91 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Book!
I was born in Johnstown and lived in Western PA until I graduated from college. I then moved to Washington, DC. About 4 years later, a coworked told me that he always wanted to visit Johnstown. At the time I couldn't understand why, so I asked. He went on to explain how he was reading "The Johnstown Flood" by David McCullough in Iowa in 1977 when he heard a...
Published on April 22, 2004 by Polly
27 of 34 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beware Kindle
Well written and thoroughly researched, this is a typical McCullough fascinating and informative narrative. Why the 3 stars: because the KINDLE edition is not complete. No illustrations, some of which are referred to in the text (as in "Following is an illustration of ..."). A "List of Illustrations" is in the Table of Contents but alas without a link to the text or...
Published on March 12, 2011 by Betsy
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91 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Book!,
This book completely changed my opinion of the Johnstown area and its history. I can't believe how many natives of Johnstown have never read this book. I have recommended this book to many people and not one has ever told me he or she didn't sink themselves into the book and become part of the story.
I now work in Johnstown again. Every workday I drive by the stone bridge that was described so prominently in the book. In my mind I can picture the victims and the debris piled up against the structure. Sometimes I can even hear the water, the flames, and the cries for help. This book is that well written!
If you're from Johnstown and you haven't read this book . . . Shame on you! If you're not from Johnstown, still read this book. Then . . . come to Johnstown and see for yourself what David McCullough brought to life through his writing!
This is definitely a book you'll never forget.
Don't stop here. Read David McCullough's other books. And, if you get a chance to hear him speak, don't pass it up. He spoke at my commencement 13 years ago and I recently heard him speak again. He's a facinating man with a gift for making readers (and listeners) travel back through time to relive the past.
245 of 258 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Account,
McCullough relates the history of the South Fork property on which the dam and lake were located, including the purchase of this property by rich men from Pittsburgh, among them Carnegie, Frick, Mellon, and Horne. They formed the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, a mountain resort, and built a clubhouse for use by members. Sixteen members also built large "cottages" around the 350-acre lake that had been formed by the earthen dam which was first built between 1840 and 1850. When these men bought the property in 1879, the dam had been totally neglected so "repairs" were made. Unfortunately, no engineer had anything to do with these repairs, which consisted mostly of throwing junk, branches, rocks, and hay against the dam. During this time, the outlet pipes at the bottom of the dam were removed and sold as scrap. Other ingredients in this recipe for disaster were the pipes that were put in near the dam to prevent fish from leaving the lake. These would also, it was found later, allow debris to build up and cause water to spill over the dam more easily.
The inevitable occurred in 1889, on Memorial Day, when a huge storm caused the lake to rise above the dam. With no outlet pipes to lower the level of the water, the water poured over the top, at the center. The dam soon gave way, allowing the contents of the huge lake to rush 15 miles down the mountain, destroying everything in its path, including the town of Johnstown.
When McCullough describes this wall of water descending the mountain and the destruction that occurred, the picture he painted was beyond belief. The torrent of water brought with it livestock, houses, trains, tracks, machinery, barbed wire and everything else that was in its path.
In the face of such complete chaos and horror, level heads prevailed. The day after the flood, townspeople held a meeting at which it was decided that a "dictator" was needed. Arthur Moxham was subsequently chosen and he immediately set up several committees to take care of removing dead animals and wreckage, setting up morgues and temporary hospitals, deputizing a police force (which cut out tin stars from cans found in the debris), handling finances, and obtaining supplies.
At 4 PM this same day (Saturday), emergency supplies, 80 volunteers, and 30 police left Pittsburgh on a 20-car train after wagons had been sent out throughout the city to collect supplies for Johnstown.
The next day, burials started. One out of three bodies was never identified--over 600 unknowns.
During this time, more trains arrived--one 11-car train from Pittsburgh contained nothing but coffins and 50 undertakers; another from the governor of Ohio was filled with tents. There were 27,000 people in the valley who had absolutely nothing, and providing for their physical needs was of paramount importance. Contributions, not including goods, eventually totaled $3.7 million, with only about $70,000 donated by the rich industrialits who owned the resort.
The National Guard was called in to try and keep order since thousands of people had come to help, and also to gawk. On Wednesday, Clara Barton arrived with her newly formed American Red Cross and 50 doctors and nurses. She was 67 and a bundle of energy and organization. Within days, she had organized hospital tents, hotels with hot and cold running water, and kitchens. She rarely slept and never left for five months!
Over 2200 people died in the Johnstown Flood and no responsibility was ever assumed by the members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, and none of the lawsuits against the club was ever won in the courts.
This was an incredible account of a horrific event in our nation's history.
