The Johnstown Flood of 1889: May 31, 1889

The Johnstown Flood of 1889: May 31, 1889

On the afternoon of May 31, 1889, heavy rains caused the dam on Lake Conemaugh to fail, sending the water from the lake rushing downstream to devastate the city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. With a death toll upwards of two thousand, the Johnstown flood was the deadliest natural disaster in American history up to that point.

Johnstown Flood of 1889 headlinesLake Conemaugh was a manmade reservoir created in 1853. In 1879, the lake and the surrounding land were sold to the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club to create a getaway in the Pennsylvania mountains for Pittsburg’s elite, including Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and Andrew Mellon. Although warned in 1881 by an engineer that the lake’s dam desperately needed maintenance—improper repairs, among other problems, had weakened the dam—the club ignored the recommendations.

Fourteen miles downstream from Lake Conemaugh was Johnstown, a booming steel mill city. An unusually heavy rainstorm that began on May 30, 1889, caused nearby rivers to overflow their banks, and the streets of Johnstown filled with water; the storm also caused the waters of Lake Conemaugh to rise rapidly. Despite frantic last-ditch efforts to prevent the dam from failing, the dam collapsed around 3 p.m. on the 31st.

The water of Lake Conemaugh was sent hurtling into the valley below, wreaking havoc on the smaller towns in its path and wiping out houses, trees, railcars, animals, and people. By the time the water reached Johnstown about an hour later, it was still dozens of feet deep and moving at about 40 miles per hour.

As the water cut its destructive path through Johnstown, the massive amount of debris carried by the flood accumulated against a stone railroad bridge that stood on the edge of the city. Somehow, the mountain of debris caught fire that evening, and the resulting conflagration killed many people who had been trapped in the debris.

The water from the dam took only about 10 minutes to sweep through the city, but it left incredible damage in its wake. More than two thousand people were killed, including ninety-nine entire families, and 1,600 homes were destroyed.

When news of the disaster reached the outside world, money and supplies came pouring in to help the people of Johnstown and the surrounding communities rebuild their homes, businesses, and lives. Clara Barton and her newly created American Red Cross provided relief for five months. Although lawsuits were filed against the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, none of them were successful, and the club was not held legally accountable for the disaster.

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First Oklahoma Land Rush: April 22, 1889

Oklahoma land rush begins In March, President Benjamin Harrison had announced that land in Indian Territory called the Oklahoma District (land obtained from the Creek and Seminole that wasn’t currently assigned to a tribe) would shortly be opened up to non-Native American settlers. This move came after years of eager homesteaders known as “boomers” trying to illegally settle the land; they were repeatedly removed by federal troops, but eventually the pressure on Washington from boomers, western congressmen, and railroads proved strong enough for the government to agree to allow non-Native American settlers to stake claims in the Oklahoma District.

So on April 22, roughly 50,000 prospective settlers (though some estimates range as high as 100,000) gathered at the borders of the Oklahoma District, waiting for the signal—a gunshot in most places—to begin their race to claim land. At noon the signal was given, and the men (and a few women) moved on foot, on horseback, by wagon, and by train to try to get to the best spots of land first.

While some of these settlers staked out potential farms, others raced to the site of future towns to claim lots for businesses. The chaos led to some pieces of land being claimed by more than one person, or to claims that overlapped. The settlers were also frustrated to find that some of the best land and lots had already been claimed by “sooners,” people who had snuck in illegally beforehand to strike their claims early.

In a single day, almost 2 million acres of land were claimed. The city of Guthrie went from a population of zero to 15,000 on that day, and Oklahoma City similarly went from nonexistent to 10,000 inhabitants.

The land rush of 1889 was just the beginning of a series of land rushes that opened up most of Oklahoma to non-Native American settlement, with the largest occurring in 1893. Through the Dawes Act and other government actions during this time period, the Native American tribes in the region lost approximately two-thirds of the land the government had previously given them.

Learn more about the land rush of 1889 by searching Newspapers.com.

“War Time” Daylight Saving Begins: February 9, 1942

U.S. Presidential Inauguration: January 20, 2017

On February 9, 1942, “War Time”—a year-round daylight saving time—began in the United States. Passed by Congress and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the year-round daylight saving time required that clocks be moved ahead one hour for the remainder of the war as a national defense measure to conserve energy.

