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The mirror. (Stillwater, Minn.) 1894-1925, February 26, 1903, Image 4

Image and text provided by Minnesota Historical Society; Saint Paul, MN

Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn90060762/1903-02-26/ed-1/seq-4/

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! j, T SO happened that the
j | writer wasat Johnstown,
* j Pennsylvania, on the
. day before the Great
Flood. That day as we
Ij I know waß Decoration
Day. After the meino
~rial parade, I took the last train
' that left the town over the Somer
set and Cambria Branch of the B.
.and O. R. R. to go to my father’s
home about fourteen miles south
wvest, just over the county line and
into Somerset county.
The next day was the fatal Fri
day, May 31, 1889.
It rained all day and the little
■village of Bethel was partly flood
ed, caused by the overflow of
Stoney Creek. About 12 o’clock
moon, the telephone and telegraph
•communications with Johnstown
become sadly deranged. The train
which went down at 2 o’clock to
-Johnstown never returned. No
areal anxiety was occasioned by
for the knowing ones at
tributed it to a washout.
I retired about 10 p. m. and at
rmidnight I was awakened by
talking in an exoited
'manner. This was down on the
Aboard walk below my window, and
the man was talking to my father.
I remember part of the conversa
“Yes, indeed, the whole town is
gon6; not a soul escaped,” the
stranger was saying. My father’s
replies were only short ejacula
tions, such as: “My! my!” “Too
bad!” etc., etc.
I arose, as did the entire house
hold. The messenger was ad
mitted. He proved to be the sec
tion boss of the railroad. He with
several of his crew had come up the
road on a handcar from a point
across the river from Johnstown,
from which place they had been
the unwilling witnesses of the
deluge. Everybody was so ex
cited that sleep was banished for
that night.
AT daylight a party of five
started afoot for Johnstown. This
party consisted of my father, my
uncle, two neighbors and . the
~writer. We took lanterns, rope
■and hatchets, and as much food as
we could conveniently carry. I
nave often wondered since why
we ever took hatchets, but at the
'time they seemed very proper.
We followed the railroad track
sabout five miles, then we struck a
Hhis time, but a nasty drizzle had
set in. We managed to cross the
' washout as it was a narrow one
-and then we came to a'tunnel,
half a mile long. I shall never
forget going through tnat tunnel.
It was so dark and gloomy and
dihe faint light from the lanterns
made the shadows of our figures
appear very ghost-like as they ac
companied our slow advance. But
like everything else the tunnel had
and end, tho I began to have seri
ous doubts about it at one time
during our passage.
To get out into daylight was
such an intense relief that we
actually forgot to grumble about
the rain. Indeed it was so pleas
ant to breathe free air again that I
doubt if we realized how awfully
saturated our clothing had become.
"We trudged along and at last came
to Stoney Creek. The bridge was
gone ! Between us Johnstown
there raged Stoney Creek, but it
was a creek no longer, It was a
mighty surging river of appalling
proportions. My father was very
anxious to get over to the town,
as indeed we all were. None of
the party but what had friends
«nd relatives over there, but liv
ing or dead none could say. While
we' were discussing ways and
means, we were interrupted by a
cry from one of our party: “See
there, that’s a dead woman!” Sure
enough, about twenty feet away
from the baok we saW the first
victim. She appeared to be about
forty years old. Probably some
poor mother. I only looked for
an instant, but that feeling of
revulsion soon wore off, for an
other oorpse and another, and still
another floated by in an almost end
less procession. Sometimes a man,
then a young girl or boy. The
most pathetic of all were the dear
little children and babies, of whom
great numbers perished.
For several hours we were com
pelled to wait on the shore of the
river, but when all hope of getting
across seemed about gone a row
boat emerged from the other bank
and the sole ocoupant responded
to our calls by directing his course
towards us. The rapid flow of
the current made it impossible for
him to make a landing where we
were, but by frantic efforts on his
part and stimulated by our en
deavors to throw him a line, we
finally had the satisfaction of see
ing him make fast to a tree some
distance down stream, and which
originally had stood on the bank,
but was now 6ome ten feet away
from the shore line and partly
submerged by water.
