Chapter 10

     EDWARD H. JACKSON, who worked in the Cambria Iron Works, told the following story:
     "When we were going to work Friday morning at seven o’clock, May 31st, the water in the river was about six inches below the top of the banks, the rains during the night having swollen it.  We were used to floods about this time of the year, the water always washing the streets and running into the cellars, so we did not pay much attention to this fact.  It continued rising, and about nine o’clock we left work in order to go back to our homes and take our furniture and carpets to the upper floors, as we had formerly done on similar occasions.  At noon the water was on our first floors, and kept rising until there was five feet of water in our homes.  It was still raining hard.  We were all in the upper stories about half-past four, when the first intimation we had of anything unusual was a frightful crash, and the same moment our house toppled over.  Jumping to the windows, we saw the water rushing down the streets in immense volumes, carrying with it houses, barns, and, worst of all, screaming, terrified men, women, and children.  In my house were Colonel A.N. Hart, who is my uncle, his wife, sister, and two children.  They watched their chance, and when a slowly moving house passed by they jumped to the roof and by careful maneuvering  managed to reach Dr. S.M. Swan’s house, a three-story brick building, where there were about two hundred other people.  I jumped on to a tender of an engine as it floated down and reached the same house.  All he women and children were hysterical, most of the men were paralyzed by terror, and to describe the scene is simply impossible.  From the windows of this house we threw ropes to persons who floated by on the roofs of houses, and in this way we saved several.
     "Our condition in the house was none of the pleasantest.  There was nothing to eat; it was impossible to sleep, even had any one desired to do so; when thirsty we were compelled to catch the rain-water as it fell from the roof and drink it.  Other people had gone for safety in the same manner as we had to two other brick houses, H. Y. Hawse’s residence and Alma Hall’s, and they went through precisely the same experience as we did.  Many of our people were so badly injured and cut, and they were tended bravely and well by Dr. W.E. Matthews, although he himself was badly injured.  During the evening we saved by ropes W. Forrest Rose, his wife, daughter, and four boys.  Mr. Rose’s collar-bone and one rib were broken.  After a fearful night we found, when day broke, that the water had subsided, and I and some others of the men crawled out upon the rubbish and debris to search for food, for our people were starving.  All we could find were water soaked crackers and some bananas,  and these were eagerly eaten by the famished sufferers.
     "Then, during the morning, began the thieving, I saw men bursting open trunks, putting valuables in their pockets, and then looking for more.  I did not know these people, but I am sure they must have lived in the town, for surely no others could have got there at this time.  A meeting was held, Colonel Hart was made Chief of Police, and he at once gave orders that any one caught stealing should be shot without warning.  Not withstanding this we afterward found scores of bodies, the fingers of which were cut off, the fiends not wishing to waste time to take off the rings.  Many corpses of women were seen from which the ears had been cut, in order to secure the diamond earrings.
     "Then, to add to our horrors, the debris piled up against the bridge caught fire, and as the streets were full of oil, it was feared that the flames would extend backwards, but happily for us this was not the case.  IT was pitiful to hear the cries of those who had been caught in the rubbish, and, after having been half drowned, had to face death as inevitable as though bound to a stake.  The bodies of those burned to death will never be recognized, and of those drowned many were so badly disfigured by being battered against the floating houses that they also will be unrecognizable.  It is said that Charles Butler, the assistant treasurer of the Cambria Iron Works, who was in the Hurlburt House, convinced that he could not escape and wishing his body to be recognized, pinned his photograph and a letter to the lapel of his coat, where they were found when his body was recovered.  I have lost everything I owned in the world, "said Mr. Jackson, in conclusion, "and hundreds of others are in the same condition.  The money in he banks is all right however, for it was stowed away in the vaults."
     Frank McDonald, a railroad conductor, says:
     "I certainly think I saw one thousand bodies go over the bridge.  The first house that came down struck the bridge and at once took fire, and as fast as the others came down they were consumed.  I believe I am safe in saying I saw one thousand bodies burn.  It reminded me of a lot of flies on fly-paper struggling to get away, with no hope and no chance to save them.  I have no idea that had the bridge been blown up the loss of life would have been any less.  They would have floated a little further with the same certain death.  Then, again, it was impossible for any on to have reached the bridge in order to blow it up, for the waters came so fast that no one could have done it.."
      Michael Rensen tells a wonderful story of his escape.  He says he was walking down Main Street when he heard a rumbling noise, and, looking around, he imagined it was cloud, but in a minute the water was upon him.  He floated with the tide for some time, when he was struck with some floating timber and borne underneath the water.  When he came up he was struck again, and at last he was caught by a lightening rod and held there for over two hours, when he was finally rescued.
     Mrs. Anne Williams was sitting sewing when the flood came on.  She heard some people crying and jumped out of the window and succeeded in getting on the roof of an adjoining house.  Under the roof she heard cries of men and women, and saw two men and a woman with their heads just above water, crying "For God’s sake, either kill us outright or rescue us!"
     Mrs. Williams cried for help for the drowning people, but none came, and she saw them give up one by one.