Missouri votes on daylight saving time, 1947America first implemented a partial-year daylight saving time in March 1918, during World War I, and though there was popular support for the wartime measure, there was also disapproval, primarily from farmers and the railroads. The national daylight saving time was repealed after the war ended, but it continued on at the local level, especially in the North, East, and parts of the Midwest.

A national daylight saving time was again implemented during World War II, but this time, rather than lasting only part of the year, daylight saving time lasted all year. The purpose of “War Time,” as this form of daylight saving time was called, was to conserve power and provide extra daylight for war industries to increase production. As with World War I, after World War II ended, the national daylight saving time was quickly repealed, but it remained a local issue, with each state, city, and even business deciding whether it would adopt daylight saving time or not.

This patchwork form of daylight saving time caused much inconvenience and confusion, and in 1966 a national law was signed calling for daylight saving time to fall from the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October, with the option for states to exempt themselves. The energy crisis of the 1970s once again prompted the adoption of a year-round daylight saving time beginning in January 1974, but it actually only lasted 10 months, as legislation was signed adjusting yet again the time period of daylight saving time.

Another bill was signed in 1986 that moved daylight saving time to the period from the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday of October. This remained the law for many years until the most recent daylight saving legislation, implemented in 2007, set daylight saving time from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November.

Daylight saving time has remained a contentious issue in the United States ever since it was first implemented during World War I, as people debate its effect on energy, safety, farming, and much more. However, most of the United States now follows daylight saving time, with the exception of Arizona, Hawaii, and the U.S. territories.

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U.S. Presidential Inauguration: January 20, 2017

U.S. Presidential Inauguration: January 20, 2017

January 20 is the 2017 U.S. presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C. In preparation for the event, brush up on your knowledge about inaugurations for the country’s highest office:

  • FDR's second inauguration, 1937
    In 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first president to be inaugurated on January 20. Previous presidents (including FDR for his first term) had traditionally been inaugurated on March 4, but the 20th Amendment, passed in 1933, stipulated a January 20 inauguration.

  • The Oath of Office is traditionally administered by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, though not required. There is also no requirement that it occur in Washington, D.C., or that the president place his hand on the Bible. The only thing prescribed by the Constitution is that the president take the Oath of Office.

  • Chief Justice John Marshall administered the Oath of Office the most number of times: 9 times to 5 men. Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney administered it to the most presidents: 7 times to 7 men.

  • A total of four March inauguration dates fell on a Sunday (1821, 1849, 1877, 1917); the swearing-in ceremonies in these cases were all postponed until the next day. Three January inauguration dates have fallen on a Sunday: 1957 (Dwight D. Eisenhower), 1985 (Ronald Reagan), and 2013 (Barack Obama); these three presidents were sworn in privately on the 20th and then a public ceremony was held the next day.

  • The shortest and longest inaugural addresses were given by George Washington and William Henry Harrison, respectively. Washington’s second inaugural address was only 135 words long. William Henry Harrison’s inaugural address was 8,445 words long.

  • Due to a major snow storm, John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural parade was only possible because of a major mobilization of snow plows and other equipment.

  • Multiple inaugural balls are held throughout Washington, D.C. The new president and first lady make appearances at all official parties.

  • Barack Obama took the Oath of Office four times: twice each time he was elected. He took it twice in 2009 because there was some concern it wasn’t properly administered at the formal swearing-in, so he took it again the next day. He took it twice in 2013 because January 20 fell on a Sunday, so there was a small swearing-in ceremony on the 20th and then the public ceremony on the 21st.

  • 2017 will be the nation’s 58th formal presidential inauguration ceremony.

Learn more about presidential inaugurations throughout U.S. history by searching Newspapers.com!

U.S. Coal Mining’s Deadliest Month: December 1907

U.S. Coal Mining's Deadliest Month: December 1907

Horrors at Pit Mouth of Darr Mine
December 1907 was the deadliest month in American coal mining, with a total of five separate mining disasters that together killed more than 700 men and boys in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Alabama, and New Mexico.

The biggest of these disasters was an explosion that decimated two connected mines in Monongah, West Virginia, on December 6. The explosion happened around 10:30 in the morning and killed at least 360 miners, though the number of dead was likely higher, as men frequently brought their sons to work in the mine off the books.

Newspapers covered the disaster as well as the tragic aftermath, as shown in an excerpt from the Greenville, Pennsylvania, Record-Argus, which reads, “Throughout the night great crowds of wailing women and children congregated about the mine entrances and the scene is heartrending, as all now know that there is not the slightest chance of their loved ones being alive.”

