The punctuation and spelling from the original text have been faithfully preserved. Only obvious typographical errors have been corrected.
TO THE SURVIVING SUFFERERS OF THE APPALLING CALAMITY AT JOHNSTOWN AND NEIGHBORING VILLAGES THIS WORK WHICH RELATES THE THRILLING STORY OF THE GREAT DISASTER IS DEDICATED.
THE JOHNSTOWN HORROR!!!
VALLEY OF DEATH,
A COMPLETE AND THRILLING ACCOUNT OF THE AWFUL FLOODS AND THEIR APPALLING RUIN,
Graphic Descriptions of the Terrible Rush of Waters; the great Destruction of Houses, Factories, Churches, Towns, and Thousands of Human Lives; Heartrending Scenes of Agony, Separation of Loved Ones, Panic-stricken Multitudes and their Frantic Efforts to Escape a Horrible Fate.
THRILLING TALES OF HEROIC DEEDS; NARROW ESCAPES FROM THE JAWS OF DEATH; FRIGHTFUL HAVOC BY FIRE; DREADFUL SUFFERINGS OF SURVIVORS; PLUNDERING BODIES OF VICTIMS, ETC.
Magnificent Exhibitions of Popular Sympathy; Quick Aid from every City and State; Millions of Dollars Sent for the Relief of the Stricken Sufferers.
By JAMES HERBERT WALKER, THE WELL KNOWN AUTHOR.
FULLY ILLUSTRATED WITH SCENES OF THE GREAT CALAMITY.
H.J. SMITH & CO., 249 South Sixth St., Philadelphia
CHICAGO, ILL.: NOS. 341-351 DEARBORN ST.
KANSAS CITY, MO.: NO. 614 EAST SIXTH ST.
OAKLAND, CAL. NO. 1605 TELEGRAPH AVE.
The whole country has been profoundly startled at the Terrible Calamity which has swept thousands of human beings to instant death at Johnstown and neighboring villages. The news came with the suddenness of a lightning bolt falling from the sky. A romantic valley, filled with busy factories, flourishing places of business, multitudes of happy homes and families, has been suddenly transformed into a scene of awful desolation. Frightful ravages of Flood and Fire have produced in one short hour a destruction which surpasses the records of all modern disasters. No calamity in recent times has so appalled the civilized world. What was a peaceful, prosperous valley a little time ago is to-day a huge sepulchre, filled with the shattered ruins of houses, factories, banks, churches, and the ghastly corpses of the dead.
This book contains a thrilling description of this awful catastrophe, which has shocked both hemispheres. It depicts with graphic power the terrible scenes of the great disaster, and relates the fearful story with masterly effect.
The work treats of the great storm which devastated the country, deluging large sections, sweeping away bridges, swelling rivulets to rivers, prostrating forests, and producing incalculable damage to life and property; of the sudden rise in the Conemaugh River and tributary streams, weakening the dam thrown across the fated valley, and endangering the lives of 50,000 people; of the heroic efforts of a little band of men to stay the flood and avert the direful calamity; of the swift ride down the valley to warn the inhabitants of their impending fate, and save them from instant death; of the breaking away of the imprisoned waters after all efforts had failed to hold them back; of the rush and roar of the mighty torrent, plunging down the valley with sounds like advancing thunder, reverberating like the booming of cannon among the hills; of the frightful havoc attending the mad flood descending with incredible velocity, and a force which nothing could resist; of the rapid rise of the waters, flooding buildings, driving the terrified inhabitants to the upper stories and roofs in the desperate effort to escape their doom; of hundreds of houses crashing down the surging river, carrying men, women and children beyond the hope of rescue; of a night of horrors, multitudes dying amid the awful terrors of flood and fire, plunged under the wild torrent, buried in mire, or consumed in devouring flames; of helpless creatures rending the air with pitiful screams crying aloud in their agony, imploring help with outstretched hands, and finally sinking with no one to save them.
Whole families were lost and obliterated, perishing together in a watery tomb, or ground to atoms by floating timbers and wreck; households were suddenly bereft—some of fathers, others of mothers, others of children, neighbors and friends; frantic efforts were made to rescue the victims of the flood, render aid to those who were struggling against death, and mitigate the terrors of the horrible disaster. There were noble acts of heroism, strong men and frail women and children putting their own lives in peril to save those of their loved ones.
The terrible scene at Johnstown bridge, where thousands were consumed was the greatest funeral pyre known in the history of the world. It was ghastly work—that of recovering the bodies of the dead; dragging them from the mire in which they were imbedded, from the ruins in which they were crushed, or from the burning wreck which was consuming them. Hundreds of bodies were mutilated and disfigured beyond the possibility of identifying them, all traces of individual form and features utterly destroyed. There were multitudes of corpses awaiting coffins for their burial, putrefying under the sun, and filling the air with the sickening stench of death. There were ghouls who robbed the bodies of the victims, stripping off their jewels—even cutting off fingers to obtain rings, and plundering pockets of their money.
Summary vengeance was inflicted upon prowling thieves; some of whom were driven into the merciless waters to perish, while others were shot or hanged by the neck until they were dead. The burial of hundreds of the known and unknown, without minister or obsequies, without friend or mourner, without surviving relatives to take a last look or shed a tear, was one of the appalling spectacles. There was the breathless suspense and anxiety of those who feared the worst, who waited in vain for news of the safety of their friends, and at last were compelled to believe that their loved ones had perished.
The terrible shock attending the horrible accounts of the great calamity, was followed by the sudden outburst and exhibition of universal grief and sympathy. Despatches from the President, Governors of States, and Mayors of Cities, announced that speedy aid would be furnished. The magnificent charity that came to the rescue with millions of dollars, immense contributions of food and clothing, personal services and heroic efforts, is one impressive part of this graphic story. Rich and poor alike gave freely, many persons dividing their last dollar to aid those who had lost their all.
These thrilling scenes are depicted, and these wonderful facts are related, in THE JOHNSTOWN HORROR, by eye-witnesses who saw the fatal flood and its direful effects. No book so intensely exciting has ever been issued. The graphic story has an awful fascination, and will be read throughout the land.
PAGE CHAPTER I.
The Appalling News, 17
Death and Desolation, 50
The Horrors Increase, 74
Multiplication of Terrors, 104
The Awful Work of Death, 116
Shadows of Despair, 129
Burial of the Victims, 146
Johnstown and its Industries, 154
A View of the Wreck, 164
Thrilling Experiences, 182
New Tales of Horror, 208
Pathetic Scenes, 246
Digging for the Dead, 270
Hairbreadth Escapes, 288
Terrible Pictures of Woe, 334
Stories of the Flood, 380
One Week after the Great Disaster, 432
A Walk Through the Valley of Death, 455
A Day of Work and Worship, 479
Millions of Money for Johnstown, 489
THE JOHNSTOWN HORROR
Valley of Death.
The Appalling News.
On the advent of Summer, June 1st, the country was horror-stricken by the announcement that a terrible calamity had overtaken the inhabitants of Johnstown, and the neighboring villages. Instantly the whole land was stirred by the startling news of this great disaster. Its appalling magnitude, its dreadful suddenness, its scenes of terror and agony, the fate of thousands swept to instant death by a flood as frightful as that of the cataract of Niagara, awakened the profoundest horror. No calamity in the history of modern times has so appalled the civilized world.
The following graphic pen-picture will give the reader an accurate idea of the picturesque scene of the disaster:
Away up in the misty crags of the Alleghanies some tiny rills trickle and gurgle from a cleft in the mossy rocks. The drippling waters, timid perhaps in the bleak and lonely fastness of the heights, hug and coddle one another until they flash into a limpid pool. A score of rivulets from all the mountain side babble hither over rocky beds to join their companions. Thence in rippling current they purl and tinkle down the gentle slopes, through bosky nooks sweet with the odors of fir tree and pine, over meads dappled with the scarlet snap-dragon and purple heath buds, now pausing for a moment to idle with a wood encircled lake, now tumbling in opalescent cascade over a mossy lurch, and then on again in cheerful, hurried course down the Appalachian valley.
None stays their way. Here and there perhaps some thrifty Pennsylvania Dutchman coaxes the saucy stream to turn his mill-wheel and every league or so it fumes and frets a bit against some rustic bridge. From these trifling tourneys though, it emerges only the more eager and impetuous in its path toward the towns below.
The Fatal River.
