Education: Johnstown Flood Museum

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Secondary source

Were There Warnings?

Telegrams from South Fork

The telegraph warning from South Fork was sent to the railroad operator west of Mineral Point who had been in constant communication with South Fork all morning. However, he claimed that he did not receive any warning of the broken dam; the first warning he received was seeing people floating by in their houses. Some people from Mineral Point told him as they floated past that his own house had been destroyed. The operator stayed at his keys to send a warning to East Conemaugh. When the telegraph tower began to topple he fled to the hillside; and spent the night on a coal dump....

The earlier telegraphic messages from South Fork had been received at East Conemaugh and had been sent on to Johnstown until three o’clock. After that time communication ceased. The flood wall rushing toward the Conemaugh from South Fork Creek had forced the operator to flee from the tower. The operator at Mineral Point left just before his tower tumbled into the stream. Trump and his men were repairing the telegraph line when the flood wave approached A. O. Tower. From bridge No. 6 the flood rode the Conemaugh without warnings of its coming. Only the distant rumble which grew louder and louder as it approached, frightened the people into flight. Many of those who waited to see the ball of water were trapped in the first waves of the flood.

Messages not delivered

At East Conemaugh, the yard master, John Walkinshaw, had received a message which stated that water was washing over the wall,--apparently Wilson’s message. Wilkinshaw, possibly due to concern over the responsibility of the stalled railroad equipment in his charge, did not send warnings into the village of East Conemaugh. Neither did he take the responsibility to evacuate the two sections of the Day Express in East Conemaugh yards. 66

  • 66Johnstown Tribune, June 7, 1890.

Excerpt from Nathan Daniel Shappee, History of Johnstown, Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Pittsburgh, 1940. Pages 257, 260–261.

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