One man identified his wife among those who came ashore here, and Rose said that he was nearly crazy, and that her face was the most beautiful thing she ever saw, and that she had very handsome pearls in her ears and was so young looking. The dead are all taken from here to Johnstown and Nineveh and other places, where they will be most likely to be identified; about thirty have been identified here and taken away. I feel hardened to a great deal, and feel God has been so merciful to me I must do all I can for the unfortunate ones. I hope soon to have some help from you all, for I have given willingly of my little and my means are exhausted. I expect we will have to live on ham and eggs next week, but we are thankful to have that, as I would rather live low and give all I can, than not to give. All I care about is that Andrew gets enough to eat, as he needs a great deal to keep his strength up, working as hard as he does. Now I will close as it is nearly time for him to be home. Lovingly,
Feeding the Hungry.
There are over 30,000 people at Johnstown who must be fed from the outside world. Of these 18,000 are natives of the town that a week ago had 29,500 inhabitants; all the others are dead or have gone away. Over 12,000 people are here clearing the streets, burying the dead, attending the sick, and feeding and sheltering the homeless; all these people have to be fed at least three times a day, for days are very long in Johnstown just now. They begin at five o'clock in the morning, two hours before the whistles in the half-mired Cambria Iron Company's building blow, and end just about the time the sun is going down. If the people who are on the outside and who are engaged in the labor of love of sending the food that is keeping strength in Johnstown's tired arms and the clothing that is covering her nakedness could understand the situation as it is they would redouble their efforts. Johnstown cannot draw on the country immediately around about her, for that was drained days ago. To be safe, there should be a week's supply of food ahead. At no time has there been a day's supply or anything like it.
A Crisis in the Commissary.
Twice within the last forty-eight hours the commissary department at the Pennsylvania Railroad Depot, where nearly 10,000 people are furnished with food, have been in a state of mind bordering on panic. They had run out of food; people who had trudged down the hill with expectant faces and empty baskets had to trudge back again with hearts heavy and baskets still empty. That was the case on Wednesday night. Then the Citizens' Committee had to send to the refugee camp, the smallest food station in the city, and take away 1500 loaves of bread. The bread supply in the central portion of the town had suddenly given out and there was a clamoring crowd demanding to be fed.
The same thing happened again last night. It was not so bad as on the night before, but there were anxious faces enough among the men under the direction of Major Spangler, who realized the awful responsibility of providing the mouths of the thousands with food. The supply had given out, but fortunately not until almost everybody had been supplied. Telegrams announced that eight carloads of provisions had been shipped from the West and were somewhere in the line between Pittsburgh and Johnstown. At midnight nothing could be heard of them. The delay was maddening. If the food did not arrive it meant fully 10,000 breakfastless and possibly dinnerless people in Johnstown to-day, with consequent suffering and possible disorder among the rough and rowdy element.
The Danger Tided Over.
Before daylight the expected cars came in from Ohio and Pittsburgh and the danger was over for the time being. This serves, however, to show the perilous condition the town is in, living as it is in a hand-to-mouth fashion. It should be remembered that the only direct access to Johnstown from the West is by way of the Pennsylvania, which is handicapped as she has never been before, and from the East and South, of the Baltimore and Ohio. If the Pennsylvania were opened through to the East a steady stream of 200 cars already loaded for the sufferers would pour over the Alleghenies, but the Pennsylvania does not see light ahead much more clearly than yesterday. The terrible breaks and washouts will require days yet to repair, and supplies that come from the interior of the State must come by means of wagons.
Crowding in the Supplies.
The Baltimore and Ohio is piling the supplies in to-day faster than the men can unload them. In the neighborhood of 100 carloads were received. The Pennsylvania during to-day has handled something like twenty-eight carloads all told. In the way of food the articles most needed are fresh, salt meats, sugar, rice, coffee, tea, and dried and canned fruits. The supply of sugar gave out entirely to-day. Twenty thousand pounds of Cincinnati hams arrived to-day and they melted like 20,000 pounds of ice beneath the scorching heat of this afternoon's sun. Much of the clothing that is received here is new and serviceable, but thousands of pieces are so badly worn that, to use the words of General Axline, of Ohio, who is doing noble service here with the thousands of other self-sacrificing men, "it is unfit to be worn by tramps." Many old shoes with the soles half torn off have been received. Shoes are badly needed at once or all Johnstown will be barefooted.
Eighteen Carloads of Relief.
Even in the rush of distribution the officials who have it in charge can find time to say a hearty word of praise for those towns which have contributed to the sufferers. Philadelphia's first installment was the first to arrive from the East, and more goods have been coming in steadily ever since. W.H. Tumblestone, the president of the Retail Grocers' Association of Pennsylvania, who was appointed first lieutenant of the Philadelphia relief by the Mayor, arrived here first. He set at work handling coffins, but as soon as the first freight car of goods arrived he was put in charge of their distribution and has been working like threemen ever since. The eight freight cars from Philadelphia which arrived with the relief party on Monday, at 4 o'clock, were distributed from a great storehouse at the terminus of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The goods are carried in bulk from the cars to the warehouse by a gang of twenty-eight men, who are identified by red flannel hat-bands. When they fail to enthuse over their work Mr. Tumblestone gets off his coat and shoves boxes himself.
Inside the warehouse a score of volunteers and Pittsburgh policemen break open the boxes and pile the goods in separate heaps; the women's clothing, the men's, the children's and the different sizes being placed in regular order. Then the barriers are opened and the crowd surges in like depositors making a run on a savings bank. The police keep good order and the ubiquitous Tumblestone and his assistants dole out the goods to all who have orders. Special orders call for stoves, mattrasses and blankets.
If the Philadelphians could see the faces of the people they are helping before and after they have passed the distribution windows they would feel well repaid for their visible sympathy. Chairman Scott says the class of goods from Philadelphia have been of the highest quality. "We have been delighted with the thought and excellence of the selections and amiable nature of the contributions. The two miles of track lying between here and Morrellville are still blocked with cars stretched from one end to the other, and fresh arrivals are coming in daily over the Baltimore and Ohio." Although it is impossible to say how much has been received from Philadelphia, Mr. Tumblestone says that so far as many as eighteen freight cars, each filled from the sides to the roof, have arrived from the Quaker City, and their contents have been distributed.
How Rival Hotels were Crushed Together.
The principal hotels of the town were bunched in a group about the corner of Main and Clinton streets. They were the Merchants', a large old-fashioned, three-story tavern, with a stable yard behind, a relic of staging days; the Hurlburt House, the leading hotel of the place, a fine four-story brick structure with a mansard roof and all the latest wrinkles in furnishing inside and out; the Fritz House, a narrow, four-story structure, with an ornate front, and the Keystone, a smaller hotel than any of the others.
These few inns stood in the path of the flood. The Hurlburt, the largest and handsomest, was absolutely obliterated. The Keystone's ruin was next in completion. It stood across Clinton Street from Fritz's, and Landlord Charles West has not yet recovered from the surprise of seeing the rival establishment thrown bodily across the street against his second story front, tearing it completely out.
After the water subsided it fell back upon the pavement in front of its still towering rival, and in the meantime Landlord West had saved mine host of the Keystone and his family from the roof which was thrust in his windows.
Back of Fritz's there was a little alley, which made a course for a part of the torrent. Fully half a dozen houses were sent swimming in here. They crushed their way through the small hotel's outhouses straight to the rear of the Merchants', and sliced the walls off the old inn as a hungry survivor to-day cut a Philadelphia cheese. You can see the interior of the rooms. The beds were swept out into the flood, but a lonesome wardrobe fell face downward on the floor and somehow escaped. There are bodies under the rear wall. How many is not known, but Landlord West, of Fritz's, says he is certain there were people on the rear porch of the Merchants'. The story of Landlord West's rival being thrown into his front windows has its parallels.
Colonel Higgins, the manager of the Cambria Club House, was in the third story of the building with his family. Suddenly a man was hurled by the torrent rapidly through the window. He was rescued, then fainted, and upon inspection was found to have a broken leg. The leg was bandaged and the man resuscitated, and when this last act of kindness was accomplished he said faintly: "This ain't so bad. I've been in a blow-up."
A Cool Request.
This remark showed the greatest sang-froid known to be exhibited during the flood, but the most irreverent was that of an old man who was saved by E.B. Entworth, of the Johnson works. On Saturday morning Mr. Entworth rowed to a house near the flowing debris at the bridge, and found a woman, with a broken arm, and a baby. After she had got into the boat she cried: "Come along, grandpap." Whereupon an old man, chilled but chipper, jumped up from the other side of the roof, slid down into the boat, and ejaculated: "Gentlemen, can any of you give me a chew of tobacco?"
Scenes Amid the Ruins.