The man in command of the
boat was a Johnstowner with
whom my father had a passing
acquaintance. To our inquiries he
calmly said, “Yes the whole town
is a goner sure. I’ve only seen
three people beside myself alive,
but (Tod only knows how many
dead ones. There’s nothing to
eat over there and I’m hungry as
a bear. Ain’t had a bite for 24
hours.” It is needless to say his
hunger was soon appeased, and we
looked at our lunch disappearing
with startling rapidity without a
thought of our own stomachs. The
boat held six men comfortably and
at 81 apiece we went over the
river. Our landing on the Johns
town side was even more difficult
than the owner’s had beeD, but we
at last stood on the site of former
Johnstown. Being well acquaint
ed with the locality we had no
trouble to get our bearings and
our party separated.
My father and I went in quest
of relatives. The others took vari
ous routes. Going in a circuitous
way we reached what had been
the corner of Main and Bedford
streets. Here the ground was
swept as clear as any billiard table.
It looked like a hard sandy ocean
beach. Not a stick or stone of
any description, nothing but sand
which covered the virgin soil to * a
d.epth varying from four to seven
inches? This section of the town,
an area of about one-eighth of a
mile wide and two miles long, was
in the direct route of the after
flood. The debris which had ac
cumulated had been “pushed” up
the bisecting streets; and one
block, from Bedford to Franklin
on Main street, by some freak of
the waters, escaped absolute de
struction; but between the busi
ness houses was a mass of.debris
which reached in some places to
the house tops.
To that pile we cautiously went.
The rain had ceased and the sun
was shining brightly now. A feel
ing of desolation crept over us
and I doubt if either of us would
have cared to proceed alone. Not
a sound was to be heard, not a
living creature in sight.' It seemed
ages since we left the little town
up in the mountains. Soon, how
ever, we found we were not alone,
for we saw a woman approaching.
She saw us too, and came to us
hurrying and said: “Well, if
there ain’t Mr, ahd there’s
too. Well, thank God, every
body's not dead,” and the poor soul
cried piteously. She was a wom
an who at" one time had been a
tenant of my father’s. While we
were talking to her, two pien came
up, one of whom led a little girl
by the hand. “Do any of you
know who she is?” asked one. No,
she was some foreigner’s child.
She appeared to be about five years
old and to all inquiries as to who
she was, the only r£ply was, “I am
Mary, little Mary.” “What does
your father do?” “He works at'
the big mill.” “What’s his name?”
“He is my daddy.”
That was kll, and Mary was
consigned to the care of Mrs. ,
who herself had seen three of her
own children and her husband
perish miserably before her eyes.
And now we came upon more
saved ones. Sometimes in small
groups; again a solitary individual.
There seemed to be no object
whatever in their strolls, —just
wandering aimlessly about. When
we had attained the highest point
on the debris, directly in front of
the Merchants’ Hotel, we could
get a view of the entire remnant
of the town, for we were some
twelve feet higher than the hotel
The flood had deposited most of
its refuse within a radius of three
blocks on either side of where we
stood. All outside of that was
deserted. On the hills which sur
rounded the town could be seen
the pretty cottages of the fortu
nate who lived there, and to those
cottages had the saved ones flocked
in such numbers as to almost
depopulate the town proper.
In the block on Main street, the
one between Bedford and Franklin,
I counted 32 dead bodies. Not
all the bodies were wholly visible.
Here and there an arm or leg pro
truded from the debris. In the
next block the debris was irregular,
often a space of twenty feet was
comparatively free from obstruction
and the sidewalk and curbing
could be seen occasionally. But
strange too, in these clear spaces
more bodies were found than
where the debris was piled
Entering these oases was like go
ing into the Inferno, for the bot
tom was very dark and the descent
In a jeweler’s show window
stood the corpse of the proprietor.
The water had come upon
him so suddenly and so swiftly
that he had no time to leave the
store, and no doubt sought safety
in the window where he died in a
standing posture. He seemed to
be guarding to the last a few mis
erable trinkets of this earth. He
-was not the only one who imitated
Lot’s wife.
