Conemaugh to Sheridan, I succeeded in persuading a number of brave and stout-hearted men, who had constructed a raft and were about to start on an extended search for the lost who are known to be strewn all along this fated stream, to take me with them.
The river is still very high, and while the current is not remarkably swift, the still flowing debris made the expedition one of peril. Between the starting point and Nineveh several bodies were recovered. They were mostly imbedded in the sand close to the shore, which had to be hugged for safety all the way. Indeed the greater part of the trip was made on foot, the raft being towed along from the water's edge by the tireless rescuers.
Just above Sang Hollow the party stopped to assist a little knot of men who were engaged in searching amid the ruins of a hut which lay wedged between a mass of trees on the higher ground. A man's hat and coat were fished out, but there was no trace of the human being to whom they once belonged. Perhaps he is alive; perhaps his remains are among the hundreds of unidentified dead, and perhaps he sleeps beneath the waters between here and the gulf. Who can tell?
Died in Harness.
A little farther down we came across two horses and a wagon lying in the middle of the river. The dumb animals had literally died in harness. Of their driver nothing is known. At this point an old wooden rocker was fished out of the water and taken on shore.
Here three women were working in the ruins of what had once been their happy home. When one of them spied the chair it brought back to her a wealth of memory and for the first time, probably, since the flood occurred she gave way to a flood of tears, tears as welcome as sunshine from heaven, for they opened up her whole soul and allowed pent-up grief within to flow freely out and away.
One Touch of Nature.
"Where in the name of God," she sobbed, "did you get that chair? It was mine—no, I don't want it. Keep it and find for me, if you can, my album; in it are the faces of my dead husband and little girl." When the rough men who have worked days in the valley of death turned away from this scene there was not a dry eye in the crowd. One touch of nature, and the thought of little ones at home, welded them in heart and sympathy to this Niobe of the valley.
At Sang Hollow we came up with a train-load of refugees en route for Pittsburgh. As I entered the car I was struck by two things. The first was an old man, whose silvered locks betokened his four-score years, and the second was a little clump of children, three in number, playing on a seat in the upper end of the coach.
Judge Potts' Escape.
The white-haired patriarch was Judge James Potts, aged 80, one of the best known residents of Johnstown, who escaped the flood's ravages in a most remarkable manner. Beside him was his daughter, while opposite sat his son. There was one missing to complete the family party, Jennie, the youngest daughter, who went down with the tide and whose remains have not yet been found. The thrilling yet pathetic story of the escape of the old Judge is best told in his own language. Said he:
"You ask me how I was saved. I answer, God alone knows. With my little family I lived on Walnut street, next door to the residence of President McMillan, of the Cambria Iron Company. When the waters surrounded us we made our way to the third floor, and huddled together in one room, determined, if die we must, to perish together.
Encircled by Water.
"Higher and higher rose the flood, while our house was almost knocked from its foundations by the ever-increasing mountain of debris floating along. At last the bridge at Woodvale, which had given way a short time before, struck the house and split it asunder, as a knife might have split a piece of paper.
"The force of the shock carried us out upon the debris, and we floated around upon it for hours, finally landing near the bridge. When we looked about for Jennie (here the old man broke down and sobbed bitterly) she was nowhere to be seen. She had obeyed the Master's summons."
A Miraculous Escape.
The three little girls, to whom I have referred, were the children of Austin Lountz, a plasterer, living back of Water street. They were as happy as happy could be and cut up in childish fashion all the way down. Their good spirits were easily accounted for when it was learned that father, mother, children and all had a miraculous escape, when it looked as if all would be lost. The entire family floated about for hours on the roof of a house, finally landing high upon the hillside.
Elmer G. Speck, traveling salesman of Pittsburgh, was at the Merchants' Hotel when the flood occurred, having left the Hurlburt House but a few hours before. He said:
"With a number of others I got from the hotel to the hill in a wagon. The sight from our eminence was one that I shall never forget—that I can never fully describe. The whole world appeared to be topsy-turvy and at the mercy of an angry and destroying demon of the elements. People were floating about on housetops and in wagons, and hundreds were clinging to tree-trunks, logs and furniture of every imaginable description.
"My sister, Miss Nina, together with my step-brother and his wife, whom she was visiting, drifted with the tide on the roof of a house a distance of two blocks, where they were rescued. With a number of others I built a raft and in a short time had pulled eleven persons from the very jaws of death. Continuing, Mr. Speck related how a number of folks from Woodvale had all come down upon their housetops. Mr. Curtis Williams and his family picked their way from house to house, finally being pulled in the Catholic church window by ropes."
Three of a Family Drowned.
William Hinchman, with his wife and two children, reached the stone bridge in safety. Here one of the babies was swept away through the arches. The others were also swept with the current, and when they came out on the other side the remaining child was missing, while below Mrs. Hinchman disappeared, leaving her husband the sole survivor of a family of four.
"Did your folks all escape alive?" I asked of George W. Hamilton, late assistant superintendent of the Cambria Iron Company, whom I met on the road near New Florence.
"Oh, no" was his reply. "Out of a family of sixteen seven are lost. My brother, his wife, two children, my sister, her husband and one child, all are gone; that tells the tale. I escaped with my wife by jumping from a second story window onto the moving debris. We landed back of the Morrell Institute safe and sound."
The stories of hairbreadth escapes and the annihilation of families continue to be told. Here is one of them. J. Paul Kirchmann, a young man, boarded with George Schroeder's family in the heart of the town, and when the flood came the house toppled over and went rushing away in the swirling current. There were seven in all in the party and Kirchmann found himself wedged in between two houses, with his head under water. He dived down, and when he again came to the surface succeeded in getting on the roof of one of them. The others had preceded him there, and the house floated to the cemetery, over a mile and a half away, where all of them were rescued. Kirchmann, however, had fainted, and for seven or eight hours was supposed to be dead. He recovered, and is now assisting to get at the bodies buried in the ruins.