One of the curious finds in the debris yesterday was two proofs from cabinet-size negatives of two persons—a man and a woman. The prints were found within two feet of each other in the ruins near the Merchants' Hotel. They were immediately recognized as portraits of Mamie Patton, formerly a Johnstown girl, and Charles DeKnight, once a Pullman palace car conductor. The two were found dying together in a room in a Pittsburgh hotel several months ago, the woman having shot the man and then herself. She claimed that he was her husband. The dress in which the picture showed her was the same that she wore when she killed DeKnight.
Tracks that were Laid in a Hurry.
If Pennsylvania Railroad trains ever ran over tougher-looking tracks than those used now through Johnstown it must have been before people began to ride on it. The section from the north end of the bridge to the railroad station has a grade that wabbles between 50 and 500 feet to the mile and jerks back and forth sideways as though laid by a gang of intoxicated men on a dark night. When the first engine went over it everybody held his breath and watched to see it tumble. These eccentricities are being straightened out, however, as fast as men and broken stones can do it.
The railroad bridge at Johnstown deserves attention beyond that which it is receiving on account of the way it held back the flood. It is one of the most massive pieces of masonry ever set up in this country. In a general way it is solid masonry of cut sandstone blocks of unusual size, the whole nearly 400 feet long, forty wide, and averaging about forty deep. Seven arches of about fifty feet span are pierced through it, rising to within a few feet of the top and leaving massive piers down to the rock beneath. As the bridge crosses the stream diagonally, the arches pierce the mass in a slanting direction, and this greatly adds to the heavy appearance of the bridge. There has been some disposition to find fault with the bridge for being so strong, the idea being that if it had gone out there would have been no heaping up of buildings behind it, no fire, and fewer deaths. This is probably unfair, as there were hundreds of persons saved when their houses were stopped against the bridge by climbing out or being helped out upon the structure. If the bridge had gone, too, the flood would have taken the whole instead of only half of Cambria City.
Photographers Forced to Work.
The camera fiend has about ceased his wanderings. An order was issued yesterday from headquarters to arrest and put to work the swarms of amateur photographers who are to be found everywhere about the ruins. Those who will not work are to be taken uptown under guard. This order is issued to keep down the number of useless people and thus save the fast diminishing provisions for the workers.
A man who stood on the bluff and saw the first wave of the flood come down the valley tried to describe it. "I looked up," he said, "and saw something that looked like a wall of houses and trees up the valley. The next moment Johnstown seemed coming toward me. It was lifted right up and in a minute was smashing against the bridge and the houses were flying in splinters across the top and into the water beyond."
A 13-year-old girl, pretty and with golden hair, wanders about from morgue to morgue looking for ten of a family of eleven, she being the sole survivor.
There were half a dozen bulldogs in one house that was heaped up in the wreck some distance above the bridge. They were loose among the debris, and it is said by those who claim to have seen it that after fighting among themselves they turned upon the people near them and were tearing and biting them until the flames swept over the place.
Slow Time to Pittsburgh.
Irregular is a weak word for the manner in which passenger trains run between this place and Pittsburgh. The distance is seventy miles and the ordinary time is two hours. The train that left here at 4.30 yesterday afternoon reached there at midnight. This is ordinarily good time nowadays. A passage in five hours is an exceptional one.
Engine 1309, the one that faced the flood below Conemaugh and stood practically unharmed, backed down to the station as soon as the tracks were laid up to where it stood and worked all right. Only the oil cups and other small fittings, with the headlight, were broken.
The superintendent of the Woodvale Woolen Mills, one of the Cambria Iron Company's concerns, was one of the very few fortunate ones in that little place. He and all his family got into the flouring mill just below the woolen mill and upon the roof. The woolen mill was totally wrecked, though not carried away, and the flouring mill was badly damaged, but the roof held and all were saved. These two parts of the mill were the only buildings left standing in Woodvale.
A man in Kernville, on Friday last, had jet black hair, moustache and beard. That night he had a battle with the waters. On Saturday morning his hair and beard began to turn gray, and they are now well streaked with white. He attributes the change to his awful Friday night's experience.
Wounds of the Dead.
It is the impression of the medical corps and military surgeons who arrived here early in the week that hundreds, maybe thousands of men, women and children were insensible to all horror on that awful afternoon, just a week ago, before the waters of the valley closed in over them. Their opinion is based on the fact that hundreds and hundreds of the bodies already brought to light are terribly wounded somewhere, generally on the head. In many instances the wounds are sufficient in themselves to have caused death.
The crashing of houses together in the first mad rush of the flood with a force greater than the collision of railroad trains making fast time, and the hurling of timbers, poles, towers and boulders through the air is believed to have caused a legion of deaths in an instant, before the lost knew what was coming. Even the survivors bear testimony to this.
Surgeon Foster, of the 14th Regiment, who was first to have charge of the hospital, tells how he treated long lines of men, women and children for wounds too terrible to mention and they themselves know not how it happened only that they fell in a moment. In connection with his experience he speaks of the tender, yet heroic, work of four Sisters of Mercy, two from Pittsburgh and two here, who went ahead of him down the ranks of the wounded with sponges, chloroforming the suffering, before his scalpel aid reached them. Sometimes there were a dozen victims ahead of his knives.
Once these sisters stopped, for the first time showing horror, by a great pile of dead children and infants on the river bank laid one on top of the other. By one man each little body was seized and the clothing quickly cut from it. Then he passed it to another, who washed it in the river. Then a third man took it in the line of the dead. But the Sisters of Mercy saw they were too late there, and passed on among the living.
Most of the Pennsylvania Railroad passengers who left Pittsburgh for the East last Friday and were caught in the flood in the Conemaugh Valley reached Philadelphia in a long special train at 5 o'clock Friday morning, June 7th, after a week of adventure, peril and narrow escapes which none of them will ever forget. A few of their number who lost presence of mind when the flood struck the train were drowned. The survivors are unanimous in their appreciation of the kindness shown them by Pennsylvania officials, and in their praise of the hospitality and generosity of the country folk, among whom they found homes for three days. The escapes in some instances seem miraculous.
An hour before the flood the first section of the day express stopped at Conemaugh City, about ten miles below the dam at South Fork, on account of a washout farther up the valley. The second section of the express and another passenger train soon overtook the first and half an hour before the dam broke all these trains stood abreast on the four-track road. The positions now occupied seems providential. If the railroad men had foreseen the disaster they could not have shown greater prudence, for the engine of the first section of the express, on the track nearest the mountain side, stood about a car's length ahead of the second. The engine of the third train came to a stop a car's length behind the second and on the outer track, which was within a few feet of the swollen Conemaugh River, stood a heavily laden freight train.
When the flood came it struck the slanting front of the four locomotives. Most of the passengers had, in the meantime, escaped up the mountain side. Three of the locomotives were carried down by the irresistible torrent, but the fourth turned on its side and was soon buried under sand, tree trunks and other debris. This served as a breakwater for the flood and accounts for the fact that the trains of cars were not reduced to kindling wood while the railroad roundhouse and its twelve locomotives, a little farther down the valley, was taken up bodily, broken into fragments and its mighty inmates carried like chips for miles down the valley.
From end to end of the train, upon its arrival at Philadelphia, there was an aspect of absolute exhaustion, varied in its expression according to the individual. Phlegmatic men lay upon their backs, across the seats, with their legs dangling in the aisles. One might send them spinning round or toss their feet out of the passage, and their worn faces showed no more sign than if they were lifeless. Women lay swathed in veils and wraps, sometimes alone, sometimes huddled together, and sometimes guarded by the arms of their husbands—husbands who themselves had given way and slept as heavily as if dosed with narcotics.
But here and there is the typical American girl, full of nerve. She is worn out, too, but sleeps only fitfully, starting up at every sound and dropping uneasily off again. Now and then one encountered the man and woman of restless temperament, whose sleepless eyes looked out thinking, thinking—thinking on the trees and grass and bushes, faintly showing form now in the gray light of the very earliest dawn.
Childhood's Peaceful Sleep.
In the midst of it all a girl of six or seven, with a light shawl thrown over her figure, slept as peacefully as if she lay in the comfortable embrace of her own crib at home. She was little Bertha Reed, who had been sent out from Chicago in the care of the conductor on a trip to Brooklyn, where she was to meet her aunt. At Pittsburgh she was taken in charge by a Miss Harvey, a relative. She was a passenger on the Chicago limited, the last train to get safely across the bridge at South Fork. She was a model of patience and cheerfulness through all the discomforts and drawbacks of the voyage, and her innocent prattle made every man and woman love her.
It might have been supposed that if one were to waken any of these sleeping passengers to obtain their names and ask them of the disaster they might surlily have resented it. But they didn't. Now and then one of them would half-sleepily hand out his ticket under the mistaken notion that the reporter was the conductor. Another shake brought them round and they answered everything as kindly as if the unavoidable breaking in upon their comfort were a matter of no concern whatever. Sometimes it would seem that great sorrow must have a chastening effect upon everyone.
