Sunday, May 31, 2020

The towns drown May 31, 1889

The president of the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club near Johnstown, Pennsylvania was Col. Elias J. Unger who lived in this house and took care of the property.  He and his team tried frantically to build and hold the dam as the water crept higher and higher, but to no avail and the dam gave way flooding villages and killing thousands of people downstream

Does this picture remind you of Auntie Em's house in The Wizard of Oz? Would that the Johnstown Flood was a mere dream likeThe Wizard of Oz!/Photo by Patricia Leslie

It was rich vs. poor in Pennsylvania in the 1880s when wealthy industrialists fled Pittsburgh and its high summertime temperatures to Lake Conemaugh 67 miles east. At the lake and the surrounding community, the visitors enjoyed cooler weather and the luxuries of a manmade lake with fishing, boating, and nearby lodging in "cottages" or a clubhouse.

They were members of the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club which owned the dam which broke on May 31, 1889 flooding four villages before engulfing Johnstown and killing 2,209 people, many never identified, many, Welsh and German immigrants who worked in the city's steel mills.

The dam needed repairs but who had the money? Or wanted to spend it on a dam structure

Improvements were ignored, and so on a day which saw six to ten inches of rain fall, the most ever recorded for that time period, according to the U.S. Army Signal Corps, the water from Lake Conemaugh breeched the dam and sped down the valley at 40 mph before destroying Johnstown 14 miles away.

Today marks the 131st anniversary of the Johnstown Flood.
Many residents never received warning. The lake's owners and the failed maintenance were never found guilty of anything.

The site lies about four hours from Washington, D.C., now a national park, where I was driven by a book, The Johnstown Flood (1968) by David McCullough which makes visiting the scene much more rewarding if you read it ahead of time. (Johnstown is also about 30 minutes from the September 11, 2001 Flight 93 crash site.)  Although the visitor center is still closed at Johnstown for covid-19, the grounds are open and well worth a visit for the love of history and learning about another chapter in our nation's past.

An engraving from Harper's Weekly June 15, 1889 depicting the tragedy at Johnstown/Wikimedia Commons
The entrance to the park with a path on the left leading to the north fork overlook of the dam's remains, now overgrown/Photo by Patricia Leslie
A view from the north fork overlook trail up the hill at the former location of Lake Conemaugh on the far right, Col. Unger's home, center, and his barn, now the Visitor Center, on the left/Photo by Patricia Leslie
On top of the hill is Col. Unger's home and in the distance on the left is the town of Saint Michael with cottages and the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. Lake Conemaugh was below Col. Unger's house/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Col. Unger's home with Highway 219 in the distance, near the dam's former site in the center/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The Visitor Center on top of the hill, formerly Col. Unger's barn/Photo by Patricia Leslie
A view from the north fork overlook and the water's path/Photo by Patricia Leslie
A trail to the north fork overlook/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Across Lake Conemaugh in Saint Michael's is the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Clubhouse  at 186 Main Street. The three-story building had.47 rooms and lodged club members and their families who did not own "cottages." Now, you can drive up, park onsite, and peer in the windows of the clubhouse where repairs are underway/Photo by Patricia Leslie
From the porch of the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Clubhouse/Photo by Patricia Leslie
One of the "cottages" in Saint Michael's which belonged to a member of the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club, now under renovation. The sign says this style of house is :Victorian Queen Anne "shingle."/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Another view of the "cottage" undergoing renovation, formerly owned by a member of the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club/Photo by Patricia Leslie
A restored "cottage" in Saint Michael's, privately owned/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Looter then, looters now. Francis Schell and Thomas Hogan made this wood engraving of the flood's aftermath including looters, pictured in Harper's Weekly, June 15, 1889/Wikimedia Commons

What:  Johnstown Flood National Memorial.

When:  The park's grounds are open from sunrise to sunset, but covid-19 has closed the Visitor Center. If summertime hours resume (June - September) and the visitor center opens, reservations presumably may be made to take a ranger-led hike (of four-five or eight miles) or a four-hour van tour which includes access to the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club and a ride by "cottages" owned by club members (which may be done in your own vehicle). 

Reservations for the tours are important but I found neither their cost nor how to make them on the NPS website.

Nine of the 16 original "cottages" are still standing; three are owned by the National Park Service and six are private. 

