Roof debris display.

Johnstown Flood National Memorial

Field review by the editors.

South Fork, Pennsylvania

Johnstown is 14 miles away, but the 1889 flood disaster really started here, when a poorly maintained and inadequate earthen dam collapsed at a rich people's fishing lake. The Flood National Monument is at the dam site near Saint Michael, PA.

The Monument's visitor center offers a chronology of the tragedy in displays arrayed below a chaotic ceiling arrangement of debris -- including a mannequin clinging to a fragment of roof.

The centerpiece at the National Monument is an artistic gray-toned film, "Black Friday." At the rainy, mist-filled victims' mass grave, the narrator tells us, sadly, "they are the dead ... victims of Black Friday. Armageddon -- the last judgment . . . " The flood is blamed on fatcat industrialists -- like Carnegie and Mellon who were members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. They bought the lake and stocked it with fish, but did not maintain its poorly designed dam, jokingly referred to as the "Sword of Damocles." In the film, edited scenes from old Titanic and Atlantis movies are combined with the destruction of scale models of houses and buildings.

Water explodes everywhere on-screen. The veritable flume ride ends with a roll call of the dead, while ghostly images march across the cemetery. "Grave No. 45, Unknown, head burned off . . ." The doors open, and the numbed crowd races for the lavatories.

Johnstown Flood National Memorial

Address:
733 Lake Rd, South Fork, PA
Directions:
NE of Johnstown, US 219 to Saint Michael/Sidman exit. Head east on PA 869. Turn left onto Lake Road at sign for Johnstown Flood National Memorial.
Phone:
814-495-4643
Admission:
Ages 16 and up, $4.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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April 25, 2014

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