Education: Johnstown Flood Museum

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Primary source: Report

The Children and the School

Rev. Dr. David Beale

The schools had closed on Friday afternoon for the week. The merry children had returned to their homes and put away their books, glad at their release from the school-room tasks. They were anticipating and making arrangement for a happy holiday on the morrow. After dinner they were engaged in childish sports and games, making home bright with their cheerful faces, their sparkling eyes and ringing voices. Little girls with motherly instinct were absorbed with their dollies, arranging their wardrobes, and arraying them in their evening dresses, or telling them how dear they were to their own little mothers, and that they shall never, never let them go out of their sight. Little groups had gathered in some favorite home and were playing at jackstones or imaginary housekeeping. The boys were devising a game of baseball and other out-door sport, or tinkering about the house; perhaps they were teasing their sisters; at least they were doing what boys everywhere do to make a noise, a racket, through the house, and thereby make themselves more dear even to those whom they seemed to annoy. Little babes were resting in their cradles and in their mothers’ arms, or cooing at the pranks of the older nestlings. Some little ones were lying on beds of sickness on whom the anxieties and tender ministries of the home were centered.

The holiday never came; the sports were not to be enjoyed; but a long vacation came to those little ones, some of whom never again enter the school-room. The dearly loved dollies were suddenly snatched from the little mothers. One little girl was found dead, with her dolly tightly clasped in her bosom. In the midst of al this childish life and glee came the avalanche of destruction. Amid the crashing and falling houses these little ones were thrown and dashed about, separated from parents and each other, some to perish, some to be rescued by strangers, many of them to be orphaned. This feature of the calamity goes closer to the heart of humanity than any other. The Rev. Mr. Diller was found near my church, with his babe in his arms and his wife by his side.

There is no home, however well defended, however exempt from the possibility of flood and tempest, in which our demolished homes do not awaken sympathy The breaking up of their childlife, the scattered and buried bodies of their little ones, the sad lot of the rescued orphan – these are he saddest facts of the flood that touch humanity’s heart.

The illustration of the happy little Fenn group, which providentially I have secured for this work, suggests to every sympathetic heart this whole chapter of the flood’s history. The fathers and mothers of America need no pen to dilate on the scene; to make them realize what are the unwritten and unutterable experiences of the parents of the once happy homes in Conemaugh Valley. Nor do they need to be reminded of those little ones whose fathers and mothers lie n our cemeteries or undiscovered beneath the mud of the streams and valley. Blessed are those whom the heavenly Father took into His own home to be there nurtured and developed into their immortal stature. They are safe as well as saved.

Great concern was expressed about the children, and we received special contributions for them and offers of adoption for many of those who were orphaned. But for some days there did not seem to be any children. We had nearly come to the conclusion that all had been drowned or killed. The day-schools and Sunday-schools could not be held, and the children who survived the flood were scattered over the country wherever shelter could be provided. There was no way, then , of ascertaining how many survived and who were dead or missing. Time alone could reveal this when the rolls would be called in the day and Sunday-schools.

There was a class of children to whom sympathy was not at first directed, who needed it more, for they had not enjoyed much of it in their sad and impoverished homes. It is the poor class. They, too, are the children of the great Father of us all. As their adobes were in the lower parts of towns, many of them perished. An example of child heroism is little Joe W. Dixon, a member of my church and Sunday-school. He is a newsboy of fifteen, whose father was employed in the Cambria Iron Works. He had made enough money to pay $150 for a news-stand just before the flood. As the wave swept over the city, a gentleman picked him up and carried him to a place of safety. From there Joe saw the flood carry away his stand with all his stock and capital. His father was drowned, his mother seriously injured. The family thus became dependent on him, and all his invested capital had been washed away. He went immediately to work selling papers, without complaint and with a brave heart, saying: “I’ve got to fix it somehow to do more business not than I used to: for my father is gone, and they will have to look to me.” The ranks of commercial failure cannot show an example of greater fortitude and heroism.

The public and private schools, of course, were entirely broken up for the summer. The Sunday-schools, when they were resumes, showed many vacant places of teachers and scholars. It was by them that we first began to learn something about the fate and condition of the children. The Sunday-school, ever since it was inaugurated, was demonstrated in ten thousand ways its blessedness and its usefulness. It is in a time like that at Johnstown that its full value is known. If an atheist, an enemy of or an objector to the Sunday-school, could have been present in any of our schools when the teachers and children for the first time met after the awful days, his tongue would be henceforth silent Heaven ever bless and preserve the Sunday-school. It is not only the nursery of the church on earth, but it is also the rallying place of the scattered family of God: it is the shadow of the home above where

“Around the throne of God

Thousands of children stand.”

The public schools of Johnstown were among the objects of its pride. There were few better anywhere. Their destruction was a great calamity, and their reconstruction became a serious and difficult undertaking; Contributions were made by teachers in other counties and districts for the help of our teachers.

The Board of Education has been equal to the exigencies, and is determined to see that the schools are maintained. It met on September 12th, and elected teachers for the ensuing term of eight months. Provision was made for opening twenty-four schools, to which the teachers elected were respectively assigned. The salaries authorized are, of course, inadequate, and will be until taxpayer recuperate from their misfortune. A most noble and worthy act of philanthropy on the part of some wealthy person would be a gift of $2,400, to be equally divided among the twenty-four teacher, twenty-one of whom are ladies.

The State Superintendent of Schools and the Johnstown Superintendent gave notice that surviving teachers would e reappointed without examination, and diplomas or certificates that were lost would be replaced on application.

The teachers who perished were : Mattie McDivitt, Emma K. Fisher, Laura Hamilton, Mary P. White, Jennie M. Wells, Minnie Linton, Maggie Jones, Rose Carroll, C. F. Gallagher, Mary Dowling, Kate McAneny, Miss Richards (classical), and Miss Diehl, of Shippensburg.

From Through the Johnstown Flood, Rev. David Beale, pages 325-331

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