Disasters · Momento Mori and Post-mortem Photography · Pennsylvania

The Johnstown flood which claimed the lives of 2,200

May 31, 1899
Johnstown, Pennsylvania
A flood destroys the town of Johnstown, killing over 2,200 and causing extensive damage to property

The flood was caused by days of heavy rainfall which the South Fork Dam was no longer able to contain. Engineers near the dam attempted to dig ditches to relieve some pressure but were unsuccessful. An engineer rode from the dam to South Fork twice to send telegraphs warning Johnstown of the danger. The warnings were not passed along, however, because of false alarms in the past.

Approximately 57 minutes after the dam broke, the waters reached Johnstown. A wall of water reaching up to 60 feet high and traveling at approximately 40 mph, carrying the remnants of buildings, stone bridges, trees, and barbed wire from smaller towns in its path, slammed into the town. Though many attempted to find safety on higher ground, thousands were crushed by debris, entangled in barbed wire and drowned, or burned to death as wooden debris caught fire after making contact with a boiler swept away by the flood.

The death toll was 2,208. Of these victims, 396 were children. A further 98 children who survived were left orphaned. Nearly a third of the victims, 777, were never identified.

The picture shown is that of the John Schulz house. Six people were inside the home when the flood hit, and all six survived.


From Antique Photo Album

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