It is now a week since the flood, and Johnstown is a cross between a military camp and a new mining town, and is getting more so every day. It has all the unpleasant and disagreeable features of both, relieved by the pleasures of neither. Everywhere one goes soldiers are lounging about or standing guard on all roads leading into the city, and stop every one who cannot show a pass. There is a mass of tents down in the centre of the ruins, and others are scattered everywhere on every cleared space beside the railroad tracks and on the hills about. A corps of engineers is laying pontoon bridges over the streams, pioneers are everywhere laying out new camps, erecting mess sheds and other rude buildings, and clearing away obstructions to the ready passage of supply wagons. Mounted men are continually galloping about from place to place carrying orders. At headquarters about the Pennsylvania Railroad depot there are dozens of petty officers in giddy gold lace, and General Hastings, General Wiley, and a few others in dingy clothes, sitting about the shady part of the platform giving and receiving orders. The occasional thunder of dynamite sounds like the boom of distant cannon defending some outpost. Supplies are heaped up about headquarters, and are being unloaded from cars as rapidly as locomotives can push them up and get the empty cars out of the way again. From cooking tents smoke and savory odors go up all day, mingled with the odor carbolic from hospital tents scattered about. It is very likely that within a short time this military appearance will be greatly increased by the arrival of another regiment and the formal declaration of martial law.
On the other hand the town's resemblance to a new mining camp is just as striking. Everything is muddy and desolate. There are no streets nor any roads, except the rough routes that the carts wore out for themselves across the sandy plain. Rough sheds and shanties are going up on every hand. There are no regular stores, but cigars and drink--none intoxicating, however-- are peddled from rough board counters. Railroads run into the camp over uneven, crooked tracks. Trains of freight cars are constantly arriving and being shoved off onto all sorts of sidings, or even into the mud, to get them out of the way. Everybody wears his trousers in his boots, and is muddy, ragged, and unshaven. Men with picks and shovels are everywhere delving or mining for something that a few days ago was more precious than gold, though really valueless now. Occasionally they make a find and gather around to inspect it as miners might a nugget. All it needs to complete the mining camp aspect of the place is a row of gambling hells in full blast under the temporary electric lights that gaudily illuminate the centre of the town.
Matters are becoming very well systematized, both in the military and the mining way. Martial law could be imposed to-day with very little inconvenience to any one. The guard about the town is very well kept, and the loafers, bummers, and thieves are being pretty well cleared out. The Grand Army men have thoroughly organized the work of distributing supplies to the sufferers by the flood, the refugees, and contraband of this camp.
The contractors who are clearing up the debris have their thousands of men well in hand, and are getting good work out of them, considering the conditions under which the men have to live, with insufficient food, poor shelter, and other serious impediments to physical effectiveness. All the men except those on the gorge above the bridge have been working amid the heaps of ruined buildings in the upper part of the city. The first endeavor has been to open the old streets in which the debris was heaped as high as the house-tops. Fair progress has been made, but there are weeks of work at it yet. Only one or two streets are so far cleared that the public can use them. No one but the workmen are allowed in the others.
Up Stony Creek Gap, above the contractors, the United States Army engineers began work on Friday under command of Captain Sears, who is here as the personal representative of the Secretary of War. The engineers, Captain Bergland's company from Willet's Point, and Lieutenant Biddle's company from West Point, arrived on Friday night, having been since Tuesday on the road from New York. Early in the morning they went to work to bridge Stony Creek, and unloaded and launched their heavy pontoons and strung them across the streams with a rapidity and skill that astonished the natives, who had mistaken them, in their coarse, working uniforms of overall stuff, for a fresh gang of laborers. The engineers, when there are bridges enough laid, may be set at other work about town. They have a camp of their own on the outskirts of the place. There are more constables, watchmen, special policemen, and that sort of thing in Johnstown than in any three cities of its size in the country. Naturally there is great difficulty in equipping them. Badges were easily provided by the clipping out of stars from pieces of tin, but every one had to look out for himself when it came to clubs. Everything goes, from a broomstick to a base ball bat. The bats are especially popular.
"I'd like to get the job of handling your paper here," said a young fellow to a Pittsburgh newspaper man. "You'll have to get some newsman to do it anyhow, for your old men have gone down, and I and my partner are the only newsmen in Johnstown above ground."
The newsdealing business is not the only one of which something like that is true.
There has been a great scarcity of cooking utensils ever since the flood. It not only is very inconvenient to the people, but tends to the waste of a good deal of food. The soldiers are growling bitterly over their commissary department. They claim that bread, and cheese, and coffee are about all they get to eat.
The temporary electric lights have now been strung all along the railroad tracks and through the central part of the ruins, so that the place after dark is really quite brilliant seen from a distance, especially when to the electric display is added the red glow in the mist and smoke of huge bonfires.
Anybody who has been telegraphing to Johnstown this week and getting no answers, would understand the reason for the lack of answers if he could see the piles of telegrams that are sent out here by train from Pittsburgh. Four thousand came in one batch on Thursday. Half of them are still undelivered, and yet there is probably no place in the country where the Western Union Company is doing better work than here. The flood destroyed not only the company's offices, but the greater part of their wires in this part of the country. The office they established here is in a little shanty with no windows and only one door which won't close, and it handles an amount of outgoing matter, daily, that would swamp nine-tenths of the city offices in the country. Incoming business is now received in considerable quantities, but for several days so great was the pressure of outgoing business that no attempt was made to receive any dispatches. The whole effort of the office has been to handle press matter, and well they have done it. But there will be no efficient delivery service for a long time. The old messenger boys are all drowned, and the other boys who might make messenger boys are also most of them drowned, so that the raw material for creating a service is very scant. Besides that, nobody knows nowadays where any one else lives.
The amateur and professional photographers who have overrun the town for the last few days came to grief on Friday. A good many of them were arrested by the soldiers, placed under a guard, taken down to the Stony Creek and set to lugging logs and timbers. Among those arrested were several of the newspaper photographers, and these General Hastings ordered released when he heard of their arrest. The others were made to work for half a day. They were a mad and disgusted lot, and they vowed all sorts of vengeance. It does seem that some notice to the effect that photographers were not permitted in Johnstown should have been posted before the men were arrested. The photographers all had passes in regular form, but the soldiers refused even to look at these.
More sightseers got through the guards at Bolivar on Friday night, and came to Johnstown on the last train. Word was telegraphed ahead, and the soldiers met them at the train, put them under arrest, kept them over night, and in the morning they were set to work in clearing up the ruins.
The special detail of workmen who have been at work looking up safes in the ruins and seeing that they were taken care of, reports that none of the safes have been broken open or otherwise interfered with. The committee on valuables reports that quantities of jewelry and money are being daily turned into them by people who have found them in the ruins. Often the people surrendering this stuff are evidently very poor themselves. The committee believes that as a general thing the people are dealing very honestly in this matter of treasure-trove from the ruins.
Three car-loads of coffins was part of the load of one freight train. Coffins are scattered everywhere about the city. Scores of them seem to have been set down and forgotten. They are used as benches, and even, it is said, as beds.
Grandma Mary Seter, aged eighty-three years, a well-known character in Johnstown, who was in the water until Saturday, and who, when rescued, had her right arm so injured that amputation at the shoulder was necessary, is doing finely at the hospital, and the doctors expect to have her around again before long.
One enterprising man has opened a shop for the sale of relics of the disaster, and is doing a big business. Half the people here are relic cranks. Everything goes as a relic, from a horseshoe to a two-foot section of iron pipe. Buttons and little things like that, that can easily be carried off, are the most popular.