Johnstown’s Flood of 1889: Power Over Truth and the Science Behind the Disaster

Johnstown’s Flood of 1889: Power Over Truth and the Science Behind the Disaster

Loading Map....

Date(s) - November 29
7:00 PM

Heritage Discovery Center

Join us for this free book presentation! **RESCHEDULED FROM NOV. 15 DATE DUE TO ICY WEATHER. PLEASE JOIN US ON NOV. 29!**

Neil Coleman, a geologist at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, has written a new book re-examining many of the established assumptions about the 1889 flood. The book bridges the gap between history and science, re-examining eyewitness accounts of the flood and historic documents about the investigation, and applying new LiDAR, GPS, and hydraulic studies to solve the mystery – what caused the Great Flood of 1889.

Coleman argues that the disaster would not have occurred if the dam had remained unaltered by the South Fork Fishing & Hunting Club. The club lowered the dam by about three feet, and Coleman has calculated that this cut the safe discharge capacity of the dam in half. He also argues that the original American Society of Civil Engineers report, which was completed in seven months immediately following the disaster, was suppressed for two years — and that when it was finally released, it had been edited in a way that reduced the liability of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the South Fork Fishing & Hunting Club.

Other topics covered in the book include:

  • A re-examination of who was responsible for the removal the discharge pipes from the dam’s base, making it impossible to drain the dam for repairs
  • A re-interpretation of the reasons why the club lowered the dam by three feet
  • New flood flow calculations for the moment the viaduct collapsed west of South Fork
  • The possible underestimation of the death toll
  • How more people could have been saved if telegraphed warnings signed by influential people (such as Robert Pitcairn, the Pennsylvania Railroad superintendent) who knew of the danger had been sent
  • A discussion of who should (and should not) be blamed for the catastrophe