Modern history


The material for this book was gathered from the files of newspapers, from unpublished reminiscences, from letters and diaries, from Johnstown Flood “histories” that were best sellers in their day and from books and pamphlets that were privately printed, from court records, engineering reports, local histories, and rare old maps, from old photographs, and from hours of taped conversations with survivors of the Johnstown Flood.

A bibliography is included at the back of the book, but I want to acknowledge my indebtedness to four works in particular: J. J. McLaurin’s The Story of Johnstown, which for all its Victorian embellishments and inaccuracies is the finest by far of the books “gotten up” by journalists in 1889; The Reverend David J. Beale’s Through the Johnstown Flood, in many ways the best book on the flood and unquestionably the best-written and most reliable of accounts by survivors; A History of Johnstown and the Great Flood of 1889: A Study of Disaster and Rehabilitation, which is a doctoral thesis written by the late Nathan D. Shappee and the only scholarly study of the disaster; and a recently discovered transcription of testimony taken by the Pennsylvania Railroad during the summer of 1889, which has been invaluable. (Most of the dialogue in Chapters 3 and 4, for example, has been taken directly from this transcription, which, in all, runs to nearly 500 typewritten pages, and no part of which has been previously published.)

I very gratefully acknowledge my debt to the following flood survivors who kindly gave me so much of their time to talk about their experiences, some of whom have since passed on: Mrs. Kate Miltenberger, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Hesselbein, and David Fetterman, all of Johnstown; U. Ed Schwartzentruver of South Fork; Mrs. Gertrude Quinn Slattery of Wilkes-Barre, who also read the manuscript; and Dr. Victor Heiser of New York, who, in addition to vivid descriptions of his own experiences, supplied wonderful insights into the Johnstown of the 1880’s, and who read the manuscript.

I am grateful also to the two Johnstown ladies, both survivors, who shared memories of their illustrious family, but who asked that I not mention their names.

I wish to thank too the many others in Johnstown who were helpful, and especially the following: Irving London, who led me to the Pennsylvania Railroad testimony and who made available his extraordinary collection of flood photographs; Harold Strayer; Gustaf Hultman of the National Park Service; Elit Felix; Walter Krebs, president of the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, who made available the paper’s reference library and files; Don Matthews, Jr., also of the Tribune-Democrat, who made numerous helpful suggestions; Frank Dell and Ron Stephenson of Station WJAC; the City Clerk’s office; and the staff of the Cambria Public Library.

In addition, I am much indebted to Edna Lehman, who made available important documentary material at the Cambria County Historical Society at Ebensburg; to the late Robert Heppenstall of Pittsburgh, for information on his father’s heroic action; to Mrs. John E. Hannon, Sr., of Detroit, who wrote to me at length about her grandfather, W. Horace Rose; to Mrs. Bernard McGuire of Cresson, who let me borrow a diary kept by her grandfather, Isador Lilly of Ebensburg; to Dr. Philip Bishop, Dr. John White, and Donald Berkebile of the Smithsonian Institution; to Mr. and Mrs. Fred Livengood, Sr., of Somerset; to the late Mrs. O. C. Gaub of Pittsburgh; to Evan Stineman of South Fork; and to Al Danel of St. Michael, Pennsylvania.

Also I wish to express my gratitude for the facilities offered by the staff of the Pennsylvania Room at the Carnegie Library, Pittsburgh; the Allegheny County Court of Claims, Pittsburgh; the Local History and Genealogy Room at the New York Public Library; the New York Historical Society; the Library of Congress; the University of Pennsylvania; the University of Pittsburgh; the Yale University Library; the White Plains Public Library; and the Boston Public Library.

And for their suggestions and encouragement I wish finally to thank Walter McQuade, Walter Lord, Roger Butterfield, David Plowden, Heywood Broun, Jr., David Allison, Frank Fogarty, James Morrison, Royall O’Brien, Charles T. Siebert, Jr.; Audre Proctor, who typed the manuscript; my mother and father; and my wife, Rosalee.

D. McC.



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