One of the most thrilling incidents of the
disaster was the performance of A.J. Leonard, whose family reside in Morrellville.
He was at work, and hearing that his house had been swept away, determined
at all hazards to ascertain the fate of his family. The bridges having
been carried away, he constructed a temporary raft, and clinging to it
as close as a cat to the side of a fence, he pushed his frail craft out
in the raging torrent and started on a chase which, to all who were watching,
seemed to mean an embrace in death.
Heedless of cries "For Godís sake, go back,
you will be drowned," and "Donít attempt it," he persevered. As the
raft struck the current he threw off his coat and in his shirt sleeves
braved the stream. Down plunged the boards and down went Leonard,
but as it rose he was seen still clinging. A mighty shout arose from
the throats of the hundreds on the banks, who were now deeply interested,
earnestly hoping he would successfully ford the stream.
Down again went his bark, but nothing,
it seemed, could shake Leonard off. The craft shot up in the air
apparently ten or twelve feet, and Leonard struck to it tenaciously.
Slowly but surely he worked his boat to the other side of the m, and after
what seemed an awful suspense he finally landed, amid ringing cheers of
men, women, and children.
The scenes at Heanemyerís planing mill at
Nineveh, where the dead bodies are lying, are never to be forgotten.
The torn, bruised, and mutilated bodies of the victims are lying in a row
on the floor of the planing-mill, which looks more like the field of Bull
Run after that disastrous battle than a workshop. The majority of
the bodies are nude, their clothing having been torn off. All along
the river bits of clothing - - a tiny shoe, a baby dress, a motherís evening
wrapper, a fatherís coat - - and, in fact, every article of wearing apparel
imaginable, may be seen hanging to stumps of trees and scattered on the
One of the most pitiful sights of this terrible
disaster came to notice when the body of a young lady was taken out of
the Conemaugh River. The woman was apparently quite young, though
her features were terribly disfigured. Nearly all the clothing excepting
the shoes were torn off the body. The corpse was that of a mother,
for, although cold in death, she clasped a young male babe, apparently
not more than a year old, tightly in her arms. The little one was
huddled close up to the face of the mother, who, when she realized their
terrible fate, had evidently raised it to her lips to imprint upon its
lips the last kiss it was to receive in this world. The sight forced
many a stout heart to shed tears. The limp bodies, with matted hair,
some with holes in their heads, eyes knocked out, and all bespattered with
blood were a ghastly spectacle.
Mr. J.M. Fronheiser, one of the Superintendents
in the Cambria Iron Works, lived on Main Street. His house was one
of the first to go, and he himself, his wife, two daughters, son, and baby
were thrown into the raging torrent. His wife and eldest daughter
were lost. He, with the baby, reached a place of safety, and his
ten-year old boy and twelve-year-old girl floated near enough to be reached.
He caught the little girl, but she cried:
"Let me go, papa, and save brother;
my leg is broken and my foot is caught below."
When he told her he was determined to
rescue her, she exclaimed:
"Then, papa, get a sharp knife and cut
my leg off. I can stand it."
The little fellow cried to his father:
"You canít save me papa. Both my feet are caught fast, and I canít
hold out any longer. Please get a pistol and shoot me."
Captain Gageby, of the army, and some
neighbors helped to rescue both children. The girl displayed Spartan
fortitude and pluck. All night she lay in bed without a mattress
or medical attention in a garret, the water reaching to the floor below,
without a murmur or a whimper. In the morning she was carried down-stairs,
her leg dangling under her, but when she saw her father at the foot of
the stairs, she whispered to Captain Gageby:
"Poor papa; he is so sad." Then,
turning to her father, she threw a kiss with her hands and laughingly said,
"Good morning, papa; Iím all right."
The Pennsylvania Railroad Companyís operators
at Switch Corner, "S. Q.," which is near Sang Hollow, tell thrilling stories
of the scenes witnessed by them on Friday afternoon and evening.
Said one of them:
"In order to give you an idea of how the tidal
wave rose and fell, let me say that I kept a measure and timed the rise
and fall of the water and in forty-eight minutes it fell four and a half
"I believe that when the water goes
down about seventy-five children and fifty grown persons will be found
among the weeds and bushes in the bend of the river just below the tower.
"There the current was very strong, and we
saw dozens of people swept under the trees, and I donít believe that more
than one in twenty came out on the other side."
"They found a little girl in white just now,"
said one of the other operators.
"O God!" said the chief operator. "She
isnít dead, is she?"
"Yes; they found her in a clump of willow
bushes, kneeling on a board, just about the way we saw her when she went
down the river." Turning to me he said:
"That was the saddest thing we saw all day
yesterday. Two men came down on a little raft, with a little girl
kneeling between them, and her hands raised and praying. She came
so close to us we could see her face and that she was crying. She
had on a white dress and looked like a little angel. She went under
that cursed shoot in the willow bushes at the bend like all the rest, but
we did hope she would get through alive."
"And so she was still kneeling?" he said to
his companion, who had brought the unwelcome news.
"She sat there," was the reply, "as if she
was still praying, and there was a smile on her poor little face, though
her mouth was full of mud."
Driving through the mountains a correspondent picked
up a ragged little chap not much more than big enough to walk. From
his clothing he was evidently a refugee.
"Where are your folks?" he was asked.
"Weíre living at Auntyís now."
"Did you all get out?"
"Oh! Weíre all right - - that is, all except
two of sisterís babies. Mother and little sister wasnít home, and
the got out all right."
"Where were you?"
"Oh! I was at sisterís house. We was
all in the water and fire. Sisterís man- - her husband, you know
- - took us up-stairs, and he punched a hole through the roof, and we all
climbed out and got saved."
"How about the babies?"
"Oh! Sister was carrying two of them in her
arms, and the bureau hit her and knocked them out, so they went down."
The child had unconsciously caught one of
the oddest and most significant tricks of speech that have arisen form
the calamity. Nobody here speaks of a personís having been drowned,
or killed, or lost, or uses any other of the general expressions for sudden
death. They have simply "gone down." Everybody here seems to avoid
harsh words in referring to the possible affliction of another. Euphemistic
phrases are substituted for plain questions. Two old friends met
for the first time since the disaster.
"Iím glad to see you," exclaimed the first.
"Are you all right?"
"Yes, Iím doing first rate," was the reply.
The first friend looked awkwardly about a
moment, and then asked with suppressed eagerness:
"And-- your family -- are they all -- well?"
There was a world of significance in the hesitation
before the last word.
"Yes. Thank God! not one of them went down."
A man who looked like a prosperous banker,
and who had evidently come from a distance drive through the mountains
toward South Fork. On the way he met a handsome young man in a silk
hat, mounted on a mule. The two shook hands eagerly.
"Have you anything?"
"Nothing. What have you?"
The younger man turned about and the
two rode on silently through the forest road. Inquiry later developed
the fact that the banker-looking man was really a banker whose daughter
had been lost from one of the overwhelmed trains. The young man was
his son. Both had been searching for some clue to the young
on to chapter 13!
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