Coming nearer, step by step, to the busy haunts of men, the dashing brook takes on a more ambitious air. Little by little it edges its narrow banks aside, drinks in the waters of tributaries, swells with the copious rainfall of the lower valley. From its ladder in the Alleghanies it catches a glimpse of the steeples of Johnstown, red with the glow of the setting sun. Again it spurts and spreads as if conscious of its new importance, and the once tiny rill expands into the dignity of a river, a veritable river, with a name of its own. Big with this sounding symbol of prowess it rushes on as if to sweep by the teeming town in a flood of majesty. To its vast surprise the way is barred. The hand of man has dared to check the will of one that up to now has known no curb save those the forest gods imposed. For an instant the waters, taken aback by this strange audacity, hold themselves in leash. Then, like erl-king in the German legends, they broaden out to engulf their opponent. In vain they surge with crescent surface against the barrier of stone. By day, by night, they beat and breast in angry impotence against the ponderous wall of masonry that man has reared, for pleasure and profit, to stem the mountain stream.
The Awful Rush of Waters.
Suddenly, maddened by the stubborn hindrance, the river grows black and turgid. It rumbles and threatens as if confident of an access of strength that laughs at resistance. From far up the hillside comes a sound, at first soft and soothing as the fountains of Lindaraxa, then rolling onward it takes the voluminous quaver of a distant waterfall. Louder and louder, deeper and deeper, nearer and nearer comes an awful crashing and roaring, till its echoes rebound from the crags of the Alleghanies like peals of thunder and boom of cannon.
On, on, down the steep valley trumpets the torrent into the river at Jamestown. Joined to the waters from the cloud kissed summits of its source, the exultant Conemaugh, with a deafening din, dashes its way through the barricade of stone and starts like a demon on its path of destruction.
Into its maw it sucks a town. A town with all its hundreds of men and women and children, with its marts of business, its homes, its factories and houses of worship. Then, insatiate still, with a blast like the chaos of worlds dissolved, it rushes out to new desolation, until Nature herself, awe stricken at the sight of such ineffable woe, blinds her eyes to the uncanny scene of death, and drops the pall of night upon the earth.
Destruction Descended as a Bolt of Jove.
A fair town in a western valley of Pennsylvania, happy in the arts of peace and prospering by its busy manufactures, suddenly swept out of existence by a gigantic flood and thousands of lives extinguished as by one fell stroke—such has been the fate of Johnstown.
Never before in this country has there happened a disaster of such appalling proportions. It is necessary to refer to those which have occurred in the valleys of the great European rivers, where there is a densely crowded population, to find a parallel.
The Horrors Unestimated.
At first the horror was not all known. It could only be imperfectly surmised. Until a late hour on the following night there was no communication with the hapless city. All that was positively known of its fate was seen from afar. It was said that out of all the habitations, which had sheltered about twelve thousand people before this awful doom had befallen, only two were visible above the water. All the rest, if this be true, had been swallowed up or else shattered into pieces and hurled downward into the flood-vexed valley below.
What has become of those twelve thousand inhabitants? Who can tell until after the waters have wholly subsided?
Of course it is possible that many of them escaped. Much hope is to be built upon the natural exaggeration of first reports from the sorely distressed surrounding region and the lack of actual knowledge, in the absence of direct communication. But what suspense must there be between now and the moment when direct communication shall be opened!
Heedless of Fate.
The valley of the Conemaugh in which Johnstown stood lies between the steep walls of lofty hills. The gathering of the rain into torrents in that region is quick and precipitate. The river on one side roared out its warning, but the people would not take heed of the danger impending over them on the other side—the great South Fork dam, two and a half miles up the valley and looming one hundred feet in height from base to top. Behind it were piled the waters, a great, ponderous mass, like the treasured wrath of fate. Their surface was about three hundred feet above the deserted town.
If Noah's neighbors thought it would be only a little shower the people of Johnstown were yet more foolish. The railroad officials had repeatedly told them that the dam threatened destruction. They still perversely lulled themselves into a false security. The blow came, when it did, like a flash. It was as if the heavens had fallen in liquid fury upon the earth. It was as if ocean itself had been precipitated into an abyss. The slow but inexorable march of the mightiest glacier of the Alps, though comparable, was not equal to this in force. The whole of a Pyramid, shot from a colossal catapult, would not have been the petty charge of a pea shooter to it. Imagine Niagara, or a greater even than Niagara, falling upon an ordinary collection of brick and wooden houses.
An Inconceivable Force.
The South Fork Reservoir was the largest in the United States, and it contained millions of tons of water. When its fetters were loosened, crumbling before it like sand, a building or even a rock that stood in its path presented as much resistance as a card house. The dread execution was little more than the work of an instant.
The flood passed over the town as it would over a pile of shingles, covering over or carrying with it everything that stood in its way. It bounded down the valley, wreaking destruction and death on each hand and in its fore. Torrents that poured down out of the wilds of the mountains swelled its volume.
All along from the point of its release it bore debris and corpses as its hideous trophies. In a very brief time it displayed some of both, as if in hellish glee, to the horrified eyes of Pittsburg, seventy-eight miles west of the town of Johnstown that had been, having danced them along on its exultant billows or rolled them over and over in the depths of its dark current all the way through the Conemaugh, the Kiskiminitas and the Allegheny river.
It was like a fearful monster, gnashing its dripping jaws in the scared face of the multitude, in the flesh of its victims.
One eye-witness of the effects of the deluge declares that he saw five hundred dead bodies. Hundreds were counted by others. It will take many a day to make up the death roll. It will take many a day to make up the reckoning of the material loss.
If any pen could describe the scenes of terror, anguish and destruction which have taken place in Conemaugh Valley it could write an epic greater than the "Iliad." The accounts that come tell of hairbreadth escapes, heartrending tragedies and deeds of heroism almost without number.
A Climax of Horror.
As if to add a lurid touch of horror to the picture that might surpass all the rest a conflagration came to mock those who were in fear of drowning with a death yet more terrible. Where the ruins of Johnstown, composed mainly of timber, had been piled up forty feet high against a railroad bridge below the town a fire was started and raged with eager fury. It is said that scores of persons were burned alive, their piercing cries appealing for aid to hundreds of spectators who stood on the banks of the river, but could do nothing.
Western Pennsylvania is in mourning. Business in the cities is virtually suspended and all minds are bent upon this great horror, all hearts convulsed with the common sorrow.
Heartrending Scenes and Heroic Struggles for Life.
Another eye-witness describes the calamity as follows: A flood of death swept down the Alleghany Mountains yesterday afternoon and last night. Almost the entire city of Johnstown is swimming about in the rushing, angry tide. Dead bodies are floating about in every direction, and almost every piece of movable timber is carrying from the doomed city a corpse of humanity, drifting with the raging waters. The disaster overtook Johnstown about six o'clock last evening.
As the train bearing the writer sped eastward, the reports at each stop grew more appalling. At Derry a group of railway officials were gathered who had come from Bolivar, the end of the passable portion of the road westward. They had seen but a small portion of the awful flood, but enough to allow them to imagine the rest. Down through the Packsaddle came the rushing waters. The wooded heights of the Alleghanies looked down in wonder at the scene of the most terrible destruction that ever struck the romantic valley of the Conemaugh.
The water was rising when the men left at six o'clock at the rate of five feet an hour. Clinging to improvised rafts, constructed in the death battle from floating boards and timbers, were agonized men, women and children, their heartrending shrieks for help striking horror to the breasts of the onlookers. Their cries were of no avail. Carried along at railway speed on the breast of this rushing torrent, no human ingenuity could devise a means of rescue.
With pallid face and hair clinging wet and damp to her cheek, a mother was seen grasping a floating timber, while on her other arm she held her babe, already drowned. With a death-grip on a plank a strong man just giving up hope cast an imploring look to those on the bank, and an instant later he had sunk into the waves. Prayers to God and cries to those in safety rang above the roaring waves.
The special train pulled into Bolivar at half-past eleven last night, and the trainmen were there notified that further progress was impossible. The greatest excitement prevailed at this place, and parties of citizens are out all the time endeavoring to save the poor unfortunates that are being hurled to eternity on the rushing torrent.
Attempts at Rescue.
The tidal wave struck Bolivar just after dark, and in five minutes the Conemaugh rose from six to forty feet and the waters spread out over the whole country. Soon houses began floating down, and clinging to the debris were men, women and children shrieking for aid. A large number of citizens at once gathered on the county bridge, and they were reinforced by a number from Garfield, a town on the opposite side of the river.
