The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

April 27, 2014

JAHA observes flood anniversary

JOHNSTOWN — Many survivors of the 1889 Johnstown Flood left their stories for posterity in the form of letters, diaries, memoirs and even depositions.

The Johnstown Area Heritage Association is marking the 125th anniversary of the disaster with an informal dinner and readers’ theater May 31 at Peoples Natural Gas Park, 90 Johns St. in downtown Johnstown.

Following the dinner in the park’s Oilhouse, patrons will walk to the adjacent  Polacek Pavilion to hear nearly an hour of remarkable stories based on first-person testimony of flood survivors.

Tickets are $25 plus fees for individuals and $300 plus fees for corporate tables.

People may obtain tickets at or purchase them at the Heritage Discovery Center by cash or check only.

Since it is a catered event, tickets will be available only until 11 p.m. May 24.

The readers’ theater remembers the tragedy as it engulfed the city on May 31, 1889.

The script has been created by

David Ward, a retired associate professor of literature at Pitt-Johnstown.

Reading the first-person testimonies will be area residents Nicole Bosley, Jayme Brooks, Dave Casker, Mark Rauch, Kevin Rozich, Jacob St. Clair and Lauren Wahl.

Richard Burkert, JAHA president and CEO, said the power of these stories and accounts is a testimony to the spirit of the people of Johns-town as they faced the worst nature could deliver.

“And they not only survived, they endured,” he said. “These stories tell how people began to immediately rebuild their lives while maintaining hope and triumph over adversity.”

Burkert said to imagine a person sitting in their living room on Franklin Street and hearing an ungodly roar.

“When the person goes to the door to check the noise and sees a boxcar float by, that makes for a vivid image,” he said.

He said what makes the Johnstown Flood story so remarkable was the resiliency of the people and their recovery.

“In many disasters, people never recover what they once had,” he said. “But in Johns-town’s case, within 20 years of the 1889 Flood, the population doubled and steelmaking flourished fourfold.”

The commemorative dinner will be prepared by A Flair of Country catering by Corey Crocco.

The evening’s menu includes marinated chicken and barbecued pork tenderloin, as well as Caesar and Greek tortellini salad, a grilled vegetable medley, roasted red skin potatoes and assorted cookies and cupcakes. Beverages will include iced tea and coffee.

Gates will open at 7 p.m.

The readers’ theater will begin at 8:30 p.m. under the Polacek Pavilion, using the historic Stone Bridge as a backdrop.  

Guest parking is available in the Conemaugh “I” lots located along Walnut Street (across from the train station).

Tom Lavis covers Features for the Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on LavisTD.

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