James F. McCanagher had a thrilling experience in the water.  He saw his wife was safe on land, and thought his only daughter, a girl aged about twenty-one, was also saved, but just as he was making for the shore he saw here and went to rescue her.  He succeeded in getting within about ten feet of land, when the girl said, "Good-bye father," and expired in his arms before he reached the shore.
     James M. Walters, an attorney, spent Friday night in Alma Hall, and relates a thrilling story.  One of the most curious occurrences of the whole disaster was how Mr. Walters got to the hall.  He has his office on the second floor.  His home is at No. 135 Walnut Street.  He says he was in the house with his family when the waters struck it.  All was carried away.  Me. Walters’ family drifted on a roof in another direction; he passed down several streets and alleys until he came to the hall.  His dwelling struck that edifice and he was thrown into his own office.  About three hundred persons had taken refuge in the hall and were on the second, third, and fourth stories.  The men held a meeting and drew up some rules which all were bound to respect.
     Mr. Walters was chosen president, and Rev. Mr. Beale was put in charge of the first floor, A. M. Hart of the second floor, Dr. Matthews of the fourth floor.  No lights were allowed, and the whole night was spent in darkness.  The sick were cared for, the weaker women and children had the best accommodation that could be had, while the others had to wait.  The scenes were most agonizing.  Heartrending shrieks, sobs, and moans pierced the gloomy darkness.  The crying of children mingled with the suppressed sobs of the women. Under the guardianship of the men all took more hope.  No one slept during all the long, dark night.  Many knelt for hours in prayer, their supplications mingling with the roar of the waters and the shrieks of the dying in the surrounding houses.
     In all this misery two women gave premature birth to children.  Dr. Matthews is a hero - - several of his ribs were crushed by a falling timber, and his pains were most severe.  Yet through all he attended the sick.  When two women in a house across the street shouted for help, he, with two other brave young men, climbed across the drift and ministered to their wants.  No one died during the night, but a women and children surrendered their lives on the succeeding day as a result of terror and fatigue.  Miss Rose Young, one of the young ladies in the hall, was frightfully cut and bruised.  Mrs. Young had a leg broken.  All of Mr. Walters’ family were saved.
     Mrs.  J. F. Moore, wife of a Western Union Telegraph employee in Pittsburg, escaped with her two children from the devastated just one hour before the flood had covered their dwelling-place.   Mr. Moore had arranged to have his family move Thursday from Johnstown and join him in Pittsburg.  Their household goods were shipped on Thursday and Friday.  The little party caught the last train which made the trip between Johnstown and Pittsburg.
     Mrs. Moore told her story, "Oh! It was terrible," she said.  "The reservoir had not yet burst when we left, but the boom had broken, and before we got out of the house the water filled the cellar.  On the way to the depot the water was high up on the carriage wheels.  Our train left at quarter to two P.M., and at that time the flood had begun to rise with terrible rapidity.  Houses and sheds were carried away and two men were drowned almost before our eyes.    People gathered on the roofs to take refuge from the water, which poured into the lower rooms of their dwellings, and many families took flight and became scattered.  Just as the train pulled out I saw a woman crying bitterly.  Her house had been flooded and she had escaped, leaving her husband behind, and her fears for his safety made her almost crazy.  Our house was in the lower part of town, and it makes me shudder to think what would have happened had we remained in it an hour longer.  So far as I know, we were the only passengers from Johnstown on the train."
Mrs. Moore’s little son told the reporter that he had seen the rats driven out of their holes by the flood and running along the tops of the fences.
     One old man named Parsons, with his wife and children, as soon as the water struck their house, took to the roof and were carried down to the stone bridge, where the back wash of the Stony Creek took them back up along the banks and out of harm’s way, but not before a daughter-in-law became a prey to the torrent.  He has lived here for thirty-five years, and had acquired a nice comfortable home.  To-day all is gone, and as he told the story he pointed to a rather seedy-looking coat he had on.  "I had to ask a man for it.  It’s hard, but I am ruined, and I am too old to begin again."
Mr. Lewis was a well-to-do young man, and owned a good property where now is a barren waste.  When the flood came the entire family of eight took to the roof, and were carried along on the water.  Before they reached the stone bridge, a family of four that had floated down from Woodvale, two and a half miles distant, on a raft, got off to the roof of the Lewis House, where the entire twelve persons were pushed to the bank of the river above the bridge, and all were saved.  When Mr. Lewis was telling his story he seemed grateful to the Almighty for his safety while thousands were lost to him.
     Another young man who had also taken to a friendly roof, became paralyzed with fear, and stripping himself of his clothes flung himself from the housetop into the stream and tried to swim.  The force of the water rushed him over to the west bank of the river, where he was picked up soon after.
     A baby’s cradle was fished out of a ruin and the neatly tucked-in sheets and clothes, although soiled with mud, gave evidence of luxury.  The entire family was lost, and no one is here to lay claim to baby’s crib.  In the ruin of the Penn House the library that occupied the extension was entirely gone, while the brick front was taken out and laid bare the parlor floor, in which the piano, turned upside down, was noticeable while several chandeliers were scattered on top.


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