They brought a number of ropes and these were thrown over into the boiling waters as persons drifted by in efforts to save some poor beings. For half an hour all efforts were fruitless, until at last, when the rescuers were about giving up all hope, a little boy, astride a shingle roof, managed to catch hold of one of the ropes. He caught it under his left arm and was thrown violently against an abutment, but managed to keep hold, and was successfully pulled on to the bridge amid the cheers of the onlookers. His name was Hessler and his rescuer was a trainman named Carney. The lad was at once taken to the town of Garfield and was cared for. The boy was aged about sixteen. His story of the frightful calamity is as follows:
"With my father I was spending the day at my grandfather's house in Cambria City. In the house at the time were Theodore, Edward and John Kintz, and John Kintz, Jr.; Miss Mary Kintz, Mrs. Mary Kintz, wife of John Kintz, Jr.; Miss Treacy Kintz, Mrs. Rica Smith, John Hirsch and four children, my father and myself. Shortly after five o'clock there was a noise of roaring waters and screams of people. We looked out the door and saw persons running. My father told us to never mind, as the waters would not rise further.
"But soon we saw houses being swept away, and then we ran up to the floor above. The house was three stories, and we were at last forced to the top one. In my fright I jumped on the bed. It was an old fashioned one, with heavy posts. The water kept rising and my bed was soon afloat. Gradually it was lifted up. The air in the room grew close and the house was moving. Still the bed kept rising and pressed the ceiling. At last the posts pushed against the plaster. It yielded and a section of the roof gave way. Then suddenly I found myself on the roof, and was being carried down stream.
"After a little this roof began to part, and I was afraid I was going to be drowned, but just then another house with a shingle roof floated by, and I managed to crawl on it, and floated down until nearly dead with cold, when I was saved. After I was freed from the house I did not see my father. My grandfather was on a tree, but he must have been drowned, as the waters were rising fast. John Kintz, Jr., was also on a tree. Miss Mary Kintz and Mrs. Mary Kintz I saw drown. Miss Smith was also drowned. John Hirsch was in a tree, but the four children were drowned. The scenes were terrible. Live bodies and corpses were floating down with me and away from me. I would see persons, hear them shriek, and then they would disappear. All along the line were people who were trying to save us, but they could do nothing, and only a few were caught."
This boy's story is but one incident, and shows what happened to one family. No one knows what has happened to the hundreds who were in the path of the rushing water. It is impossible to get anything in the way of news save meagre details.
An eye-witness at Bolivar Block Station tells a story of unparalleled heroism that occurred at the lower bridge which crosses the Conemaugh at this point. A. Young, with two women was seen coming down the river on a part of the floor. At the upper bridge a rope was thrown down to them. This they all failed to catch. Between the two bridges he was noticed to point towards the elder woman, who, it is supposed, was his mother. He was then seen to instruct the women how to catch the rope that was lowered from the other bridge. Down came the raft with a rush. The brave man stood with his arms around the two women.
As they swept under the bridge he seized the rope. He was jerked violently away from the two women, who failed to get a hold on the rope. Seeing that they would not be rescued, he dropped the rope and fell back on the raft, which floated on down the river. The current washed their frail craft in toward the bank. The young man was enabled to seize hold of a branch of a tree. He aided the two women to get up into the tree.
He held on with his hands and rested his feet on a pile of driftwood. A piece of floating debris struck the drift, sweeping it away. The man hung with his body immersed in the water. A pile of drift soon collected and he was enabled to get another insecure footing. Up the river there was a sudden crash, and a section of the bridge was swept away and floated down the stream, striking the tree and washing it away. All three were thrown into the water and were drowned before the eyes of the horrified spectators just opposite the town of Bolivar.
Early in the evening a woman with her two children was seen to pass under the bridge at Bolivar clinging to the roof of a coal house. A rope was lowered to her, but she shook her head and refused to desert the children. It was rumored that all three were saved at Cokeville, a few miles below Bolivar. A later report from Lockport says that the residents succeeded in rescuing five people from the flood, two women and three men. One man succeeded in getting out of the water unaided. They were taken care of by the people of the town.
A Child's Faith.
A little girl passed under the bridge just before dark. She was kneeling on a part of a floor and had her hands clasped as if in prayer. Every effort was made to save her, but they all proved futile. A railroader who was standing by remarked that the piteous appearance of the little waif brought tears to his eyes. All night long the crowd stood about the ruins of the bridge which had been swept away at Bolivar. The water rushed past with a roar, carrying with it parts of houses, furniture and trees. The flood had evidently spent its force up the valley. No more living persons were being carried past. Watchers with lanterns remained along the banks until daybreak, when the first view of the awful devastation of the flood was witnessed.
Along the bank lay remnants of what had once been dwelling houses and stores; here and there was an uprooted tree. Piles of drift lay about, in some of which bodies of the victims of the flood will be found. Rescuing parties are being formed in all towns along the railroad. Houses have been thrown open to refugees, and every possible means is being used to protect the homeless.
Wrecking Trains to the Rescue.
The wrecking trains of the Pennsylvania Railroad are slowly making their way east to the unfortunate city. No effort was being made to repair the wrecks, and the crews of the trains were organized into rescuing parties, and an effort will be made to send out a mail train this morning. The chances are that they will go no further east than Florence. There is absolutely no news from Johnstown. The little city is entirely cut off from communication with the outside world. The damage done is inestimable. No one can tell its extent.
The little telegraph stations along the road are filled with anxious groups of men who have friends and relatives in Johnstown. The smallest item of news is eagerly seized upon and circulated. If favorable they have a moment of relief, if not their faces become more gloomy. Harry Fisher, a young telegraph operator who was at Bolivar when the first rush began, says:—"We knew nothing of the disaster until we noticed the river slowly rising and then more rapidly. News then reached us from Johnstown that the dam at South Fork had burst. Within three hours the water in the river rose at least twenty feet. Shortly before six o'clock ruins of houses, beds, household utensils, barrels and kegs came floating past the bridges. At eight o'clock the water was within six feet of the road-bed of the bridge. The wreckage floated past without stopping for at least two hours. Then it began to lessen, and night coming suddenly upon us we could see no more. The wreckage was floating by for a long time before the first living persons passed. Fifteen people that I saw were carried down by the river. One of these, a boy, was saved, and three of them were drowned just directly below the town. It was an awful sight and one that I will not soon forget."
Hundreds of animals lost their lives. The bodies of horses, dogs and chickens floated past. The little boy who was rescued at Bolivar had two dogs as companions during his fearful ride. The dogs were drowned just before reaching the bridge. One old mule swam past. Its shoulders were torn, but it was alive when swept past the town.
Saved from a Watery Grave to Perish by Flames.
After a long, weary ride of eight or nine miles over the worst of country roads New Florence, fourteen miles from Johnstown, was reached. The road bed between this place and Bolivar was washed out in many places. The trackmen and the wreck crews were all night in the most dangerous portions of the road.
The last man from Johnstown brought the information that scarcely a house remained in the city. The upper portion above the railroad bridge had been completely submerged. The water dammed up against the viaduct, the wreckage and debris finishing the work that the torrent had failed to accomplish. The bridge at Johnstown proved too stanch for the fury of the water. It is a heavy piece of masonry, and was used as a viaduct by the old Pennsylvania Canal. Some of the top stones were displaced.
The story reached here a short time ago that a family consisting of father and mother and nine children were washed away in a creek at Lockport. The mother managed to reach the shore, but the husband and children were carried out into the Conemaugh to drown. The woman is crazed over the terrible event.
A Night of Horror.
After night settled down upon the mountains the horror of the scenes was enhanced. Above the roar of the water could be heard the piteous appeals from the unfortunate as they were carried by. To add also to the terror of the night, a brilliant illumination lit up the sky. This illumination could be plainly seen from this place.
A message received from Sang Hollow stated that this light came from a hundred burning wrecks of houses that were piled upon the Johnstown Bridge. A supervisor from up the road brought the information that the wreckage at Johnstown was piled up forty feet above the bridge.
The startling news came in that more than a thousand lives had been lost. This cannot be substantiated. By actual count one hundred and ten people had been seen floating past Sang Hollow before dark. Forty-seven were counted passing New Florence and the number had diminished to eight at Bolivar. The darkness coming on stopped any further count, and it was only by the agonizing cries that rang out above the waters that it was known that a human being was being carried to death.
An Irresistible Torrent.
