IT is now the Thursday after the disaster, and amid the ruins
of Johnstown people are beginning to get their wits together.
They have quit the aimless wandering about amid the ruins, that
marked them for a crushed and despairing people. Everybody is
getting to work and forgetting something of the horror of the
situation in the necessity of thinking of what they are doing.
The deadly silence that has prevailed throughout the town is ended,
giving place to the shouts of hundreds of men pulling at ropes,
and the crash of timbers and roofs as they pull wrecked buildings
down or haul heaps of debris to pieces. Hundreds more are making
an almost merry clang with pick and shovel as they clear away
mud and gravel, opening ways on the lines of the old streets.
Locomotives are puffing about, down into the heart of the town
now, and the great whistle at the Cambria Iron Works blew for
noon yesterday and to-day for the first time since the flood silenced
it. To lighten the sombre aspect of the ruined area, heightened
by the cold gray clouds hanging low about the hills, were acres
of flame, where debris is being got rid of. Down in what was the
heart of the city the soldiers have gone into camp, and little
flags snap brightly in the high wind from their acres of white
The relief work seems now to be pretty thoroughly organized,
and thousands of men are at work under the direction of the committee.
The men are in gangs of about a hundred each, under foremen, with
mounted superintendents riding about overseeing the work.
The first effort, aside from that being made upon the gorge
at the bridge, is in the upper part of the city and in Stony Creek
Gap, where there are many houses with great heaps of debris covering
and surrounding them. Three or four hundred men were set at work
with ropes, chains, and axes upon each of these heaps, tearing
it to pieces as rapidly as possible. Where there are only smashed
houses and furniture in the heap the work is easy, but when, as
in most instances, there are long logs and tree-trunks reaching
in every direction through the mass, the task of getting them
out is a slow and difficult one. The lighter parts of the wreck
are tossed into heaps in the nearest clear space and set on fire.
Horses haul the logs and heavier pieces off to add them to other
blazing piles. Everything of any value is carefully laid aside,
but there is little of it. Even the strongest furniture is generally
in little bits when found, but in one heap this morning were found
two mirrors, one about six feet by eight in size, without a crack
in it, and with its frame little damaged; the other one, about
two feet by three in size, had a little crack at the bottom, but
was otherwise all right.
Every once in a while the workmen about these wreck heaps will
stop their shouting and straining at the ropes, gather into a
crowd at some one spot in the ruins, and remain idle and quiet
for a little while. Presently the group will stir itself a little,
fall apart, and out of it will come six men bearing between them
on a door or other improvised stretcher a vague form covered with
a canvas blanket. The bearers go off along the irregular paths
worn into the muddy plain, toward the different morgues, and the
men go to work again.
These little groups of six, with the burden between them, are
as frequent as ever. One runs across them everywhere about the
place. Sometimes they come so thick that they have to form in
line at the morgue doors. The activity with which work was prosecuted
brought rapidly to light the dark places within the ruins in which
remained concealed those bodies that the previous desultory searching
had not brought to light. Many of the disclosures might almost
better have never seen the light, so heart-rending were they.
A mother lay with three children clasped in her arms. So suddenly
had the visitation come upon them that the little ones had plainly
been snatched up while at play, for one held a doll clutched tightly
in its dead hand, and in one hand of another were three marbles.
This was right opposite the First National Bank building, in the
heart of the city, and near the same spot a family of fivefather,
mother, and three children-were found dead together. Not far off
a roof was lifted up, and dropped again in horror at the sight
of nine bodies beneath it. There were more bodies, or fragments
of bodies, found, too, in the gorge at the bridge, and from the
Cambria Iron Works the ghastly burden-bearers began to come in
with the first contributions of that locality to the death list.
The passage of time is also bringing to the surface bodies that
have been lying beneath the river further down, and from Nineveh
bodies are continually being sent up to Morrellville, just below
the iron works, for identification.
