Johnstown, PA
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1889 FLOOD
Black Friday
May 31st, 1889

May 31st, 1889 ... Black Friday ...

3:15 p.m. ... The 72' high and 931' long earthen South Fork dam on South Fork Creek, holding back 20 millions tons of water in the 60' deep and two mile long Lake Conemaugh that resided 14 miles from and 450' above Johnstown, "pushed aside" under the pressure and emptied the lake in under an hour. The wall of death was no less than 30' at times and upward of 70' and averaged 40 miles per hour as it destroyed everything in its path, including the towns of South Fork, Mineral Point, East Conemaugh and Woodvale

4:07 p.m. ... The water hit Johnstown at a height of 40' and within ten minutes, four square miles of a bustling, booming steel town were turned into a wasteland. The wall of water which was now burdened with debris slammed into the Yoder Hillside and split into three backwash waves. One wave roared into the old Stone Bridge railroad overpass, one sped up the valley towards Kernville and one returned to the original path of the flood. The Stone Bridge, which held under the pressure and caused Johnstown to be turned into a lake. The 40' high and 30 acres of debris that piled up at the Stone Bridge caught fire and the masses of bodies, animals, wood, houses, railroad cars, barbed wire and everything that was unlucky enough to be in the flood's path caught fire and burned for days in a hellish inferno.

2,209 people lost their lives
99 entire families were wiped out
124 women were left widowed
198 men were left widowed
396 children aged ten or less were killed
98 children lost both of their parents
Bodies were still found as late as 1911
Bodies were found as far away as Cincinatti
1,600 homes were destroyed
280 businesses were destroyed
Flood lines were as high as 89 feet
The crest of the wave was 37 feet when it hit Johnstown
Four square miles of Johnstown were destroyed
Several locomoties weighing 170,000 lbs were swept as far as 4,800 feet

"Johnstown is going to be destroyed today."
- Mrs. Brinker, at breakfast the morning of May 31st 1889

"South Fork Dam is liable to break.
Notify the people of Johnstown to prepare for the worst."
- Telegram at 11:40am

"The water is running over the breast of lake dam, in center and west side and is becoming dangerous."
- Telegram at 1:52pm

"The dam is becoming dangerous and may possibly go."
- Telegram at 2:45pm

"It is an erroneous opinion that the dam burst. It simply moved away."
- John Parke

"Oh, it seemed to me as if all the destructive elements of the Creator had been turned loose at once in that awful current of water: in less than two hours Conemaugh lake was dry; and its fearful burden of water was speeding on towards its thousands of victims in the cities below."
- Elias J. Unger

"On June 1,1889, Americans woke to the news that Johnstown, Pennsylvania had been devastated by the worst flood in the Nation's history. Over 2,200 were dead, with many more homeless."

"I have visited Johnstown a dozen times a year for a long time and I know it thoroughly, but I haven't the least idea now of what part of it this is. I can't even tell the direction the streets used to run."
- Unknown businessman -

"It is a scene that blanches the faces of strong men, and in its multiplying horror is almost beyond description."
- Reporter for the New York Daily Graphic -

"All that is left to most of us is the ground the town was built on, and even that is not the same."
- George Swank

The first victim of the flood was Michael Mann, an English coal miner and self-styled preacher who refused to leave his home on the banks of the South Fork Creek. His body was found a week later, a mile and a half downstream, half-buried in mud, stripped of all clothing, and too badly decomposed to be moved.

June 3rd, 1892 Friday "Cambrian Freeman"


The people of Johnstown and the Conemaugh valley, on Tuesday, the anniversary of the great flood, dedicated a memorial monument to the unknown dead buried in Grand View Cemetery. There are 720 unidentified, resting in that beautiful city of the dead and it was a fitting tribute that a monument should tell the tale and point the spot to visitors in the future. The Johnstown Tribune thus describes the Monument:

The monument is built of Barre Vermont granite, the lower base being in size twelve feet by eight feet, resting on a solid concrete foundation. On this base rests a second and third base and a plinth, on which is set the inscription block, surmounted at each corner with a heavy triple-polished corner, the inscription being:

To the
Memory of the Unidentified Dead
Lost by the Flood of
May 31, 1889

On this is set a plinth, handsomely carved in front, and on which rests the cap, which extends over the inscription block, and is carved in graceful mouldings. To this is added another plinth, on which rest two sitting figures, representing Faith and Charity. In the center of the plinth is set a pedestal nearly four feet in height, on which stands a figure six feet in height and which surmounts the whole, representing hope. these figures are carved from white Western Rhode Island granite.

The entire monument has a hights of twenty-one feet eight inches, a weight of thirty-five tons and is a beautiful speciment of sephulchral art.

2nd week of November, 1910 Flood Victim’s Bones Found. Johnstown, Pa. – The bones of eight disjoined victims of the flood of twenty-one years ago, were dug from the bed of the Conemaugh River on Monday at the foot of the famous old stone bridge against which the tons and tons of water buried human lives, houses and everything moveable. Besides the bones, coins, kitchen utensils, sewing machines and many other relics were found. The relics were appropriated by the working men, but the bones have been gathered in bags and will be buried in the Grandview Cemetery.

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