The scenes along the river were wild in the extreme. Although the water was subsiding, still as it dashed against the rocks that filled the narrow channel of the Conemaugh its spray was carried high up on the shore. The towns all along the line of the railroad from Johnstown west had received visitations. Many of the houses in New Florence were partially under water. At Bolivar the whole lower part of the town was submerged.
The ride over the mountain road gave one a good idea of the cause of this disaster. Every creek was a rushing river and every rivulet a raging torrent. The ground was water soaked, and when the immense mountain district that drains into the Conemaugh above South Fork is taken into consideration the terrible volume of water that must have accumulated can be realized. Gathering, as it did, within a few minutes, it came against the breast of the South Fork dam with irresistible force. The frightened inhabitants along the Conemaugh describe the flood as something awful. The first rise came almost without warning, and the torrent came roaring down the mountain passes in one huge wave, several feet in height. After the first swell the water continued to rise at a fearful rate.
Daylight Brings No Relief.
The gray morning light does not seem to show either hope or mitigation of the awful fears of the night. It has been a hard night to everybody. The overworked newspaper men, who have been without rest and food since yesterday afternoon, and the operators who have handled the messages are already preparing for the work of the day. There has been a long wrangle over the possession of a special train for the press between rival newspaper men, and it has delayed the work of others who are anxious to get further east.
Even here, so far from the washed-out towns, seven bodies have been found. Two were in a tree, a man and a woman, where the flood had carried them. The country people are coming into the town in large numbers telling stories of disaster along the river banks in sequestered places.
John McCarthey, a carpenter, who lives in Johnstown, reached here about four o'clock. He left Johnstown at half-past four yesterday afternoon and says the scene then was indescribable. The people had been warned early in the morning to move to the highlands, but they did not heed the warning, although it was repeated a number of times up to one o'clock, when the water poured into Cinder street several feet deep. Then the houses began rocking to and fro, and finally the force of the current carried buildings across streets and vacant lots and dashed them against each other, breaking them into fragments. These buildings were full of the people who had laughed at the cry of danger. McCarthey says that in some cases he counted as many as fifteen persons clinging to buildings. McCarthey's wife was with him. She had three sisters, who lived near her. They saw the house in which these girls lived carried away, and then they could endure the situation no longer and hurried away. The husband feared his wife would go crazy. They went inland along country roads until they reached here.
It is said to be next to impossible to get to Johnstown proper to-day in any manner except by rowboat. The roads are cut up so that even the countrymen refuse to travel over them in their roughest vehicles. The only hope is to get within about three miles by a special train or by hand car.
The Dead Cast Up.
Nine dead bodies have been picked up within the limits of this borough since daylight. None of them has yet been recognized. Five are women. One woman, probably twenty-five years old, had clasped in her arms a babe about six months old. The body of a young man was discovered in the branches of a huge tree which had been carried down the stream. All the orchard crops and shrubbery along the banks of the river have been destroyed.
The body of another woman has just been discovered in the river here. Her foot was seen above the surface of the water and a rope was fastened about it.
A Roof as a Raft.
John Weber and his wife, an old couple, Michael Metzgar and John Forney were rescued near here early this morning. They had been carried from their home in Cambria City on the roof of the house. There were seven others on the roof when it was carried off, all of whom were drowned. They were unknown to Weber, having drifted on to the roof from floating debris. Weber and wife were thoroughly drenched and were almost helpless from exposure. They were unable to walk when taken off the roof at this place. They are now at the hotel here.
Hundreds of people from Johnstown and up river towns are hurrying here in search of friends and relatives who were swept away in last night's flood. The most intense excitement prevails. The street corners are crowded with pale and anxious people who tell of the calamity with bated breath. Squire Bennett has charge of the dead bodies, and he is having them properly cared for. They are being prepared for burial, but will be held here for identification.
Four boys have just come from the river bank above here. They say that on the opposite side a number of bodies can be seen lying in the mud. They found the body of a woman on this side badly bruised.
R.B. Rodgers, Justice of the Peace at Nineveh, has wired the Coroner at Greensburg that one hundred dead bodies have been found at that place, and he asks what is to be done with them. From this one can estimate that the loss of life will reach over one thousand.
A report has just been received that twenty persons are on an island near Nineveh and that men and women are on a partly submerged tree.
A report has just reached here that at least one hundred people were consumed in the flames at Johnstown last night, but it cannot be verified here. The air is filled with thrilling and most incredible stories, but none of them have as yet been confirmed. It is certain, however, that even the worst cannot be imagined.
Warnings Remembered Too Late.
It is very evident that more lives have been lost because of foolish incredulity than from ignorance of the danger. For more than a year there have been fears of an accident of just such a character. The foundations of the dam were considered to be shaky early last spring and many increasing leakages were reported from time to time.
According to people who live in Johnstown and other towns on the line of the river, ample time was given to the Johnstown folks by the railroad officials and by other gentlemen of standing and reputation. In dozens, yes, hundreds of cases, this warning was utterly disregarded, and those who heeded it early in the day were looked upon as cowards, and many jeers were uttered by lips that now are cold among the rank grass beside the river.
There has grown up a bitter feeling among the surviving sufferers against those who owned the lake and dam, and damage suits will be plentiful by and by.
The dam in Stony Creek, above Johnstown, broke about noon yesterday and thousands of feet of lumber passed down the stream. It is impossible to tell what the loss of life will be, but at nine o'clock the Coroner of Westmoreland county sent a message out saying that 100 bodies had been recovered at Nineveh, halfway from here to Johnstown. Sober minded people do not hesitate to say that 1,200 is moderate.
Fire's Awful Work.
"How can anybody tell how many are dead?" said a railroad engineer this morning. "I have been at Long Hollow with my train since eleven o'clock yesterday, and I have seen fully five hundred persons lost in the flood."
J.W. Esch, a brave railroad employee, saved sixteen lives at Nineveh.
The most awful culmination of the awful night was the roasting of a hundred or more persons in mid-flood. The ruins of houses, old buildings and other structures swept against the new railroad bridge at Johnstown, and from an overturned stove or some such cause the upper part of the wreckage caught fire.
There were crowds of men, women and children on the wreck, and their screams were soon heard. They were literally roasted on the flood. Soon after the fire burned itself out other persons were thrown against the mass. There were some fifty people in sight when the ruins suddenly broke up and were swept under the bridge into the darkness.
The latest news from Johnstown is that but two houses could be seen in the town. It is also said that only three houses remain in Cambria City.
The first authentic news was from W.N. Hays, of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, who reached New Florence at nine o'clock. He says the valley towns are annihilated.
Destruction at Blairsville.
The flood in the Conemaugh River at this point is the heaviest ever known here. At this hour the railroad bridge between here and Blairsville intersection has been swept away, and also the new bridge at Coketon, half a mile below. It is now feared that the iron bridge at the lower end of this town will go. A living woman and dead man, supposed to be her husband, were seen going under the railroad bridge. They were seen to come from under the bridge safely, but shortly disappeared and were seen no more.
A great many families lose their household goods. The river is running full of timber, houses, goods, etc. The loss will be heavy. The excitement here is very great. The river is still rising. There are some families below the town in the second story of their houses who cannot get out. It is feared that if the water goes much higher the loss of life will be very great. The railroad company had fourteen cars of coal on their bridge when it went down, and all were swept down the river.
The town bridge has just succumbed to the seething floods, whose roar can be heard a long distance. The water is still rising and it is thought that the West Pennsylvania Railroad will be without a single bridge. It is reported that a man went down with the Blairsville bridge while he was adjusting a headlight.
Havoc about Altoona.
The highest and most destructive flood that has visited this place for fifty years occurred yesterday. It has been raining continuously for the past twenty-four hours. The Juniata river is ten feet above low water mark and is still rising. The lower streets of Gaysport bordering on the river bank are submerged, and the water is two feet deep on the first floors of the houses there. The water rose so rapidly that the people had to be removed from the houses in boats and wagons. Three railroad trestles and a number of bridges over the streams have been carried away, and railroad travel between this place and the surrounding towns has been interrupted.
Property of all kinds was carried off. The truck gardens and grain fields along the river were utterly destroyed, and the fences carried away. The iron furnaces and rolling mills at this place and Duncanville were compelled to shut down on account of the high water. Keene & Babcock lost 300,000 brick in the kiln ready to burn, G.W. Rhodes 350,000, and Joseph Hart 15,000. It is estimated that the flood has done over $50,000 damage in this vicinity. The fences of the Blair County Agricultural Society were destroyed.