Wandering about near the ruins of Wood, Morrell & Co.'s store
a messenger from Morrellville found a man who looked like the
pictures of the Tennessee mountaineers in the Century Magazine,
with an addition of woe and misery upon his gaunt, hairy face
that no picture could ever indicate. He was tall and thin, and
bent, and, from his appearance, abjectly poor. He was telling
two strangers how he had lived right across from the store, with
his wife and eight children. When the high water came and word
was brought that the dam was in danger, he told his wife to get
the children together and come with him. The water was deep in
the streets, and the passage to the bluff would have been difficult.
She laughed at him and told him the dam was all right. He urged
her, ordered her, and did everything else but pick her up bodily
and carry her out, but she would not come. Finally he set the
example and dashed out, himself, through the water, calling to
his wife to follow. As his feet began to touch rising ground,
he saw the wall of water coming down the valley. He climbed in
blind terror up the bank, helped by the rising water, and, reaching
solid ground, turned just in time to see the water strike his
"When I turned my back," he said, "I couldn't
look any longer."
Tears ran down his face as he said this. The messenger coming
up just then said:
"Your wife has been found. They got her down at Nineveh.
Her brother has gone to fetch her up."
The man went away with the messenger.
"He didn't seem much rejoiced over the good news about
his wife," remarked one of the strangers, who had yet to
learn that Johnstown people speak of death and the dead only indirectly
It was the wife's body, not the wife, that had been found,
and that the messenger was to fetch up. The bodies of this man's
eight children have not yet been found. He is the only survivor
of a family of ten.
Queer salvage from the flood was a cat that was taken out alive
last evening. Its hair was singed off and one eye gone, but it
was able to lick the hand of the man who picked it up and carried
it off to keep, he said, as a relic of the flood. A white Wyandotte
rooster and two hens were also dug out alive, and with dry feathers,
from the centre of a heap of wrecked buildings.
The work of clearing up the site of the town has progressed
so far that the outlines of some of the old streets could be faintly
traced, and citizens were going about hunting up their lots. In
many cases it was a difficult task, but enough old landmarks are
left to make the determination of boundary lines by a new survey
a comparatively easy matter.
The scenes in the morgues are disgusting in the highest degree.
The embalmers are at work cutting and slashing with an apathy
born of four days and nights of the work, and such as they never
experienced before. The boards on which the bodies lie are covered
with mud and slime, in many instances.
Men with dynamite, blowing up the drift at the Pennsylvania
Railroad bridge, people in the drift watching for bodies, people
finding bodies in the ruins and carrying them away on stretchers
or sheets, the bonfires of blazing debris all over the town, the
soldiers with their bayonets guarding property or taking thieves
into custody, the tin-starred policemen with their baseball clubs
promenading the streets and around the ruins, the scenes of distress
and frenzy at the relief stations, the crash of buildings as their
broken remnants fall to the groundthis is the scene that
goes on night and day in Johnstown, and will go on for an indefinite
time. Still, people have worked so in the midst of such excitement,
with the pressure of such an awful horror on their minds that
they can get but little rest even when they wish to. Men in this
town are too tired to sleep. They lie down with throbbing brains
that cannot stop throbbing, so that even the sense of thinking
is intense agony.
The undertakers and embalmers claim that they are the busiest
men in town, and that they have done more to help the city than
any other workmen. The people who attend the morgues for the purpose
of identifying their friends and relatives are hardly as numerous
as before. Many of them are exhausted with the constant wear and
tear, and many have about made up their minds that their friends
are lost beyond recovery, and that there is no use looking for
them any longer. Others have gone to distant parts of the State,
and have abandoned Johnstown and all in it.
A little girl in a poor calico dress climbed upon the fence
at the Adams Street morgue and looked wistfully at the row of
coffins in the yard. People were only admitted to the morgue in
squads of ten each, and the little girl's turn had not come yet.
Her name was Jennie Hoffman. She was twelve years old. She told
a reporter that out of her family of fourteen the father and mother
and oldest sister were lost. They were all in their home on Somerset
Street when the flood came. The father reached out for a tree
which went sweeping by, and was pulled out of the window and lost.
The mother and children got upon the roof, and then a dash of
water carried her and the eldest daughter off. A colored man on
an adjoining house took off the little girls who were leftall
of them under twelve years of age, except Jennieand together
they clambered over the roofs of the houses near by and escaped.
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