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
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.
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."
a railroad conductor, says:
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.."
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!"
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
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
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.
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.
on to chapter 11!
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