From All Parts of the World.
It was a strange gathering altogether, and made one think again of the remark so often repeated in "No Thoroughfare," "How small the world is." All the ends of the earth had sent their people to meet at the disaster, and the tide of human life flows on as recklessly as the current of any sea or river. Here weary, sleepy and sad, was Jacob Schmidt, of Aspen, Col. He had been a passenger on the Pittsburgh day express. He was standing on the platform when the flood came and by a lurching of the car he was thrown into the boiling torrent. He managed to seize a floating plank and was saved, but all his money and other valuables were lost. That was a particularly hard loss to him, because he was on his way to South Africa to seek his fortune. Behind him was R.B. Jones, who had come from the other side of the globe; in particular from Sydney, Australia, and met the others at Altoona. He was on the way for a visit to his parents in York County. He was on the Chicago Limited and just escaped the danger.
In a front car was Peter Sherman, of Pawtucket, R.I. He was tall and broad shouldered and his sun-browned face was shaded by a big soft hat. He was on his way from Texarkana, way down in Texas, and he too was at Conemaugh. He was a passenger on the first section of the day express. He had not slept a wink on the way down from Altoona, and he told his story spiritedly. He said: "I heard a voice in the car crying the reservoir is burst; run for your lives! I got up and made a rush for the door. A poor little cripple with two crutches sat in front of me and screamed to me to save him or he would be drowned. I grabbed him up under one arm and took his crutches with my free hand. As we stepped from the car the water was coming. I made my way up the hill toward a church. The water swooped down on us and was soon up to my knees. I told the cripple I could not carry him further; that we should both be lost. He screamed to me again to save him, but the water was gaining rapidly on us. He had a grip of my arm, but finally let go, and I laid him, hopefully, on the wooden steps of a house. I managed to reach the high land just in time. I never saw the cripple afterwards, but I learned that he was drowned."
A Great Loss.
A tall, heavily built man, with tattered garments, walked along the platform with the help of a cane. His face was covered with a beard, and his head was bowed so that his chin almost touched his breast. One foot was partially covered by a cut shoe, while on the other foot he wore a boot from which the heel was missing. This was Stephen Johns, a foreman at the Johnson Steel Rail Works at Woodvale. He was a big, strong man, but his whole frame trembled as he said: "Yes, I am from Johnstown. I lost my wife and three children there, so I thought I would leave."
It was only by the greatest effort that Mr. Johns kept the tears back. He then told his experience in this way: "I was all through the war. I was at Fair Oaks, at Chancellorsville, in the Wilderness, and many other battles, but never in my life was I in such a hot place as I was on Friday night. I don't know how I escaped, but here am I alone, wife and children gone. I was at the office of the company on Friday. We had been receiving telephonic messages all morning that the dam was unsafe. No one heeded them. I did not know anything about the dam. The bookkeeper said there was not enough water up there to flood the first floor of the office. I thought he knew, so I didn't send my family to the hills.
"I don't know what time it was in the afternoon that I saw the flood coming down the valley. I was standing at the gate. Looking up the valley I saw a great white crowd moving down upon us. I made a dash for home to try to get my wife and children to the hills. I saw them at the windows as I ran up to the house. That is the last time I ever saw their faces. No sooner had I got into the house than the flood struck the building. I was forced into the attic. It was a brick house with a slate roof. I had intended to keep very cool, but I suppose I forgot all about that.
Swept Down the Stream.
"It seemed a long time, but I suppose it was not more than a second before the house gave way and went tumbling down the stream. It turned over and over as it was washed along. I was under the water as often as I was above it. I could hear my wife and children praying, although I could not see them. I did not pray. They were taken and I was left for some purpose, I suppose. My house finally landed up against the stone railway bridge. I was then pinned down to the floor by a heavy rafter or something. Somehow or other I was lifted from the floor and thrown almost out upon the bridge. Then some people got hold of me and pulled me out and took me over to a brickyard. My eyes and nose were full of cinders. After I reached the brickyard I vomited fully a pint of cinders which I had swallowed while coming through that awful stream of water. I can't tell you what it was like. No one can understand it unless he or she passed through it."
"Did you find your wife and children?"
"No. I searched for them all of Saturday, Sunday and Monday, but could find no trace of them. I think they must have been among those who perished in the fire at the bridge. I would have staid there and worked had it not been the place was so near my old home that I could not stand it. I thought I would be better off away from there where I could not see anything to recall that horrible sight."
How the Survivors Live.
With a view of showing the character of living in and about Johnstown, how the people pass each day and what the conveniences and deprivations of domestic life experienced under the new order of things so suddenly introduced by the flood are, an investigation of a house-to-house nature was made to-day. As a result, it was noted that the degrees of comfort varied with the people as the types of human nature. As remarked by a visitor:
"The calamity has served to bring to the surface every phase of character in man, and to bring into development traits that had before been but dormant. Generally speaking all are on the same footing so far as need can be concerned. Whether houses remain to them or not, all the people have to be fed, for even should they have money, cash is of no account, provisions cannot be bought; people who still have homes nearly all of them furnish quarters for some of the visitors. Militia officers, committeemen, workmen, &c., must depend upon the supply stations for food."
The best preserved borough adjoining Johnstown is Prospect, with its uniformly built gray houses, rising tier upon tier against the side of the mountain, at the north of Johnstown. There are in the neighborhood of 150 homes here, and all look as if but one architect designed them. They are large, broad gabled, two-story affairs, with comfortable porches, extending all the way across the front, each being divided by an interior partition, so as to accommodate two families. The situation overlooked the entire shoe-shaped district, heretofore described.
Nearly every householder in Prospect is feeding not only his own family, but from two to ten others, whom he has welcomed to share what he has. Said one of these "We are all obliged to go to the general department for supplies, for we could not live otherwise. Our houses have not been touched, but we have given away nearly everything in the way of clothing, except what we have on. There were two little stores up here, but we purchased all they had long ago. It does not matter whether the people are rich or poor, they are all compelled to take their chances. In Prospect are the quarters of the Americus Club, of Pittsburgh, an organization which is widely spoken of as having distinguished itself by furnishing meals to any and every hungry person who applied."
As two newspaper men were about to descend the hill, after visiting a number of points, a little woman approached and made an inquiry about the running of trains. She was one of the survivors and wished to reach Clearfield, where her grown-up sons were. "I'd walk it if I could," she said, "but it's too far, and I'm too old now." She was living with her friends, who have taken care of her since her home was swept away.
A Distributing Point.
At the base of the long flight of wooden steps that lead to Prospect is the path extending across to the Pennsylvania Railroad station. Here is one of the principal distributing points. Three times each day a remarkable sight is here to be witnessed. Along the track at the eastern end, from the station platform back as far as the freight house, standing upon railroad ties, resting upon piles of lumber, and trying to hold their places in the line of succession in any position possible, crowds of people wait to be served. Aged, decrepit men and women and little girls and boys hold baskets, boxes, tin cans, wooden buckets, or any receptacle handy in which they may carry off provisons for the day.
The women have, many of them, tattered or ill-fitting clothing, taken at random when the first supply of this character arrived, their heads covered with thin shawls or calico sun shades. They stand there in the chilly morning wind that blows through the valley along the mountains, patiently waiting their turn at the provision table, making no complaint of cold feet and chilled bodies. In the line are people who, ten days ago, had sufficient of this world's goods to enable them to live comfortably the remainder of their lives. They are massed in solidly.
Guards of soldiers stand at short intervals to keep them back and preserve the lines, and sentries march up and down the entire length of the station challenging the approach of any one who desires to pass along the platform. For a distance of about one hundred feet to the railroad signal tower are piled barrels of flour, boxes of provisions, and supplies of all descriptions. Under the shed of the station an incongruous collection of clothing is being arranged to allow of convenient distribution. While they waited for the signal to commence operations, a guard entered into conversation with a woman in the line. She was evidently telling a story of distress, for the guard looked about hastily to a spot where canned meats and bread were located and made a movement as if to obtain a supply for the woman, but the eyes of brother soldiers and a superior officer were upon him and he again assumed his position. It is said to be not unusual for the soldiers, under cover of dusk, to overstep their duty in order to serve some applicant who, through age or lack of physical strength, is poorly equipped to bear the strain. All sorts of provisions are asked for. One woman asks boldly for ham, canned chicken, vegetables and flour. Another approaches timidly and would be glad to have a few loaves of bread and a little coffee.
Before complete system was introduced complaint was made of discrimination by those dealing out supplies, but under the present order of things the endeavor is made to treat everybody impartially. Provisions are given out in order, so that imposition is avoided. It would seem that there could be no imposition in any case, however. The people who are here, and who are able to get within the lines at all, have a reason for their presence, and this is not curiosity. They are here for anything but entertainment, and there is no possibility of purchasing supplies. All must needs apply at the commissary department.