62 of 63 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hair-raising Disaster embedded in social history,
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However, the Johnstown flood is the heart of McCullough's story and he does a very good job in building up to the book's compelling climax. When the dam above Johnstown finally gives way, you will already be on the edge of your reading chair. As usual, in a story about a disaster, there are incredibly brave people and also incredibly foolish ones. I wish McCullough had told us a bit more about the post-flood lives of some of his heroes and heroines, but that is the only real fault I can find with his story. A book like this always makes me wonder how I would have reacted in the midst of the chaos, flood, and fire that was Johnstown on May 31, 1889.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating,
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Six Stars is More Like It!,
Even though it is now old enough to be a classic, it is as timely as today's newspaper. The hubris of the robber barons contrasted with the human anguish is nowhere more poignantly told than in McCullough's meticulously researched account. (And yes, he is related to people connected with the story, as am I).
If you want the story to come alive, then focus on the people...Especially Cyrus Elder, the Cambria Iron executive who was the only Club member whose immediate family members perished in the Flood. Representing both sides of the story, Cyrus is the center around which the disaster unfolds.
Yes, it helps if you know the terrain--go out of your way, if you can, to see the National Flood Memorial and you will be awestruck by the sweep of the broken dam's size. Far off in the distance, across the long-dry lake bed, you will see the rooftops of the little Pennsylvania town of St Michaels, which grew up around the abandoned cottages of the illustrious members of the defunct Club. Many of the cottages are still there! Better yet, you can wander through the original Clubhouse--some of the wallpaper probably dates back to 1889, even now.
In the main NFM building, be sure to look at the telegraph handset, the one by which the ignored warning from South Fork was sent down the wire to Johnstown and then relayed on to Robert Pitcairn in Pittsburgh.
McCullough tells it best. Read the book; then go see for yourself.
Pay attention to the South Fork Club members.
If you find this review helpful you might want to read some of my other reviews, including those on subjects ranging from biography to architecture, as well as religion and fiction
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The biggest news story since the murder of Abraham Lincoln,
The South Fork Fishing & Hunting Club was an elite organization of the super rich and powerful. Members included, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, Philander Knox and Robert Pitcairn. McCullough concludes that the club tampered drastically with the natural order of things and had done so badly. Moreover, the club ravaged much of the mountain country's protective timber, which caused dangerous flash runoff following mountain storms; they obstructed and diminished the capacity of the rivers; and they bungled the repair and maintenance of the dam. "Perhaps worst of all they had failed...out of indifference mostly...to comprehend the possible consequences of what they were doing, and partiularly what those consequences might be should nature happen to behave in anything but the normal fashion," which according to McCullough was exactly what was to be expected of nature.
The New York Times concluded that the cause of the flood was an engineering crime...that the dam was of inferior construction. Other publications reported the nation simmered with deep seated resentment of the rich. On a positive note, the help and aid to Johnstown was the greatest ourpouring of charity that the nation had ever seen. Additionally, the doctors, nurses and sanitation crews did a "spectacular" job of preventing a typhoid epidemic. And finally the author does not fail to report the countless others who went beyond the call of duty to perform tremendous acts of bravery. Unfortunately, the club members were never held accountable and were disgustingly "stingy" with disaster funding. On that note, a poem by Isaac Reed accurately captured the moment in history;
Many thousand human lives...
Butchered husbands, slaughtered wives,
Mangled daughters, bleeding sons,
Hosts of martyred litte ones,
(Worse than Herod's awful crime)
Sent to heaven before their time;
Lovers burnt and sweethearts drowned,
Darlings lost but never found!
All the horrors that hell could wish,
Such was the price that was paid for...fish!
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Research and History,
This review is from: The Johnstown Flood (Audio CD)The CD version was well read and the reader was able to keep my attention during a grueling bus ride.
The story of The Johnstown Flood of 1889 was a well researched book that explained how the lack of money spent to AVOID a disaster was the actual cause of one of the worst disasters in American history. The story is very similar in nature to the disaster in New Orleans. However, this damn was built primarily to develop a lake in order to apease the appetites of a few very wealthy men who wanted a "getaway in the mountains." Despite repeated warnings of possible disaster if and when the damn would break, the exclusive executive club refused to spend money for needed repairs. The result was a horrible flood following an ususally heavy rainstorm that killed over 2,000 innocent people in the valley below, leaving thousands homeless, jobless and badly injured. Schools and libraries were distroyed along with businesses.
The story weaves in and out of the facts that were reported by newspapers, found in record books, and stories passed down through the generations. Similar in nature as in today's world, Johnstown was flooded with reporters, people wanting to help, supplies and food, etc. Of interest is the fact that this was the very first real disaster that the newly formed RED CROSS has attented. McCullough points out from records how many very poor families throughout the US sent what they could while the weathly members of the club that caused the flood gave almost nothing, nor were they ever held accountable fore the disaster.