Reaching Market street we
came upon one of the wonders of
the flood. In the mid(Ue of the
street stood a railroad engine and
tender, comparatively free from
dirt and in an upright position,
looking as tho it only needed the
throttle to be opened and it would
speed away. The wonder of this
is, that the railroad is five-eighths
of a mile from this point on
Market street, and how that engine
ever left the track, coupled to the
tender, and after making a trip on
an unknown road and on an im
provised sohedule, bring up all
safe and sound and in good order
over a mild frojn its starting
place, will always remain a mys
tery. #
One thing that surprised me
was the lack of tears or visible
anguish which one would reason
ably expect to see manifested at
suoh a time. When people met
those days immediately following
the flood the conversations were
■ "IS
Sisal, SUU Feet to Ihe pound, 8 3-4 Cents.
Standard, SCU Feet to the pound, 8 3-4 Cents.
Standard Mixed, 550 Feet to the pound, 9 1-2 Cents.
Manila Mixed, 600 Feet to the pound, 101-2 Cents.
Pure Manila, 650 Feet to the pound, 111-2 Cents.
You can cancel order any time before
shipment is made, in case of crop failure.
Prices average three cents a pound less
than is charged by other manufacturers
and dealers for twine of equal grade and
quality. Dealers’ orders will be filled
after May Ist.
held in the most matter of fact
tones: “Hello, John,” one would
say, “how goes it?” “O, not so
good, ain’t got no ambition left.”
“How many did you lose?” “My
wife and four children, and two
brothers and their wives and chil
dren, all except one boy, he got
out at the bridge same as I did.”
“That’s too bad! I only lost three,
wife and two' children, I saved the
baby.” “Well, I’m glad the sun’s
out, ain’t you?” “Yes it will help
dry up things.” “So long.” “So
long.” That’s the philosophical
way most of the survivors looked
at their deep trouble. Every one
else had so much trouble that
individuals buried theirs.
!Not all, however. Here we saw
a young man in a perfect frenzy
of grief tugging at an enormous
pile of debris under which he in
sisted he was caught. “Get me
out of this/’ he yelled. “My
mother is further down in this
stuff! Get me out soH can get her
free!” Poor fellow, he was out,
but jt took no insanity expert to
determine his mental state. And
so it was all over the town, misery
and grief and worse still, insanity.
Up to this time we had only,
seen the misfortune and loss of
others; our own was to come. On
Market street, not far from
where the locomotive stood, we
met my uncle. I have never seen
before or since the peculiar light
of his eyes. He said: “After I
left you this morning I walked
around awhile and not finding any
of our relatives I determined to
get to Market street. I’ve been
here ever since, and been working
hard, too. I’ve got ’em all out,
but I can’t find Joe.” And turn
ing the corner of a house now in
ruins we came upon a sight which
will never fade from my memory.
On the ground lay nine relatives
of ours, my maternal unole, aunt
and seven ohildren, all in a state
terrible* to think of.. It is to be
remembered that the bodies of
victims were not subjected to
water alone, for in almost every
instance mud and sand was in a
layer over the entire form, and
often they were* mutilated by con
tact with the debris. Add to this,
the strange fact regarding the
freakish pranks played by the
barbed wire from the Gautier wire
mill. Thousands of yards of barb
wire went scurrying with the
flood and the way it would en
tangle anything was queer. Many
bodies found in the center of town
were wrapped in this steel barbed
wire from head to foot!
With the warm weather came a
fever, known to this day as “flood”,
fever. Many who survived the
waters died in June, July and
August. It may be that very few
of our readers ever read their own
death notices, but my obituary
notice was published, along with
thousands who really did die in
the flood. The fact of my being
in the town the day previous
probably accounts |or it. It
seemed a very grim joke to me,
and I confess I felt timid when I
read I had perished.
I secured many relics, some
valuable. There was one I always .
prized. It was an old-fashioned
photograph, an enamelled one, set
in a gold frame. The picture was
of a little boy. People often asked
me if I found any money. Yes,
one day I found a silver dollar! I
searched for hours at that spot but
never found another cent, so I
really earned the “buck.” Lots
of money was found, but I never
was lucky, except took the
train leaving Johnstown the day
before the flood. Harley.
essary, to take orders for a new educational
chart; a new combination plan which will net
you $5 a day; commissions are 38% per cent;
express and freight charges paid; active
workers send 75c for a sample outfit, which
will be returned to you upon receipt of your
first $lO order. Address Agents Department,
208 Pioneer Press buildlßg, St, Paul, mii» b

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