A big distributing point for clothing is at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad station, in the Fourth Ward, known as Harpville, on the east bank of the Stony creek. A rudely constructed platform extends over a washed-out ditch, partially filled with debris. In the vicinity is a large barn and several smaller outhouses, thrown in a tumble-down condition. Piled against them are beams and rafters from houses smashed into kindling wood. All about the station are boxes, empty and full, scattered in confusion, and around and about these crowds are clustered as best they can. A big policeman stands upon a raised platform made of small boxes, and as he is supplied with goods from the station he throws about in the crowds socks, shoes, dresses, shirts, pantaloons, etc., guessing as rapidly as possible at proportion and speedily getting rid of his bundle. Around the corner, on a street running at right angles with the tracks, is the provision department. These two are sample stations. They are scattered about at convenient points, and number about ten in all.
One Week After the Great Disaster.
By slow degrees and painful labor the barren place where Johnstown stood begins again to look a little like the habitations of a civilized community. Daily a little is added to the cleared space once filled with the concrete rubbish of this town, daily the number of willing workers who are helping the town to rise again increases. To-day the great yellow plain which was filled with the best business blocks and residences before the flood is covered with tents for soldiers and laborers and gangs of men at work. The wrecks are being removed or burned up. Those houses which were left only partially destroyed are beginning to be repaired. Still, it will be months, very likely years, before the pathway of the flood ceases to be perfectly plain through the town. Its boundaries are as plainly marked now as if drawn on a map; where the flood went it left its ineffaceable track. Nearly one-half of the triangle in which Johnstown stood is plainly marked, one angle of the triangle pointing to the east and directly up the Conemaugh Valley, from which the flood descended. Its eastern side was formed by the line of the river. The second angle pointed toward the big stone arch bridge, which played such an important part in the tragedy. The western ran along the base of the mountain on the bank of Stony Creek, and the third angle was toward Stony Creek Valley.
Miles of Buildings in the Wreck.
Imagine that before the flood this triangle was thickly covered with houses. The lower or northern part was filled with solid business blocks, the upper or southern half with residences, for the most part built of wood. Picture this triangle as a mile and a half in its greatest length and three-quarters of a mile in its greatest breadth. This was the way Johnstown was ten days ago. Now imagine that in the lower half of this triangle, where the business blocks were, every object has been utterly swept away with the exception of perhaps seven scattered buildings. In their places is nothing but sand and heaps of debris. Imagine that in the upper portion of this triangle the pathway of destruction has been clearly cut. Along the pathway houses have been torn to pieces, turned upside down, laid upon their sides or twisted on their foundations. Put into the open space on the lower end of the triangle the tents and the fires of burning rubbish and you will have the picture of Johnstown to-day.
The people had been warned enough about the dangers of their location. They had been told again and again that the dam was unsafe, and whenever the freshets were out there were stories and rumors of its probable breaking. The freshets had been high for many days before that fatal Friday. All the creeks were over their banks and their waters were running on the streets. Cellars and pavements were flooded. Reports from the dam showed that it was holding back more water than at any other time in its history. A telegraph despatch early in the afternoon gave startling information about the cracks in the dam, but it was the old story of the wolf. They had heard it so often that they heard it this time and did not care.
The first warning that the people had of their coming doom was the roar of the advancing wave. It rushed out of the valley at four o'clock in the afternoon with incredible swiftness. Those who saw it and are still alive say that it seemed to be as high as an ordinary house. It carried in its front an immense amount of battered wreckage, and over it hung a cloud of what seemed to be fog, but was the dust from the buildings it had destroyed. Straight across the river it rushed upon the apex of the triangle. It struck the first houses and swept them away in fragments. The cries and shrieks of the frightened people began to be heard above the roar of the floods, and a few steps further the great wave struck some unusually solid structure. Its force right in the centre was already diminished. On these houses it split and the greater part of it went on diagonally across the triangle, deflecting somewhat toward the north and so on down to the stone arch bridge.
Nothing Could Withstand the Flood.
Wherever it went the houses tumbled down as if they were built of cards. It was not alone the great volume of water, but the immense revolving mass of lumber it carried, that gave it an additional and terrific force, and houses, five bridges, railroad trains, boilers and factories were whirling furiously about. What could stand against such an instrument of destruction as this? It swept the triangle as clean as a board. It tore up pavements. It dug out railroad tracks, and twisted them into strange and fantastic shapes. It carried with it thousands of human beings, crushing them against the fragments, and drove their bodies into the thick mass of mud and sand which it carried at the bottom. It went on and on straight as an arrow, and piled masses of all it had gathered against and over the solid arches of the stone bridge. The bridge sustained the shock. How it did it engineers who have seen the effects and the marvellous strength of the flood in other places wonder. An immense raft of houses and lumber and trees and rubbish of every kind, acres in extent, collected here.
Roasted in the Debris.
In these houses were imprisoned people still alive, in numbers estimated at two or three thousand, tossed about in the whirling flood which was turned into strange eddies by the obstruction it had met. In some way not explained a fire broke out.
The frame structures packed in closely together were like so much tinder wood. Those who had escaped drowning died in their prisons a more horrible death.
While this was going on that part of the divided stream which turned to the south continued on its way. At first its violence was undiminished, but as it went on the inclination of the land and the obstacles it met somewhat broke its force. It swept across the triangle, inclining toward the south, and was turned still further in that direction by the bed of Stony Creek, at the foot of the mountain which forms the western barrier of the basin in which Johnstown lies. Its course is plainly visible now, as it was two hours afterward. Where it started everything is cleared away.
A little further along the houses are still standing, but they are only masses of lumber and laths. Still further to the north they are overturned or lying upon their sides or corners, some curiously battered and as full of great holes as if they had been shot at with cannon. They are surrounded by driftwood and timbers, ground into splinters, railroad cars, ties and beams, all in a wild, untraceable jumble.
The wave reached to the north at least a distance of a mile from the point where it was divided. Then it swept backward. It carried with it many houses that had come from every part of the river.
At the Mercy of the Waves.
Upon them and upon flooded roofs and doors and timbers were men, women and children crying, beseeching and praying for help. Those on the shore who were watching this never to be forgotten spectacle saw the sufferers in the river go sweeping by, saw them come down again and still were unable to give them the slightest assistance. The flood proceeded half a mile or more, and then was met and reinforced by a wave started backward from the eddy formed at the stone arch bridge. With redoubled force it turned once more to the south and then it went half a mile further, toppling over the houses, wrecking some and adding some to those which it had brought down from other places. For the second time it spent its force and turned back, swept to the south and to destruction those who had four times been within sight of safety. This time the whole mass of flooded wreckage was carried down to the stone arch bridge and added to the collection there and at last to the fire that was raging.
Hundreds Will Never Be Found.
The blackened timber left from this fire, wedged in tightly above the bridge, is the only gorge at which workmen have labored all this week with dynamite and monstrous cranes. In it and below it are unnumbered hundreds of bodies. How many perished in that frightful fire will never be known. Only a small proportion of the bodies can ever be found. Some were burned so that nothing but a handful of ashes remained, and that was swept away long ago with the torrent. Some were buried deep in the sand, and some have been carried down and hidden in sand banks and slews. Many will be destroyed by dynamite, and some will have disappeared long before the great flood of rubbish can be removed. Of all the horrible features of this dreadful story none is more heartrending than the story of that fire. It began about five o'clock that afternoon and went on all night and all the next day, and smouldered until Monday noon. Its progress was retarded somewhat by the rain and by the soaking of the material in the water, but this was only an added horror, for it prolonged the anguish for those imprisoned in the great raft who plainly saw their approaching death.
Those who saw this sight from the shore cannot speak of it now and will hardly be able to speak of it as long as they live without tears. Imagination could not picture a situation more harrowing to human feeling than to stand there and watch that horrible scene without being able to rescue the prisoners or even alleviate their sufferings.
Ruins Left to Tell the Tale.
Just below the stone bridge are the great works of the Cambria Iron Company. They occupy the eastern bank of the stream for a distance of half a mile. The flood, tearing over the bridge, descended upon these works and tore the southernmost end of them to pieces. The rest of the buildings escaped, but none of the works were swept away in the torrent. An iron bridge used jointly by the public and by the iron company to transport its coal from the mines across the river was caught by the very front of the flood and tossed away as if built of toothpicks.
Looking from the stone arch bridge, the iron company's buildings, the lower town school house, three of the buildings which divided the flood, a church, part of a brick residence and a little cluster of brick business houses, is all that can be seen above the yellow waste. Why these buildings are left it is impossible to say. The school house, except for most of the windows being battered in and the scars and dents driven into it from the passing wreckage, is almost uninjured, although it stands directly in the centre of the flood.
Locomotives Swimming in the Torrent.
