“The Johnstown Flood”
Having taken classes about Pennsylvania history in high school and being familiar with this horrible flood, I was very happy with this book. The author, David McCullough, does a masterful job setting the scene, the politics surrounding the dam and the subsequent failure of that dam. Johnstown was a typical American town for that day and time. People worked hard and earned little. The environment was polluted to some extent, but no one considered it a major issue. Nearly everyone considered the dam a threat, but only a few moved to improve the conditions. Huge disparities existed between the rich, the middle class and the poor. These disparities were more than money, but in perceptions of those above and below one’s “station.” This left a situation where in essence the threat was perceived, but all involved seemed to look to the other group, or believe, the dam was safe.Then the dam broke on May 31, 1889. Partly because of torrential rains, partly because of incompetent maintenance at the dam and removal/blockage of drains in the dam, and certainly because of complacency of the people downstream from the dam and the threat it was to them, disastrous results followed. The author describes the process of trying to save the dam, when and how it broke, the path and destruction of the flood and, most importantly, the effect on the people downstream.The final segment describes the cleanup of the damages. The caring for the survivors, the burying of the dead, the removal of all that was Johnstown – homes, shops, churches is described, especially the stone bridge which stopped much of the broken town in the river’s bed. A discussion Wolford 2
of fault, which is never determined, ends the book. In today’s world the fault would be different, but in that time justice was served. When it comes to placing blame and actually calling out who did wrong, in my opinion, fingers need to be pointed at the...
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