TwHP Lessons

Run for Your Lives!
The Johnstown Flood of 1889

[Cover photo] Aftermath of the Johnstown flood.
(National Park Service)


n June 1, 1889, newspapers across the country bore huge headlines announcing that on the day before, Johnstown, Pennsylvania, had been ravaged by the most devastating flood in the nation's history. With railroad tracks washed away and telegraph lines down, contact with the city was completely cut off, so most early newspaper editions carried stories based on rumor, conjecture, and the accounts of a few overwrought survivors. One bold headline proclaimed, "JOHNSTOWN BLOTTED OUT BY THE FLOOD! HALF OF ITS PEOPLE KILLED." The story that followed told of unbelievable horrors, but the truth, when it became known, was scarcely less ghastly than the fabricated tales of the "yellow" journalists of the time: more than 2,200 people were known to be dead and hundreds more were missing. Property damage amounted to $17 million. The cleanup operation would take five years, and bodies were still being found months and even years after the flood.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. In the flood's wake

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. A Roar Like Thunder
 2. Our Misery is the Work of Man
 3. The Johnstown Inclined Railway

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. Aftermath of the flood
 2. Aftermath of the flood
 3. Debris at the stone bridge
 4. Rescue workers
 5. Locomotives from the East
 Conemaugh trainyard

 6. Woodvale, Pennsylvania, July 1889

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. Averting a Disaster
 2. Investigating the Community

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Johnstown Flood National Memorial

This lesson is based on Johnstown Flood National Memorial, one of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.



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