Thursday, September 5, 2019

Johnstown, Pennsylvania

On our way to Johnstown, PA, we stopped at the Flight 93 National Memorial Center.  This is the plane that went down in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, when the United States was attacked by terrorists.  It is a very moving memorial.

The Tower of Voices has not been completed yet.  It will be a 93-foot tall musical instrument marking the gateway to the living memorial site.  Forty chimes represent the voice of the 40 courageous passengers and crew members who took a vote to come together and fight terrorism on the morning of September 11, 2001. 

A concrete and glass visitor center is situated on a hill overlooking the crash site and a white marble Wall of Names.  The observation platform at the visitor center and the white marble wall are both aligned beneath the path of Flight 93.   On the land around the memorial park are 40 groves of trees, each planted with 40 trees, to represent the 40 heroic people who died on the crash in Somerset, Pennsylvania.

The aerial view shows a walkway approach you can take that widens as it nears a wall of names composed of 40 thick slabs of polished white granite.  Each slab represents the name of one of the 40 innocent people who were on the flight.

From a distance the monuments appear to be a solid wall to line the path to the crash site. 

The path to the final resting place of the plane is closed off with  a  gate and the rock marks where the plane hit the ground.  The flight impacted at 563 mph leaving a crater eight to ten feet deep and 30 to 50 feet wide.            

Of the four attacks on September 11th, this is the only one where authorities were able to find remains that pointed to who the attackers were including an identification card from one of them.   It allowed the United States to determine where the attackers came from and who was behind the attack.

The main building has a great deal of information about the flight.  When the terrorists started their attack on the cockpit, the pilot and co-pilot immediately took the plane off auto-pilot preventing the terrorists from changing the course to their intended target.  They also switched the voice controls so that the terrorists were heard from ground control although they thought they were speaking to the passengers in the cabin. You can hear the detailed conversations that occurred. There are also recordings of the passengers talking to their loved ones during the ordeal. Along with the displays there are several large screens that play the national news on that day showing and discussing the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.  It is a very eerie experience.  

The memorial is a very solemn place representing the 40 brave souls who prevented this plane from reaching its intentional target and taking many more lives.  

Several days later we continued our trip to Johnstown, Pennsylvania.  I wanted to go there because of the history of the Johnstown Flood that happened in 1889, and also because my father was born and raised in Johnstown.   

The Johnstown Flood occurred in 1889, when an earth and rock dam failed during a record rainfall.  The flood was one of the worst civil disasters in the U.S. causing the death of over 2,200 people and virtually destroying the town. 

Johnstown, Pennsylvania today

Johnstown was founded in 1800 where the Stony Creek and Little Conemaugh rivers joined to form the Conemaugh River.  With the building of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal and the construction of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Cambria Iron Works, the city  had a bustling population of 30,000 by 1889 and was known for its steel.  The Cambria Iron Works employed over 7,000 workers, most of whom lived in company-owned tenements, shopped at the company store, and when sick or injured went to the company hospital.

High above the city, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania built the South Fork Dam between 1838 and 1853 as part of a cross-state canal system.  The canal was supplied with water by Lake Conemaugh, the reservoir behind the dam.  Soon after railroads superseded canal barge transport and the Commonwealth abandoned the canal and sold it to the Pennsylvania Railroad. The dam and lake were part of the purchase and the railroad sold them to private interests.

In 1881, Henry Clay Frick, with a group of investors from Pittsburgh, purchased the abandoned reservoir, modified it, and converted it into a private resort lake for their wealthy associates. The lake was two miles long, one mile wide and 60 feet deep near the dam.  

The members built cottages and a clubhouse to create the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, an exclusive and private mountain retreat to include more than 50 wealthy Pittsburgh steel, coal, and railroad industrialists.  Members included Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Carnegie, and Andrew Mellon. 

From 1881-1889 the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club owned the lake.  On one side they built a 47 room clubhouse and 16 elegant cottages.  Club members took to the water in row boats and sailing canoes, as well as two fine steam yachts.  The lake was stocked with bass and trout. 

Development included lowering the dam to make its top wide enough to hold a road, and putting in a fish screen in the spillway to keep the fish from leaving the lake.  By 1889, the water control tower had burned down.  Five large outlet pipes, a feature of the original dam and previously sold off, had not been replaced. And  earlier breaches in the dam had been improperly filled with stones, brush, and even manure.  The dam had settled and sagged at the center.

