Thursday, May 30, 2013

May 31: Johnstown Flood

On this date in History .... May 31, 1889:  

The worst flood in U.S. history happened at Johnstown PA.  

The Schultz House
(Photo compliments of
57 minutes after the dam burst, the raging waters with a 40ft high wave, traveling at 40mph and 60 ft deep, hit Johnstown 14 miles away, killing 2209, the largest loss of civilian life at the time. Over 750 victims were never identified and rest in the “Plot of the Unknown”. It swept several locomotives away, some as far as 4800 ft (that’s almost a mile for those who are mathematically impaired).  

The Schultz house, shown in this photo, is one of the most famous photos of the disaster. All six people who were in the house survived. 

Clara Barton was one of the 1st outsiders to arrive, her newly formed American Red Cross leading their first major non-wartime disaster relief effort. She remained for 5 months. 

The Stone Bridge ... it still exists today.


Many survived the flood, only to die in the fire on the debris that got hung up at the stone bridge. The debris included houses, locomotives, train cars, trees .... and human beings.

Because the bursting of the dam was considered an act of God, the residents failed in their suit for monetary compensation, which prompted  a major development in American law—state courts' move from a fault-based regime to strict liability. 

The flood is referenced in many fictional books, including John Jakes “The Kent Family Chronicles”. 

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