Education: Johnstown Flood Museum

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Primary source: Report


Rev. Dr. David Beale

When the Johnstown flood had spent itself, it left the city not only in need of food, raiment and shelter, but the hundreds of sick and shocked people needed immediate medical attention, which was clearly impossible without greater hospital facilities and a larger medical staff than Johnstown could supply. Some accommodations for the treatment of the sick and wounded were necessary.

We had but one hospital in the city, which is a private institution belonging to the Cambria Iron Company, and located on Prospect Hill. It was soon filled to overflowing, and good work was done there under direction of physicians from Altoona and Philadelphia. It was soon apparent that another hospital must be established, and, accordingly on Saturday afternoon, June 1st, the Bedford Street Hospital was created. Our telegraphic communication being destroyed, a messenger was sent on horseback to Stoyestown, by Dr. J. C. Sheridan, bearing messages to be sent from there to Pittsburgh for hospital equipments, consisting of cots, mattresses, pillows, medicines and other necessities.

The first patient taken into this hospital was recovered from the wreck at daylight on Sunday morning. Supposing him to be dead, the carriers took him to the Fourth Ward Morgue, where, discovering that life was not extinct, we summoned a physician who sent him to the hospital. By the uniting efforts of physicians and nurses he rallied and became conscious, but he died the next day of congestion of the lungs, the result of exposure. The hospital at this time was placed under the immediate charge of Dr. Foster, of Pittsburgh. He was early in the morning assisted by Dr. White, of Connellsville, and afterward by Dr. James, of Ebensburg. The latter physician came to the city early on Saturday morning, and had already done admirable work at the Club House and the Morrell Institute, where his services had been demanded. Later in the day other physicians arrived, all of whom rendered invaluable service.

By 2 o’clock, on Sabbath, less than twenty-four hours after the sending of Dr. Sheridan’s order, the hospital equipment arrived from Pittsburgh. This I am glad to cite as one of the striking examples of the intelligence with which the Pittsburgh Committee, so early constituted, recognized the necessities of the hour, and supplied every hospital want with that celerity and liberality which are characteristic of the people of that noble city.

By the time the hospital equipment arrived, every bench and counter, and even the floor itself, was full of sick and wounded, who were brought from all parts of the city. They were soon made as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. There was such a constant demand upon the enduring powers of the physicians that not one of them could bear up under the strain for many days in succession, and consequently frequent changes of directors were necessary. Dr. Foster having occasion to leave the work, Dr. Oldshoe, of Pittsburgh, took his place. He was ably assisted by physicians from Pittsburgh, Connellsville, Altoona, Phillipsburg, Philadelphia and other places. Dr. Oldshoe worked incessantly. Under his intelligent direction the hospital soon assumed that peaceful quiet which, with his watchful and tender care, did so much to soothe the dying and to inspirit those who were recovering.

Although suffering from a fatal disease himself, Dr. Oldshoe neither ate nor slept until all intrusted to his vigilant care were properly tended and made comfortable. This self-sacrificing man remarked, when about to return to Pittsburgh, that his physical condition was such that he could not expect long life, and that if he had not done all that he might have done for our suffering people, he at least had the consciousness that he had done the best he knew.

During Dr. Oldshoe’s management a competent corps of out-door physicians was organized, who responded promptly to calls from all parts of the city. Branch offices were also established at different points, and supplies furnished them from Bedford Street headquarters, to which Mr. William DeWolfe had conveyed from Pittsburgh to a liberal supply of drugs. About this time, Dr. Wm. B. Lowman, one of our most skillful resident physicians, was made Medical Director of all the Hospitals, and his extensive acquaintance with the city and its wants greatly facilitated the work.

Dr. Oldshoe was succeeded by Dr. T. McCann, of Pittsburgh, whose skillful management continued and extended the noble work of the Bedford Street Hospital. Dr. McCann, after a few days’ efficient service, was relieved by Dr. Joseph Dixon, of Pittsburgh, who remained in charge until affairs had assumed such shape that the local physicians could give the necessary attention, when those from a distance withdrew. The great work done by these excellent men and their assistants deserves highest mention, and the Johnstown people will never forget their aid and kindness during the distressing experiences after the flood.

When the visiting physicians withdrew, Dr. J. C. Sheridan, of this city, “a worthy son of a worthy sire,” assumed charge of the headquarters until the hospital closed.

As already intimated, those who preceded him rendered most difficult and self-sacrificing services that honored their noble profession while they relieved the suffering. Dr. Sheridan shone even among this number for his unwearied, unremunerated and skillful attention during the days and nights of the mournful months succeeding the flood. His name must adorn the annals of the medical profession among those who recognize this supreme law of mercy to the suffering, and who have generously employed their skill in their behalf.

Many estimable women gave their services as nurses, and aided very materially in the good work, and are entitled to the highest praise and gratitude of the survivors and their friends. Among these “elect ladies,” Miss Rose Young, Miss Kizzie Vance, Miss Reed, Miss Vickroy and others, and the Sisters of St. Joseph’s Convent, are deserving honorable mention. Miss Sallie Stroup, since gone to her reward, was also of this number.

The Dispensary in the Hospital was intelligently conducted by Charles Griffith. His incessant attention to this, necessitating neglect of his own affairs, added materially to his great losses already sustained. When he withdrew, Charles Young took charge and continued in the good work until the hospital closed.

From June the 2nd until July the 3rd, when the hospital was discontinued, there were received and treated over 500 patients. When the hospital became crowded the convalescents were sent to various places. For some time, a car load of patients was daily sent to Pittsburgh, where they were distributed among the hospitals of that city. Others were sent to friends in the country and to neighboring towns. Some were conveyed to each of the following cities: Cumberland, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Boston. There were over 300 surgical cases. If this seems to be a small number in such an unspeakable disaster, it must be remembered that the great majority of the victims did not survive the flood. There were during this time in the out-door department over 3,000 patients, and over 5,000 prescriptions were filled.

In conveying patients to Pittsburgh and elsewhere, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, through Mr. J. V. Patton, the efficient superintendent, kindly furnished each day a hospital car, which, of course, did much to alleviate the suffering incident to such a journey.

From Through the Johnstown Flood, Rev. David Beale, pages 173-177

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