David McCullough is one of my favorite historians, and along with another dozen historians over the last forty years, they have literally corrected the "history" of the United States and the world and have made almost everything I learned back in school during the seventies and eighties absolute.
"The Johnstown Flood" is the first major book published by Mr. McCullough fifty years ago. It is the last of two books by this great author that I had not read... Mainly because the subject matter of which I knew very little about did not seem to interest me like his other books.
Naturally, my assumption was wrong and the subject of the great flood that literally destroyed the entire town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania and killed at least two thousand citizens very quickly became a subject of great interest to me. An old earth dam, miles above the town, that was hastily rebuilt to create a lake for fishing and sailing for an exclusive summer resort that catered to industrial tycoons like Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick.
Warnings about the safety of the dam had been circulating around the area and the nearby towns for years, but very little was done about it. They simply became rumors, until May 31, 1889, when torrential rains savaged the area and the dam broke and the destruction was a catastrophe, uplifting buildings and homes and hundred year old trees like paper machetes and smashing them to pieces... Along with the remains of thousands of people.
The tragedy made headlines throughout the country and there was an outpouring of help from people and organizations from all parts of the country and the world.
It was at the time of the industrial revolution in the United States, and as Mr. McCullough carefully details the dam, the clientele belonging to the resort, and the destruction of the natural barriers that would have prevented such a tragedy were all part of the revolution that would transform the United States and the world. It is a chilling reminder of the power of nature and man's disregard of such power and the deadly consequences of such neglect.