Images from the Darr mine disaster

Even more miners would have died if dozens of those of the Roman Catholic faith hadn’t stayed home from work to observe St. Nicholas Day. No official cause of the explosion was determined, though officials speculated gas or coal dust in the mine was likely ignited by a spark or lamp flame. It is still considered America’s worst mining disaster.

The second-deadliest of December’s coal mining disasters occurred at the Darr Mine in western Pennsylvania at 11:30 in the morning on the 19th. This explosion killed at least 239 men and boys, many of them immigrants. As was often the case in those days, the mining company was found not to be at fault, despite accusations of neglect. An inquiry determined that the explosion was most likely caused by an open-flame lamp in an area that had been cordoned off because of high levels of gas.

Map of area of Darr mine disaster (at Jacobs Creek at center)
In a twist of fate, the 19th was again St. Nicholas Day (this time for the Eastern churches, which use a different calendar), and it is estimated that possibly hundreds of miners of the Greek Catholic and Orthodox faiths survived because they chose to forego the day’s wages to instead observe the saint’s day. The Darr mine disaster was the worst in Pennsylvania history and the second worst in the United States, following the Monongah disaster.

Do you have any family who worked in the coal mines? Tell us about them! Or learn more about the mining disasters of December 1907—or of any period of American history—on Newspapers.com.

The Great Diamond Hoax Is Revealed: November 25, 1872

The Great Diamond Hoax Is Revealed: November 25, 1872

Headlines about the Diamond Hoax
On November 25, 1872, one of the greatest hoaxes of the day was revealed when it was discovered that some of the biggest names in business had been conned into investing in a fake diamond field by two Kentucky swindlers.

Following the gold rush of 1849 and silver rush of the Comstock Lode in 1859, it seemed like the American West held endless possibilities for wealth. So when two Kentucky prospectors showed up at a bank in San Francisco in 1871 with a bag full of uncut diamonds, news of the gems quickly leaked to the founder of the bank, William C. Ralston. The two prospectors, Philip Arnold and John Slack, were tracked down, and eventually they were persuaded to divulge that they had found a major diamond field, loaded with a variety of gems in such abundance that they could practically be plucked off the ground. Ralston alerted some of his business associates, and after the two prospectors reported they had returned to the diamond field and found even more stones, Ralston and his associates decided to try to buy the two men out.

But what Ralston didn’t know was that Arnold and Slack were con men. The bags of diamonds they presented were actually ones of inferior quality that they had acquired, and as soon as they got money from Ralston, they used that money to secretly travel to London and buy more inferior uncut diamonds (along with some rubies, emeralds, and sapphires for good measure).

Nov 26 headlines about the diamond fraud

Under the pretense of going to their “diamond field” along the Colorado-Wyoming border (though some newspapers would report it as being in Arizona) to find more gems for the businessmen, Arnold and Slack actually went there to salt their diamond field. When Arnold and Slack returned with the gems they had “found,” the businessmen took a sample to famous diamond expert Charles Lewis Tiffany in New York for authentication. However, neither Tiffany nor his lapidary had experience with uncut stones, so they mistakenly valued the gems at far more than they were actually worth.

With luck still on his side, Arnold got more money from the businessmen and once again secretly traveled to Europe to buy more low-quality uncut gems to further salt the so-called diamond field. Arnold and Slack’s luck continued, because when the businessmen hired an expert mining engineer—Henry Janin—to travel to the diamond field to authenticate it, Janin somehow concluded that the diamond field was real. Deciding it was time to leave before the scheme collapsed, Arnold and Slack sold off the rest of their interest in the diamond field (netting an estimated $8-10 million in today’s money).

News of the rich diamond fields hits the newspapers
The hoax was finally discovered when Janin happened to meet government geologist Clarence King on a train. King decided to take a look at the diamond field himself, and not long after he arrived he and his team began noticing suspicious things about the site, like diamonds and other gems being found in places and groupings where they wouldn’t naturally occur.

King immediately informed Ralston and the other investors about the fraud, and news of the swindle broke in San Francisco newspapers on November 25, 1872, revealing that many high-profile figures from both coasts had been duped. When Arnold was eventually tracked down back home in Kentucky, he settled out of court and ended up only having to pay back a fraction of the money he had earned from the con. Slack was never found.

Want to learn more about the Great Diamond Hoax of 1872? Start a search on Newspapers.com!