Alarm at York.
Last night was one of great alarm here. It rained steadily all day, some of the showers being severe. The great flood of 1884 is forcibly recalled. Many families are moving out. At half-past one A.M. a general alarm was sounded on the bells of the city.
The flood in the Susquehanna River here reached its greatest height about six o'clock this morning, when all bridges save one were under water. Business places and residences in the low section were flooded to a great extent, and the damage in this city alone amounts to $25,000 so far. The injury to the Spring Grove paper mills near this city is heavy. By noon the water had fallen sufficiently to restore travel over nearly all the bridges.
A number of bridges in the county have been swept away, and the loss in the county exclusive of the city is estimated at $100,000.
In attempting to catch some driftwood James McIlvaine lost his balance and fell into the raging current and was drowned.
Seven bodies have been taken from the water and debris on the river banks at New Florence. One body has also been taken from the river at this point, that of a young girl. None of them have been identified.
The whole face of the country between here and New Florence is under water, and houses, bridges and buildings fill the fields and even perch upon the hillside all the way to Johnstown. Great flocks of crows are already filling the valley, while buzzards are almost as frequently seen. The banks of the river are lined with people who are looking as well for booty as for bodies. Much valuable property was carried away in the houses as well as from houses not washed away.
The river has fallen again into its channel, and nothing in the stream itself except its red, angry color shows the wild horror of last night. It has fallen fully twenty feet since midnight, and by to-night it will have attained its normal depth.
At all points from Greensburg to Long Hollow, the limit of the present trouble, scores of people throng the stations begging and beseeching railroad men on the repair trains to take them aboard, as they are almost frenzied with anxiety and apprehension in regard to their friends who live at or near Johnstown. Strong men are as tearful as the women who join in the request.
Pitiable sights and scenes multiply more and more rapidly. The Conemaugh is one great valley of mourning. Those who have not lost friends have lost their house or their substance, and apparently the grief for the one is as poignant as for the other.
They Were Warned.
The great volume of water struck Johnstown about half-past five in the afternoon. It did not find the people unprepared, as they had had notice from South Fork that the dam was threatening to go. Many, however, disregarded the notice and remained in their houses in the lower part of the city and were caught before they could get out.
Superintendent Pitcairn, of the Pennsylvania Railroad, who has spent the entire day in assisting not only those who were afflicted by the flood, but also in an attempt to reopen his road, went home this morning. Before he left he issued an order to all Pennsylvania Railroad employees to keep a sharp lookout for bodies, both in the river and in the bushes, and to return them to their friends.
Assistant Superintendent Trump is still on the ground near Lone Hollow directing the movements of gravel and construction trains, which are arriving as fast as they can be fitted up and started out. The roadbeds of both the Pennsylvania and the West Pennsylvania railroads are badly damaged, and it will cost the latter, especially from the Bolivar Junction to Saltsburg, many thousands of dollars to repair injuries to embankments alone.
In Pittsburg there was but one topic of conversation, and that was the Johnstown deluge. Crowds of eager watchers all day long besieged the newspaper bulletin boards and rendered streets impassable in their vicinity. Many of them had friends or relatives in the stricken district, and "Names!" "Names!" was their cry. But there were no names. The storm which had perhaps swept away their loved ones had also carried away all means of communication and their vigil was unrewarded. It is not yet known whether the telegraph operator at Johnstown is dead or alive. The nearest point to that city which can be reached to-night is New Florence, and the one wire there is used almost constantly by orders for coffins, embalming fluid and preparing special cars to carry the recovered dead to their homes.
Along the banks of the now turbulent Allegheny were placed watchers for dead bodies, and all wreckage was carefully scanned for the dead. The result of this vigilance was the recovery of one body, that of a woman floating down on a pile of debris. Seven other bodies were seen, but could not be reached owing to the swift moving wreckage by which they were surrounded.
A Heartrending Sight.
A railroad conductor who arrived in the city this morning said:—"There is no telling how many lives are lost. We got as far as Bolivar, and I tell you it is a terrible sight. The body of a boy was picked up by some of us there, and there were eleven bodies recovered altogether. I do not think that anyone got into Johnstown, and it is my opinion that they will not get in very soon. No one who is not on the grounds has any idea of the damage done. It will be at least a week before the extent of this flood is known, and then I think many bodies will never be recovered."
Assistant Superintendent Wilson, of the West Pennsylvania Railroad, received the following despatch from Nineveh to-day:—
"There appears to be a large number of people lodged in the trees and rubbish along the line. Many are alive. Rescuing parties should be advised at every station."
Another telegram from Nineveh said that up to noon 175 bodies had been taken from the river at that point.
The stage of water in the Allegheny this afternoon became so alarming that residents living in the low-lying districts began to remove their household effects to a higher grade. The tracks of the Pittsburgh and Western Railroad are under water in several places, and great inconvenience is felt in moving trains.
It was stated at the office of the Pennsylvania Railroad early this morning that the deaths would run up into the thousands rather than hundreds, as was at first supposed. Despatches received state that the stream of human beings that was swept before the floods was pitiful to behold. Men, women and children were carried along frantically shrieking for help. Rescue was impossible.
Husbands were swept past their wives, and children were borne along at a terrible speed to certain death before the eyes of their terrorized and frantic parents. It was said at the depot that it was impossible to estimate the number whose lives were lost in the flood. It will simply be a matter of conjecture for several days as to who was lost and who escaped.
The people of Johnstown were warned of the possibility of the bursting of the dam during the morning, but very few if any of the inhabitants took the warning seriously. Shortly after noon it gave way about five miles above Johnstown, and sweeping everything before it burst upon the town with terrible force.
Everything was carried before it, and not an instant's time was given to seek safety. Houses were demolished, swept from their foundations and carried in the flood to a culvert near the town. Here a mass of all manner of debris soon lodged, and by evening it had dammed the water back into the city over the tops of many of the still remaining chimneys.
The Dam Always a Menace.
Assistant Superintendent Trump, of the Pennsylvania, is at Conemaugh, but the officials at the depot had not been able to receive a line from him until as late as half-past two o'clock this morning. It was said also that it will be impossible to get a train through either one way or the other for at least two or three days. This applies also to the mails, as there is absolutely no way of getting mails through.
"We were afraid of that lake," said a gentleman who had lived in Johnstown for years, "we were afraid of that lake seven years ago. No one could see the immense height to which that artificial dam had been built without fearing the tremendous power of the water behind it. I doubt if there was a man or woman in Johnstown who at some time or other had not feared and spoken of the terrible disaster that has now come.
"People wondered and asked why the dam was not strengthened, as it certainly had become weak, but nothing was done, and by and by they talked less and less about it as nothing happened, though now and then some would shake their heads as though conscious that the fearful day would come some time when their worst fears would be transcended by the horror of the actual occurrence.
Converted Into a Lake.
"Johnstown is in a hollow between two rivers, and that lake must have swept over the city at a depth of forty feet. It cannot be, it is impossible that such an awful thing could happen to a city of ten thousand inhabitants, and if it has, thousands have lost their lives, and men are to blame for it, for warnings have been uttered a thousand times and have received no attention."
The body of a Welsh woman, sixty years of age, was taken from the river near the suspension bridge, at ten o'clock this morning. Four other bodies were seen, but owing to the mass of wreckage which is coming down they could not be recovered, and passed down the Ohio River.
A citizens' meeting has been called to devise means to aid the sufferers. The Pennsylvania Railroad officials have already placed cars on Liberty street for the purpose of receiving provisions and clothing, and up to this hour many prominent merchants have made heavy donations.
Anxiety of the People.
The difficulty of obtaining definite information added tremendously to the excitement and apprehension of the people in Pittsburgh who had relatives and friends at the scene of the disaster.
Members of the South Fork Club, and among them some of the most eminent men in the Pittsburgh financial and mercantile world, were in or near Johnstown, and several of them were accompanied by their wives and families. There happened to be also quite a number of residents of Johnstown in Pittsburgh, and when the news of the horror was confirmed and the railroads bulletined the fact that no trains would go east last night the scene at Union Depot was profoundly pathetic and exciting. But two trains were sent out by the Pennsylvania road from the Union station at Pittsburgh.
A despatch states that the Cambria Iron Company's plant on the north side of the Conemaugh River at Johnstown is a complete wreck. Until this despatch was received it was not thought that this portion of the plant had been seriously injured. It was known that the portion of the plant located on the south bank of the river was washed away, and this was thought to be the extent of the damage to the property of that immense corporation. The plant is said to be valued at $5,000,000.
