JOHNSTOWN: The Day The Dam Broke by Richard O'Connor

JOHNSTOWN: The Day The Dam Broke

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A factual, carefully documented account of one of America's major, man-made catastrophes, the Johnstown flood of 1889. The book lacks the dramatic impact of A Night to Remember, though the ingredients provide in themselves an absorbing tale; and O'Connor himself had contributed Down to Eternity, another version of the Titanic disaster...The idea of floods was nothing new in Johnstown, where they were a recurrent Spring phenomena. Johnstown was nonchalant too about the Great South dam, largest earthwork dam in the world, fourteen miles away. Both dam and the lake it created belonged to Pittsburgh millionaires, who kept it in a dangerous condition of illrepair because they wanted no interference with the fishing. Then in 1889 torrential rains washed out rails and telegraph lines, and under the overflow at the dam, the dam dissolved, 20 million tons of water engulfed the city. The story is a blow by blow, hour by hour report. One sees the physical satastrophe, as stalled railroad trains vanish, houses and churches crumble, debris swept against the bridge catches fire and some 2500 victims are burned alive. Then, the aftermath as sightseers arrive, looting was rampant, tons of disinfectant poured into the city stood off typhoid epidemic. These were the heydays of privilege, and the Fricks, the Mellons, and other clubmembers escaped with a $7,000 relief donation. It took 50 years and another disastrous flood to bring about steps to flood control. The book is badly organized, repetitious, overburdened with barrowing eye-witness accounts, but the drama of the tragedy itself sweeps over the obstructions. Calamity hounds and students of social history alike will find it a valuable addition to a growing shelf.

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 1957
Publisher: Lippincott