The Pennsylvania State University
Cover for the book The Johnstown Horror!!!

The Johnstown Horror!!!

Or Valley of Death, Being a Complete and Thrilling Account of the Awful Floods and Their Appalling Ruin James H. Walker
  • Copyright: 1889
  • Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.5
  • Page Count: 444 pages
  • Illustrations: 54 b&w illustrations
  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-271-02480-6
  • Series Name: Metalmark
  • A Metalmark Book

Sensationalized history can be credited with inspiring generations of truth-seeking experts and enthusiasts. The tragedy of the Johnstown Flood was an oft-exploited event as writers and publishers hawked hastily written articles in original form or pirated collections. Where many of the articles lacked fact, they were rife with exaggeration and imagination.

James Herbert Walker published one of the very first of these books, The Johnstown Horror, a pamphlet of some 40 pages. Experts cite the book as being sold in New York within a week of the disaster. Though the structure suggests the stories were gathered at rail stations in an apparent journey to the site, there has been debate whether Walker ever traveled to Johnstown. Yet the collection features accounts that do not appear in other publications following the flood.

Later, expanded editions swelled to over four hundred pages and included well-crafted woodcuts. As the flood occurred near the end of the nineteenth century, the engraved drawings are often generously labeled as remnants of Victorian art. It is not clear whether the inclusion of the cuts was an aesthetic or monetary decision, considering the period's developments in photography.

The final, massive collection of individual stories makes the book memorable, ranging from the accusations levied against wealthy Pittsburgh industrialists to the emergence of the Red Cross. So many unique details and personal chronicles capture the frantic mentality of a town, state, and nation trying to make sense of natural and yet not-so-natural disaster.

View a digital version of this book online at the Penn State University Libraries website.

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Also of Interest

Also of interest book cover

The Johnstown Flood

A Thriving City of 30,000 Inhabitants and Many Great Industrial Establishments Nearly Wiped from Earth: Many Thousands Drowned or Burned to Death: Property Worth Many Millions of Dollars Destroyed: An Avalanche of Water Sweeps Down the Conemaugh Valley: General Hastings in Command in Johnstown