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1 Jun 1959
Submitted by Lynne Canterbury

Johnstown Eye-Witness


It was 70 years ago that a wall of water rolled through the City of Johnstown destroying everything in its path. But to an 83-year-old Hazelwood woman, it could have happened yesterday.

Mrs. Elise Gore, of 4317 Stanley St., just has to close her eyes to see again the houses crumpling in the path of the flood waters and hear the roar of the water as she and her family fled to the safety of the hills.

On May 31, 1889, Mrs. Gore was a 12-year-old girl who had come to the United States from Switzerland only seven years before.

On the day of the flood, she was baby-sitting for the wife of a hotel keeper -- taking car of three young children.

"The church bells began to ring and whistles were blowing all over town warning of the flood but no one paid much attention," Mrs. Gore said.

"My father came for me and I begged for permission to take the three babies with me," she recalled. "But their mother told me it was a false alarm and I had to leave them behind. That was the last I ever saw them."

She and her father ran to their home nearby and picked up what valuables they could carry and started for high ground.

My oldest sister remembered that she had left her new Easter bonnet and ran back for it. Father went back after her and the water already was over their ankles.

It lapped it [sic] their heels all the way up the hill.

"When they were about half-way up, the wall of water came rolling down the valley. It was terrible.

"We watched our home vanish under the wall and then the whole town was covered, with only a few buildings remaining above the flood."

After the flood waters receded, Mrs. Gore said, they found what was left of their home about two blocks from where it had stood.

Shortly afterwards, she said her entire family was stricken with malaria and all were near death.

"But we all recovered," she said.

In Mrs. Gore's case, she became acquainted with a Mrs. Moxham, whose family was prominent in the steel industry of the community.

"She was a lovely lady who just showed up one day and said she had picked out our names as a family to help," Mrs. Gore said. "There was no end to the nice things she did for our family."

Mrs. Gore still attends the Squirrel Hill Christian Church, reads and sews for diversion.

She cooks meals for herself and her daughter with whom she lives.

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