And now begins
the task of burying the dead and caring for the living. It is Wednesday
morning. Scarcely has daylight broken before a thousand funerals are in
progress on the green hillsides. There were no hearses, few mourners, and
as little solemnity as formality. The majority of the coffins were of rough
pine. The pall-bearers were strong ox-teams, and instead of six pall-bearers
to one coffin, there were generally six coffins to one-team. Silently the
processions moved, and silently they unloaded their burdens in the lap
of mother earth. no minister of God was there to pronounce a last blessing
as the clods rattled down, except a few faithful priests who had followed
some representatives of their faith to the grave.
long the corpses were being hurried below ground. The unidentified bodies
were grouped on a high hill west of the doomed city, where one epitaph
must do for all, and that the word "unknown."
every stroke of the pick in some portions of the city resulted in the discovery
of another victim, and, although the funerals of the morning relieved the
morgues of their crush, before night they were as full of the dead as ever.
Wherever one turns the melancholy view of a coffin is met. every train
into Johnstown was laden with them, the better ones being generally accompanied
by friends of the dead. men could be seen staggering over the ruins with
shining mahogany caskets on their shoulders.
midst of this scene of death and desolation a relenting Providence seems
to be exerting a subduing influence. Six days have elapsed since the great
disaster, and the temperature still remains low and chilly in the Conemaugh
valley. When it is remembered that in the ordinary June weather of this
locality from two to three days are sufficient to bring an unattended body
to a degree of decay and putrefaction that would render it almost impossible
to prevent the spread of disease throughout the valley, the inestimable
benefits of this cool weather are almost beyond appreciation.
body taken from the ruins was that of a boy, Willie Davis, who was found
in the debris near the bridge. He was badly bruised and burned. The remains
were taken to the undertaking rooms at the Pennsylvania Railroad station,
where they were identified. The boy's mother has been making a tour of
the different morgues for the past few days, and was just going though
the undertaking rooms when she saw the remains of her boy being brought
in. She ran up to the body and demanded it. She seemed to have lost her
mind, and caused quite a scene by her actions. She said that she had lost
her husband and six children in the flood, and that this was the first
one of the family that had been recovered. The bodies of a little girl
named Bracken and of Theresa and Katie Downs of Clinton Street were taken
out near where the remains of Willie Davis were found.
experienced men with dynamite, a portable crane, a locomotive, and half
a dozen other appliances for pulling, hauling, and lifting, toiled all
of Wednesday at the sixty-acre mass of debris that lies above the Pennsylvania
Railroad bridge at Johnstown. "As a result," wrote a correspondent, "there
is visible, just in front of the central arch, a little patch of muddy
water about seventy-five feet long by thirty wide. Two smaller patches
are in front of the two arches on each side of this one, but both together
would not be heeded were they not looked for especially. Indeed, the whole
effect of the work yet done would not be noticed by a person who had never
seen a wreck before. The solidity of the wreck and the manner in which
it is interlaced and locked together exceeds the expectations of even those
who had examined the wreck carefully, and the men who thought that with
dynamite the mass could be removed in a week, now do not think the work
can be done in twice this time. The work is in charge of Arthur Kirk, a
Pittsburg contractor. Dynamite is depended upon for loosening the mass,
but it has to be used in small charges for fear of damaging the bridge,
which, at this time, would be another disaster for the town. As it is,
the south abutment has been broken a little by the explosions.
a charge of dynamite had shaken up a portion of the wreck in front of the
middle arch, men went to work with long poles, crowbars, axes, saws, and
spades. All the loose pieces that could be got out were thrown into the
water under the bridge, and then, beginning at the edges, the bits of wreck
were pulled, pushed and cut out, and sent floating away. At first the work
of an hour was hardly perceptible, but each fresh log of timber pulled
loosened others and made better progress possible. When the space beneath
the arch was cleared, and a channel thus made through which the debris
could be floated off, a huge portable crane, built on a flat-car and made
for raising locomotives and cars, was run upon the bridge over the arch
and fastened to the track with heavy chains. A locomotive was furnished
to pull the rope, instead of the usual winch with a crank handle. A rope
from the crane was fastened by chains or grapnels to a log, and then the
locomotive pulled. About once in five times the log came out. Other times
the chain slipped or something else made the attempt a failure. Whenever
a big stick came out men with pikes pushed off all the other loosened debris
that they could get at. Other men shoveled off the dirt and ashes which
cover the raft so thickly that it is almost as solid as the ground.
ten-foot square opening had been made back on the arch, the current could
be seen flushing up like a great spring from below, showing that there
was a large body of it being held down there by the weight of the debris.
