William Topaz McGonagall
The Pennsylvania Disaster - Poem by William Topaz McGonagall
'Twas in the year of 1889, and in the month of June,
Ten thousand people met with a fearful doom,
By the bursting of a dam in Pennsylvania State,
And were burned, and drowned by the flood-- oh! pity their fate!
The embankment of the dam was considered rather weak,
And by the swelled body of water the embankment did break,
And burst o'er the valley like a leaping river,
Which caused the spectators with fear to shiver.
And on rushed the mighty flood, like a roaring big wave,
Whilst the drowning people tried hard their lives to save;
But eight thousand were drowned, and their houses swept away,
While the spectators looked on, stricken with dismay.
And when the torrent dashed against the houses they instantly toppled o'er,
Then many of the houses caught fire, which made a terrific roar;
And two thousand people, by the fire, lost their lives,
Consisting of darling girls and boys, also men and their wives.
And when the merciless flood reached Johnstown it was fifty feet high,
While, in pitiful accents, the drowning people for help did cry;
But hundreds of corpses, by the flood, were swept away,
And Johnstown was blotted out like a child's toy house of clay.
Alas! there were many pitiful scenes enacted,
And many parents, for the loss of their children, have gone distracted,
Especially those that were burned in the merciless flame,
Their dear little ones they will never see again.
And among the sad scenes to be witnessed there,
Was a man and his wife in great despair,
Who had drawn from the burning mass a cradle of their child,
But, oh, heaven! their little one was gone, which almost drove them wild.
Oh, heaven! it was a pitiful and a most agonising sight,
To see parents struggling hard with all their might,
To save their little ones from being drowned,
But 'twas vain, the mighty flood engulfed them, with a roaring sound.
There was also a beautiful girl, the belle of Johnstown,
Standing in bare feet, on the river bank, sad and forlorn,
And clad in a loose petticoat, with a shawl over her head,
Which was all that was left her, because her parents were dead.
Her parents were drowned, and their property swept away with the flood,
And she was watching for them on the bank where she stood,
To see if they would rise to the surface of the water again,
But the dear girl's watching was all in vain.
And as for Conemaugh river, there's nothing could it surpass;
It was dammed up by a wall of corpses in a confused mass;
And the charred bodies could be seen dotting the burning debris,
While the flames and sparks ascended with a terrific hiss.
The pillaging of the houses in Johnstown is fearful to describe,
By the Hungarians and ghouls, and woe betide
Any person or party that interfered with them,
Because they were mad with drink, and yelling like tigers in a den.
And many were to be seen engaged in a hand-to-hand fight,
And drinking whisky, and singing wild songs, oh! what a shameful sight!
But a number of the thieves were lynched and shot
For robbing the dead of their valuables, which will not be forgot.
Mrs Ogle, like a heroine, in the telegraph office stood at her post,
And wired words of warning, else more lives would have been lost;
Besides she was warned to flee, but from her work she wouldn't stir,
Until at last the merciless flood engulfed her.
And as for the robbery and outrage at the hands of the ghouls,
I must mention Clara Barton and her band of merciful souls,
Who made their way fearlessly to the wounded in every street,
And the wounded and half-crazed survivors they kindly did treat.
Oh, heaven! it was a horrible sight, which will not be forgot,
So many people drowned and burned--oh! hard has been their lot!
But heaven's will must be done, I'll venture to say,
And accidents will happen until doomsday!
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