Education: Johnstown Flood Museum

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Primary source: Survivor stories

Survivors describe the Flood

Mrs. Samuel C. Poland

[Rev. Bealte writes] The following letter was written to Mrs. Beale by our next-door neighbor, Mrs. Dr. S. C. Poland. One of her children had been in the parsonage until the water had become two and a half feet deep on Lincoln Street, and until within a short time of the approach of the great torrent, when, having expressed a wish to return home, his uncle carried him there on his shoulders.

I have thought of you every day since the flood. I have had a very serious time in trying to recover from the dreadful bruises which I received whilst in the water. And now I am so thankful that I can write you that I am almost myself again. I was taken to Philadelphia for the treatment of my eyes, which were so badly injured that all, myself included, supposed I must spend the remainder of my days in darkness. Indeed, I suffered such intense pain in my brain that it was thought my reason would be dethroned. Oh! that fearful shock! I thought I could not survive it, and I sincerely desired to die; but it was not the will of God to take me then.

My dear friend and kind neighbor, how awful was that moment when the dreadful crash came; when, as we stood at the second-story window looking toward the parsonage, some heavy timbers wrecked our dwelling, tearing open the lime and plaster, which fell into our eyes! The Doctor, had both the little children in his arms when the house collapsed. We knew nothing until we had been floated a square away. When we came to our senses we were in more than thirty feet of water, and the Doctor and I were both fast in the wreckage. Our darling boys were both in the Doctor's arms, but the immortal spark had fled. The Doctor said he felt them struggling in his arms when he was under the water, but he could do nothing for them. Oh if only dear Walter could have stayed at the parsonage, he might have been spared. The Doctor had two ribs broken, and I was so crippled up and black and blue with bruises, that my sister and brother did not know me when they first saw me.

We have not secured one thing from our ruined house to remind us of home. Oh! if I only had some toy or book that belonged to my dear drowned children.

I miss my darling babies more and more, and although I know they are better off and saved from sin, still that does not fill up the vacancy in my heart. Oh! it is dreadful to be robbed at once of home and of children ; but I am trying to submit, as a Christian woman ought. It was a miracle from God that the Doctor and myself and your dear family were spared; and I do thank our Heavenly Father that my eyesight has been restored, and that my mind has become more composed.

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

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