Saloon-keeper Fitzharris and his family of six had the lives crushed out of them when their house collapsed, and early this morning all of them, the father, mother and five children were taken from the wreck, and are now at the morgue. Emil Young, a jeweler, lived with mother, wife, three sons and daughter over his store on Clinton street, near Main. They were all in the house when the wild rush of water surrounded their home, lifted it from its foundation and carried it away. Young and his daughter were drowned and it was then that his mother and wife showed their heroism and saved the life of the other members of the family.
The mother is 80 years of age, but her orders were so promptly given and so ably executed by the younger Mrs. Young that when the house floated near another in which was a family of nine all were taken off and eventually saved. Even after this trying ordeal the younger woman washed the bodies of her husband and nineteen others and prepared them for burial.
The Whole Family Escaped.
Another remarkable escape of a whole family was that of William H. Rosensteel, a tanner, of Woodvale, a suburb of Johnstown. His house was in the track of the storm, and, with his two daughters, Tillie and Mamie, his granddaughter and a dog, he was carried down on the kitchen roof. They floated into the Bon Ton Clothing House, a mile and a half away, on Main street. Here they remained all night, but were taken off by Mrs. Emil Young and went to Pittsburgh.
Jacob I. Horner and his family of eight had their house in Hornerstown thrown down by the water and took refuge in a tree. After awhile they returned to their overturned house, but again got into the tree, from which they were rescued after an enforced stay of a number of hours.
Charles Barnes, a real estate dealer on Main street, was worth $10,000 last Friday and had around him a family of four. To-day all his loved ones are dead and he has only $6 in his pockets.
The family of John Higson, consisting of himself, wife, and young son, lived at 123 Walnut street. Miss Sarah Thomas, of Cumberland, was a visitor, and a hired man, a Swede, also lived in the house. The water had backed up to the rear second-story windows before the great wave came, and about 5 o'clock they heard the screaching of a number of whistles on the Conemaugh. Rushing to the windows they saw what they thought to be a big cloud approaching them. Before they could reach a place of safety the building was lifted up and carried up Stony creek for about one-quarter of a mile. As the water rushed they turned into the river and were carried about three-quarters of a mile further on. All the people were in the attic and as the house was hurled with terrific force against the wreckage piled up against the Pennsylvania Railroad bridge Higson called to them to jump. They failed to do so, but at the second command Miss Thomas leaped through the window, the others followed, and after a dangerous walk over fifty yards of broken houses safely reached the shore.
Digging for the Dead.
A party started in early exploring the huge mass of debris banked against the Pennsylvania Railroad bridge. This collection, consisting of trees, sides of houses, timber and innumerable articles, varies in thickness from three or four feet to twenty feet. It is about four hundred yards long, and as wide as the river. There are thousands of tons in this vast pile. How many bodies are buried there it is impossible to say, but conservative estimates place it at one thousand at least.
The corps of workmen who were searching the ruins near the Methodist Church late this evening were horrified by unearthing one hundred additional bodies. The great number at this spot shows what may be expected when all have been recovered.
When the mass which blazed several days was extinguished it was simple to recover the bodies on the surface. It is now a question, however, of delving into the almost impenetrable collection to get at those lodged within. The grinding tree trunks doubtless crushed those beneath into mere unrecognizable masses of flesh. Those on the surface were nearly all so much burned as to resemble nothing human.
Meanwhile the searchers after bodies, armed with spikes, hooks and crowbars, pry up the debris and unearth what they can. Bodies, or rather fractions of them, are found in abundance near the surface.
Tracing Bodies by the Smell.
I was here when the gang came across one of the upper stories of a house. It was merely a pile of boards apparently, but small pieces of a bureau and a bed spring from which the clothes had been burned showed the nature of the find. A faint odor of burned flesh prevailed exactly at this spot. "Dig here," said the physician to the men. "There is one body at least quite close to the surface." The men started in with a will. A large pile of underclothes and household linen was brought up first. It was of fine quality and evidently such as would be stored in the bedroom of a house occupied by people quite well to do. Shovels full of jumbled rubbish were thrown up, and the odor of flesh became more pronounced. Presently one of the men exposed a charred lump of flesh and lifted it up on the end of a pitchfork. It was all that remained of some poor creature who had met an awful death between water and fire.
The trunk was put on a cloth, the ends were looped up making a bag of it, and the thing was taken to the river bank. It weighed probably thirty pounds. A stake was driven in the ground to which a tag was attached giving a description of the remains. This is done in many cases to the burned bodies, and they lay covered with cloths upon the bank until men came with coffins to remove them. Then the tag was taken from the stakes and tacked on the coffin lid, which was immediately closed up, as identification was of course out of the question. There is a stack of coffins by the railroad bridge. Sometimes a coffin is carried to the spot on the charred debris where the find is made.
Prodding Corpses with Canes.
The searchers by thrusting down a stick or fork are pretty sure to find a corpse. I saw a man run a cane in the debris down to the hilt and it came up with human flesh sticking to it. Another ran a stick into the thoroughly cooked skull of a little boy two feet below the surface. There are bodies probably as far down as seventy feet in some cases, and it does not seem plain now how they are to be recovered. One plan would be to take away the top layers of wood with derricks, and of course the mass beneath will rise closer to the surface. The weather is cold to-day, and the offensive smell that was so troublesome on the warm days is not noticeable at a distance.