It is plain from the appearance of the buildings that the direction of the flood in many places was rotary, and the houses which still stand may have escaped between the eddies. No other explanation seems possible, for the force of the torrent was tremendous. It carried five locomotives, with their tenders, several miles, and piled them up against the stone bridge as easily as it carried a box of clothespins. At the head of the iron company's works was a great pile of iron in pieces eight feet long and a foot and a half thick either way. The flood toppled these over. In the half charred raft above the bridge are found great boilers, masses of iron, twisted beams and girders from bridges, heavy safes, pieces of railroad track, a hundred car wheels, mixed with every conceivable object of household use—pianos, sofas, dressing cases, crockery, trunks and their contents.
Yet in all that mass it is impossible to find any trace of that pile of bricks built into the business houses of the town; nor yet upon the banks, nor in the heaps of sand which, when the flood went down, were left here and there, is there any trace of the material of the building except the lumber. In the opinion of experts, all this stuff must have been ground into powder and swept down the river. Johnstown will never resume its former importance. A curse will hang over this beautiful valley as long as this generation lasts. The sanitary experts who have examined the place say that in all probability it will be plague ridden for years and years.
Decomposing Bodies in the Wreck.
The massive stone bridge of the Pennsylvania Railroad, opposite the Cambria Iron Works, marks the point of demarcation between the borough of Johnstown and that of Cambria City. The changes in the situation which have occurred since the eventful Friday have not been numerous. The wreckage impacted beneath the arches has been removed from three of them, leaving four, which are closed by masses of timber and drift material. I climbed over the debris in the famous cul-de-sac and reached the second from the Johnstown side after half an hour's labor. The appearance was singular. Beneath the conglomeration of timber which filled the cavity of the arch to a distance of twenty-five feet from the top the waters of the Conemaugh flowed swiftly.
There was a network of telegraph wires, iron rods and metal work of Pullman cars stretched across from stone work to stone work on either side. The gridiron, as it were, penetrated far down into the water, and it had proved sufficiently strong to resist the onward rush of the lighter flotsam which swept before the onrolling wave. Lodged in this strange pile was the body of a horse. Deep among the meshes a terrible spectacle presented itself. There were the bodies of three people—a woman, a child and a laborer with hobnailed shoes. They were beyond the reach of the workers who are clearing the wreck near to the bridge and the latter will be unable to reach the corpses until a considerable amount of blasting with dynamite has been done. There was a faint odor of decomposition and another day will cause the vicinity of the viaduct to suggest a charnel house to the olfactory senses. There are many other bodies, no doubt, beneath the debris and prevented from floating down the stream by the ruins.
Cambria City Paralyzed.
Conemaugh City was connected with the Cambria Iron Works, on the opposite side of the Conemaugh, by a temporary suspension bridge of steel wire. The bridge was originally for two railways—a narrow and a broad gauge—and a footway. It was swept away before the reservoir burst, according to all accounts. Cambria City, or rather a fringe of houses along the higher ground of the bank, the remaining portion of a once prosperous town, is absolutely paralyzed by the stunning blow which has befallen it. There are but few people at work among the debris. The clean sweep of the flood left little wreckage behind. A few sad-faced women wandered about and poked in the sand and among the broken stone which now covers the location of their former homes. The men who were saved have returned to their work at the Cambria mills, and the survivors among their families are stowed in the houses which remain intact. There must have been at least one thousand lives lost from Cambria City.
There has been no attempt to replace the bridge at "Ten Acre," as the point below Cambria City is called. The banks of the Conemaugh remain covered with debris. In many places the masses are piled twenty-five feet high. The people are clearing their land by burning the unwonted accumulations. Only an occasional body is found. Most of the 200 corpses which have been buried at Nineveh were found in the bushes which fringe the river. All the way to Freeport the accumulation of debris may be seen.
Kindly Care for the Helpless.
There is to-day no lack of supplies, save at Cambria City, which has been overlooked and neglected, but where the destitution is great. The people there are in great want of food. Bread has given out, and ham is about the only food to be obtained. In only one of the wrecked houses left untouched by the flood I found from twenty to twenty-five refugees. The commissary at the Pennsylvania Railroad depot is heaped so high with stores that distribution goes on with difficulty. The Grubbtown commissary is in the same condition. The Red Cross people got fairly to work in their supply tent to-day, and during the morning alone distributed five hundred packages of clothing. Their hospital on the hill, back of Kernville, is in excellent order, and the patients quartered in the village houses are comfortably situated. There have been no deaths at the Cambria hospital. The doctors there have cared for 500 cases indoors and out. Even Grandma Teeter is doing well. She was taken out of the wreck at the bridge on Saturday with her right arm crushed. It had to be amputated, and the old woman—she is eighty-three years of age—stood the operation finely.
Miss Hinckley, of Philadelphia, is busy in Kernville making known the plans of the Children's Aid Society. She does an immense amount of running about and visiting houses. Many children made orphans by the flood are now being cared for. There are a hundred or more of them; just how many no one knows.
"I have great difficulty," said Miss Hinckley to me to-day, "to persuade the people who have taken children to care for that our society can be trusted to take charge of what will surely be a burden to them. All my work now is to inspire confidence. We have received hundreds of letters from people anxious to adopt children. They are ready now in the first flush of sympathy, but I am afraid that they will not be willing to take the children when we are ready to place them."
Many Dead Still in the Ruins.
The ruins still shelter a ghastly load of dead. Every hour at least one new body is uncovered and borne on a rough stretcher to some one of the many morgues. The sight loses none of its sadness and pathos by its commonness; only the horror is gone, giving place to apathy and stupor. Stalwart men, in mud-stained, working clothes, bring up the body, the face covered with a cloth. The crowds part and gaze at the burned corpse as it passes. At the morgue it is examined for identification, washed and prepared for burial. Not more than half of these recovered now are identified.
The vast majority fill nameless but numbered graves, and the descriptions are much too indefinite to hope for identification after burial. What can you expect from a description like this, picked out at random: "Woman, five feet four inches tall, long hair?" The body of Eugene Hannon, twenty-two, found yesterday near the First Presbyterian Church, was identified to-day by his father. He was a member of the League of American Wheelmen, and his bicycle was found within a few yards of his body. The father will lay the wrecked bicycle on the coffin of his son.
Just now a woman, still young and poorly dressed, went by the shed where I am writing, sobbing most pitifully. She lost her husband and children in the flood and is on the verge of insanity.
Finding Solace in Work.
The day opened with heavy rain and an early morning thunder storm. The hillside streams were filled to the banks and everything was dripping. The air was chilly and damp, and daylight was slow in coming to this valley of desolation and death. At an early hour the valley, where so many have gone to rest, presented a most dismal scene. It looked, indeed, like the valley of the dead. Nothing was moving, and all remained within the meagre shelter offered them till the day had fairly begun. As the day advanced, the tented hills began to show signs of life, smoke arose from many a camp fire, and on every eminence surrounding this valley of desolation could be seen the guards moving among the tented villages.
The weather was most unpleasant for any one to be outdoors, but it apparently had no effect on the people here, for as soon as the early breakfast was over the thousands of workmen could be seen going to their work, and soon the whole valley that in the early morning hours was asleep was a teeming throng of life and activity. While the rain was far from pleasant to the workers and many helpers, it was certainly providential that the cool weather is continuing in order to prevent the much-dreaded decomposition of the hundreds of human bodies yet unrecovered and the thousands of animals that perished in the flood. The air this morning, while tainted to some extent with the fumes arising from the decaying bodies, was not near so bad as it would have been had the morning been hot and sultry.
Working on the Stone Bridge Debris.
By seven o'clock the whole valley was full of people and the scene was a most animated one. The various sections of the flooded territory were full of men busy in searching for the dead, removing and burning the debris. At eight o'clock this morning five bodies had been taken from the mass at the stone bridge. A large force of men have been working all day on this part of the wreck, but so great is the quantity of wreckage to be gone over and removed that while much work is done very slow progress is being made. The continued falling of the river renders the removal of the debris every day more arduous, and where a few days ago the timbers when loosened would float away, now they have to be moved by hand, making the work very slow.
A most welcome arrival this morning was Dr. B. Bullen of disinfectant fame. He brought with him fifty barrels more of his disinfectant. The doctor will take charge of the disinfecting of the dangerous sections of the flooded district and notably at the stone bridge. Twenty-five barrels have already been used with most favorable results. Dr. Bullen was a former resident of Johnstown and lost thirty relatives in the flood, among them three brothers-in-law, three uncles and two aunts.
Clearing the Cambria Iron Works.
The Cambria Iron Company's Works presented a busy scene to-day. At least nine hundred men are at work, and most rapid progress is being made in clearing away the wreck. It is said that the works will start up in about three weeks.
