Saturday, December 31, 2011

Flooded with Knowledge

As this past week drew to a close, I began to think that while I've had a wonderful time being off these past two weeks and doing all of the fun things we've done (visiting Chris' uncle, going shopping, going to the movies, visiting the train garden, going to Cabela's and Chocolate World), we hadn't really done anything "educational" in the past two weeks.  We hadn't learned anything.  Well, I'm sure we've learned some things over the past two weeks; we did watch a few episodes of Modern Marvels, after all.  But I mean, we didn't actively seek out knowledge.  

Until yesterday!

Wednesday, I mentioned to Chris that on Friday I wanted to go do something "educational."  I didn't know what that was yet, but I wanted him to be prepared for a sojourn of some kind.  As late as Thursday night, I was thinking we'd ride up to Kinzua Bridge State Park to check out the new Sky Walk.  But then yesterday morning, as I was doing some additional research, I noticed the forecast for that part of the state: rain showers and 38.  Yuck.  

So instead, I pulled up a map of Pennsylvania and just started looking at what's around us.  That's when I saw the city of Johnstown and realized in my 7+ years as a PA resident, I've never been to Johnstown.  Better yet, I knew there'd been a flood (or two...or three!) in Johnstown and that it was a major part of the city's history.  A few Google searches later and our destination was set:  Johnstown!  I discovered that the Johnstown Area Heritage Association operates three facilities in the area and that when you purchase admission at one venue, you actually get admission to all three.  We decided to visit two of the three - the Flood Museum and the Heritage Discovery Center.  

It was only about a 90 minute ride from our house to the museum.  We paid $2 to park in the lot adjacent to the museum and headed for the entrance.

The museum is located in the old library building.  This building was built in 1891 - a gift from Andrew Carnegie - to the town of Johnstown as the original library was lost in the 1889 flood.  This 1889 flood was what we were just about to discover.  The museum has exhibits on the first floor and a theater on the second floor which shows a film about the flood.  The film starts on the hour.  We arrived at 11:30 AM, so we spent the first 25 minutes of our visit on the first floor taking in as many exhibits as possible before we made our way upstairs to watch the film.  While we were there, there were two other couples and one single woman at the museum.  No worries about crowds!

Chris takes in the exhibits along the back wall which is meant to look like the massive piles of debris that were left over after the flood.

A bottle of flood water collected by a woman visiting Johnstown with her husband.

This map in the center of the museum depicts the timeline of events as well as the path of the flood.  The neon green represents the water traveling down toward Johnstown. 

This tool chest and its contents were found on the outskirts of Pittsburgh following the flood.  Since telegraph lines were down, the first indication that folks down-river had of the tragedy was debris floating down the river.

Facts about the flood.  Click on the picture to bring up a larger image.  You should be able to read all of them.  The facts are astonishing. 

Morgue logs like this one were kept as bodies were brought in.  Because of the fear of disease, bodies were catalogued and then quickly buried.  Survivors looking for loved ones had to comb through this books looking for their relatives based on the descriptions recorded in these logs.  Successful IDs meant bodies were exhumed and properly buried.  Over 700 of the bodies were never claimed/identified.

Benefits were held to raise funds for flood victims.  I was struck by this poster and its gratuitous use of the exclamation point.  (Jake Jarmel would not approve.)

"A burning pile of humanity."  <shudder>  But it's true...after the flood swept through Johnstown, a fire broke out among the debris.  People who'd survived the flood but were trapped in the debris met the horrible fate of burning to death. 

Many books were written about the Johnstown Flood of 1889; the first one was written just seven days after the event!

This quilt was started by women who met on the afternoon of the flood (before it occurred).  One of the ladies was killed walking home from their quilting meet and their quilt was finished in her honor.  The "Mrs. E. Clark" (no relation) - that's not her name, that's the name of the lady that finished the quilt. 
After watching the film on the second floor, we finished viewing the exhibits on the first floor.  We'd managed to get through about 75% of the first floor exhibits before the film.  Once we were "flooded with knowledge," we left the museum and grabbed a quick lunch at the nearby McDonald's.  After lunch we dialed up the Heritage Discovery Center on the GPS and made our way there.  

A flock of geese flew overhead as we headed toward the center's entrance.

