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The Cost of Greed: A True Example

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  • The Cost of Greed: A True Example

    The Bible tells us that the love of money is the root of all evil. Greed and covetousness are serious sins, and we see the earthly results of these sins all too often. One of the greatest examples is the event that, until the attack on 9/11/01, was the largest loss of life in a single event on American soil, where over 2,200 people were needlessly killed, a whole town was destroyed, 99 entire families died, thousands lost husbands, wives, mothers and fathers. And the entire event was the result of the greed of a few men.

    The Johnstown Flood of 1889 was the greatest loss of life on American soil in a single event until 9/11/01. Johnstown, PA is a small town about an hour outside of Pittsburgh. At the time the flood hit in May of 1889, Johnstown was booming industrial city. Johnstown was at the forefront of iron and steel production before Pittsburgh even had a mill. But one of the greatest tragedies of all time befell the town all because of the greed of men, and if you haven't heard the story, here's how.

    The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club was a club in the Allegheny Mountains just over 10 miles or so away from Johnstown. The Club was on the mountain and Johnstown is a town in a valley. The club was meant to be a place for the wealthiest families of the area to get away from smoke and noise of Pittsburgh. Most of the members were heads of the steel industry in Pittsburgh. Notable members were Andrew Carnegie, Andrew Mellon, and Henry Clay Frick. When the men purchased the club, they inherited a dam that was already neglected. The club spent a lot of money to create a luxurious retreat for the wealthiest. One thing the club was not concerned with was maintaining the dam at the Lake Connemaugh that overlooked the valley where Johnstown sat.

    Not only did the club neglect to repair the damn, but they had the dam lowered by several feet in order to make it wide enough for their carriages to pass. They also installed fish screen at the mouth of the river to keep game fish from escaping. These additions to the damn would compromise greatly the strength of the dam and clog the mouth where debris would normally be washed away. Now, 20 million tons of water sat in Lake Connemaugh with a weak damn in which holes has been filled by dirt and manure, when the owners of the club bothered to fill them at all.

    Years before the flood, the head of the Cambria Iron Co., Daniel Johnson Morrell became a member of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club in order to inspect the dam, which he had already been saying was a danger for years. When Morrell and his experts checked the dam, they warned the Club that the dam was a disaster waiting to happen. The club ownership replied to Morrell with a letter that told him the dam was of no danger to Johnstown. Morrell would die 4 years before the flood, and his warnings died with him, as the remaining members of the Club had no concern for the safety of Johnstown. Then one day it began to rain. And it rained for days. Johnstown had seen water in the streets before, being in the valley. But this time it was different The rain fell hard for days. Then, on May 31, 1889, the damn collapsed. More than 20 million tons of water ran down the mountain into the valley and wiped out Johnstown. Over 2,200 people died. The site was horrific. Near downtown Johnstown is a stone bridge built over archways where the river runs under. The debris from the flood began to pile up and block off the river. Not only did it make the flood worse, but the debris and bodies piled up into a morbid dam. Soon, the pile of bodies, both dead and living, caught fire. More debris and people continued to be washed into the flaming damn of corpses. However, the spirit of the working class people of Johnstown was strong and they rebuilt the city.

    This mega disaster was all caused by the greed and neglect of a few wealthy men who cared more to save money or spend it on themselves than to act responsibly and maintain a dam that they knew would eventually collapse and kill thousands. Lawsuits were brought against the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club and it's members, but no money was ever collected and no one was ever found guilty. This is of little surprise since the club was made up of the families who owned Pittsburgh. To me, this story is heartbreaking and infuriating. Maybe I feel more strongly because Johnstown, PA is where I was born and raised. But this story should serve as a warning to everyone that greed always has terrible consequences, and that just because men are in positions of great responsibility does not mean that they are acting responsibly.

    Here is a great episode of American Masters about the Johnstown Flood. It tells the story of how greed and neglect caused the flood and it has a lot of great photographs from 1880's Johnstown.

    And if you're ever in Johnstown, go to the Flood Museum and to the Unknown Plot at Grandview Cemetery where all the hundred of unidentified victims are buried in graves marked by plain white tombstones.

  • #2
    We sometimes forget that it's not just our own era that is filled with greedy wolves without conscience or empathy. Excellent post.
    He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.
    ~Daniel 2:22


    • #3
      Excellent OP