Death and Desolation.
The terrible situation on the second day after the great disaster only intensifies the horror. As information becomes more full and accurate, it does not abate one tittle of the awful havoc. Rather it adds to it, and gives a thousand-fold terror to the dreadful calamity.
Not only do the scenes which are described appear all the more dreadful, as is natural, the nearer they are brought to the imagination, but it seems only too probable that the final reckoning in loss of life and material wealth will prove far more stupendous than has even yet been supposed.
The very greatness of the destruction prevents the possibility of an accurate estimate. Beneath the ghastly ruins of the once happy towns and villages along the pathway of the deluge, who shall say how many victims lie buried? Amid the rocks and woods that border the broad track of the waters, who shall say how many lie bruised and mangled and unrecognizable, wedged between boulders or massed amid debris and rubbish, or hidden beneath the heaped-up deposits of earth, and whether all of them shall ever be found and given the last touching rites?
Already the air of the little valley, which four days ago was smiling with all the health of nature and the contentment of industrious man, is waxing pestiferous with the awful odor of decaying human bodies. Buzzards, invited by their disgusting instinct, gather for a promised feast, and sit and glower on neighboring perches or else circle round and round in the blue empyrean over the location of unfriended corpses, known only to their keen sense of smell or vision.
But another kind of buzzard, more disgusting, more hideous, more vile, has hastened to this scene of woe and anguish and desolation to exult over it to his profit. Thugs and thieves in unclean hordes have mysteriously turned up at Johnstown and its vicinity, as hyenas in the desert seem to spring bodily out of the deadly sand whenever the corpse of a gallant warrior, abandoned by his kind, lies putrefying in the night.
There is a cry from the afflicted community for the policing of the devastated region, and there is no doubt it is greatly needed. Happily, Nemesis does not sleep this time in the face of such provocation as is given her by these atrociously inhuman human beings. It is a satisfaction to record that something more than a half dozen of them have been dealt with as promptly and as mercilessly as they deserve. For such as they there should be no code of pity.
There is an inexhaustible store of pathos and heroism in the tale of this disaster. Of course, in all of its awful details it never can be fitly written. One reason is that too many of the witnesses of its more fearful phases "sleep the sleep that knows not waking." But there is a greater reason, and that is that there is a point in the intenser actuality of things at which all human language fails to do justice to it. Yet—as simply told as possible—there are many incidents of this great tragedy which nothing has ever surpassed or ever can surpass in impressiveness. It is a consolation, too, that human nature at such times does betray here and there a gleam of that side of it which gives forth a reflection of the ideal manhood or womanhood. Bits of heroism and of tender devotedness scattered throughout this dark, dismal picture of destruction and despair light it up with wonderful beauty, and while they bring tears to the eyes of the sternest reader, will serve as a grateful relief from the pervading hue of horror and blackness.
There is the very gravest need of vigorous relief measures in favor of the survivors of the flood. A spontaneous movement in that direction has been begun, but as yet lacks the efficiency only to be derived from a general and organized co-operation.
When Superintendent Pitcairn telegraphed from Johnstown to Pittsburgh Friday night that the town was annihilated he came very close to the facts of the case, although he had not seen the ill-fated city. To say that Johnstown is a wreck is but stating the facts of the case. Nothing like it was ever seen in this country. Where long rows of dwelling houses and business blocks stood forty-eight hours ago, ruin and desolation now reign supreme.
The losses, however, are as nothing compared to the frightful sacrifices of precious human lives. During Sunday Johnstown has been drenched with the tears of stricken mortals, and the air is filled with sobs that come from breaking hearts. There are scenes enacted here every hour and every minute that affect all beholders profoundly. When brave men die in battle, for country or for principle, their loss can be reconciled to the stern destinies of life. When homes are torn asunder in an instant, and the loved ones hurled from the arms of loving and devoted mothers, there is an element of sadness connected with the tragedy that touches every heart.
The loss of life is simply dreadful. The most conservative people declare that the number will reach 5000, while others confidently assert that 8000 or 10,000 have perished.
How Johnstown Looks after Flood and Fire Have Done Their Worst.
An eye-witness writing from Pittsburgh says:—We have just returned from a trip through what is left of Johnstown. The view from beyond is almost impossible to describe. To look upon it is a sight that neither war nor catastrophe can equal. House is piled upon house, not as we have seen in occasional floods of the the Western rivers, but the remains of two and four storied buildings piled upon the top of one another.
The ruins of what is known as the Club House are in perhaps the best condition of any in that portion of the town, but it is certainly damaged beyond possibility of repair. On the upper floor five bodies are lying unidentified. One of them, a woman of genteel birth, judging by her dress, is locked in one of the small rooms to prevent a possibility of spoliation by wreckers, who are flocking to the spot from all directions and taking possession of everything they can get hold of.
Here and there bodies can be seen sticking in the ruins. Some of the most prominent citizens are to be seen working with might and main to get at the remains of relatives whom they have located.
There is no doubt that, wild as the estimates of the loss of life and damage to property have been, it is even larger than there is any idea of.
Close on to 2,000 residences lie in kindling wood at the lower end of the town.
Freaks of the Flood.
An idea of the eccentricity of the flood may be gathered from the fact that houses that were situated at Woodvale and points above Johnstown are piled at the lower end of the town, while some massive houses have been lifted and carried from the lower end as far as the cemetery at the extreme upper portion of the town. All through the ruins are scattered the most costly furniture and store goods of all kinds.
Thieves are Busy.
I stood on the keyboard and strings of a piano while I watched a number of thieves break into the remnants of houses and pilfer them, while others again had got at a supply of fine groceries and had broken into a barrel of fine brandy, and were fairly steeping themselves in it. I met quite a number of Pittsburghers in the ruins looking for friends and relatives. If the skiffs which were expected from Pittsburgh were there they would be of vast assistance in reaching the ruins, which are separated by the stream of water descending from the hills. A great fear is felt that there will be some difficulty in restoring the stream to its proper channel. Its course now lies right along Main street, and it is about two hundred yards wide.
Something should be done to get the bodies of the dead decently taken care of. The ruins are reeking with the smell of decaying bodies. Right at the edge of the ruins the decaying body of a stout colored woman is lying like the remains of an animal, without any one to identify and take care of it.
Lynching the Ghouls.
A number of Hungarians collected about a number of bodies at Cambria which had been washed up and began rifling the trunks. After they had secured all the contents they turned their attention to the dead.
The ghastly spectacle presented by the distorted features of those who had lost their lives during the flood had no influence upon the ghouls, who acted more like wild beasts than human beings. They took every article from the clothing on the dead bodies, not leaving anything of value or anything that would serve to identify the remains.
After the miscreants had removed all their plunder to dry ground a dispute arose over a division of the spoils. A pitched battle followed and for a time the situation was alarming. Knives and clubs were used freely. As a result several of the combatants were seriously wounded and left on the ground, their fellow countrymen not making any attempt to remove them from the field of strife.
JOHNSTOWN, PA., June 2, 11 A.M.
They have just hung a man over near the railroad to the telegraph pole for cutting the finger off of a dead woman in order to get a ring.
Vengeance, Swift and Sure.
The way of the transgressor in the desolated valley of the Conemaugh is hard indeed. Each hour reveals some new and horrible story of suffering and outrage, and every succeeding hour brings news of swift and merited punishment meted out to the fiends who have dared to desecrate the stiff and mangled corpses in the city of the dead, and torture the already half crazed victims of the cruelest of modern catastrophes.
As the roads to the lands round about are opened tales of almost indescribable horror come to light, and deeds of the vilest nature, perpetrated in the darkness of the night, are brought to light.
Followed by Avenging Farmers.
Just as the shadows began to fall upon the earth last evening a party of thirteen Hungarians were noticed stealthily picking their way along the banks of the Conemaugh toward Sang Hollow. Suspicious of their purpose, several farmers armed themselves and started in pursuit. Soon their most horrible fears were realized. The Hungarians were out for plunder.
