Remembering The Great Flood/Johnstown Flood of 1889

Main Street, Johnstown, after the flood
Source Public Domain (Original source:Andrews, E. Benjamin. History of the United States, volume V. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. 1912)

On 31 May 1889, a terrible flood devastated the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. A catastrophic failure of a dam on the Little Conemaugh River, approximately 14 miles upstream of the town occurred. Several days of heavy rains resulted in a large volume of water in the Lake Conemaugh reservoir. It is estimated 20 million tons of water were unleashed when the dam broke. Scientists believe today the volume of water released through the narrow valley to the town temporarily equaled the flow of the Mississippi River.

It took 57 minutes for the water to traverse the distance to Johnstown, whose citizens were unaware the dam had burst. Several towns along the way were hit by the raging waters. Debris included livestock, homes, railroad cars and whatever it picked up along the way. It was temporarily stopped at the Conemaugh Viaduct, a 78 foot railroad bridge but it gave way allowing the flood to resume. This is believed to have made the flood stronger and thus hit Johnstown traveling at 40 mph and reaching 60 feet in height. People who managed to flee to high ground, whether it be in attics or racing to higher ground, generally survived. Many were crushed by falling debris or hit by debris within the flood surge. A second surge occurred when flood waters that had been stopped by debris at Stone Bridge gave way and entered the town from a different direction.

When it was all over, Johnstown had been devastated and the death toll stood at 2,209. This made it the largest single loss of life up to that time. 99 families died, 396 children. A large number of widows, widowers, and orphan children resulted from the tragedy. Some remains were never identified and buried in “Plot of the Unknown” in Grandview Cemetery in Westmont. Property damage was extensive with homes and industry damaged. The American Red Cross, newly founded in 1881 by Clara Barton, assisted survivors and stayed for five months. Although significant improvements have been made to protect residents of the area from floods, they still occasionally threaten and cause damage to property and life. The last major catastrophe occurred in 1977 when severe thunderstorms caused the river to rise and reaching heights of 8 feet and more. 78 people died in the area and $200 million in property damage occurred.

Many blamed the dam failure on the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club for failing to maintain the dam properly. Many of its members were millionaires (and the lawyers that defended it in court were also members). However due to limited liability laws and a determination that the dam broke due to an act of God, the South Fork Club was deemed not liable and so no money was paid to survivors. However many members did contribute money to the relief funds for the town. Andrew Carnegie built a new library. Laws would change so that strict liability would be assessed against such organizations in the future.

Post Script
My grandfather was born in Johnstown a few years after this disaster and grew up knowing about what happened. Years later after moving to Leavenworth, Washington (known today as the Bavarian Village) he met a survivor of the flood. She had been a very young girl back then and her entire family had been wiped out. Worse the damage had destroyed the local records office where birth records had been kept. So while she knew her first name, her family name was unknown. A lasting reminder of the effects of such disasters can have on people.

1. Johnstown Flood Memorial (National Park Service)
2. Johnstown Flood Museum (Johnstown Area Heritage Association)
3.Johnstown Flood (Wikipedia)

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The Enemy Below(1957)

EnemybelowposterThere are lot of war themed movies to watch on Memorial Day. One that does not get a lot of attention but has considerable acclaim is The Enemy Below. Released in 1957 it tells the story of a battle between an American submarine destroyer captain (played by Robert Mitchum) and a German U-Boat commander (Curt Jürgens)during World War II.

As the story opens, we learn the crew of the American destroyer is not sure about their new captain, who recently lost a ship. Down below we learn the German submariner is a skilled and competent officer who is tired of the war. However once the submarine is detected, Mitchum’s Captain Murrell shows he is no “feather captain” but highly skilled at submarine tracking. Jürgens von Stolberg is highly skilled at evading. The battle of wits continues throughout the movie as each tries to out maneuver the other. We see the pressures it brings to both crews.

On the American destroyer one of the sailors suffers serious hand wounds from the launching of the depth charges. Murrell shows compassion for the sailor who had to have his fingers amputated. Von Stolberg has to deal with crew suffering from the pressure of having depth charges rattle the submarine. He helps calm one sailor who gets angry threatening others with a wrench. Then he plays a record over the intercom to raise the spirits of his men knowing it will be detected by the destroyer above.

And the ending, which I will not spoil here, is well worth watching. The movie never slows down and keeps you hooked. You come to admire both captains for their skill and caring about their crews. There is no senseless World War II jargon tossed about but a determination on both sides to win over the other. If you want a good war movie that is both thrilling and tells a great story, you will not go wrong in watching The Enemy Below.

Fans of Star Trek (the original series) will note a remarkable similarity with one of the top rated episodes Balance of Terror. In that episode Captain Kirk has to match wits with a Romulan commander (played by Mark Leonard who would later play Spock’s father)in much the same way as this movie does.

Memorial Day 2016

Gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery decorated by U.S. flags on Memorial Day weekend. Photo:Public domain
Gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery decorated by U.S. flags on Memorial Day weekend.
Photo:Public domain

Today is Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember those who gave all to serve this country. At national cemeteries and smaller ones around the country, flags and flowers have been placed to remember them. We also remind ourselves that freedom is not easily granted, often requires great sacrifice. In wars long past and those close, we remember those who gave all. And the families who faithfully remember those who have fallen.

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


Titanic Exhibition Coming To Portland Science Center In June

Public Domain( John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Australia)
Public Domain( John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Australia)

Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition will be coming to the Portland Science Center in Portland, Maine on 18 June 2016 and run through the summer. For tickets, hours of operation and other information go to

Belfast Telegraph:Titanic II Has Run Aground

Just a pipe dream.

