The Johnstown Flood
July 15, 2003 3:10 PM   Subscribe

Night of the Johnstown Flood. "There was no larger news story in the latter nineteenth century after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The story of the Johnstown Flood has everything to interest the modern mind: a wealthy resort, an intense storm, an unfortunate failure of a dam, the destruction of a working class city, and an inspiring relief effort." Curious about about a line in this song, I went looking for information and found this story and this monument and the wonder/horror of this playground, where a giant force played with masses of iron, weighing scores of tons each, as a child might play with pebbles.
posted by weston (23 comments total)
One thing I didn't find was the song referred to in Springstein's Highway Patrolman. Anyone have a lead on it?
posted by weston at 3:12 PM on July 15, 2003

On the song: this seems to be as close as they got on mudcat. I seem to remember a John Lee Hooker song about the flood as well, though... anyone know what I'm talking about, or did I make that up?
posted by transient at 3:29 PM on July 15, 2003

And it was the basis for a bad teen romance novel that I was hopelessly addicted to when I was around 12...
posted by Katemonkey at 3:33 PM on July 15, 2003

it was the basis for a bad teen romance novel that I was hopelessly addicted to when I was around 12...

...and a terrific book by David McCullough, which I HIGHLY recommend.

This event was also one of the first great tests for the American Red Cross. And has anyone heard anything about this?
posted by arco at 4:18 PM on July 15, 2003

My guess for the Springsteen lyric is that it might have been a song played by some small time band, like a bar band. Or else, possibly Springsteen just made it up?
posted by drezdn at 4:52 PM on July 15, 2003

history of the johnstown flood by willis fletcher johnson, published in 1889 is a fascinating recounting in the language of the day, which also provides unintended comedic benefit in the form of utterances like "Colonel Roberts was one of the most famous engineers in the country. He died several years ago in chili." highly recommended.
posted by quonsar at 4:54 PM on July 15, 2003

More questions on that song lyric... I guess no one can actually prove it existed.
posted by drezdn at 5:02 PM on July 15, 2003

Apparently some people were pretty wrapped up in the matter and discussion could get somewhat heated .

Sortof comforting to see that MeFi hath no snark above USENET.
posted by weston at 5:17 PM on July 15, 2003

And great links everybody... the thread has more information than my post!
posted by weston at 5:31 PM on July 15, 2003

Fabulous--thanks everyone. *faith in metafilter restored once again*
posted by jokeefe at 5:52 PM on July 15, 2003

Was Bruce referring to the same flood on his first album? Don't think so, LOL. And jokeefe, Springsteen is always good for when your down!
posted by billsaysthis at 6:03 PM on July 15, 2003

You might also want to see this video if you can find it. It was directed by Charles Guggenheim and won and oscar for best short film in 1989. Then there is this book written by PBS's David McCullough. I also understand there there is a new DVD about the flood coming out in August and will be narrated by Richard Dreyfuss.
posted by whirlwind29 at 8:02 PM on July 15, 2003

According to family stories, way back in my direct lineage, my great- or great-great-grandfather was a big shot in Johnstown, owning a department store, and possibly a lot more (hotels, bars, etc... hard details have been lost to time). He didn't believe in insurance, and lo and behold, everything was lost in the flood and the family was reduced to nothing. Way to go, Pops.

Also, just to throw in my $.02, I would posit that the Johnny Cash cover of Highway Patrolman (available on the Murder album) is the definitive version. Nothing like the Man in Black to make a classic even better...
posted by The Michael The at 8:17 PM on July 15, 2003

Slightly off topic -

Johnstown Flood (1889): 2,209 deaths
Huang He River (China) Flood (1931): 3,700,000 deaths

[sound of my mind boggling]
posted by skyscraper at 11:24 PM on July 15, 2003

How could one flood kill 3.7 million people?
posted by gottabefunky at 8:05 AM on July 16, 2003

Katemonkey: thank you! I first learned of the Johnstown flood from that book and while reading this thread, I vaguely remembered some sort of teen angstfest book, but forgot the title. Thanks for the link and the sudden flashback to reading that book (and other trashy ones in its series) as a kid.
posted by Asparagirl at 8:11 AM on July 16, 2003

And Katemonkey, one more thing, now that I checked out your website- considering we both apparently devoured those pulp novels as kids, is it any wonder we both apparently became big fanfic fans as adults? :-)
posted by Asparagirl at 8:17 AM on July 16, 2003

At age 16 my family drove thru 3 states to visit Johnstown and learn about the flood. Most. Depressing. Vacation. Ever.

To really grasp it, you've got to see the photos. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

And some fun flood facts.
posted by junkbox at 8:34 AM on July 16, 2003

"'Buffy creator sinks his teeth into a new season of 'Angel'"

so, buffy caused the flood?
posted by quonsar at 8:57 AM on July 16, 2003

I went to school in Johnstown (Pitt branch campus), and lived there for a year until my now wife graduated.

I've had several occasions to go to the site where the dam used to stand and look around with visitors/friends, who all ask, "Where was all the water?" It's not until you look around and realize that you're standing in a valley, and that you can still see the faint remnants of a waterline in the plant life that you really gauge the ungodly amount of water that came pouring through that dam.

My wife's parents live in the flood zone. Every few years, things get really wet down there in spite of all the dykes. (How often do you get to say that in seriousness?)
posted by ringmaster at 12:05 PM on July 16, 2003

Speaking of Springsteen and Johnstown, don't forget this one
posted by Oxydude at 6:55 PM on July 17, 2003

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