Writer Captures Johnstown’s Resilience | News, Sports, Jobs

Saint Francis University professor Pat Farabaugh’s book “Disastrous Floods and the Demise of Steel in Johnstown” was published in October. Courtesy photo

On the night of July 19, 1977, the residents of Tanneryville in Johnstown “Fell asleep that night without knowing what was going to happen” said Pat Farabaugh, professor at Saint Francis University.

Heavy rains caused the local Laurel Run Dam to fail, killing 40 people and damaging countless properties.

Farabaugh – whose new book, “Catastrophic floods and the disappearance of steel in Johnstown”, was released Oct. 18 – has spent the last few years researching and understanding the impact of flooding on the region’s people, economy and industry.

He said writing the book showed him the forces of nature that can turn entire livelihoods upside down.

“I remembered power and how fierce Mother Nature can be” Farabaugh said. “I also remembered the resilience of human beings. I think you have resilient people in Johnstown because you have to be tough. “

Saint Francis University Professor Pat Farabaugh’s book, “Disastrous Floods and the Demise of Steel in Johnstown,” was published on October 18.

The reasons Farabaugh wrote a book about the Johnstown floods weren’t just to continue where previous writers left off. As the grandson of a coal miner from Bethlehem Steel Co., he had a personal connection to the history of the area.

Farabaugh credits his mother for instilling in her a love of reading. As one of six children, he grew up going to the library and listening to stories of his grandfather’s work in the mines.

He graduated from Cambria Heights High School in 1989 – after serving as SFU’s sports information director before becoming a communications teacher – and said he was grateful to have a job where he could read while writing stories for others.

After reading David McCullough’s book on the Johnstown Flood in 1889, Farabaugh decided to continue the story by writing about the disasters that followed in 1936 and 1977.

But due to Johnstown’s geography and resources, the account has grown into a larger story of the region.

“I wanted to pick up where (McCullough) left off”, Farabaugh said. “I was like, ‘Well, maybe I’ll tell the story of the three. The steel industry is so tied to flooding that it ended up being a bigger story than I initially thought. “

Johnstown is located in a valley, which makes it strategic for steel, an industry that depended on canal systems as a transport mechanism. At the beginning of the railway, the one linking Altoona to Johnstown made the canals less necessary.

Despite this, Johnstown’s natural resources – the surrounding rivers and bituminous coal in the mountains – made it an ideal location for the steel industry to “to bloom,” Farabaugh said.

So when the South Fork Dam failed on May 31, 1889, the resulting wave that caused over 2,000 deaths had a direct effect on jobs in steel mills and coal mines.

“The people of Johnstown not only had to weather the ups and downs of the steel industry, but Mother Nature then caused three major floods and other floods (on them).” Farabaugh. “But they continue to overcome all of these challenges. There is a resilience in them that I hope people will take away from my book when they read it.

Farabaugh’s book, however, goes back further than the floods.

It begins with the founding of the city, guiding the reader through its steel companies and bosses – including Charles Schwab, whose leadership led Bethlehem Steel to become the country’s second largest steel producer.

The book goes on to discuss the 1889 flood, as well as those of the 20th century, which occurred in March 1936 and July 1977. It brings readers back to the present, with Hurricane Ida recently forcing around 3,000 people to evacuate after the water levels have reached in

18 feet from the top of Wilmore Dam.

“Johnstown is always looking for its next chapter. She was attached to this one industry for so long, and so many people raised their families working in the steel industry that when they left the city really strayed. Farabaugh said. “I’m kind of offering some suggestions on where they can go in terms of the economy in the future.”

One misconception that Farabaugh hopes to address in his book is the idea that the cities of the Rust Belt are “depressed” or that a lack of motivation leads to low employment rates.

Farabaugh said this was misguided as factors beyond the control of residents explain the economic downturns – particularly the unpredictable nature of the flooding.

In the aftermath of the 1936 disaster, for example, Johnstown recanalised its rivers and built flood protection walls only to endure the 1977 disaster, as well as Hurricane Ida in 2021.

Richard Burkert, President and CEO of the Johnstown Area Heritage Association, wrote the preface to Farabaugh’s book. He also edited and checked it for accuracy.

Burkert, as a 40-year resident of Johnstown who remodeled the Johnstown Flood Museum, said he was able to use his expertise on the subject to contribute to the book.

He said it tells “a story that has never really been told in a popular format.”

“It’s an incredible story of how America after the Civil War became a modern industrial nation. Johnstown was leading this country into this new modern era… It was the center of invention in the 19th century ”, Burkert said. “But as Patrick points out, there is a long list of things that made him uncompetitive and set the stage for failure. And I think that’s something Americans still don’t understand – what happened to the industry here. “

Burkert added that Farabaugh “never stop working” about history, despite the time it takes to write a book.

“He kept it on the burner and never let it go”, Burkert said. “I think we’re the best at having it.”

For Farabaugh, the story is more than a retelling of the history of Johnstown – it’s a way to capture its essence in a way that honors community members and shines a light on past events.

“I think the tenacity of the Johnstowners, in helping to drive the engine and provide the steel that really helped build America, also helped them get through this flood and meet the challenges of rebuilding their city. “, Farabaugh said. “It’s interesting how people were kind of hardened by the way they made a living. … They didn’t bat an eyelid when the flooding hit. They would bury their dead, they would mourn their loss, and they would clean up and go back to the mills,… It reminds you that sometimes we don’t appreciate how resilient we are, as people.

The Farabaugh dossier

Name: Pat Farabaugh

Age: 51

Residence: Indiana

Family: wife, Jenna and three step-sons

Education: graduated from Cambria Heights High School in 1989; BA from Indiana University in Pennsylvania, MA from Slippery Rock University and PhD from Penn State University

Occupation: Professor of communications at Saint Francis University

Previous books: “An indestructible bond: the brotherhood of Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman” (2014) ; Crusade Against Carl McIntire’s Doctrine of Fairness (2010).

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