Education: Johnstown Flood Museum

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Primary source: Survivor stories

Survivors describe the Flood

Mr. George Barbour

The following letter was written by Mr. George Barbour to a relative in Chambersburg, PA:

My mother, my wife, and three children were all drowned. I have been almost crazy. I even did not think of writing to any of my friends. For a week I was kept busy trying to find their bodies. I had to climb the hills to get from one morgue to the other, and had no one to help me. Most of the time I had only one meal a day, and became so weak and sick that I had to stop. I found my dear wife and dear little girl. I had to carry the coffins over a mile to where to bodies were. As the bridges were all washed away I had to get a wagon and drive four miles over the hills to the cemetery, and it was 8 o’clock in the evening when I got there.

It was the hardest thing ever any man did, to put his own dear wife and child in a coffin and bury them himself; but it was the only thing I could do, and hundreds of others had to do the same.

I could not find my poor dear mother and two little boys. One was about 7 years old and the other was our baby, about 3 months old. It was so nice, and everybody said it was the brightest and prettiest baby they had ever seen. Oh, if I had only stayed at home with them! I had taken them up to my sister-in-law’s and told them to stay until I came back. I went to town and stayed longer than I intended to. It got clear and stopped raining, and they went back down town to our home, but could not get out any more.

I was on my way home when the dam broke. I tried to reach the bridge, but when I was about a hundred yards from it, it gave way. I ran up the hill and saw my house and all the rest of the houses in our part of town (Woodvale) move off. The roofs were filled with men, women and children, but they could do nothing. It didn’t leave a house in Woodvale. I cannot describe it with a pen, but must try to tell you all. My cousin, Will Beck, was drowned, with his wife, two dear little boys, his mother-in-law and her niece. My mother-in-law, Mrs. Baker, was drowned, and also her 17-year-old daughter. James Baker, with his wife and child, and Edward Baker, his wife and two children, were all drowned. The Bakers were brothers to my wife. Edward Eldridge, my sister’s husband, lost his mother and three brothers.

I believe that completes the list of my relatives who were drowned. I still have my two brothers, Thomas and James; they and their families were saved. My cousin, Andy Beck, was also saved. They are all I have left. He was washed out and lost all he had. He has six children, and got them all out just in time. My brother Thomas hadn’t time even to put on his coat.

Quoted in Rev. Dr. David Beale's book Through the Johnstown Flood.

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