Among the travelers who were in or near the Conemaugh Valley at the time of the flood, and who thus narrowly escaped the doom that swallowed up thousands of their fellow-mortals, was Mr. William Henry Smith, General Manager of the Associated Press. He remained there for some time and did valuable work in directing the operations of news-gatherers and in the general labors of relief.
The wife and daughter of Mr. E. W. Halford, private secretary to President Harrison, were also there. They made their way to Washington on Thursday, to Mr. Halford's inexpressible relief, they having at first been reported among the lost. On their arrival at the Capital they went at once to the Executive Mansion, where the members of the Executive household were awaiting them with great interest. The ladies lost all their baggage, but were thankful for their almost miraculous delivery from the jaws of death. Mrs. Harrison's eyes were suffused with tears as she listened to the dreadful narrative. The President was also deeply moved. From the first tidings of the dire calamity his thoughts have been absorbed in sympathy and desire to alleviate the sufferings of the devastated region. The manner of the escape of Mrs. Halford and her daughter has already been told. When the alarm was given, she and her daughter rushed with the other passengers out of the car and took refuge on the mountain side by climbing up the rocky excavation near the track. Mrs. Halford was in delicate health owing to bronchial troubles. She has borne up well under the excitement, exposure, fatigue, and horror of her experiences.
Mrs. George W. Childs was also reported among the lost, but incorrectly. Mr. Childs received word on Thursday for the first time direct from his wife, who was on her way West to visit Miss Kate Drexel when detained by the flood. Indirectly he had heard she was all right. The telegram notified him that Mrs. Childs was at Altoona, and could not move either way, but was perfectly safe.
George B. Roberts, President of the Pennsylvania Railway Company, was obliged to issue the following card: "In consequence of the terrible calamity that has fallen upon a community which has such close relations to the Pennsylvania Railway Company, Mr. and Mrs. George B. Roberts feel compelled to withdraw their invitations for Thursday, June 6th." Mr. and Mrs. Charles E. Pugh also felt obliged to withdraw their invitations for Wednesday, June 5th.
The Rev. J. A. Ranney, of Kalamazoo, Mich., and his wife were passengers on one of the trains wrecked by the Conemaugh flood. Mr. Ranney said:
"Mrs. Ranney and I were on one of the trains at Conemaugh when the flood came. There was but a moment's warning and the disaster was upon us. The occupants of our car rushed for the door, where Mrs. Ranney and I became separated. She was one of the first to jump, and I saw her run and disappear behind the first house in sight. Before I could get out the deluge was too high, and, with a number of others, I remained in the car. Our car was lifted up and dashed against a car loaded with stone and badly wrecked, but most of the occupants of this car were rescued. As far as I know all who jumped from the car lost their lives. The remainder of the train was swept away. I searched for days for Mrs. Ranney, but could find no trace of her. I think she perished. The mind cannot conceive the awful sight presented when we first saw the danger. The approaching wall of water looked like Niagara, and huge engines were caught up and whirled away as if they were mere wheel-barrows."D. B. Cummins, of Philadelphia, the President of the Girard National Bank, was one of the party of four which consisted of John Scott, Solicitor- General of the Pennsylvania Railroad; Edmund Smith, ex-Vice-president of the same company; and Colonel Welsh himself, who had been stopping in the country a few miles back of Williamsport.
Mr. Cummins, in talking of the condition of things in that vicinity and of his experience, said: "We were trout-fishing at Anderson's cabin, about fourteen miles from Williamsport, at the time the flood started. We went to Williamsport, intending to take a train for Philadelphia. Of course, when we got there we found everything in a frightful condition, and the people completely disheartened by the flood. Fortunately the loss of life was very slight, especially when compared with the terrible disaster in Johnstown. The loss, from a financial standpoint, will be very great, for the city is completely inundated, and the lumber industry seriously crippled. Besides, the stagnation of business for any length of time produces results which are disastrous."
The first passengers that came from Altoona to New York by the Pennsylvania Railroad since the floods included five members of the "Night Off" Company, which played in Johnstown on Thursday night, about whom considerable anxiety was felt for some time, till E. A. Eberle received telegrams from his wife, the contents of which he at once gave to the press. Mrs. Eberle was among the five who arrived.
"No words can tell the horrors of the scenes we witnessed," she said in answer to a request for an account of her experiences, "and nothing that has been published can convey any idea of the awful havoc wrought in those few but apparently never-ending minutes in which the worst of the flood passed us.
"Our company left Johnstown on Friday morning. We only got two miles away, as far as Conemaugh, when we were stopped by a landslide a little way ahead. About noon we went to dinner, and soon after we came back some of our company noticed that the flood had extended and was washing away the embankment on which our train stood. They called the engineer's attention to the fact, and he took the train a few hundred feet further. It was fortunate he did so, for a little while after the embankment caved in.
"Then we could not move forward or backward,
as ahead was the landslide and behind there
was no track. Even then we were not frightened,
and it was not till about three o'clock, when we
saw a heavy iron bridge go down as if it were
made of paper, that we began to be seriously
alarmed. Just before the dam broke a gravel
train came tearing down, with the engine giving
out the most awful shriek I ever heard. Every
Insert photo from page 398 here!!!!! FOURTEENTH STREET, WASHINGTON, D. C., IN THE FLOOD.
one recognized that this was a note of warning. We fled as hard as we could run down the embankment, across a ditch, and for a distance equal to about two blocks up the hillside. Once I turned to look at the vast wall of water, but was hurried on by my friends. When I had gone about the distance of another block the head of the flood had passed far away, and with it went houses, cars, locomotives, everything that a few minutes before had made up a busy scene. The wall of water looked to be fifty feet high. It was of a deep yellow color, but the crest was white with foam.
"Three of us reached the house of Mrs. William Wright, who took us in and treated us most kindly. I did not take any account of time, but I imagine it was about an hour before the water ceased to rush past the house. The conductor of our train, Charles A. Wartham, behaved with the greatest bravery. He took a crippled passenger on his back in the rush up the hill. A floating house struck the cripple, carried him away and tore some of the clothes off Wartham's back, and he managed to struggle on and save himself. Our ride to Ebensburg, sixteen miles, in a lumber wagon without springs, was trying, but no one thought of complaining. Later in the day we were sent to Cresson and thence to Altoona."