Lying upon the shore they came upon the dead and mangled body of a woman upon whose person there were a number of trinkets and jewelry and two diamond rings. In their eagerness to secure the plunder, the Hungarians got into a squabble, during which one of the number severed the finger upon which were the rings, and started on a run with his fearful prize. The revolting nature of the deed so wrought upon the pursuing farmers, who by this time were close at hand, that they gave immediate chase. Some of the Hungarians showed fight, but being outnumbered were compelled to flee for their lives. Nine of the brutes escaped, but four were literally driven into the surging river and to their death. The inhuman monster whose atrocious act has been described was among the number of the involuntary suicides. Another incident of even greater moment has just been brought to notice.
Anxious to be a Murderer.
At half-past eight this morning an old railroader who had walked from Sang Hollow stepped up to a number of men who were congregated on the platform stations at Curranville and said:—"Gentlemen, had I a shotgun with me half an hour ago I would now be a murderer, yet with no fear of ever having to suffer for my crime.
"Two miles below here I watched three men going along the banks stealing the jewels from the bodies of the dead wives and daughters of men who have been robbed of all they held dear on earth."
He had no sooner finished the last sentence than five burly men, with looks of terrible determination written on their faces, were on their way to the scene of plunder, one with a coil of rope over his shoulder and another with a revolver in his hand. In twenty minutes, so it is stated, they had overtaken two of the wretches, who were then in the act of cutting pieces from the ears and fingers from the hands of the bodies of two dead women.
Brutes at Bay.
With revolver leveled at the scoundrels the leader of the posse shouted, "Throw up your hands or I'll blow your heads off!" With blanched faces and trembling forms they obeyed the order and begged for mercy. They were searched, and as their pockets were emptied of their ghastly finds the indignation of the crowd intensified, and when a bloody finger of an infant, encircled with two tiny gold rings, was found among the plunder in the leader's pocket, a cry went up "Lynch them! Lynch them!" Without a moment's delay ropes were thrown around their necks and they were dangling to the limbs of a tree, in the branches of which an hour before were entangled the bodies of a dead father and son.
After the expiration of a half hour the ropes were cut, and the bodies lowered and carried to a pile of rocks in the forest on the hill above. It is hinted that an Allegheny county official was one of the most prominent actors in this justifiable homicide.
Another case of attempted lynching was witnessed this evening near Kernville. The man was observed stealing valuable articles from the houses. He was seized by a mob, a rope was placed around his neck and he was jerked up into the air. The rope was tied to the tree and his would-be lynchers left him. Bystanders cut him down before he was dead. The other men did not interfere and he was allowed to go. The man was so badly scared that he could not give his name if he wanted to do so.
Two colored men were shot while robbing the dead bodies, by the Pittsburgh police, who are doing guard about the town.
Fiends in Human Form.
To one who saw bright, bustling Johnstown a week ago the sight of its present condition must cause a thrill of horror, no matter how callous he might be. I doubt if any incident of war or flood ever caused a more sickening sight. Wretchedness of the most pathetic kind met the gaze on every side.
Unlawfulness runs riot. If ever military aid was needed now is the time. The town is perfectly overrun with thieves, many of them from Pittsburgh. The Hungarians are the worst. They seem to operate in regular organized bands. In Cambria City this morning they entered a house, drove out the occupants at the point of revolvers and took possession. They can be constantly seen carrying large quantities of plunder to the hills.
The number of drunken men is remarkable. Whiskey seems marvelously plenty. Men are actually carrying it around in pails. Barrels of the stuff are constantly located among the drifts, and men are scrambling over each other and fighting like wild beasts in their mad search for it.
At the cemetery, at the upper end of the town, I saw a sight that rivals the inferno. A number of ghouls had found a lot of fine groceries, among them a barrel of brandy, with which they were fairly stuffing themselves. One huge fellow was standing on the strings of an upright piano singing a profane song, every little while breaking into a wild dance. A half dozen others were engaged in a hand-to-hand fight over the possession of some treasure stolen from a ruined house, and the crowd around the barrel were yelling like wild men.
The cry for help increases every hour. Something must be done to get the bodies decently taken care of. The ruins are reeking with the smell of decaying bodies. At the very edge of the ruins the body of a large colored woman, in an advanced state of decomposition, is lying like the body of an animal.
Watched Their Friends Die.
The fire in the drift above the bridge is still burning fiercely and will continue to do so for several days. The skulls of six people can be seen sticking up out of the ruins just above the east end of the bridge. Nothing but the blackened skulls can be seen. They are all together.
The sad scenes will never all be written. One lady told me this morning of seeing her mother crushed to pieces just before her eyes and the mangled body carried off down the stream. William Yarner lost six children and saved a baby about eighteen months old. His wife died just three weeks ago. An aged German, his wife and five daughters floated down on their house to a point below Nineveh, where the house was wrecked. The five daughters were drowned, but the old man and his wife stuck in a tree and hung there for twenty-four hours before they could be taken off.
Died Kissing Her Babe.
One of the most pitiful sights of this terrible disaster came to my notice this afternoon, when the body of a young lady was taken out of the Conemaugh River. The woman was apparently quite young, though her features were terribly disfigured. Nearly all the clothing except the shoes was torn off the body. The corpse was that of a mother, for although cold in death the woman clasped a young male babe apparently not more than a year old tightly in her arms. The little one was huddled close up to its mother's face, who when she realized their terrible fate, had evidently raised the babe to her lips to imprint upon its little lips the last motherly kiss it was to receive in this world. The sight was a pathetic one and turned many a stout heart to tears.
Among the miraculous escapes to be recorded in connection with the great disaster is that of George J. Leas and his family. He resided on Iron street. When the rush of water came there were eight people on the roof. The little house swung around off its moorings and floated about for nearly half an hour before it came up against the bank of drift above the stone bridge. A three-year-old girl with sunny golden hair and dimpled cheeks prayed all the while that God would save them, and it seemed that God really answered the prayer of this innocent little girl and directed the house against the drift, enabling every one of the eight to get off. Mrs. Leas carried the little girl in her arms, and how she got off she doesn't know. Every house around them, she said, was crushed, and the people either killed or drowned.
Thugs at Their Work.
One of the most dreadful features of this catastrophe has been the miserable weakness displayed by the authorities of Johnstown and the surrounding boroughs. Johnstown needed them sadly for forty-eight hours. There is supposed to be a Burgess, but like most burgesses he is a shadowy and mythical personage. If there had been concerted and intelligent action the fire in the debris at the dam could have been extinguished within a short time after it started. Too many cooks spoiled this ghastly broth.
Even now if dynamite or some other explosive was intelligently applied the huge mass of wreckage which has up to the present time escaped the flame, and no doubt contains a number of bodies, could be saved from fire.
This, however, is a matter of small import compared with the immunity granted the outrageous and open graveyard robbery and disgusting thievery which have thriven bravely since Friday morning.
Foreigners and natives carrying huge sacks, and in some instances even being assisted by horses and carts, have been busily engaged hunting corpses and stealing such valuables as were to be found in the wreckage.
Dozens of barrels of strong liquor have been rescued by the Hungarian and Polish laborers from among the ruins of saloons and hotels and the contents of the same have been freely indulged in. This has led to an alarming debauchery, which is on the increase. All day the numbers of the drunken crowd have been augmented from time to time by fresh arrivals from the surrounding districts.
Those who have suffered from the tidal wave have become much embittered against the law breakers. There have been many small fights and several small riots in consequence. This has been regarded with apprehension by the State authorities, and Adjutant General Hastings has arrived at Johnstown to examine into the condition of affairs and to guard the desolated district with troops. The Eighteenth regiment, of Pittsburgh, has tendered its services to this work, but has received no reply to its tender.
General Hastings estimates that the loss of life is at least eight thousand.
An employee of J.L. Gill, of Latrobe, says he and thirty-five other men were in a three-story building in Johnstown last night. They had been getting out logs for the Johnstown Lumber Company. The man says that the building was swept away and all the men were drowned except Gill and his family.
Handling the Dead.
The recovery of bodies has taken up the time of thousands all day. The theory now is that most of those killed by the torrent were buried beneath the debris. To-day's work in the ruins in a large degree justifies this assumption. I saw six bodies taken out of one pile of rubbish not eight feet square.
The truth is that bodies are almost as plentiful as logs. The whirl of the waters puts the bodies under and the logs and boards on top. The rigidity of arms standing out at right angles to the bloated and bruised bodies show that death in ninety-nine out of a hundred cases took place amid the ruins—that is after the wreck of houses had closed over them.
Dr. D.G. Foster, who has been here all day, is of the opinion that most of the victims were killed by coming into violent contact with objects in the river and not by drowning. He found many fractured skulls and on most heads blows that would have rendered those receiving them instantly unconscious, and the water did the rest.