On May 28, 1889, a low-pressure area formed over Nebraska and  Kansas. By the time this weather pattern reached western Pennsylvania two days later, it had developed into what would be termed the heaviest rainfall event that had ever been recorded in that part of the United States. The heavy rains also disrupted communication lines so most people below the dam were not notified. 

At 2:50 p.m. the South Fork Dam breached and 3.84 billion gallons of water headed for Johnstown.  They estimate it took less than 65 minutes for the lake to empty after the dam started to fail.  Several towns along the way were hit by the flood waters but many people escaped. Continuing on its way downstream to Johnstown, the water picked up debris, such as trees, houses, and animals and several other small towns were swept away.

Some 57 minutes after the South Fork Dam collapsed, the flood hit Johnstown. The residents were caught by surprise as the wall of water and debris bore down, traveling at 40 miles per hour reaching a height of 60 feet in places. Some people, realizing the danger, tried to escape by running towards high ground but most people were hit by the surging floodwater.

In Johnstown, the Stone Bridge carried railroad cars across the Conemaugh River. The debris carried by the flood formed a temporary dam at the bridge, resulting in a flood surge that rolled  upstream into the Stoney Creek River. Gravity caused the surge to return to the temporary dam, causing a second wave to hit the city, but from a different direction.  People who had been washed downstream became trapped in an inferno as the debris piling up against the bridge caught fire. The fire at the Stone Bridge burned for three days. After flood waters receded, the pile of debris at the bridge covered 30 acres and reached 70 feet tall.

The Stone Bridge where many people were trapped and died.

According to records compiled by The Johnstown Area Heritage Association, bodies were found as far away as Cincinnati, and as late as 1911; 99 entire families died in the flood, including 396 children; 124 women and 198 men were widowed; 98 children were orphaned; and one third of the dead, 777 people, were never identified; their remains were buried in the "Plot of the Unknown" in Grandview Cemetery in Westmont.

The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club was disbanded and no members or their families every returned to the area.  In the  years following the disaster, some people blamed the members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club for their modifications to the dam and failure to maintain it properly. The club was successfully defended and was never held legally responsible for the disaster. It was argued that the dam's failure was a natural disaster which was an act of God, and no legal compensation was paid to the survivors of the flood.  
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers Report, dated June 1891, the changes made by the club had no real effect to the dam's ability to contain the waters of Lake Conemaugh during such a storm.  
In May 1988, almost 100 years later, a Civil Engineering Report stated that if reconstruction of the South Fork Dam had been rebuilt to the original specifications and construction, the disaster of May, 31,1889, would never have occurred. 

The small RV park we stayed at is actually situated on the floor of the Conemaugh Lake.  And the town we drove through to get to our RV park sits on the banks of where the Conemaugh Lake used to be.  The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club building is there and being refurbished along with several of the 'cottages' the wealthy lived in while at the lake. 

The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club

Johnstown today is a struggling town that is slowly coming back.  The steel mills and factories have all closed but new industry is starting to bring growth to the town.  There were several other floods that hit the city after the one in 1889. They weren't as devastating but still took many lives.  

 In Johnstown there is an incline you can ride that gives you a bird's eye view of the city today.  The incline was built as a direct result of the flood.  The incline was opened in 1891 to provide direct access to the city from higher towns.  Two later floods in 1936 and 1977 damaged Johnstown and the incline saved countless lives. 

The closed steel mills are still present today and sitting empty.  To the left is a section of the river that is enclosed in a viaduct.

The Stone Bridge where so many people died in the Johnstown Flood is still standing and in use today.

On our trip driving to Johnstown we met two different couples who were from the city and I mentioned we were going there to see my dad's old house.  Both couples asked where it was and when I gave them the address they cautioned us to be very careful because they said that part of town was dangerous.   

We no longer have relatives who live there and the area has become poor and rundown but I remember wonderful times growing up and visiting relatives who still lived in the house. Sadly, times have changed and the house and neighborhood is old and deteriorated but I guess that is to be expected in many older cities.  But it was still nice to be able to go back and see the home my dad was born and raised in. Peace!


Sunday, August 11, 2019

Retirement and Promotion

We left the Finger Lakes and drove back down to Richmond, Virginia, to join our son-in-law and family for his retirement from the USMC.  Anthony retired after 29 years in the Marine Corps and traveled all over the world including a stint in Afghanistan.  He is retiring as a Colonel and the whole family is very proud of him and his dedicated service to our country.  

Anthony with our daughter, Lynn, during the ceremony.  

Anthony gave a nice speech thanking many who had been with him throughout his career and a big "Thank You" to his wife and family for all they had sacrificed during his career.  

I was sitting next to Anthony's mom and we both received a lovely bouquet of flowers.

