This year, the coronavirus crisis has prevented JAHA from planning an in-person flood commemoration event. But we’re pleased to let you know about the following virtual and outdoor activities that will occur in association with the May 31 anniversary of the Johnstown Flood of 1889.
May 29-31 — Stone Bridge lights will evoke the Johnstown flood: On these dates, the Johnstown Stone Bridge will feature a lightshow that evokes the water, and then the fire, at the bridge. Lighting time is currently 8:30-11:30 pm, and you can also watch it on the bridge livecam.
May 31 — Facebook Live presentations by National Park Service rangers: A park ranger will give a presentation on the Johnstown Flood National Memorial Facebook Page at 3:10 (subject: the time the dam broke); 4:07 pm (subject: wreath-laying at the time the flood water reached Johnstown); and 8:15 (the luminaria as the sun begins to set).
May 31 — Flood timeline on JAHA Facebook Page: JAHA has been working hard to bring you virtual museum content through our JAHA at Home initiative, which includes our social media channels. Watch our Page on May 31 for an illustrated timeline of events throughout the day.
May 31 — Luminaria at the Johnstown Flood National Memorial: The National Park Service will hold their annual luminaria on May 31 from 7:00-10:00 pm. Please note that park buildings will not be open, and masks are encouraged.
1889 flood books now available: In addition to “A Photographic History of the Johnstown Flood,” JAHA is now making The Club and the 1889 Flood,” the story of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club and the dam that failed, available for $13 (which includes delivery). Contact Kim Baxter to arrange payment and delivery.
Original plays about the 1889, 1936, and 1977 floods by Forest Hills students: In addition, here are original plays about the Johnstown flood, written by Forest Hills students and performed by local actors. Originally, it had been our plan to present these live at Peoples Natural Gas Park, but we are delighted to present them virtually. Full details about the project are in the release below.
This year, to commemorate the 131st Anniversary of the Johnstown Flood, as we confront the coronavirus and follow social distancing, the Johnstown Area Heritage Association will be presenting a series of virtual plays about Johnstown’s three major floods–1889, 1936, and 1977–written by senior AP Literature and Composition students from Forest Hills High School.
The students wrote the plays as a class project and were mentored in crafting them for the stage by St Francis University professor and playwright Mr. FJ Hartland. JAHA also opened its archives and the students took a class field trip to study their respective play time period at the Johnstown Flood Museum. Under the direction of Forest Hills teacher Dr. Aspen Mock, these plays were all recorded virtually by volunteer actors.
“Originally, we had hoped to stage these plays as live-action performances at Peoples Natural Gas Park,” said Andrew Lang, JAHA curator. “Unfortunately, the outbreak of COVID-19 ended those plans. But we still wanted to find a way for these students’ hard work to be presented. It was at this point that we decided that if we could not get people together to put on the play, maybe it could be done remotely.”
Using this approach, the project participants were able to record the plays live, going through the dialogue just like a staged reading of the play.
“Presenting a contemporary audio drama is certainly a progressive and unique endeavor,” said Mock. “The students who wrote these plays are seniors, and amidst so many cancellations, we wanted to ensure that for this project they still had an opportunity to share their work with an audience.”
“This was a unique opportunity for the students to be storytellers,” said Lang. “They did research to inform their knowledge of these three events, but these are some of their own characters and stories, which I think shows a terrific amount of creativity.”
On writing the plays, Forest Hills senior Abigail Seese said, “Writing this play was easily one of the most challenging yet remarkable experiences that I’ve ever had in literature classes and writing in general. It allowed me to learn more about our area’s captivating history, made me think outside the box, and encouraged me to really try to reach into people’s hearts and minds through the power of words.”
The plays are as follows:
1889: “Torn Apart” – written by Dara Edwards, Baylee Frampton and Ariel Zevorich. A sweeping romance with a supernatural flair set against the backdrop of late-Victorian Era Johnstown and South Fork.
1936: “The Waters Rise Again” – written by Kelsey Josephson, Abigail Seese, Natalya Teno and Emily Units. A coming of age story of a young girl named Fiadh and her Irish American family.
1977: “Dead in the Water” – written by Luke Docherty, Donovan Faith, Thomas Hockensmith, and Hadan Romanow. An account of the 1977 flood that shows the grit and determination of steel mill culture.
Performers who have performed voiceover work for the project range from locals to those who live in New York City and Pittsburgh. The cast includes Edward Alexander, Ashley Evans, Kinsie Tavia Ferre, Landon Keirn, Tara Keirn, Ryan Locke, Ian Marsh, Aspen Mock, Trent Moss, Donovan Faith, Sherri Rae, and Curt Vasas.
“This is such a talented group of performers,” said Mock. “Their dedication to this project has been profound; it’s been an amazingly creative experience for all participants and we really created a collaborative virtual environment. We had to take everything we knew about stage play acting and modify it- essentially building a new genre together! I encourage everyone who plans to listen to the plays to sit back, relax and enjoy journeying back in time.”