Not fewer than three hundred bodies have been taken from the river and rubbish to-day. It has been the labor of all classes of citizens, and marvellous work has been accomplished. The eastern end of Main street, through which the waters tore most madly and destructively, and in which they left their legacy of wrecked houses, fallen trees and dead bodies in a greater degree than in any other portion of the city, has been cleared and the remains of over fifty have been taken out.
All over town the searchers have been equally successful. As soon as a body is found it is placed on a litter and sent to the Morgue, where it is washed and placed on a board for several hours to await identification.
The Morgue is the Fourth-ward school house, and it has been surrounded all day by a crowd of several thousand people. At first the crowd were disposed to stop those bearing the stretchers, uncover the remains and view them, but this was found to be prolific not only of great delay, also scenes of agony that not even the bearers could endure.
Now a litter is guarded by a file of soldiers with fixed bayonets, and the people are forced aside until the Morgue is reached. It is astonishing to find how small a number of injured are in the city. Few survived. It was death or nothing with the demon of the flood.
Now that an adequate idea of what has befallen them has been reached, and the fact that a living has still to be made, that plants must be taken care of, that contracts must be filled, the business people of the city are giving their attention to the future. Vice President and Director James McMillan, of the Cambria Iron Company, says their loss has been well nigh incalculable. They are not daunted, but will to-morrow begin the work of clearing up the ruins of their mills preparatory to rebuilding and repairing their works. They will also immediately rebuild the Gautier Iron Works. This is the disposition of all.
"Our pockets are light," they say, "but if nothing happens all of us will be in business again." The central portion of Johnstown is as completely obliterated as if it had never had foundation. The river has made its bed upon the sites of hundreds of dwellings, and a vast area of sand, mud and gravel marks the old channel.
It is doubtful whether it will be possible even to reclaim what was once the business portion of the city. The river will have to be returned to its old bed in order to do this.
Among the lost is H.G. Rose, the District Attorney of Cambria county, whose body was among the first discovered.
Governor Foraker, of Ohio, this afternoon sent five hundred tents to this city. They will be pitched on the hillside to-morrow. They are sadly needed, as the buildings that are left are either too damp or too unsafe for occupancy.
Burying the Dead.
The work of burying the dead began this morning and has been kept up till late this evening. The bruising of the bodies by logs and trees and other debris and other exposure in the water have tended to hasten decomposition, which has set in in scores of cases, making interment instantly necessary.
Bodies are being buried as rapidly as they are identified. The work of Pittsburgh undertakers in examining the dead has rendered it possible to keep all those embalmed two or three days longer, but this is desirable only in cases where identification is dubious and no claimants appear at all.
To-day the cars sent out from Pittsburgh with provisions for the living were hastily cleared in order to contain the bodies of the dead intended for interment in suburban cemeteries and in graveyards handy to the city.
Formality is dispensed with. In some instances only the undertaker and his assistants are present, and in others only one or two members of the family of the dead.
The dead are more plentiful than the mourners.
Death has certainly dealt briefly with the stricken city. "Let the dead bury the dead" has been more nearly exemplified in this instance than in any other in this country's history. The magnitude of the horror increases with the hours. It is believed that not less than two thousand of the drowned found lodgment beneath the omnium gatherum in the triangle of ground that the Conemaugh cut out of the bank between the river and the Pennsylvania Railroad bridge.
The Greatest Funeral Pyre in History.
The victims were not upon it, but were parts of it. Whole houses were washed into the apex of the triangle. Hen coops, pigstys and stables were added to the mass. Then a stove ignited the mass and the work of cremation began. It was a literal breast of fire. The smoke arose in a huge funnel-shaped cloud, and at times it changed to the form of an hour glass. At night the flames united would light up this misty remnant of mortality. The effect upon the living, both ignorant and intelligent, was the same. That volume of smoke with its dual form, produced a feeling of awe in many that was superior in most cases to that felt in the awful moment of the storm's wrath on Friday.
Hundreds stood for hours regarding the smoke and wondering whether it foreboded another visitation more dire than its predecessor.
The people hereabouts this morning awoke to find that nothing was left but a mass of ashes, calcined human bones, stoves, old iron and other approximately indestructible matter, from which only a light blue vapor was arising. General Hastings took precautions to prevent the extension of the fire to another huge pile, a short distance away, and this will be rummaged to-day for bodies of flood victims.
The Pittsburgh undertakers have contributed more to facilitate the preparation of the dead for the graves than all others besides.
There was a disposition on the part of many foreigners and negroes to raid the houses, and do an all around thieving business, but the measures adopted by the police had a tendency to frighten them off in nearly every case.
One man was caught in the act of robbing the body of an old woman, but he protested that he had got nothing and was released. He immediately disappeared, and it was found afterward that he had taken $100 from the pocket of the corpse.
A half-breed negro yesterday and this morning was doing a thriving business in collecting hams, shoulders, chickens and even furniture. He had thieves in his employ, and while to some of them he was paying regular salaries, others were doing the work for a drink of whiskey. The authorities stopped this thing very suddenly, but not until a number of the people threatened to lynch the half breed. In one or two instance very narrow escapes from the rope were made.
Thousands of coffins and rough boxes have already arrived, and still the supply is short. They are brought in marked to some undertaker, who has a list of his dead, and as fast as the coffins come he writes the name of its intended tenant and tells the friends (when there are any) where to find it.
How a Funeral Takes Place.
Two of them go after it, and, carrying it between them to the Morgue or to their homes, place the body in it and take it to the burial grounds.
One unfortunate feature of the destruction is the fact that some one has been drowned from nearly every house in the city, and teams are procurable only with the greatest difficulty.
Dead horses are seen everywhere. In one stable two horses, fully harnessed, bridled and ready to be taken out, stand dead in their stable, stiff and upright. In a sand pile near the Pennsylvania Railroad depot a horse's hind feet, rump and tail are all that can be seen of him. He was caught in the rapidly running waters and had been driven into the sand.
The following telegram from Johnstown has been received at Pittsburg:
"For God's sake tell the sight-seers to keep away from Johnstown for the present. What we want is people to work, not to look on. Citizen's Committee."
Three trains have already been sent out with crowded cargoes of sight-seers. At every station along the road excited crowds are waiting for an opportunity to get aboard.
That's what would have happened to the owners of South Fork if they had put in an appearance.
There is great indignation among the people of Johnstown at the wealthy Pittsburghers who own South Fork. They blame them severely for having maintained such a frightfully dangerous institution there. The feeling among the people was intense. If any of the owners of the dam had put in an appearance in Johnstown they would have been lynched.
The dam has been a constant menace to this valley ever since it has been in existence, and the feeling, which has been bitter enough on the occasion of every flood hitherto, after this horrible disaster is now at fever heat.
Without seeing the havoc created no idea can be given of the area of the desolation or the extent of the damage.
Only One Left to Mourn.
An utterly wretched woman stood by a muddy pool of water, trying to find some trace of a once happy home. She was half crazed with grief, and her eyes were red and swollen. As I stepped to her side she raised her pale and haggard face, crying:
"They are all gone. Oh God be merciful to them. My husband and my seven dear little children have been swept down with the flood and I am left alone. We were driven by the raging flood into the garret, but the waters followed us there. Inch by inch it kept rising until our heads were crushing against the roof. It was death to remain. So I raised a window and one by one placed my darlings on some drift wood, trusting to the Great Creator. As I liberated the last one, my sweet little boy, he looked at me and said:
'Mamma, you always told me that the Lord would care for me; will he look after me now?'
"I saw him drift away with his loving face turned toward me, and with a prayer on my lips for his deliverance he passed from sight forever. The next moment the roof crashed in and I floated outside to be rescued fifteen hours later from the roof of a house in Kernville. If I could only find one of my darlings, I could bow to the will of God, but they all are gone. I have lost everything on earth now but my life, and I will return to my old Virginia home and lay me down for my last great sleep."
A handsome woman, with hair as black as a raven's wing, walked through the depot, where a dozen or more bodies were awaiting burial. Passing from one to another, she finally lifted the paper covering from the face of a woman, young and with traces of beauty showing through the stains of muddy water. With a cry of anguish she reeled backward, to be caught by a rugged man who chanced to be passing. In a moment or so she had calmed herself sufficiently to take one more look at the features of her dead. She stood gazing at the unfortunate as if dumb. Finally turning away with another wild burst of grief she said:—