Where:  Johnstown Flood National Memorial, 733 Lake Road
South Fork, PA 15956 

Cell phone tour:  Available at no charge

How much: No charge to visit the park

For more information:  (814) 886-6170 and visit the website

Monday, May 25, 2020

In memoriam Flight 93 Sept. 11, 2001

The name of one of the passengers and her unborn child listed on the Wall of Names at the crash site  of United Flight 93 in Stoystown, Pennsylvania September 11, 2001/Photo by Patricia Leslie
At the entrance to the Flight 93 National Memorial and visible from Highway 30 is the unfinished Tower of Voices, 93 feet high with 40 wind chimes, a "living memorial," the National Park Service writes in its brochure, dedicated on Sept. 9, 2018, a musical monument unique to the world.  About 10 of the wind chimes have been installed (there is presently no sound at the Tower) with the rest to be added at irregular times, according to Wikipedia. (A simulated sound may be heard at the NPS website.)/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The Tower of Voices at the Flight 93 National Memorial/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The Tower of Voices at the Flight 93 National Memorial/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Inside the Tower of Voices at the Flight 93 National Memorial/Photo by Patricia Leslie
At the visitor center about 1.5 miles away from the Tower of Voices is this walkway which leads to the Western Overlook of the site, following the plane's path before it went down/Photo
At the Visitor Center, the times and locations of the other three plane crashes are carved in stone on the walkway to the Western Overlook. This says: "9:37:46 AM   Pentagon   American Airlines Flight 77"  /Photo by Patricia Leslie

The Western Overlook at the Visitor Center/Photo by Patricia Leslie
At the Memorial Plaza below the Western Overlook and Visitor Center, the victims' pictures and names are shown with other displays. A cell phone tour  is available at no charge. Victims' names are also listed in the memorial brochure and on the Wall of Names/Photo by Patricia Leslie

The Wall of Names looking towards the Visitor Center on the top of the hill. The locations of the Wall and the Visitor Center follow the trajectory of the plane as it crashed. Paul Murdoch Architects conceived the site with victims' names carved in separate white marble slabs, in a design reminiscent of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. For any memorial of this magnitude, of course there was controversy, and the architect changed the design/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Looking in the opposite direction at the Wall of Names towards the locked gate (in the distance) which leads to the crash site, a holy place where victims' families are permitted to enter. To the left in the distance beyond the black wall border is the crash site/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Beyond the black granite border at Memorial Plaza on the right is the crash site. Places for visitors to leave tributes are fashioned into the wall and collected. Visitors may also leave cards at the Visitor Center/Photo by Patricia Leslie
This direction is opposite the picture two above, with the black granite border on the left defining the crash site. Beyond is the Wall of Names/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 At Memorial Plaza/Photo by Patricia Leslie
/Photo by Patricia Leslie

On this Memorial Day we also remember and pay tribute to the victims of United Airlines Flight 93, the 33 passengers and seven crew members who ended terrorists' efforts on September 11, 2001 before the plane could strike Washington, D.C.*

Only 20 minutes from Washington, the heroism, strength, and bravery of the crew and passengers prevented another tragedy of an aircraft, intending to destroy a national monument.

Flight 93 was the only one of four planes hijacked that awful day which missed its target.

Rather, this plane barreled upside down into the ground at 593 mph in a Pennsylvania field leaving a crater measuring 30 feet by 15 feet deep which the coroner ordered covered. Remains of every victim were found and returned to families and also, left here.

Now a 17-ton sandstone marks the point of the impact with a cluster of hemlock trees nearby.

Flight 93's grave is one of solemnity and peace whose design and place are marked by a sense of guilt and pride that passengers and crew members on a plane took over with nothing more than sheer determination, mission, and force on their side.

Although it is a sad place, still I was left with astonishment over the bravery and charge of strong men and women who did not hesitate to seize control from the perpetrators and save our nation from more terror. The victims made deadly life-changing decisions in seconds. They are forever heroes whose legacy remind us of what we can do on a moment's notice when called to stand and serve.

I wondered what I would do on a plane like this. How about you?
American heroism grows stronger, never ceasing to overcome adversity and challenge like that we face today.  We, too, can stand and serve our nation and do the right thing.

* The exact target, the U.S. Capitol or the White House, has never been determined.

What: Flight 93 National Memorial

When:  The park is open seven days a week from sunup to sundown, however, the Visitor Center is still closed for covid-19 reasons. When open, the Visitor Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. all week with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.

