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Education Materials

Flood Museum

On May 31, 1889, a neglected dam and a phenomenal storm led to a catastrophe in which 2,209 people died. It’s a story of great tragedy, but also of triumphant recovery. The Johnstown Flood Museum, which is owned and operated by the Johnstown Area Heritage Association, tells the story of this shocking episode in American history.

Three modules are offered for educators, as follows:

Recipe for Disaster

Geography, Earth and Physical Science, Environment, Civics, Economics, Social Studies

Hard as it is to believe today, no successful lawsuits were brought against the owners of the dam that unleashed destruction on the Conemaugh Valley. After the dam had held for decades with only minor problems, why did it fail so colossally on May 31, 1889? Why was the Conemaugh Valley vulnerable to flooding? What other factors contributed to the destructiveness of the Johnstown Flood? In this thread, students will investigate these big questions by digging into the evidence to seek answers for a multitude of other questions that overlap geology, meteorology, engineering, communication and transportation technologies, as well as history, geography, and economics disciplines within the social studies.

Rebuild or Move on?

Social Studies, Civics, Economics, Character Education, Visual Arts (architecture)

After witnessing the destruction at Johnstown and surrounding communities, it is a wonder that everyone didn’t abandon the ravaged Conemaugh Valley. The enormity of personal and financial loss makes rebuilding even more unimaginable.

The decision to rebuild or move on was a personal, as well as a community, decision. Many individuals, having lost every family and physical tie to Johnstown, did move on. The majority of flood survivors did stay in the Valley. Incredibly, by 1910, Johnstown’s population had more than doubled since 1889. It is an inspirational story any time, but it is especially so at a time when western Pennsylvania is trying to rebuild after its economic base was destroyed, and as New Orleans rebuilds in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Telling the Story

Language Arts, Visual Arts, Music, Performing Arts, Character Education

The Johnstown Flood of 1889 was the biggest news story of the last quarter of the 1800s. Reporters, photographers, and artists flocked to what used to be Johnstown to meet the challenge of describing the indescribable for newspapers, magazines, and books around the world. Just as today, not all publications were equally reliable. Students will read and compare a variety of accounts, from straightforward survivor stories and official reports to sensationalist tabloids.

By reading and interpreting these stories and telling their own, students will learn to read more critically, considering how audience and purpose effect the telling of a story and how different media are suited to telling different aspects of a story. They will explore such concepts as fact and fiction and such ethical issues as exploitation, fact-checking, and sensationalism.