The Traveling Artist

The Great Johnstown Flood

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Tragedy! Why are we drawn to it? Why the morbid curiosity about death and destruction? Perhaps to avoid it ourselves? Sympathy for the victims? Who knows. I usually don’t even try to explain what I do or think, I just do it. Let the thinkers and analysts figure that out. It’ll keep them out of trouble for a while.
The Johnstown flood has fascinated me ever since we stopped here, maybe over 20 years ago. Over 2000 people were drowned and burned here all within 10 minutes! How sad, especially when I found out it was due to the carelessness of the rich bastard’s club that caused it. All those poor people killed all for the idle pleasure of the rich outsiders.
We went to the museum that is housed in a beautiful old library donated by Carnegie after the flood.
It cost $7 with AAA discount, $9 without. The movie alone is worth the admission price. Although my daughter felt it was overpriced.

History of the Building
If the Association will allow me to pay the cost of this restoration, I shall be very grateful to it indeed.” Andrew Carnegie in a November 28, 1889, letter to the Cambria Library Association. The Johnstown Flood Museum is located in a building with an important flood connection – it is the former Cambria Library, built after the flood to replace the earlier library using funds donated by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie was a member of the South Fork Fishing & Hunting Club, which owned the dam that burst on May 31, 1889, causing the flood. He donated the money to build the museum after visiting Johnstown in late 1889 to survey flood damage, but it’s unlikely he felt any personal responsibility for the flood. Instead, the library became one of the very first of more than 2,500 Carnegie libraries in the world today.

The rebuilt library, pictured below, was located on the same site as the old one, at the corner of Washington and Walnut Streets. The Cambria Iron Company donated an adjacent tract of land, where the telegraph office had stood before the flood, to increase the library’s lot. Addison Hutton of Philadelphia, architect for the $55,000 project, built the French Gothic style structure. The foundation of the building consists of 20 massive stone piers of circular section, 5 to 7 feet in diameter. The woodwork throughout the building is select Pennsylvania pine, finished in its natural color. The stairway alcoves on the first floor are laid with white marble tiles, skirted in black marble. The third story features dormers and the building has eight massive chimneys, two on each side.

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One thought on “The Great Johnstown Flood

  1. Thanks for the interesting post. I too am fascinated by the Johnstown Flood and other disasters, both natural and manmade. Something about the combination of tragedy and sacrifice. The museum there is definitely worth the price.
    I researched the flood for over a year and wrote a fictional novella, SWEPT AWAY. It follows two teens from different families, one wealthy, the other struggling, during that terrible weekend in 1889. You can learn more at my website


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