The hits just keep coming against Clive Palmer and the un-Titanic II. Belfast Telegraph reports that CSC Jinling Shipyard in China is now referring all comments about Titanic II to Blue Star Line. The Telegraph follows an earlier story in Daily Mail that Deltamarin was no longer working on the ship design and in fact had suspended work 18 months ago. According to the newspaper:

But although Mr Palmer spent millions on marketing his childhood dream project, including a lavish project launch on USS Intrepid in New York, documents just published by the administrators of a former Palmer company, Queensland Nickel, show that little or no money has been put into the development of Titanic II for over two years. Indeed, the only funds directed towards the project were for offsite storage and IT-related expenses. Last week, Mr Palmer said at a press conference he would have to ask his wife if he could pursue the project in retirement – a statement that suggested he was well aware Titanic II was now a mere pipe dream.

Source: Plans to build replica Titanic all at sea as Oz tycoon Clive Palmer gets cold feet (Belfast Telegraph, 10 May 2016)

Titanic II Update:Finnish Shipbuilder Reportedly Stops Work

Titanic Leaving Queenstown 11 April 1912. Believed to be the last photograph of ship before it sank. Public Domain
Titanic Leaving Queenstown 11 April 1912. Believed to be the last photograph of ship before it sank.
Public Domain

It has been a while since we have had a legitimate update about Clive Palmer’s Titanic II. A brief recap might be in order to remind everyone about this project. Amid great fanfare and lots of celebrity meals, Clive Palmer announced in 2012 that he was building a full size replica that would meet all present day safety standards. Firms were contracted for various aspects of planning, testing, and other needed things. Drawings were released and a Chinese shipbuilding firm was to be the its builder.

Then things went very quiet. Nothing was going on at the shipyard, Palmer tried getting Chinese investors aboard, and then he got into a row with the Chinese government. A new launch date of 2018 was announced, investors in Dubai showed interest in licensing Titanic for a major theme destination, and the maiden voyage was shifted from China to Dubai. And now here we are in May 2016 and no construction has yet taken place and no contract to build the ship has been signed. And now we learn from the Daily Mail that a Finnish company Deltamarin, contracted to design the new ship, ceased working with Blue Star back in 2014.

At this point we have no idea how far along Deltamarin was in designing the new ship. They may have done preliminary work and were waiting for Blue Star to commission full scale plans. If they did not commission them, it would be consistent with what we know so far. Palmer likely ran into trouble getting Chinese investors and his row with the Chinese government probably scuttled the ship being built there anyway. His only hope it would seem would be in Dubai these days but whether or not they want to commit to a full scale sailing replica is another matter. My guess is they might be more interested in the Titanic artifact collection that has yet to be sold and awaits a buyer. That would draw in lots of tourists but having a Titanic replica docked nearby could seal the deal. However they might decide to do it themselves without Palmer. Either way, the dream of Titanic II in 2018 looks quite remote at this point.

Source: Is Mining Billionaire Clive Palmer’s Titanic II Dream Under Water? Finnish Shipbuilder ‘Has Stopped Working On Plans’ To Design A Replica Of The Doomed Ocean Liner(Daily Mail,7 May 2016)

Happy Mother’s Day

Karen Arnold (
Karen Arnold (

Headstone For Titanic Hero

Collapsible lifeboat D photographed by passenger on Carpathia on the morning of 15 April 1912. Public Domain(Wikipedia)
Collapsible lifeboat D photographed by passenger on Carpathia on the morning of 15 April 1912.
Public Domain(Wikipedia)

Robert J. Hopkins was an able seaman on Titanic on that fateful night. He was assigned to lifeboat 13 with Fred Barrett. As the lifeboat reached the water, both he and Barrett had to quickly free it as lifeboat 15 was coming down nearly on top of them. Fortunately a knife was found and the ropes were cut allowing the lifeboat to drift away. After he arrived in New York, he sought assistance from the American Red Cross. There were some statements that were inaccurately attributed to him about possible bribery by Duff Gordon who was in lifeboat 1.

Hopkins was from Belfast and immigrated with his wife to the United States in 1900. They had two sons while living in New York but sadly his wife passed away in 1907. His brought his sons to Liverpool to be raised by the family. At the time he served on Titanic, he was living in Hoboken in New Jersey. He would live the rest of his life there and passed away on 17 November 1943. He was buried in Holy Name Cemetery but it never had a headstone till now. Thanks to the Archdiocese of Newark,Titanic International Society and his descendants,a headstone has been put in place. It will be dedicated on 14 May 2016 and blessed by Bishop John W. Flesey.

[Correction#1: originally reported that the dedication/blessing was done last week. In fact it is not scheduled till 14 May 2016. The entry has been updated to reflect this information.]

Titanic hero’s grave in Jersey City to finally get headstone (3 May 2016,
Titanic Lifeboat No. 13 (Encyclopedia Titanica)
Robert John Hopkins (Encyclopedia Titanica)

Watch Titanic Sink In Real Time

I know others have mentioned this but some clever folks created a full length animation of Titanic sinking in real time. Meaning from start to finish it is 2 hours and 41 minutes. You get to see the ship collide, hear the orders given, and watch the evacuation and sinking. It is a pretty good rendering of Titanic but other experts will have to say if it passes muster or not. So if you have the desire to watch the whole thing, here it is.