Chapter XXXI

     At the end of the week Adjutant-General Hastings moved his headquarters from the signal tower and the Pennsylvania Railroad depot to the eastern end of the Pennsylvania freight depot. Here the general and his staff sleep on the hard floor, with only a blanket under them. They have their work systematized and in good shape, though about all they have done or will do is to prevent strangers and others who have no business here from entering the city. The entire regiment which is here is disposed around the city in squads of two or three men each. The men are scattered up and down the Conemaugh, away out on the Pennsylvania and Baltimore and Ohio Railroad tracks, along Stony Creek on the southern side of the town, and even upon the hills. It is impossible for any one to get into town by escaping the guards, for there is a cordon of soldiers about it. General Hastings rides around on a horse, inspecting the posts, and the men on guard present arms to him in due form, he returning the salute. The sight is a singular one, for General Hastings is not in uniform, and in fact wears a very rusty civilian's dress. He wears a pair of rubber boots covered with mud, and a suit of old, well-stained, black clothes. His coat is a cutaway. His appearance among his staff officers is still more dramatic, for the latter, being ordered out and having time to prepare, are in gold lace and feathers and glittering uniforms.

     General Hastings came here right after the flood, on the spur of the moment, and not in his official capacity. He rides his horse finely and looks every inch a soldier. He has established in his headquarters in the freight depot a very much-needed bureau for the answering of telegrams from friends of Johnstown people making inquiries as to the latter's safety. The bureau is in charge of A. K. Parsons, who has done good work since the flood, and who, with Lieutenant George Miller, of the Fifth Infantry, U. S. A., General Hastings' right-hand man, has been with the general constantly. The telegrams in the past have all been sent to the headquarters of the Citizens Committee, in the Fourth Ward Hotel, and have laid there, along with telegrams of every sort, in a little heap on a little side table in one corner of the room. Three-quarters of them were not called for, and people who knew that telegrams were there for them did not have the patience to look through the heap for them. Finally some who were not worried to death took the telegrams, opened them all, and pinned them in separate packages in alphabetical order and then put them back on the table again, and they have been pored over, until their edges are frayed, by all the people who crowded into the little low-roofed room where Dictator Scott and his messengers are. There were something like three thousand telegrams there in all. Occasionally a few are taken away, but in the majority of cases they remain there. The persons to whom they were sent are dead or have not taken the trouble to come to headquarters and see if their friends are inquiring after them. Of course the Western Union Telegraph Company makes no effort to deliver the messages. This would be impossible.

     The telegrams addressed to the Citizens Committee headquarters are all different in form, of course, but they all breathe the utmost anxiety and suspense. Here are some samples:--

     Is Samuel there? Is there any hope? Answer me and end this suspense.               SARAH.

     To anybody in Johnstown:

     Can you give me any information of Adam Brennan?               MARY BRENNAN.

     

INSERT PHOTO FROM PAGE 362 HERE
PENNSYLVANIA AVE., COR. SIXTH ST., WASHINGTON, D. C.

     

     Are any of you alive?               JAMES.

     Are you all safe? Is it our John Burn that is dead? Is Eliza safe? Answer.

     It is worth repeating again that the majority of these telegrams will never be answered.

     The Post-office letter carriers have only just begun to make their rounds in that part of the town which is comparatively uninjured. Bags of first class mail matter are alone brought into town. It will be weeks before people see the papers in the mails. The supposition is that nobody has time to read papers, and this is about right. The letter carriers are making an effort, as far as they can, to distribute mail to the families of the deceased people. Many of the letters which arrive now contain money orders, and while great care has to be taken in the distribution, the postal authorities recognize the necessity of getting these letters to the parties addressed, or else returning them to the Dead Letter Office as proof of the death of the individuals in question. It is no doubt that in this way the first knowledge of the death of many will be transmitted to friends.

     It is fair to say that the best part of the energies of the State of Pennsylvania at present are all turned upon Johnstown. Here are the leading physicians, the best nurses, some of the heaviest contractors, the brightest newspaper men, all the military geniuses, and, if not the actual presence, at least the attention, of the capitalists. The newspapers, medical reviews, and publications of all sorts teem with suggestions. Johnstown is a compendium of business, and misery, and despair. One class of men should be given credit for thorough work in connection with the calamity. These are the undertakers. They came to Johnstown, from all over Pennsylvania, at the first alarm. They are the men whose presence was imperatively needed, and who have actually been forced to work day and night in preserving bodies and preparing them for burial. One of the most active undertakers here is John McCarthy, of Syracuse, N. Y., one of the leading undertakers there, and a very public-spirited man. He brought a letter of introduction from mayor Kirk, of Syracuse, to the Citizens Committee here. He said to a reporter:--

     "It is worthy of mention, perhaps, that never before in such a disaster as this have bodies received such careful treatment and has such a wholesale embalming been practiced. Everybody recovered, whether identified or not, whether of rich man or poor man, or of the humblest child, has been carefully cleaned and embalmed, placed in a neat coffin, and not buried when unidentified until the last possible moment. When you reflect that over one thousand bodies have been treated in this way it means something. It is to be regretted that some pains were not taken to keep a record of the bodies recovered, but the undertakers cannot be blamed for that. They should have been furnished with clerks, and that whole matter made the subject of the work of a bureau by itself. We have had just all we could do cleaning and embalming the bodies."