After the ceremony there was a lovely celebration in one of the halls on the base.

Granddaughter Katelyn with her husband Cole joined us.

Brett' s sisters, Debra and Cindy, and niece, Amy, joined us along with other members from their family.

After the ceremony many of the people present went to the Capitol Alehouse in downtown Richmond and we continued the celebration there.  The youngsters played darts while all the adults drank beer and ate more food and we all had a great time.

Anthony's retirement was on a Monday so we stayed in Richmond and spent the rest of the week helping our daughter and family get ready to move to their new home in Warrington, PA.  On Friday we drove up to Washington, DC, to enjoy the promotion of our niece, Sarah Eccleston, to Lt. Colonel in the US Army.  Our granddaughter, Katelyn, drove back up to Richmond to join us on the trip to DC.  

Sarah decided to have her promotion on a boat while cruising the Potomac River.

Waiting to get on the boat.

Sarah is a nurse with the United States Army, a mother of four, and married to Russell Anderson.   Sarah's brother-in-law, Lt  Col Spencer Anderson, performed the ceremony.  He recently  retired from the US Army after a long career.  They were the only two in uniform for the ceremony and it was really hot.  

Sarah's husband, Russ Anderson, emceed the ceremony and had everyone laughing.  There was lots of food and drink and as soon as the promotion ended Sarah and Sterling got out of their hot uniforms to enjoy the rest of the boat ride.  The boat was crowded with family and friends and the Potomac River was beautiful.  You couldn't have asked for a nicer day.

We also got to see many wonderful views from the Potomac River.

Katelyn and Lt Colonel Sarah Eccleston

Two old folks who were invited.

Back in Richmond we continued to help Lynn get ready for the move to PA.  She has some nice artwork, china, and other valuables that she was concerned about being shipped commercially and didn't think there would be enough room in their cars to carry it.  So the Captain suggested we take those valuables in our rig back to Lugoff, SC, leave some of it there until later in the year, and bring the rest back up with us to their new home.  It also gave him the opportunity to drop off a few cases of wine we had purchased while in New York :)  So we jumped into the rig, drove all the way home, dropped off the necessary items, had dinner in the rig with our daughter, Beth, and grandson, Lee, spent the night in the rig and then left early the next morning to drive back up to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.  What parents do for their kids.....

We found a nice campground in the Shenandoah Valley and stayed there for a week to enjoy the scenic area. While there, our black lab, Desi, stopped eating and drinking water and became very listless.  We took him into a local vet and they ran blood work but found nothing.  Since he was dehydrated they gave him subcutaneous fluid and an antibiotic to see if he would improve. Two days later we were back with him and they ran an x-ray which showed his spleen was enlarged and they saw several lumps that looked suspicious.  Once again they gave him fluids for dehydration.  This continued but with us giving him the fluids over the next few days.  They recommended he have an ultrasound to try and determine what they were seeing in his stomach but they didn't have the equipment necessary to do the test.  Since we were traveling to Warrington to meet up with our daughter and family we decided to find a doctor there.  

Our sick puppy getting fluids in the rig.

Eventually we visited two different doctors with Desi.  The one doctor did the ultrasound but it did not show any cancerous tumors so they thought it might be an autoimmune problem. That led us to the last doctor who was a specialist in internal medicine with animals.  He looked at the xrays and ultrasound and suggested we have another more complex blood test for Desi.   He also recommended an IDEXX 4dx snap blood test which checks for tick borne diseases.  I mentioned Desi had always been on monthly heartworm and flea and tick medicine but decided it wouldn't hurt since he was a southern dog where those diseases are so prevalent.  The 4dx test only takes a few minutes and it came back positive for Ehrlichia which is a tick borne disease.  We were very surprised but the vet said he had probably been carrying it in a sub-clinical stage where there are no outward signs. He felt something physiological caused the disease to flare up.  We got the results of the more complex drug test the next day and it definitely pointed to Ehrlichia.  So Desi is on Doxycycline for 30 days and when we get home we will take him into our vet for another 4dx test to see if he has cleared the disease.  He is now happy and healthy again, enjoying his food and walks, and being our sweet pup.

Our daughter and family moved to Warrington and we went to their house each day and painted many rooms before the movers brought in their furniture.  After a week we left and went to a quiet park for rest and relaxation before we continued on our trip east to Johnstown, PA.  My father was born and raised there so I wanted to see the old house.  The city is also known for the Johnstown Flood and we wanted to learn more about that.  It was an interesting place that I will share with you in the next blog. Peace!