There is little change in the situation. Every one is working with the one end in view, to clear away the wreckage and give the people of Johnstown a chance to rebuild. The laborers working at the Cambria Iron Works and on the Pennsylvania Railroad seem to be making rapid progress. This is no doubt for the reason that these men are more used to this kind of work. About ten o'clock the rain was over and the sun came out with its fierce June heat.
A number of charges of dynamite were fired during the day, and each time with good effect. The channels through to the bridge are almost clear of debris, and each charge of dynamite has loosened large quantities of the wreckage.
This is the eighth day since the demon of destruction swept down the valley of the Conemaugh, but the desolation that marks its angry flight is still visible in all its intensity and horror. The days that have been spent by weary toilers whose efforts were steeled by grief have done little to repair the devastation wrought in one short hour by the potent fury of the elements. To the watchers on the mountain side all seems yet chaos and confusion. The thousand fires that spot the valley show that the torch is being used to complete the work of annihilation where repair is impossible and the smoke curls upward. It reminds one of the peace offerings of ancient Babylon.
Uncle Sam's Men on Hand.
The corps of government engineers that arrived last night has already demonstrated the valuable assistance which it is capable of rendering in these times of emergency. With but a few hours rest, those men were up ere sunrise this morning, and by eight o'clock a pontoon bridge had been stretched across the river at Kernville. Acting in conjunction with the Pennsylvania military authorities they are pursuing their labors at various other points, and by sundown it is confidently expected that pontoon bridges will be erected at all places where the necessities of traffic demand. It is the fact, probably not generally known, that the great government of the United States owns only 500 feet of pontoon bridges, and that these are the same that were used by the federal forces in the civil war, twenty-five years ago. The bridges that are to be used at Johnstown were brought from West Point and Willet's Point, where they have been for years used in the ordinary course of instruction in the military and engineer corps.
Secret Society Relief.
The following official announcements have been made:
A Masonic relief committee has been organized and solicits aid for distressed Freemasons and their families.
WILLIAM A. DONALDSON, Chairman.
OFFICE OF SUPREME COMMANDER, KNIGHTS OF THE MYSTIC CHAIN, WILMINGTON, DEL., June 8, 1889.—In view of the great calamity that has befallen our brothers at Johnstown, Pa., and vicinity, I, H.G. Rettes, Supreme Commander, request that wherever the Order of the Knights of the Mystic Chain exists there be liberal donations made for our afflicted brothers.
Affairs at the tremendous stone bridge wreckage pile seem to have resolved themselves into a state of almost hopelessness. It is amazing the routine into which everything has fallen in this particular place. Every morning at seven o'clock a score of Lilliputs come mechanically from huts and tents or the bare hillside, and wearily and weakly go to work clearing away this mass, and at the rate they are now proceeding it will actually be months before the debris is cleared away and the last body found. Fortunately the wind is blowing away from us or we would have olfactory evidence that what is not found is far worse than what has been exposed.
Then it may be good business and good policy to have these few workers fool around the edge of the wreckage for five or ten minutes adjusting a dynamite blast, then hastily scramble away and consume as much more time before a tremendous roar announces the ugly work is done, but the onlookers doubt it. Sometimes, when an extra large shot is used, the water, bits of wood and iron, and other shapes more fearfully suggestive, fly directly upward in a solid column at least three hundred feet high, only to fall back again in almost the same spot, to be tugged and pulled at or coaxed to float down an unwilling current that is falling so rapidly now that even this poor mode of egress will soon be shut entirely off.
The fact of the matter is simply this: They are not attempting to recover bodies at the bridge, but as one blast tears yards of stuff into flinders it is shoved indifferently into the water, be it human or brute, stone, wood or iron, to float down toward Pittsburgh or to sink to the bottom, may be a few yards from where it was pushed off from the main pile.
Up in the centre of the town the debris is piled even higher than at the stone bridge, but the work is going on fairly well. The men seem to be working more together and enter into the spirit of the thing. Besides this, horses and wagons can get at the wrecks, and it really looks as if this part of the ruins has been exaggerated, and some of the foremen there say that at the present rate of work going on through the town all the bodies that ever will be recovered will be found within the next ten days. As to the condition these bodies are in, that has become almost a matter of indifference, except as to the effect upon the health of the living.
Compared with other Calamities.
An eye-witness writes as follows:
The scene is one that cannot be described in outline—it must be told in detail to become intelligible. Never before in this country, at least, was there a disaster so stupendous, so overwhelming, so terrible in its fierce and unheralded onset and so sorrowful in its death-dealing work. I traversed the Mill River Valley the day after the bursting of the Mill River dam. I went over Wallingford, in Connecticut, a few hours after that terrible cyclone had swept through the beautiful New England village. I stood on the broken walls of the Brooklyn Theatre and looked down upon hecatombs of dead sacrificed in that holocaust to Momus. Each of these was in itself a terrible calamity, but here is not only what was most terrible in all these, but every horrifying feature of the Mill River flood, the Wallingford cyclone and the Brooklyn Theatre fire is here magnified tenfold, nay, a hundred fold. And what is even more terrible than the scenes of devastation, the piles of dead that have been unearthed from the ruins and the mangled human bodies that still remain buried in the debris, is the simple but startling fact that this disaster ought not to have happened.
The flood was not due to the rains. This calamity is not the work of the unprovoked fury of the angry elements. This fair town and the populous valley above it, all the varied industries of this thriving city, all these precious lives are a sacrifice to the selfishness of a few men whose purses were bigger than their hearts. There would have been no flood if these rich men had not built an artificial pond in which to catch fish.
The now famous dam was only a mud bank. For years it was a constant menace to Johnstown and the Conemaugh Valley. It has long been only a question of time when the calamity that has befallen these people should befall them. It came at last because the arrogance of the purse and the pleasure-seeking selfishness of wealth were blind to the safety of a populous community.
The cause of the Johnstown disaster was wholly due to the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. This club was specially chartered by the Legislature, and notwithstanding there was some opposition at the time, it was accorded the privilege of making an artificial lake and fish pond by means of an embankment. The site chosen was the old dam on South Fork Creek, about two miles above the village of South Fork, on the Conemaugh river. This dam was built by the Pennsylvania Canal in 1830 as a feeder to the canal below Johnstown. When the canal was finally abandoned, after passing into the hands of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, the dam was sold to a private buyer for the very reasonable sum of $700. By him it was afterwards conveyed to the Fishing and Hunting Club for $1,400. This was about twenty years ago. The club spent $22,000 in rebuilding the dam and erected a beautiful club house on the west bank of the artificial lake. Beside the club house there are from twelve to fifteen cottages, the summer residences of members of the club, all built since the acquisition of the property twenty years ago. Ten of these cottages are visible from the embankment where the break occurred. It was a beautiful spot before the disaster, but this artificial lake in its placid beauty was a menace to the lives and property of the people in the Conemaugh Valley from its completion to its destruction.
The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club was a very aristocratic and exclusive organization. Not even Tuxedo puts on more airs. It was composed of about seventy members, a baker's dozen of them Pittsburgh millionaires.
These wealthy gentlemen and their associates never so much as recognized the existence of the common clay of South Fork, except to warn all intruders to keep off the land and water of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. Their placards still stare sight-seers in the face. One of these reads:
ALL TRESPASSERS FOUND HUNTING OR FISHING ON THESE GROUNDS WILL BE PROSECUTED TO THE FULL EXTENT OF THE LAW.
Another is as follows:
NO FISHING OR HUNTING ON THESE PREMISES, UNDER PENALTY OF THE LAW, $100. SOUTH FORK HUNTING AND FISHING CLUB.
Only an Earthwork.
Strenuously as the club insisted upon exacting the full penalties and extent of the law for encroachments upon its privileges, it was quite heedless of the rights of others. There probably never was in the world a case of such blind fatuity as that of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club in building and maintaining its dam. From the first it must have been known to every member of the club, as it certainly was to every resident of the South Fork and Conemaugh Valleys, that if the water ever began to run over the breast of the dam the dam itself would give way. The dam was only a clay embankment. There was no masonry whatever—at least there is none visible in the break. The bottom was of brushwood and earth—some people in the South Fork valley say hay and sand. In consequence, the people below the dam who knew how it was built have always regarded it as a menace to their safety. Indeed, one man employed in its construction was discharged by the club or its contractor for protesting against the dam as insecure. His crime consisted in declaring that an embankment made in that way could not resist the force of an overflow. He was telling the simple truth, which was clear to every one except men disposed to take chances.
A Walk Through the Valley of Death.
In the following graphic narrative one of the eye-witnesses of the fearful ruin and slaughter represents himself as a guide, and if the reader will consider himself as the party whom the guide is conducting, a vivid impression of the scene of the great destruction may be obtained.
