Not Ready for a Flood
Not Ready for a Flood
In the 1880s, if you wanted a good life with a good job, you moved to Johnstown, PA. The Pennsylvania Main Line Canal came through town, so that brought jobs. So did the Pennsylvania Railroad. And the Cambria Iron Works. Families were moving in from Wales. From Germany. Not to mention there are beautiful mountains, covered with forest, all around town. And right through the town runs the Conemaugh River.
In fact, the area is so beautiful, the country’s richest people—Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon—would come out from Pittsburgh to hunt and fish at a private club up above town, where an old earth dam had been modified to make a fishing lake for them.
On May 30, 1889, a huge rainstorm came through and dropped six to 10 inches of rain. Despite that weather, the next day the town lined up along Main Street for the Memorial Day parade. The Methodist pastor, H. L. Chapman, said, “The morning was delightful, the city was in its gayest mood, with flags, banners and flowers everywhere ... The streets were more crowded than we had ever seen before.”
And then the old dam miles above town collapsed, releasing almost four billion gallons of water. When that wall of water and debris hit Johnstown 57 minutes later, it was 60 feet high and traveling at 40 miles an hour. People tried to escape by running toward high ground. But over 2,000 of the 30,000 people in town died. Some bodies were found as far away as Cincinnati, and some were not discovered until 20 years later.
The Johnstown Flood remains one of the greatest tragedies in American history, behind only the Galveston Hurricane and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And in every one of those cases, life was fine. Until it wasn’t. In a moment, in a way that was unexpected and most people were not prepared for, something cataclysmic occurred, and people were swept away.
Possible Preaching Angle:
Jesus tells us when the end comes it will be like this: “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes (Matt. 24:37-39).
David McCullough, The Johnstown Flood (Simon and Schuster, 1968), p. 22; David McCullough, “This 19th-Century Disaster Made a Historian of Me,” History.com (8-27-18)