1889 Johnstown PA Flood - H.W. Storey

On May 31, 1889 one of the worst natural disasters in United States history occurred in Cambria County Pennsylvania when a week of Springtime torrential rains followed by the collapse of an earthen dam high above the city of Johnstown unleased death and destruction on its unsuspecting populace. The lake impounded behind the dam drained within minutes sending a 30’ high wall of water roaring down a mountain creek bed for some nine miles scouring everything in its path. The water and its mountain of uprooted debris struck the city with thunderous force. The debris pile soon backed up against the Pennsylvania’s Railroad’s stone arch bridge in center city forcing the flood waters to spread out. Fires burning in the wreckage roared out of control for days and completed the holocaust. In the flood’s aftermath 2209 residents were confirmed dead including all members of almost 100 families. Of the 2209 fatalities well over 700 were never able to be identified and were subsequently buried in a special section for unknown flood victims at Grandview Cemetery high up on a hillside overlooking the stricken city. Excluding man-made disasters such as 9-11 in New York, Arlington and Swenksville only the San Francisco Earthquake in 1906 and two hurricanes in 1900 and 1928 left more dead in their wake than did the Johnstown Flood.

The center of the Johnstown business district, its surrounding industry and scores of homes were largely damaged or destroyed. Immediate rescue and relief efforts were slowed because of the extent of the destruction but eventually help and supplies arrived to assist the city in its recovery, a recovery that took years to complete.

The physical part of the city could be rebuilt but the emotional scars and trauma of the surviving victims was another story. For those who survived the flood, May 31st was probably the most terrifying and devastating day of their individual lives. So vivid were the memories that over fifteen years later residents continued to remember the day like it was yesterday and were still anxious to spread the story of those terrifying hours. Of course, there was not yet radio, television, computers or motion pictures. Newspaper coverage had ceased once the event was no longer news beyond Johnstown. A handful of books written in just a few months after the flood were now out of print and when originally issued were filled with so much sensationalism and fallacies about the personalities and events of the flood as to limit their historical value. Atlantic City, Coney Island and Niagara Falls attempted to capitalize on the story by building world fair type attractions to let patrons experience first-hand the horror of the flood waters. To that end only vacationers visiting the three cities and purchasing tickets to the attractions learned first-hand of the horrors of the flood. There was, however, one new social medium to help tell the story nationwide and that was the picture postcard.

The first major set of Johnstown Flood postcards was published by Henry Wilson Storey (1851-1914), a Johnstown attorney who witnessed the flood from a downtown office second story window and dedicated the remainder of his life to telling the story. His avocation led him to accumulate thousands of historical personal reminiscences and documented facts and hundreds of photos, flood relics and souvenirs. It took until 1907, eighteen years after the flood, for Storey to tell his story in a comprehensive history of Cambria County with a major section on the flood. The year 1907 also marked the beginning of the golden era of postcard collecting and Storey decided to use the printed postcard to spread the full story beyond Johnstown’s boundaries. From his collection of flood photos he selected 40 views of the devastation and had them printed as a numbered postcard set. The postcards are divided back format black and white views with descriptive text in red lettering. On the reverse side each card is identified with a number from 1-40 and a five digit manufacturer production number. Production numbers are not in chronological order in relation to the view number and someone erred in assigning the same production number to two postcards in the set. Printing was by the Commercial Color Card Co., a major printer of view postcards operating in the United States at that time. Variations in the reverse side imprint with and without Storey’s name suggest multiple printings.

EraPublisherNumb.CCCC NumbDescription
CStorey, H.W.1188641889 Flood: South Fork Dam - Inside View
CStorey, H.W.2188651889 Flood: Break in Dam
CStorey, H.W.3188661889 Flood: Fourth Ward Morgue
CStorey, H.W.4188671889 Flood: Main Street - Merchant's Hotel
CStorey, H.W.5188681889 Flood: Thomas Store - Main Street
CStorey, H.W.6188851889 Flood: Camp Scene - Morning Ablutions
CStorey, H.W.7188691889 Flood: First Store - After the Flood
CStorey, H.W.8188701889 Flood: Finding of James Murtha
CStorey, H.W.9188861889 Flood: Homes Destroyed by the Ferocious Waters
CStorey, H.W.10188871889 Flood: View of Horror Stricken City
CStorey, H.W.11188881889 Flood: Demolished Chair Factory
CStorey, H.W.12188711889 Flood: Merchants Hotel
CStorey, H.W.13
CStorey, H.W.14188721889 Flood: Main and Jackson Streets
CStorey, H.W.15188901889 Flood: The Unknown Plat (sic), Graves of Unidentified….
CStorey, H.W.16188731889 Flood: View From Frankstown Road After the Flood
CStorey, H.W.17188741889 Flood: Path of the Mighty Waters
CStorey, H.W.18188751889 Flood: M.E. Church from Locust Street
CStorey, H.W.19188761889 Flood: Interior of M.E. Church
CStorey, H.W.20188771889 Flood: Morrell House
CStorey, H.W.21188781889 Flood: The Club House
CStorey, H.W.22188791889 Flood: Office of the Cambria Iron Co.
CStorey, H.W.23188801889 Flood: Pontoon Bridge at Franklin Street
CStorey, H.W.24188811889 Flood: B&O R.R. Station After The Flood
CStorey, H.W.25188821889 Flood: A Freak of the Flood (Tree)
CStorey, H.W.26188831889 Flood: Millville School House
CStorey, H.W.27188911889 Flood: Residence of Col. Campbell
CStorey, H.W.28188921889 Flood: View of Cambria Iron Works
CStorey, H.W.29188941889 Flood: Above the Bridge After Flood
CStorey, H.W.30188931889 Flood: The Stone Bridge That Checked…
CStorey, H.W.31188941889 Flood: South Fork Dam Before Break
CStorey, H.W.32188951889 Flood: Ruins of Opera House
CStorey, H.W.33188961889 Flood: Conemaugh Yards After The Flood
CStorey, H.W.34188971889 Flood: Ruins of Soap Works
CStorey, H.W.35188981889 Flood: View of the Conemaugh Valley
CStorey, H.W.36188991889 Flood: A View of the City After Flood
CStorey, H.W.37189001889 Flood: A Caprice of the Flood (Locomotive)
CStorey, H.W.38189011889 Flood: Stoney Creek (sic) After Flood
CStorey, H.W.39189021889 Flood: Locos & Cars Tossed About
CStorey, H.W.40189021889 Flood: Wreckage and Debris at the Mill