Thomas Parfitt and his family didn't waste time getting back into business after the Flood! They sold sandwiches and coffee to relief workers from this Army tent.
A Community Decision and a Personal Decision
The Great Johnstown (PA) Flood of 1889, the result of a record-setting rainstorm speeding the failure of an earthen dam, was the top media story of its day. The catastrophe killed over 2,200 people and left many more thousands homeless.
Even though their hometowns were nearly wiped off the map, the survivors of the Great Johnstown (PA) Flood of 1889 almost immediately began rebuilding their homes and businesses. It is a wonder that everyone didn't abandon the ravaged Conemaugh Valley! The enormity of personal and financial loss makes rebuilding even more unimaginable.
Rebuilding destroyed towns happened in stages and took several years:
- Rescue of survivors immediately after the Flood;
- Recovery of victims' bodies and clearing debris;
- Relief efforts fueled by an huge out-pouring of public charity, including the Red Cross' first disaster relief effort;
- Rebuilding the communities, politically and physically.
- Remembering those lost and the lessons learned.
The decision whether to rebuild or move on was a personal, as well as a community, decision. Many residents, who lost every family and physical tie to Johnstown, did move on. Others who went to stay out-of-town with friends or relatives simply stayed away.
Most of the flood survivors did stay in the Valley. Cambria Iron and Steel rebuilt its mill and people got back to work. Incredibly, by 1910, Johnstown's population had more than doubled since 1889. Its steel production had quadrupled!
Amazingly, survivors of the Johnstown Flood of 1889 were mostly able to put the horrors of the Flood behind them. The Hurricane Katrina disaster teaches us that maybe we should not be so quick to forget!
This story would be inspirational any time. It is especially inspiring now, as western Pennsylvania rebuilds after economic damage caused by the downfall of American coal, steel, and other heavy industries.
Before your Museum Visit
Background Reading: Johnstown and the Flood
- Reading: "Johnstown before the Flood," Chapter 1 "The Sky was Red" from David McCullough's The Johnstown Flood (about 19 pages). Opens in a new window; close the window to return to this page.
- Shorter selection (about 1.5 pages):
Start partway down page at paragraph beginning "How much things had changed since they had marched off to save the Union!" End with paragraph beginning "Johnstown of 1889 was not a pretty place."
- Longer selection (5 pages):
Start further down page at paragraph beginning "Looking back, most of the people who would remember Johnstown as it was..." End with paragraph beginning "Inventions and changes were coming along so fast that it was hard to keep up with them all."
- Shorter selection (about 1.5 pages):
- Reading: Story of the Johnstown Flood and the Path of the Flood map.
The Day After
- Choose a survivor from:
- Choose a view of the destruction from:
What on earth do we do next?
Stay and Rebuild or Leave and Start Over?
- Flood survivors and their addresses before the Flood: Who will stay and who will leave?
During your Museum Visit
After your Museum Visit
Rescue, Relief, and Recovery
Healing Takes Time
- Color-Code the events listed (on days with more than one event, color-code each event separately):
- Rescue: Red
- Recover: Orange
- Relief: Yellow
- Rebuild: Green
- Remember: Blue
- Cut the dates apart and arrange them on the timeline
- Choose photos from the Rescue, Relief, and Rebuild Picture Galleries for each step along the way. Print the photos, and cut them out. (Hint: print out the thumbnail indexes for a full collection of photos that are a convenient size for this activity):
- Arrange the photos on the timeline
Reports on what was done for flood victims
- Official Reports
- National Guard Report on Relief Work Done, Lt.Colonal J.L. Spangler
- Supplies Distributed by the National Guard, J. L. Spangler, A. C. G.
- Board of Health Report, Benjamin Lee, A.M., M.D., Ph.D.
- Statement of the Union Benevolent Society, Helen Moxham and Cyrus Elder
- Consolidation of the Boroughs, Arthur J. Moxham
- American Red Cross' Johnstown Flood efforts (Clara Barton, from her autobiography, 2.2 mb PDF)
- Beale's informal reports
Rebuilding: A Blank Slate
Rebuilding Johnstown … Again and Again
- Panoramic Photo Gallery: "Rebuilding Johnstown...Again and Again"
- "Johntown History Timeline and Population Graph" (310K PDF)
Remembering the Lost and the Lessons Learned
How should we remember?
- Photo Gallery: "Rebulding and Remembering after the Flood"
Note the Unknown Plot and monument dedicated at Grandview Cemetery in 1892
Memorial sites for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks
- Flight 93 Memorial
- Pentagon Memorial
- Pentagon Memorial Project - Defense Department
- Twin Towers Memorial
Lessons learned: Why should we remember?
Managing Disasters Today: Hurricane Relief 2005
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
- American Red Cross