22 September 2009

Lake Conemaugh

First, from my awesome WPA-funded Pennsylvania Writers Project OUP-published Pennsylvania: A Guide to the Keystone State, 1940:
One of the greatest disasters in the State's history was the flood in the spring of 1889 at Johnstown, situated at the junctionof the Little Conemaugh River and Stony Creek.  On the morning after Memorial Day the waters rose quickly.  Then the giant South Fork Dam, which impounded 78,000,000 tons of water, burst and the torrent carried away everything in its path, crumbling the houses of Johnstown like cardboard and drowning approximately 2,200.  Flames completed the havoc.
In May 1889 a week of heavy rainfall raised the Conemaugh River and Stony Creek River, still swollen by spring thaws.  The waters inched up the steep hills in a manner familiar to residents, who expected no greater damage than that which they had frequently experienced, and to which they had long since resigned themselves.  On the afternoon of May 31 the South Fork Dam gave way; erected to form a feeder basin for the Pennsylvania Canal, it had been neglected since 1862.  A wall of water, 75 feet high and half a mile wide, rushed upon everything aside, exacting a toll of more than 2,200 lives and about $10,000,000 in property damage.  Bodies were carried down-river as far as Pittsburgh.  All parts of the Nation contributed to the rescue and rehabilitation work.  Only one precaution against a recurrence was subsequently taken, the widening of the Conemaugh River in 1891.

So this leaves out how Frick and friends of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club were unconcerned with the potential hazards of the dam and then because the flood was an "Act of God" they were never held responsible for the damage. 

You can go back to this post to read about my visit to the Johnstown Flood Museum, but on the way back from Dunlo on Sunday, we stopped at the former Lake Conemaugh, where I'd never been:

Lake Conemaugh, which is now part of the Johnstown Flood National Memorial

The picture of the lake area was taken from the north side of the spillway - so really, from where it all began.  And the rich industrialists never really apologized, spoke publicly about their involvement or were put on trial or anything like that because the paperwork made it so that they couldn't be held responsible for something that they really were neglectful about, namely not maintaining the spillway.  And so lots of people died and they kept on being rich.

And then three years later, the Homestead Strike happened.  Then Berkman tried to kill Frick, and by that point Frick was so hated in Pittsburgh and he was in grief about his daughter that he had to retreat to New York City and took up the hobby of art. 

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