Education: Johnstown Flood Museum

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
The Great Johnstown Flood of 1889

Recipe for Disaster: Ingredients of a Deadly Flood

During Your Visit

Materials list for this lesson
Readings Activities Primary sources

        ** Referenced PA Standards **

  • Artifacts and documents in the exhibits at the Johnstown Flood Museum

This activity is a variation on a museum scavenger hunt. Instead of looking for artifacts, however, students will be looking for flood ingredients and noting them on their "Recipe for Disaster: Ingredients of the Flood" worksheets (PDF). The sample item "Stone Bridge" is completed for them by way of explanation.

Use the analogy of a food recipe to explain the big-and-small approach to this activity. Just like the ingredients for a food recipe, some flood ingredients may be more important than others, so important that the Flood couldn’t have happened without them. Others ingredients didn’t start the Flood, but made it much more damaging than it might have been.

Columns 2-5 on the worksheet can be done later, if you are pressed for time. However, doing them at the museum as part of the activity allows students to go refer to the exhibits to gather more detail.

Not all possible "ingredients" will be obvious from the exhibits. Let students know that they will have a chance to find more ingredients in the primary sources they will investigate when they get back from the museum trip.

Column 1

Explain to students that for column one they should look for ingredients large and small -- anything that contributed to the severity of the Flood. For example, the barbed wire that got loose from the Gautier wire works and wrapped itself around debris trapped many people who might otherwise have survived the flood. So barbed wire is an ingredient.

Think of a flood ingredient as a contributing factor to the flood's destruction, not necessarily a "cause" of the flood.

Column 2

In the second column they should explain "How this ingredient made the flood worse." Again, we're not looking for causes, but how this ingredient contributed to the flood's deadliness and devastating force.

Column 3

The third column asks students to give their opinions about whether the effect of this ingredient could be changed: "Yes," "No," or "Maybe." "Change" can mean anything from prevention, to control, if it can't be prevented, or planned for, if it can be neither prevented or controlled. For example, heavy rainfall can't be either prevented, but it might be controlled (partly) with storm drains and planned for by using a good warning and evacuation system.

Column 4

To whatever extent this ingredient can be fixed, controlled or planned for, what is a solution for this ingredient?

Column 5

Speculate how the Flood's destruction might have been different if this ingredient had been missing from the "recipe" (in other words, had been prevented, fixed, or planned for).

Worksheet Key

A key containing most of the Flood ingredients (PDF) mentioned in the exhibit is included for this exercise, not because there are hard and fast answers to this exercise --there aren't! Rather it is a tool to help teachers coach students by offering hints and encouraging perseverance so they don't miss any particularly important ingredients.

Remind students to keep their worksheets and bring them back to your next class. If they didn't have time to finish all the columns for each ingredient, they may do so for homework.

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