one day at a time…
Monday, 30 August 2004

More Funicular & Flood Disaster
CREDIT: © National Park Service/Cultural Resources
WHERE: Johnstown, Pennsylvania, USA WHAT: 1889 dam burst and flood.
MAP: Johnstown. Thumbnail pops-up larger image.

Johnstown Flood © National Park ServiceWe continue yesterday's connection, between flood and funicular, with a visit to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, USA. On 31 May 1889, after heavy rains the day before on Memorial Day, the badly maintained South Fork Dam, impounding the waters of Lake Conemaugh, burst. The resulting flood, equal to Niagara's flow for thirty six minutes, destroyed downstream communities in a rage lasting only ten minutes.

There is a succinct summary in the PBS [Public Broadcasting Service] Building Big series. The history of the flood from a railroad perspective is covered on the CatskillArchive.com web site, which features historical pictures, chapters from a narrative history, and a large scale diagrammatic map. JAHA [Johnstown Area Heritage Association] has a photo illustrated history of the disaster, and a disturbing statistical facts page, which also shows one of the most famous images of the time.

The Johnstown Flood Museum is housed in the town's former library, built to replace a building destroyed in the flood. The museum has an Oklahoma House feature, detailing this early type of prefabricated dwelling. The museum building history page shows a picture of the museum, with the Johnstown funicular in the background.

On yesterday's feature site, at Funimag.com in an article by Brad E. Smith, you may read about the Johnston Inclined Plane funicular railway. It was designed by Samuel Diescher, who later designed the machinery to operate the world's first Ferris wheel at the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition, and built after the flood to open in 1891. Although no longer profitable by the 1960s, the railway had provided the only emergency access during times of flood, and its presence had saved lives. In 1984 the railway was completely refurbished, and is now a major tourist attraction.

Today's thumbnail feature picture, thought to show sightseers examining the damage, comes from an NPS [National Park Service] Cultural Resources web site entitled 'Run for Your Lives! The Johnstown Flood of 1889'. The resources include three [1][2][3] picture pages, plus teacher project notes

The flood waters, made more dangerous by miles of barbed wire from a destroyed manufacturing plant, and the following fire in the debris, killed 2,209 people and caused $17 million of property damage. No successful legal action was ever brought against the owners of the dam, the South Fork Fishing & Hunting Club, whose members included Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick.

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Jules Laforgue (1860-1887)
"Ah! que la vie est quotidienne."
Oh, what a day-to-day business life is.
'Complainte sur certains ennuis' (1885)