The Johnstown Flood

Sunday, April 26, 2009

It has come to my attention (well actually, my sister brought it to my attention) that I have been reading too many books that appeal to women and not enough that appeal to men. So today I'm kicking off


But before I get to today's entry, I want to make a retraction of yesterday's blog entry. Apparently, I do have another family member who reads my blog - my Uncle Andy began reading it about a week ago, and has been working on catching up on past entries - and he would like the reading public to know that he is in fact being supportive of the blog. And I'm certainly glad to hear that he's reading, because today's book is one he recommended.

Today's book; "At the end of the last century, Johnstown, Pennsylvania, was a booming coal-and-steel town filled with hard-working families striving for a piece of the nation's burgeoning industrial prosperity. In the mountains above Johnstown, an old earth dam has been hastily rebuilt to create a lake for an exclusive summer resort patronized by the tycoons of that same industrial prosperity. Despite repeated warnings of possible danger, nothing was done about the dam. Then came May 31, 1889, when the dam burst, sending a wall of water thundering down the mountain, smashing through Johnstown, and killing more than 2,000 townspeople. It was a tragedy that became a national scandal."

I've never read any books by David McCullough before, but I've heard good things about his books, including praise for McCullough from my Uncle who told me that his writing makes the story seem more real and alive than most books about history. I agree with him. I love history so I've read quite a few books on the subject - but I feel like this one focused a lot more on the history of the town as well as the history of people before getting to the part about the flood - so I felt a lot more connected to the characters. Despite my love of history, I have never enjoyed reading the kind of history books that focus such on the cold, hard facts - names and dates do nothing to inspire me to continue reading, I want to know what it felt like to live then, I want to know all the little details that make the story come alive.

Uncle Andy also told me that the book was so good he couldn't put it down. In fact, it was so riveting that he stayed up much later than he usually does because he just couldn't tear himself away. Normally he has the sleep schedule of a toddler (I'm saying that with love) - he goes to bed at 8 o'clock sharp, a fact that amused me endlessly when I was a child. I would get into bed at 9:00 and think I got to stay up later than Uncle Andy tonight, even though I'm only eight years old. He told me, "The book was so good that I stayed up until 9:30." (That's right, the 9:30 part was said much louder than the rest of the sentence.) I guess the book must have that kind of effect on people because here is it, dangerously close to 9:30 (how shocking), and I'm still awake. Isn't it scandalous?

Here's the part of the book I found the most startling; "The water moved straight on down the valley, picking up a little speed wherever there were fewer turns to eat up its momentum and slowing down wherever the course began twisting again. Estimates are that, in some places, it may have been moving as much as forty miles an hour. Theoretically, if its weight and the average decline in elevation (thirty-three feet per mile) are taken into account, it had a speed of nearly ninety miles per hour." - Ninety miles per hour? I'm trying to imagine what that would look like, and feel like, but my imagination is failing me. Survivors of the flood attempted to describe what it sounded like - reports varying from "a deep, steady rumble. . . that grew into an avalanche of sound" to "the rush of an oncoming train." I'm truly amazed that people actually survived that experience - not just the flood itself - but the shock of it. I feel sort of tense and edgy just reading about it, I can't even imaging the kind of shock it would produce to actually live through it.

Tune in tomorrow dear readers, for the second installment of MEN OF THE BLOG WEEK.