Chapter 12

      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 bank.
     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 feet.
      "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?"
      "Nothing."
      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 womanís fate.
 


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