"Hello, where on earth did you come from? And what are you doing here, anyhow? Oh! you just dropped in to see the sights, eh? Well, there are plenty of them and you won't see the like of them again if you live a century. What's that? You have been wandering around and got tangled up in the ruins and don't know where you are? Well, that's not strange. I have been lost myself a dozen times. It's a wonder you haven't got roasted by some of those huge bonfires. But here, you come with me. Let me be your guide for the afternoon and I'll put you in the way of seeing what is left of Johnstown.
"First, let's climb up this bluff just before us and we shall have a first-rate view of things. Skip across this little temporary bridge over this babbling brook and now—climb! Whew! that takes your breath, doesn't it? But it is worth the trouble. Now you see we are standing on an embankment perhaps thirty feet high. We are in the midst, too, of a lot of tents. It is here that the soldier boys are encamped. Off to one side you see the freight depot of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the tracks, you notice, run along on the top of this embankment. It is in that freight depot that Adjutant General Hastings has his headquarters. We will walk over there presently, but first let's take a look at our surroundings.
"You notice, I suppose, that this flat spreading out before us at the bottom of the embankment is inclosed on all sides by mountains. They are shaped something like a triangle and we are standing at the base. Here, let me make a rough sketch of it on the back of this envelope. It will help us out a little. There! That figure 1 is the freight depot, near which we are standing. Towering up above us are houses and up there a canvas city for refugees. There is a temporary hospital there, too, and a graveyard, where many a poor victim of the flood lies. The background is a high hill. The people here call it Prospect Hill. The flood! Gracious! what a view the people up the hill must have had of it as it whirled, and eddied, and roared and rushed through the town, for this great flat before us was where the main portion of Johnstown stood.
"You notice that there are gaps in the mountain chains which form the sides of the triangle. Through the gap at our left comes the Conemaugh River, flowing from the mountain on its way westward. River, did I say? I don't wonder you smile. It doesn't look much like a river—that little bubbling stream. Can you imagine it swelling into a mighty sea, that puny thing, that is smiling in its glee over the awful havoc it has created? Now you are beginning to understand how it is that Johnstown proper lies within the forks of two streams. The Conemaugh runs by us at our feet to the right. See, there is a wrecked and overturned car down there. If thrown across the stream it would almost bridge it. That is Stony Creek on the other side of the flat, running down through that gap which forms the apex of the triangle. It skirts the mountains on the right and the two streams meet. You can't see the meeting point from here, for our embankment curves, but they do meet around that curve, and then the united rivers flow under the now famous stone bridge, which was built to carry this railroad across the stream. Oh! yes, we will go down there, for that bridge formed the gorge which proved so destructive.
"I would like to take you away up to the dam if we had time and point out the destruction all along down the valley until the flood rushed through that gap to the left and then spread over Johnstown. But it is too late in the day for that, and the walk is a most tiresome one, so you will have to take my word for it. Of course, you have read that the dam was constructed in a most outrageous manner. Well, that is true. It is a wonder the valley wasn't swept long ago. No, the loss of life wasn't great in the upper part of the valley because the people took the warning which the Johnstonians refused and mostly escaped. The little town of South Fork was badly shattered and Mineral Point was swept away.
"But the real fury of the flood is seen in its marks on the soil. Gracious! how it leveled forests, swept away bowlders, cut out new channels and destroyed everything in its path. I cannot begin to give you even an idea of the wonderful power of that flood. At East Conemaugh not a vestige of the place was left. Where once stood a row of houses the river now runs, and the former river-bed is now filled with dirt and stones. It was in this vicinity, you know, where so many engines and cars were wrecked—smashed, twisted, broken and scattered along the valley for half a mile. It was here, too, where the passengers in the two trains met such a thrilling experience, and where so many of them were killed. The body of one of the passengers, Miss Bryan, of Germantown, was found away down here in Johnstown.
"It took but a few minutes for the flood to rush down upon Woodvale and sweep it out of existence, and then it made a mad break through that gap over there on the extreme left. The houses which you see on the hillside over there—figure 6—belong to Conemaugh borough, a different place from East Conemaugh, you understand. The borough also extended down over the flat. By the way, there is something very funny about all these separate boroughs. Most all of them are naturally parts of Johnstown—such as Conemaugh, Kernville, Cambria City, Prospect and the like, but there have been so many petty jealousies that they have refused to unite. But that is neither here nor there now, for in the common calamity they are one.
Laughing at Danger.
"Now you would have thought that the people on the Johnstown flat would have got out of the way when warned of danger, wouldn't you? But they simply laughed. You must remember that a good portion of the place was flooded long before the dam broke. The rise of the two rivers did that. The water ran from two to five or six feet high in some of the houses. But, bless you, that was nothing. The place had been flooded so many times and escaped that everybody actually howled down all suggestions of danger. Telegrams had been coming into town all the afternoon and they were received by Miss Ogle, the brave lady operator, who stuck to her post to the last, but they might as well never have been sent for all the good they did.
"Well, now with Johnstown spread out before you you can readily understand what happened when the flood burst through the gap. There was no time to run then. No time to pray, even. You notice the river makes a sharp curve, and naturally enough the impetus of the water spread it over a wide territory. The Conemaugh houses on the flat went down like so many pasteboard houses. A portion of the flood followed the stream and the other portion went tearing along the line of the hills which form the left side of the triangle.
Wiped Out of Existence.
"Now look away over to the left and then away over to the hills on the right, and what do you see? That distance is how great? Two miles, do you say? Yes, fully that and probably more. Well, now for two or three squares inland from this stream at our feet there is nothing but a barren waste of sand—looks like a desert, doesn't it? Can you imagine that all that immense strip was covered with stores, business houses and dwellings? Where are they now? Why, just look at that circular hole just beneath us on the other side of the stream. That was the gas works once. The great iron receiver, or whatever you call it, went rolling, dashing, crashing away before the flood, and not a vestige of it has been found yet. Can you ask, then, what became of the houses? Simply wiped out of existence.
"There! I put down the figure 2 on the map. It is a brick building, as you see, but there is a big hole knocked in it. That is the B. and O. depot. Figure 3—Two more brick buildings with one end completely gone. These are the Cambria Iron Company's offices and the company's stores. What else can you see? Just around the curve where I mark down figure 4 is another brick building—the Millvale school-house. It is out of range from this point, but you shall see it by and by. These buildings are actually the only ones left standing in all that desert of sand, a covering four or five feet deep left by the flood and hiding whatever is underneath as effectually as the ashes of Mt. Vesuvius blotted out Pompeii. There may be a thousand bodies under that sand for all that anybody knows. Just ahead of us in the great area roughly shown by this figure 5 lie the tents of the workmen engaged in putting Johnstown in order. Now, if you draw a line from the Conemaugh hills right down back of the B. and O. depot through the camp of the workmen, and thence to Stony Creek, the only buildings you will find standing between us and that imaginary line are these I have already marked with figures as 2, 3 and 4 on the map. Did you ever see anything so destructive in your life?
A Famous Morgue.
"You say you see a good many buildings in what appears to be the centre of the town. So you do, but just wait until you stroll among them. There are many there, it is true, but after all, how many are good for anything? Oh! the water has been doing a tremendous amount of damage. Why, over there, up to the very foot of the hills—I will mark the spot No. 7—behind the buildings which you see, it has simply torn things up by the roots. That is the Fourth Ward, and the ruins are full of the dead, and the Fourth Ward Morgue has had more bodies in it than any of the others.
"You remember that I told you that one current swept over that way. It caught up houses and they began to drift all over the place, crashing into each other and grinding people between the timbers. All this time the houses down here by the Conemaugh had been floating toward the bridge. Logs, boards, lumber and houses from the banks of Stony Creek had been coming down, too, and thus formed that tremendous jam above the stone bridge, which actually turned the current of the creek back upon itself. Some of the houses from the centre of the city and from the Fourth ward got into Stony Creek and actually went up the stream. Others floated all over town in circles and finally, having reached the Conemaugh, got caught in the jam at last and were destroyed by the fire which broke out there. After a time, too, the pressure at the bridge became so tremendous that the river burst a new channel for itself and then many houses came down again.
"But I am anticipating. Let us walk down to the bridge—it is not far—for the bridge is the key to the situation. We must pass the freight depot, for we follow the track. You see it is a busy place. You know we have had a change of administration here, and Adjutant General Hastings is in command. We are all heartily glad of it, too, for the worst kind of red tapeism prevailed under the Pittsburgh regime.
"And then the deputies—a lot of brutes appointed by the Sheriff. What an ignorant set they were. Most of them couldn't even read. They were the only toughs in town. They had captured all the tomato cans left over from the great flood which the Bible tells about and had cut out tin stars to decorate themselves with. Anybody who could find a piece of tin could be a deputy. And how they did bulldoze.
