Education: Johnstown Flood Museum

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Primary source: Survivor stories

Survivors describe the Flood

Father Davin

Rev. Dr. Davin, of Cambria City Roman Catholic Church, saw the Conemaugh swell and overflow its banks, but this did not cause him to leave his post. Finally, the water rose to the parlor floor, and he began to think something unusual had happened. Taking a man with him, he went to the Sisters’ school, in water up to his waist, and carried the Sisters, one after another, to his own house. By the time this task was done, the great volume of water had reached Johnstown and Cambria City. The rumbling and crushing of houses and trees warned the inmates of the priest’s house to seek a place more secure, as the water was nearing the second story of his handsome house.

To the third story the whole party went, and there spent the night in frightful expectation that the worst would come every minute. Several times the house shook; and the shrieks of the injured and dying, who were almost within arms’ reach from the windows, were something terrible. Father Davin then went to his second story window, and, at the risk of his own life, saved two or three persons from drowning by pulling them through the windows.

The horrors of that night preyed continually on Father Davin’s mind, and broke his constitution. The next night, when the waters had subsided, Father Davin sent all his house to the hill for safety, but remained himself. His home and church were partly destroyed, and two feet of mud left on the first floor. His first work after he could get out was to look after the injured and dead.

He turned the beautiful edifice into a morgue. As many as one hundred and twenty-five bodies were in it at one time, and there was not an hour of the day or night that Father Davin was not consoling the friends of the dead. In mud up to his knees he paced from altar to vestibule assisting in the removal of the dead.

During the afternoon on Sunday, June 1st, he walked down to the banks of the Conemaugh. Here he found three men robbing the body of a man. He ran and struck one of the villains on the head with his cane, stunning him. The miscreant soon recovered and dealt Father Davin a terrible kick on the side with a hobnail shoe, from the effects of which he never fully recovered.

The effects of the assault laid Father Davin up for some time... During the excitement in Johnstown, Doctor Davin’s house was thrown open to every one, and here many a weary worker found a night’s rest. He was earnestly advised after the flood by friends and doctors to take a vacation, but he steadily refused, giving as a reason that it looked to him like shirking duty when the wants of the people required his presence.

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

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