It should be rather embarrassing that I live around an hour from Johnstown and knew very little about the great flood. In The Johnstown Flood author David McCullough pieces together a riveting story using local reports and quotes from the period. Most of us have heard of the tragedy; some may even know that 2,209 people lost their lives (McCullough reprinted the names of those lost), but you probably don’t know their stories. I had no idea what an international story it was and how long it stayed in the headlines.
The dam was owned by the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club whose membership list included many famous men like Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and Andrew Mellon. These men are iconic names in Western Pennsylvania history, but most didn’t know that they were tied to this massive loss of life and property at a time when they were just making their fortunes. I thoroughly enjoyed the way McCullough told the shocking tale and used the voices of the people involved. It made the story more human and the tragedy all the more tragic. As someone who inspects dams I appreciated the coverage of the “repairs” that exascerbated if not caused the failure. It was also heartwarming to read about the outpouring of charity from all over the world to support those affected.
I know that I can never go wrong with a story written by David McCullough and The Johnstown Flood lives up to that expectation.