Great New England Hurricane: September 21, 1938

Will Rogers Dies in Plane Crash: August 15, 1935

New Jersey hurricane headlines, 1938
On the afternoon of September 21, 1938, a massive hurricane unexpectedly slammed ashore in New England in what would be one of the deadliest and costliest natural disasters in United States history.

The hurricane was first detected in the Caribbean on September 16, and soon the storm was forecasted to hit southeast Florida on the morning of the 20th. Floridians began preparing for the hurricane, but it unexpectedly turned north before it could make landfall in Florida. The storm was expected curve back out to sea, but instead it traveled due north virtually unnoticed. Unaware that the hurricane was headed straight for New England, no hurricane warnings were given outside of Florida, meaning New Englanders were caught totally by surprise, especially since they hadn’t experienced a major hurricane in over 100 years.

The hurricane was not only unusual for hitting New England, it was also unique for the speed at which it traveled, racing from North Carolina to Long Island in just 7 hours—which inspired its nickname, the “Long Island Express.” By 10 a.m. on the morning of the 21st, the sky had clouded over at Long Island, and it began to get windy. By afternoon, the wind was gusting hard and the sky had turned yellow. Even so, since there had been no hurricane warning, residents assumed it would be just a bad late-summer storm.

Map highlighting damage from 1938 hurricane

The hurricane made landfall on Long Island around 3 p.m., slamming ashore with such force that it was picked up by seismographs in Alaska. In addition to the hurricane-force winds and driving rain, a massive storm surge flooded the coast. On the mainland, the storm caused immense damage to the coasts of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island in particular, though all states in the area were affected to varying degrees. The hurricane entered Canada early on the morning of the 22nd, where it finally began to peter out, though it still caused gale-force winds in Montreal.

Ultimately, more than 680 people were killed (more than half of them in Rhode Island), and 1,750 people were seriously injured. 20,000 buildings were totally destroyed and another 75,000 were damaged. The hurricane even permanently altered the coastline in some places. Aid was quickly sent to the area, and rescue and rebuilding efforts began immediately, but the damage to many local industries was severe.

Do you have any family who lived through the Great New England Hurricane? Tell us about them! Or search for more articles about the storm on Newspapers.com.

Will Rogers Dies in Plane Crash: August 15, 1935

Will Rogers Dies in Plane Crash: August 15, 1935

Will Rogers
On August 15, 1935, Will Rogers, one of the most beloved American celebrities at the time, died at age 55 in a plane crash in Alaska along with the plane’s pilot, famous aviator Wiley Post.

Will Rogers, born in 1879 in what is now Oklahoma, began his career as a cowboy. But in his twenties, he moved on to life in the public eye as a vaudeville performer, showing crowds his skill with the lariat and soon incorporating in to his act what would become his trademark humor. His popularity led to a successful career on Broadway, on the radio, and in silent (and later, talking) movies. In 1934, the year before his death, he was the biggest box-office draw in Hollywood.

Will Rogers shows his skill with the lariat
Rogers was also the most-read newspaper columnist in the country, taking on a wide range of current events and political topics with his good-natured humor. He famously wrote, “I joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I didn’t like.”

Always up for an adventure, Rogers enjoyed traveling the world and became a major supporter of the nascent aviation industry. He became friends with famed pilot Wiley Post, the first pilot to fly solo around the world. In early August 1935, Rogers joined Post on his mission in Alaska to survey air routes between the U.S. and Russia.

The pair decided to fly to Point Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point of U.S. territory. The day of their flight, the dangerous 500-mile journey was complicated by extremely poor visibility. Unsure of exactly where they were, the two men landed in a lagoon near Point Barrow to ask a group of Inuit for directions. Just after taking off again, the plane crashed back into the lagoon at 8:18 p.m., killing Rogers and Post instantly.

Plane wreck that killed Will Rogers and Wiley Post
When news of Rogers’ death reached the States, the nation was stunned, and newspapers carried the story as their top headline. Thousands of people attended his Hollywood memorial service, and Rogers was buried first in California then later moved to Oklahoma.

Do you have any memories of Will Rogers? Share them with us! Or find more articles about his career and life by searching Newspapers.com.

Army Rangers Take Pointe-du-Hoc on D-Day: June 6, 1944

Army Rangers Take Pointe-du-Hoc on D-Day: June 6, 1944

Normandy landings map
During the Normandy landings of D-Day during World War II, a force of Army Rangers scaled the sheer cliffs of Point-du-Hoc to the west of Omaha Beach and disabled the heavy German artillery there, making them the first American forces to accomplish their mission on D-Day.