Where:  6424 Lincoln Highway, Stoystown, PA 15567. (Searching for the park's name will take you to the wrong entrance.) It is a trash-free park.

How much: No charge but donations are welcome!

Getting there: Directions are found on the NPS website. From D.C. it's about 3.5 driving hours away.

For more information(814) 893-6322 or the NPS website

Friday, May 22, 2020

Bike the sites on the Mall

Detail from the Vietnam Women's Memorial on the National Mall, dedicated on Armistice Day, 1993 and designed by Glenna Goodacre (1939-2020)/Photo by Patricia Leslie

I am a lucky gal! Not too far from the National Mall where I can hop on a bike and go riding the sites to see beautiful statues, art and scenery.  The Mall is so big, there's plenty to see.  Come on aboard, mates, for a wonderful time, corona-free, on a Sunday afternoon. Or, anytime.

Happy Memorial Day to veterans everywhere!  We thank you.
Photo by Patricia Leslie    

Our first stop was in Bolivar Gardens a block north of the National Mall where Virginia, C and 18th streets meet in Washington, D.C. This park was named after "the Liberator" Simon Bolivar (1783-1830).

The Republic of Venezuela gave the statue to the U.S. in 1958 which is across the street from the Pan American Union Building of the Organization of American States. Felix de Weldon designed it and the Iwo Jima Memorial.

Here, General Bolivar, proud centerpiece of the park, leads troops to freedom from Spain which formerly occupied what is now Venezuela, Bolivia, Columbia, Equator, Peru, and Panama. 
Near General Bolivar and the Lincoln Memorial is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with the names of 58,318 veterans who died as a result of the war. Some 3,000,000 persons visit the memorial every year, designed in blind competition by Yale University student, Maya Lin (b. 1959)/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Across the grass from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is the Vietnam Women's Memorial dedicated on Armistice Day, 1993, designed by Glenna Goodacre (1939-2020)/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 The Vietnam Women's Memorial/Photo by Patricia Leslie
 Detail from the Vietnam Women's Memorial/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The sculptor's signature stone at the Vietnam Women's Memorial/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Photo by Patricia Leslie 

Between the WWII and the Lincoln memorials and not far from the Korean War Veterans Memorial, is the District of Columbia War Memorial which lists in alphabetical order the names of all 499 District men and women who died in World War I service. Not rank, not race, nor gender is important at this memorial.

The website at the National Park Service says the structure is big enough to accommodate the U.S. Marine Corps band and was built as a bandstand for concerts to honor the war dead. 

General John J. Pershing and John Philip Sousa, the former conductor of the Marine Corps Band, were among the thousands who attended or listened to live radio coverage of the ceremony when President Herbert Hoover dedicated the War Memorial on Armistice Day, November 11,1931.

For years the memorial stood unattended, in poor condition, hidden in trees, unseen by many, neglected and languishing until 2010 when a $3.6 million grant paid for its restoration. Since then, the roof (below) has deteriorated and needs work.

The D.C. War Memorial on the National Mall with a rusty canopy, in need of refurbishment/Photo by Patricia Leslie
From a cluster of cherry blossom trees, the Washington Monument rises/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The centerfold of the World War II Memorial is the Lincoln Memorial, seen in the distance. The DC Memorial stands in the trees on the left, and the Vietnam memorials, in the trees on the right/Photo by Patricia Leslie
A host of golden daffodils border the entrance to the 9th Street Expressway adjacent to the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Beautiful, fragrant hyacinths dot the landscape somewhere on the Mall/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Snow in springtime? It happens, but these pretties were also along the walkway beside the Natural History museum/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Photo by Patricia Leslie 

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt summoned his friend, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, and told him that if a memorial were erected to the president, FDR would like it to be about the size of his desk, please, nothing fancy, but a location at the corner of the U.S. National Archives would be nice.  And so it was, dedicated on the 20th anniversary of President Roosevelt's death, April 12, 1965 on Pennsylvania Avenue.
The FDR Memorial at National Archives/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The Vietnam Women's Memorial/Photo by Patricia Leslie

The museums are still closed but that doesn't keep hundreds from enjoying the statuary and beautiful scenery at the Mall where spaciousness permits easy social distancing. Mask wearers vary from about a third a few weeks ago to more than half now.

Yes! Get on that bike and ride, have fun, and learn a thing or two. (Read other recent posts "on the Mall": the delay of the dedication of the Eisenhower Memorial and a sad Earth Day Park.)