This dog statue stands outside of the entrance.  It is constructed of tile and glass and is quite sharp!  It's a "no touch" statue.

The courtyard of the center.

The entrance to the center.
The main exhibit at the Heritage Discovery Center is located on the first floor of the center and chronicles the trials and tribulations of immigrants who came to the Johnstown Area in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  This immigrants were primarily from Eastern and Southern Europe.  It is an interactive display that portrays "America: Through Immigrant Eyes."  The exhibit was really fascinating.  Eastern European farmhands - accustomed to (literally!) green pastures - came to America expecting the same (literally and figuratively); instead they found a dirty city with iron company jobs rather than farm jobs.  Wives took on boarders to earn money for their families - six boarders in two beds!  Boarders were taken on based on the shifts they worked so they could sleep in shifts as well!

Notice the "phones" on the displays and the plastic domes suspended from the ceiling.  You could hear different conversations and stories at the various stations throughout the exhibit.  The screen on the left where the plastic domes are hanging...that was an interactive display where you inserted a card and the person on the screen spoke to you as if you were an immigrant arriving in Johnstown.

Chris takes in the displays.

This display depicted the dangers of working in the coal mines.  Notice the hand under the car!

Chris watches the film about local residents and their recollection of their parents' and grandparents' experiences coming to Johnstown.
The Heritage Discovery Center has a few other floors of exhibits - local artifacts are on floors 2 and 5, the 4th floor is an ethnic social club only open for private events, and the 3rd floor is the Johnstown Children's Museum.  We visited the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th floors (staying on the 3rd only long enough to go outside to the rooftop garden to take a few pictures).

The 5th floor was exhibits of goods made in Johnstown.

Century Stoves

Sani-Dairy milk and ice cream

Johnstown beers/breweries

Views from the Rooftop Garden off the Children's Museum on the 3rd Floor.

Old churches - no longer open.

The second floor had an exhibit about pattern makers.

The second floor also had a "Did You Know" exhibit about Johnstown history and little known facts.  This famous WWII pilot was from Johnstown.  When he died in the war, the local newspaper handed out photographs of him (the headshot of him smoking a pipe on the right above) to all its subscribers and to anyone who stopped into the offices to request one.

A safety statue from Cambria Iron Company.
Once we were done in the main part of the center, we walked over to the "Iron & Steel Gallery and Theater."  There we took in the film "The Mystery of Steel" which chronicled the growth of the Cambria Iron Company and the introduction of the Kelly/Bessemer process of turning iron into steel, which helped CIC flourish.  

The theater - we were treated to a private showing.  In fact, I had to return to the main desk to ask them to start the film for us, since it wasn't running on a schedule. 

The gallery of photographs taken at old iron and steel mills in Pennsylvania.
Chris checks out the old steel converter. 
After our visit to the Heritage Discovery Center was over, there was enough daylight left to visit the Johnstown Flood National Memorial (operated by the National Park Service).  This memorial is located at the South Fork Dam (what's left of it, at least) - the site of the breach that caused the Johnstown Flood of 1889.  The dam was located on the property of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club (basically the lake houses of the robber barons of the Industrial Age) and was improperly maintained.  While the Club members were never found liable for the flood, at least one (Carnegie) did make contributions toward the recovery and rebirth of Johnstown following the flood.

That big, gaping hole?  Yeah...that's where the earthen dam failed.

The spillway that wasn't such a great spillway.
All of this used to be Lake Conemaugh before the flood.

Looking over to the south side of the dam.

Railroad tracks and a river now flow were a mighty lake once stood.

Chris takes in the scenery.

Here, I'm all smiles because we did some learnin' today!

The visitor's center at the memorial; we didn't visit.

Do you see Scooby?!?

10X zoom...there's Scooby!

Back in the town of St. Michael (just off what used to be the shoreline of the lake), the old South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club clubhouse still stands.

This is a guest house of the old club.
Having seen all there was to see at the memorial site (at least all we could see with what daylight remained), we decided to head home.  We left our house just before 10 AM and arrived back home right around 6 PM.  We had a great time learning all about the Johnstown Flood and exploring the Heritage Discovery Center.  We learned something yesterday...and we had a great day together doing so!

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