Last weekend I had an opportunity for a bookish adventure. About 2 years ago, I'd read The Woman in the Photo, a historical fiction about the great flood of Johnstown, PA in 1889. At the time, the wealthiest families of Pittsburgh, the Carnegies, Fricks, Mellons, among them, spent their summers at the South Forth Fishing and Hunting Club. Nestled in the mountains above Johnstown, they had private summer homes and a clubhouse that surrounded Lake Conemaugh. The lake was approximately 2 miles long by 1 1/2 mile wide and held about 20 million tons of water. The manmade lake was held at the far end by a dam made of earth, rocks and logs. For years people speculated that the dam was weakening, but the club chose not to improve it. Finally, during a wet spring in May of 1889, the area was hit by a pounding rain storm, causing the dam to burst. The waters traveled about 14 miles at 40 MPH thru smaller towns on its way, picking up houses, trains, trees, animals, people, until it reached Johnstown and the debris backed up at an stone bridge. Then the oil in the debris caught fire and burned for 3 days. 2209 people died in total. 99 entire families were wiped out. 396 children were killed. Bodies were found as far as 350 miles away. Zero members of the club accepted responsibility or were held accountable. Clara Barton was on location within a few days and this was the first test of her Red Cross following the Civil War.
Photo 1& 2 is of the club caretaker's house. In left background you can see a cluster of houses, some of which were homes belonging to the Club. Photo 2 shows the clubhouse that still stands and is undergoing renovation. A street now runs in front of the clubhouse and instead of facing a lake bed, it faces other homes now part of a small town called South Fork.
The bookshop at the Flood Memorial offered several books about the flood, including the one I read. I've heard good things about The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough too.
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