"But all this is changed now. The deputies—we called them the tin policemen—have been bounced and the place is now guarded by the soldiers. Business has taken the place of red tape, and General Hastings has turned the freight depot into offices for his various departments, for a system has been established which will reach all the victims, bury all the dead, discover all the living and clean up the town. There is now a central bureau, into which reports are turned, and the old haphazard way of doing things has been swept as clean as the sand before us. There is General Hastings' horse standing at the steps, for the general is in the saddle most of the time, here, there, everywhere, directing and ordering.
"Dinner! hello, dinner is ready. Now you will see how the officers at headquarters live. You see, the table has been spread on the platform facing the railroad tracks. Ah! there is Hastings himself—white slouch hat, white shirt, blue flannel trousers, and boots. He looks every inch a soldier, doesn't he? There! he is beckoning to us. What do you suppose he wants. Oh! he wants us to dine with him. Shall we? It will be plain fare, but as good as can be found. A dudish society reporter from Philadelphia dropped into town the other morning. He met a brother reporter from the same paper.
"'Oh!' he groaned. 'Where can I find a restaurant?'
"'Restaurant!' shrieked the other. 'Where do you think we are? Restaurant! You come with me and I'll try to steal you a ham sandwich, and you'll be mighty lucky to get that.'
"'Oh! but I am so hungry. Can you direct me to the nearest hack stand?'
"The brother reporter turned and fled in dismay, and the society man hasn't been seen around here since. But it illustrates the time the boys have been having getting anything to eat. So we had better accept the general's invitation. What have we here? Oh! this is fine. You don't mind tin plates and spoons and coffee cups, of course, especially as we have ham and potatoes, bread and coffee for dinner. That's a right good meal; but I tell you I have eaten enough ham to last me for a year, and when I get out of Johnstown and get back to Philadelphia I am going to make a break for the Bellevue and eat. And there won't be any ham in that dinner, you can bet.
A Renowned Building.
"Now, have you had enough? Then we will continue our walk along the tracks to the bridge. First we pass the Pennsylvania Railroad passenger station. What a busy place it is! The tracks are filled with freight cars packed with supplies, and the platform is filled with men and women ready to take them. In this station a temporary morgue was established. It has been moved now to the school-house, No. 4, you know, on the map. Now, as we round the curve you see it. That is the famous building that saved so many lives—the only one left in the great barren waste of sand. You know the water formed an eddy about it, and thus, as house after house floated and circled about it men and women would clutch the roof and climb upon it. The water reached half way to the ceiling on the second floor on a dead level.
"Now you can see where the two rivers come together. What a jam that was. It extended from the fork down to the bridge—No. 10. When the flames began to demolish it the pile towered far above the bridge. Now it is level with the water, but so thickly is it packed that the river runs beneath it. Let us stand here on the railroad embankment at the approach to the bridge, and watch the workmen. You notice how high the approaches are on either side, and you can readily understand how these high banks caught the drift. The stone arches of the bridge are low, you perceive. When the flood was at its height houses were actually swept over the bridge. From the debris left in the river and on the sides you can imagine what an immense dam it was that was formed, and just how it happened that the rivers turned back on themselves. I met a woman up Stony Creek early this morning. She was laughing over the adventure she and her children had. They floated down the creek to the bridge and then floated back again, and were finally rescued in boats. I asked her how she could joke about it.
"'Oh!' she said, 'I am never bothered about anything. I was as cool then as I am now, and rather enjoyed it.'
"But she wasn't very cool. She was bordering on the hysterical. She and her children are now living with friends, for their house was completely wrecked.
A Telegraph Office.
"A good many people had experiences similar to hers before the river broke through the railroad embankment just above the bridge here and swept tracks and everything else down upon the Cambria Iron Works. There they are, just behind us. I will mark them on the map—No. 11. Then the flow rushed through Cambria City, just below. That place is in a horrible condition—houses wrecked and streets full of debris. But there is no necessity of going there. You can see all the horrors you want right here.
"Look across the bridge, up the hill a little way. Do you see that old, tumble-down coal shed? It is where the Western Union established its office, and in that neighborhood most of the reporters have been living—sleeping in brick-kilns, hay lofts, tents, anywhere in fact. What a nice time they have had of it. They have suffered as much as the flood victims.
"Phew! What a stench. It comes from the debris in the river. It is full of the dead bodies of horses, dogs; yes, and of human beings. We hear stories occasionally of women being taken from that mass alive. They are false, of course, but there was one instance that is authentic. A woman was found one week after the flood still breathing. She had been caught in some miraculous way. She was taken to Pittsburgh, where she died. I was kicking about over the debris a day or two ago, and heard a cat mewing under the debris somewhere. I know half a dozen people who have rescued kittens and are caring for them tenderly. A flood cat will command a premium before long, I have no doubt.
"Ha! What's that? Yes, it is a body. The sight is so common now that people pay no attention to it. We have been living in the midst of so much death, of so many scenes of a similar character, that I suppose the sensibilities have become hardened to them. There, they are placing the body on a window shutter and are carrying it up to the school-house. It will be laid on a board placed over the tops of the children's desks. You will notice coffins piled up all about the school-house. Of course, the body is awfully disfigured and cannot be identified. The clothing will be described and the body hurried away to its nameless grave.
Fragment of a Bible.
"Have you enough? Then let us walk back toward headquarters and go down upon the flat into the centre of the town. What is that you have there? A piece of a Bible? Yes, you will find lots of leaves lying around. There is a story—I don't know how true it is—that many people have thrown their Bibles away since the flood, declaring that their belief, after the horrors they have witnessed, is at an end. I can hardly credit this. But there is one curious thing that is certain, and everybody has noticed it. Books and Bibles have been found in the rubbish all over the town, and in a great many instances they are open at some passage calling attention to flood and disaster. I have found these myself a dozen times. It is a remarkable coincidence, to say the least.
"Some people may find a warning in all this. I don't pretend to say, but as we walk along here let me tell you of a conversation I had with a man who was worth nearly $20,000 before the flood. He has lost every cent, and is glad enough to get his daily meals from the supplies sent here.
"'I don't know what to think of Johnstown,' he said. 'We have been called a wicked place. Perhaps all this is a judgment. Just when we have been most prosperous some calamity has come upon us. We were never more prosperous than when this flood overwhelmed us.'
"Well here we are back at General Hastings' headquarters. Now we will go down the embankment, cross the river and plunge ahead into town.
"Over this loose sand we will trudge and strike in by the Baltimore and Ohio depot. Now we are in the camp of the workingmen. Here are the stalls for the horses, too. The men, you see, live in tents. There are not as many of them as there will be; probably not over fifteen hundred to-day, but there will be twice that to-morrow, and five thousand men will be employed here steadily for a long time to come. Now let us jump right into Main street. It is the worst one in town. Just see! There is the post-office, looking as if it never would be able to pull itself out of the wreck. Across the street is the bank, with the soldiers guarding it. There, just ahead, you see a tall brick building lifting its head out of the midst of a pile of ruins. There is where many people were saved. The current carried scores of men, women and children past it, and those who had strength deserted their rafts and wrecks of houses and crawled into its windows.
"Now our progress is blocked. That immense pile of wreckage is by no means as high as it was; but you don't want to crawl over it yet. Phew! Let's get out of this. How those piles of rubbish do smell. You know the Board of Health says there is nothing the matter with Johnstown, but if the Board of Health would only take the trouble to nose about a bit it might learn a thing or two. You notice there have been grocery stores and markets around here, and you notice, too, the pile of decaying vegetable matter from them. These are worse than the dead bodies.
"Are there bodies under these ruins? Lots of them. There! what do you see this minute? Those workmen have discovered one in the ruins of the Merchants' Hotel. Poor fellow. He was pinned by falling walls, probably. A man was found there the other day with his pockets full of money. He had tried to save his fortune and lost his life. Near by a man was found alive after an experience of a week in the debris. He called for water, but never drank it. His tongue was too stiff, and he had not strength to move a muscle. He died almost as soon as he was found.
"Well, did you ever see such a mass of wreckage? It doesn't look as if there were twenty houses fit to live in all over this flat. But a good many will be patched up after a fashion, no doubt. And this is only one street out of several in the same condition.
"Hello! Those workmen are digging out of a cellar some barrels of whisky. That liquor will be guarded, for the old policemen and the 'tin' deputies have been having high old times with the liquor they have unearthed. There were formerly forty-five saloons in this town. Do you know how many there are left? Three. That's all. One saloon-keeper found $1,700 in the ruins of his place.
"Gracious! There is a freight car. It was caught up half a mile or more away and dumped down in this street. And there is a piano sticking out. Hello! What have you found there? Oh, a looking glass. Yes, you find plenty of them in the rubbish almost as good as new. A friend of mine pulled out a glass pitcher and two goblets from that terrible mass at the bridge, and there wasn't a crack upon them. Queer, isn't it? But so it goes. Fragile things are not injured and stoves and iron are twisted and broken. The vagaries of this flood are many.