     The unsightliest place in Johnstown is the morgue in the Presbyterian Church. The edifice is a large brick structure in the centre of the city, and was about the first church building in the city. About one hundred and seventy-five people took refuge there during the flood. After the first crash, when the people were expecting another every instant, and of course that they would perish, the pastor of the church, the Rev. Mr. BeaIe, began to pray fervently that the lives of those in the church might be spared. He fairly wrestled in prayer, and those who heard him say that it seemed to be a very death-struggle with the demon of the flood itself. No second crash came, the waters receded, and the lives of those in the church were spared. The people said that it was all due to the Rev. Mr. Beale's prayer. The pews in the church were all demolished, and the Sunday-school room under it was flooded with the angry waters, and filled up to the ceiling with debris. The Rev. Mr. Beale is now general morgue director in Johnstown, and has the authority of a dictator of the bodies of the dead. In the Presbyterian Church morgue the bodies are, almost without exception, those which have been recovered from the ruins of the smashed buildings. The bodies are torn and bruised in the most horrible manner, so that identification is very difficult. They are nearly all bodies of the prominent or well-known residents of Johnstown. The cleaning and embalming of the bodies takes place in the corners of the church, on either side of the pulpit. As soon as they have a presentable appearance, the bodies are placed in coffins, put across the ends of the pews near the aisles, so that people can pass around through the aisles and look at them. Few identifications have yet been made here. In one coffin is the body of a young man who had on a nice bicycle suit when found. In his pockets were forty dollars in money. The bicycle has not been found. It is supposed that the body is that of some young fellow who was on a bicycle tour up the Conemaugh River, and who was engulfed by the flood.

     The waters played some queer freaks. A number of mirrors taken out of the ruins with the frames smashed and with the glass parts entirely uninjured have been a matter for constant comment on the part of those who have inspected the ruins and worked in them. When the waters went down, the Sunday-school rooms of the Presbyterian Church just referred to were found littered with playing cards. In a baby's cradle was found a dissertation upon infant baptism and two volumes of a history of the Crusades. A commercial man from Pittsburgh, who came down to look at the ruins, found among them his own picture. He never was in Johnstown but two or three times before, and he did not have any friends there. How the picture got among the ruins of Johnstown is a mystery to him.

     About the only people who have come into Johnstown, not having business there connected with the clearing up of the city, are people from a great distance, hunting up their friends and relatives. There are folks here now from almost every State in the Union, with the exception, perhaps, of those on the Pacific coast. There are people, too, from Pennsylvania and States near by, who, receiving no answer to their telegrams, have decided to come on in person. They wander over the town in their search, at first frantically asking everybody right and left if they have heard of their missing friends. Generally nobody has heard of them, or some one may remember that he saw a man who said that he happened to see a body pulled out at Nineveh or Cambria City, or somewhere, that looked like Jack So-and-so, naming the missing one. At the morgues the inquirer is told that about four hundred unidentified dead have already been buried, and on the fences before the morgues and on the outside house walls of the buildings themselves he reads several hundred such notices as these, of, bodies still unclaimed:--

     A woman, dark hair, blue eyes, blue waist, dark dress, clothing of fine quality; a single bracelet on the left arm; age, about twenty-three.

     An old lady, clothing undistinguishable, but containing a purse with twenty-seven dollars and a small key.

     A young man, fair complexion, light hair, gray eyes, dark blue suit, white shirt; believed to have been a guest at the Hurlburt House.

     A female; supposed to belong to the Salvation Army.

     A man about thirty-five years old, dark-complexioned, brown hair, brown moustache, light clothes, left leg a little shortened.

     A boy about ten years old, found with a little girl of nearly same age; boy had hold of girl's hand; both light-haired and fair-complexioned, and girl had long curls; boy had on dark clothes and girl a gingham dress.

     The people looking for their friends had lots of money, but money is of no use now in Johnstown. It cannot hire teams to go up along the Conemaugh River, where lots of people want to go; if cannot hire men as searchers, for all the people in Johnstown not on business of their own are digging in the ruins; it cannot even buy food, for what little food there is in Johnstown is practically free, and a good square meal cannot be procured for love nor money anywhere. Under these discouragements many people are giving up the search and going home, either giving their relatives up for dead or waiting for them to turn up, still maintaining the hope that they are alive.

     Johnstown at night now is a wild spectacle. The major part of the town is enveloped in darkness, and lights of all colors flare out all around, so that the city looks something like a night scene in a railroad yard. The burning of immense piles of debris is continued at night, and the red glare of the flames at the foot of the hills seems like witch-fires at the mouth of caverns. The camp-fires of the military on the hills above the Conemaugh burn brightly. Volumes of smoke pour up all over the town. Along the Pennsylvania Railroad gangs of men are working all night long by electric light, and the engines, with their great headlights and roaring steam, go about continually. Below the railroad bridge stretches away the dark, sullen mass of the drift, with its freight of human bodies beyond estimate. Now and then, from the headquarters of the newspaper men, can be heard the military guards on their posts challenging passers-by.


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