This book is a documentary, and thus rather dry at times. However, the author did an excellent job of pulling facts together, and wrote it in such a way as to keep you interested throughout.
I definately recommend this book, and feel the person reading for the CD copy did a fine job.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timbering on Hills Creates a Flood,
The arrival of the canal around 1820s made Johnstown the busiest place in Cambria county. In the 1850s the Pennsylvania Railroad came through, the Cambria Iron Company began, and the population increased. There were about 30,000 people in the area before the flood. Life was simple, pleasures few. On Sunday people would go walking out to neighboring boroughs. There were 123 saloons in the greater Johnstown area, as in other steel towns.
The Western Reservoir was built in the 1840s, but became generally known as the South Fork dam. It was to supply extra water for the Main Line canal from Johnstown to Pittsburgh. By saving the spring floods, water could be released during the dry summers. The Portage Railroad lifted the canal boats over the Alleghany Mountain to the canal to Philadelphia.
The dam was built on successive layers of "puddled" clay. The outer wall was riprapped with loose rocks, the inner face with stones. Five cast iron pipes two feet in diameter, set in a stone culvert, released the water to flow to the South Fork and the Little Conemaugh to Johnstown. Earth dams were used for thousands of years; they work as long as no water spills over the top, or no internal seepage develops.
When the dam was completed in 1852, the Pennsylvania Railroad completed the track from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, and the canal business began its decline. The state offered to sell the canal, the Penna RR bought it for the right of ways. The neglected dam broke for the first time in 1862. The repair work
Floods were a recurring problem in Johnstown during the 19th century. A growing population needed space, trees disappeared from the hills and mountains, the river channels were narrowed for more buildings and bridges. The forests retain enormous amounts of water in the soil (800 tons per acre), the soil itself, and snow. Spring thaws and summer thunderstorms would
In 1880 the manager of the Cambria Iron Works (a competitor of Carnegie) had the dam inspected. Two problems were found: there was no discharge pipe to reduce water in the dam, and, the previous repair left a leak that cut into the dam. This advice was rejected, even after their offer to pay for repairs. The Cambria Iron Works was bigger than any in Pittsburgh before the Civil War (p.61).
There were four other changes to the dam that were crucial. The height of the dam was lowered, reducing the height between the crest and the spillway. A screen of iron rods were put across the spillway, which would decrease the its capacity when clogged by debris. The dam sagged in the center so it was lower than at
On the morning of May 31, 1889 flooding began after heavy rains; it seemed to be worse than the 1887 flood. A man was sent to South Fork to warn the people that the dam might give way, and to telegraph a warning to Johnstown. It was not heeded - they heard
The picture of Andrew Carnegie makes me wonder if he had been used as the model for "Santa Claus". Building and paving hills and mountains will increase the flood risk, then or now.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A well-researched work that reads like a novel,
McCullough masterfully creates a vivid picture of Johnstown in the 1880s - a booming industrial city with a teeming immigrant population. He parallels his story about the city of Johnstown with the area's reputation as a summer home for the steel magnates of nearby Pittsburgh, and how those two worlds would tragically collide on a rainy May day in 1889.
He goes into almost minute-by-minute detail about how the heavy rains ate away at the earthen dam that held back the private lake of the South Fork Fishing & Hunting Club, and the frantic efforts to save the dam, complementing engineering reports on the dam with great storytelling as the workers tried to prevent the dam from giving way.
McCullough's finest literary moment comes when the dam does give way, and the millions of gallons of water come rushing downstream towards the unsuspecting citizens of Johnstown. It almost seems as if he is bringing the reader along for the ride, yard by yard, as the water rushes down the valley and picks up virtually everthing in is path -- railroad cars and locomotives, trees, fences, livestock, homes, etc. Again, he goes into incredible detail as the torrent of water moves downstream, and he paces this tale like a well-written suspense novel. McCullough's descriptive style made it easy for me to picture the carnage and chaos in my head before the flood hit Johnstown, and this was my favorite part of the book.
When the flood finally reached the city, it sloshed back and forth against a RR bridge and the nearby hills like a kid playing in a bathtub, killing some 2,000 people and virtually levelling the entire city. The author's details again shine through as he describes the suprisingly well-orchestrated attempts by the city fathers and others to help the living and the dead and get the city back on its feet.
Even if you do not regularly read historical works of nonfiction, McCullough's book is fast paced and does an excellent job of holding the reader's attention. He also does not weight the book down by sidetracking the story with minutiae, but uses fine details when they are needed. This work not only gives a exhaustive account of a famous American disaster, but is a colorful window into industrial-era America.
27 of 34 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beware Kindle,
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Johnstown Flood by David G. McCullough (Hardcover - June 1987)
Used & New from: $42.92