Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Tragedy for the Happy Ending Lover

Image result for the johnstown flood by david mccullough
For Christmas this year Santa brought me "The Johnstown Flood" by David McCullough.  Why? Because it was on my wishlist.  I'm not quite sure why I put it there since I knew a story about an unexpectedly broken dam would not have a happy ending!

The account of the breaking of the dam above Johnstown is full of tragedy, but it is also full of miracles.  It showed the worst of humanity, but it also shows the best.  This book is full of interesting little facts like what people were doing during the morning before the dam broke, and why most people ignored the warnings given that morning that it might break.

We read about people who survived the flood by sitting on, or holding onto floating mattresses.  I don't know what the mattresses were made of  in 1889 -- but I found it incredible that one mattress floated in an attic all night, keeping a whole family alive, and another served as a raft that people were able to ride to safety.  There were entire families that were killed by the flood, and entire families that survived, riding on roofs, or huddling together in the attics of the few buildings that didn't wash away.  There was even a baby born during the night while a family was riding down the flood on a roof.  Another baby was found floating down the river 80 miles from Johnstown unhurt in his cradle.

Parts of The Johnstown Flood are so sad that I cried over them, but the story is also interesting and thought provoking.  The book explores questions such as, Who was to blame?, What should have been done differently? Who sent help and why?  and, What did the survivors do in the days, weeks, and years that followed?  It also gave interesting information about the railroads and their owners, and the newspaper men, and the reports they gave of the flood.

I am not sorry I put it on my wish list even though I did have to be careful where I read it so that I wouldn't cry over the sad parts in public!  David McCullough succeeded in making learning history interesting, which is the reason I enjoy his books.

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