Day 93: The Johnstown Flood

Cover for The Johnstown FloodOn May 31, 1889, the dam above Johnstown, Pennsylvania, broke, sending a wall of water and debris down the mountain to the bustling steel town. It wiped away small towns on the way down and smashed into Johnstown, destroying the town and killing more than 2,000 people. It was the biggest tragedy in America to that time and became a national scandal.

The Johnstown Flood is David McCullough’s enthralling account of the tragedy, its causes and outcomes. Although the dam was originally well built, it was repaired when the property above Johnstown was purchased by a group of wealthy industrialists, among them Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon, to create a private resort. The repair work was not done by qualified people and several warnings about the state of the dam and the danger for the communities downstream had been ignored by resort managers.

The book related the events leading up to the disaster and tells the personal stories of many of the survivors. It discusses the relief efforts and lawsuits that followed and explains the outcomes for the survivors. The book is extremely well written and guaranteed to keep you riveted.