The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


May 25, 2014

Tragic events of 1889 inspired many authors

— The 1889 Flood provides both a wealth of information for historians to write about and a tragic event for novelists to use as a backdrop to their plots.

Stories have been told about true-life survivors, wealthy owners of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club and community leaders for more than a century now. Fictional lovers, time travelers and little children have had their lives impacted by the disaster, too.

Here is a quick look at some books - from the fiction and nonfiction shelves - that involve the disaster.


“The Johnstown Flood” by David McCullough (1968)

McCullough created a narrative history about the event after conducting extensive research and interviewing elderly flood survivors in the 1960s. His book is widely credited with rekindling interest in the flood, both locally and nationally.

“The Story of Johnstown” by J.J. McLaurin (1890)

This reference book was written by a Harrisburg journalist who was in Johnstown at the time of the flood. The National Park Service, which operates the Johnstown Flood National Memorial, described his work as “one of the best” books about the flood at its website,

“Through The Johnstown Flood” by Rev. Dr. David Beale (1890)

Beale wrote a firsthand account of the tragedy after he drew national praise for helping survivors. He allowed First Presbyterian Church on Main Street to be used as a morgue, which some members of the congregation opposed. Beale helped compile a handwritten master record of the dead.

“Johnstown: The Day the Dam Broke” by Richard O’Connor (1957)

Kirkus Reviews described the book as “a factual, carefully documented account of one of America’s major, man-made catastrophes, the Johnstown flood of 1889” and “a blow by blow, hour by hour report.” The same review slammed it though for being “badly organized, repetitious, overburdened with barrowing eye-witness accounts.” There are some notable errors.

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