The current through the arch became so strong that the heaviest pieces
in the wreck were carried off readily once they got within its reach. One
reason for this is that laborers are filling up the gaps on the railroad
embankment approaching the bridge in the north, through which the river
had made itself a new bed, and the water thus dammed back has to go through
or under the raft and out by the bridge-arches. This both buoys up the
whole mass and provides a means of carrying off the wooden part of the
debris as fast as it can be loosened.
an attack on the raft was being made through the adjoining arch in another
way. A heavy winch was set up on a small island in the river seventy-five
yards below the bridge, and ropes run from this were hitched to heavy timbers
in the raft, and then pulled out by workmen at the winch. A beginning for
a second opening in the raft was made in this way. One man had some bones
broken and was otherwise hurt by slipping of the handle while he was at
work at the winch this afternoon. The whole work is dangerous for the men.
There is twenty feet of swift water for them to slip into, and timbers
weighing tins are swinging about in unexpected directions to crush them.
it is not known that any bodies have been brought out of the debris by
this work of removal, though many logs have been loosened and sent off
down the river beneath the water without being seen. There will probably
be more bodies back toward the centre of the raft than at the bridge, for
of those that came there many were swept over the top. Some went over the
arches and a great many were rescued from the bridge and shore. People
are satisfied now that dynamite is the only thing that can possibly remove
the wreck and that as it is being used it is not likely to mangle bodies
that may be in the debris any more than would any other means of removing
it. There are no more protests heard against its use."
continue to be dug out of the wreck in the central portion all day. A dozen
or so had been recovered up to nightfall, all hideously burned and mangled.
In spite of all the water that has been thrown upon it by fire engines
and all the rain that has fallen, the debris is still smouldering in many
begun in dead earnest on Wednesday on the Cambria Iron Works buildings.
The Cambria people gave out the absurd statement that their loss will not
exceed $100,000. It will certainly take this amount to clean the works
of the debris, to say nothing of repairing them. The buildings are nearly
a score in number, some of them of enormous size, and they extend along
the Conemaugh River for half a mile, over a quarter of a mile in width.
Their lonely chimneys, stretching high out of the slate roofs above the
brick walls, make them look not unlike a man-of-war of tremendous size.
The buildings on the western end of the row are not damaged a great deal,
though the torrent rolled through them, turning the machinery topsy-turvy;
but the buildings on the eastern end, which received the full force of
the flood, fared badly. The eastern ends are utterly gone, the roofs are
bent over, and smashed in, the chimneys flattened, the walls cracked and
broken, and, in some cases, smashed entirely.
the buildings are filled with drift. The workmen, who have clambered over
the piles of logs and heavy drift washed in front of the buildings and
inside, say that they do not believe that the machinery in the mills is
damaged very much, and that the main loss will fall on the mills themselves.
Half a million may cover the loss of the Cambria people, but this is a
rather low estimate. They have nine hundred men to work getting things
in shape, and the manner in which they have had to go to work illustrates
the force with which the flood acted. The trees hammed in and before the
buildings were so big and so solidly wedged in their places that no force
of men could pull them out, and temporary railroad tracks were built up
to the mass of debris. Then one of the engines backed down from the Pennsylvania
Railroad yards, and the workmen, by persistent effort, managed to get big
chains around parts of the drift. These chains were attached to the engine,
which rolled off puffing mightily, and in this way the amiss of drift was
pulled apart. Then the laborers gathered up the loosened material, heaped
it in piles a distance from the buildings, and burned them. Sometimes two
engines had to be attached to some of the trees to pull them out, and there
are many trees which cannot be extricated in this manner. They will have
to be sawed into parts, and these parts lugged away by the engines.
INSERT PHOTO FROM PAGE 307 HERE!
Go on to chapter 27!
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