In the lead up to D-Day, the Allies were aware of a group of 155mm German cannon positioned on a promontory called Point-du-Hoc, which was located between the planned landing sites of Omaha and Utah beaches. Although the guns could pose a threat to American troops landing on those two beaches, the main worry was the potential damage they could cause to the Allied transport ships offshore during the landings.

With this threat in mind, the Army Rangers were given the mission of disabling the guns at Pointe-du-Hoc early on the morning of D-Day. In preparation, Allied bombers dropped explosives on Pointe-du-Hoc in the months prior to the landings, and the bombings were renewed the morning of D-Day, this time followed by naval bombardment.

Photo of one of the places Rangers scaled Pointe-du-Hoc; taken a couple days after D-Day

Companies D, E, and F of the 2nd Rangers were assigned to ascend the cliffs of Point-du-Hoc, while the remaining Rangers were given other objectives to help with the taking of the promontory. The Rangers faced difficulties the morning of D-Day before they even landed on the beach, which put them about 40 minutes behind schedule.

As Companies D, E, and F neared and then hit the beach, they had to face German fire from above, and the hail of bullets continued as the Rangers attempted with varying levels of success to deploy the equipment necessary to scale the cliffs, including rocket-propelled ropes with grapnels as well as ladders. Each group of Rangers used whatever methods they could to get to the top of the cliff, and once there, they faced the German defenders while trying to find the 155mm guns.

Difficulties of Rangers taking Pointe-du-Hoc
When the Rangers reached the emplacements where the big guns were supposed to be, they found that the guns had been moved and replaced with telegraph poles to fool Allied surveillance. So the Rangers moved on to their next objective of securing a nearby road to prevent German reinforcements from reaching Omaha Beach.

As they worked to achieve this, two groups of rangers discovered the missing guns about a mile from where they were supposed to be and disabled them. This meant the Rangers’ primary objective was achieved by 9 a.m., though their work was far from over, as they were forced to hold Pointe-du-hoc until June 8, when the relief column came to their aid.

Did any of your family members participate in the Normandy landings? Tell us about it! You also can find additional articles about Pointe-du-Hoc and D-Day on Newspapers.com.

Lindbergh Completes His Transatlantic Flight:
May 21, 1927

Lindbergh Completes His Transatlantic Flight: May 21, 1927

Lindbergh Reaches Paris
On May 21, 1927, at 10:22 p.m. local time, 25-year-old Charles Lindbergh and his silver monoplane, the Spirit of St. Louis, landed in Paris, France, making him the first aviator to successfully fly nonstop across the Atlantic from New York to Paris.

A former barnstormer, Army Air Service cadet, and airmail pilot, Lindbergh decided to try to win the Orteig Prize—$25,000 to the first aviator to fly nonstop from New York to Paris or vice versa. Many well-known pilots of the day had attempted the flight, but all previous attempts had ended in accident or death.

Lindbergh, a virtually unknown pilot at the time, had a hard time finding a company to sell him a plane in which to make the journey, even after he found backers in St. Louis to fund him. Eventually, he found Ryan Airlines, based out of San Diego, which would custom-build him a plane to his exact specifications—a light-weight, one-seat, single-engine monoplane with only the bare essentials to allow for extra fuel.

Map of Lindbergh's transatlantic flight

The plane, named the Spirit of St. Louis, was completed in a mere 60 days, and after stopping in St. Louis, Lindbergh flew on to New York to make his attempt. Initially, the flight was postponed due to poor weather, but as soon as it began to clear up, Lindbergh departed on May 20 at 7:52 a.m. The trip took him 33 ½ hours, and though he faced challenges like ice building up on his plane, Lindbergh’s greatest struggle was staying awake and alert over the long flight.

From the moment he touched down, Lindberg became an instant celebrity. Tens of thousands (and perhaps upwards of 100,000) French greeted him at the airport, and an estimated 4 million people packed the streets during his parade in New York City. 30 million Americans (about a quarter of the population at the time) came to see him as he toured the Spirit of St. Louis around the country in the months that followed. He even received the Medal of Honor for his landmark flight.

Cartoon about how Lindbergh closed the distance between US and France with his flight
Lindbergh used his immense fame to promote the nascent aviation industry, and though he would lose favor in later years because of his controversial political and personal views, for a time he was easily one of the most famous people in the world.

Did any of your family members see Lindbergh as he toured the nation? Tell us about it! If you want to learn more about him, you can search for articles on Newspapers.com.