Even 127 years removed from Johnstown’s greatest disaster, the 1889 flood still hits close to home for Lyle and Nancy Alexander.
The Richland Township woman said her great-grandfather, John Tyler, was swept away by the flood’s raging waters on May 31, 1889.
He was crossing a Minersville Bridge when a wave of water uprooted them both, she was told.
It’s a connection, the Alexanders said, that is never far from their minds each year as they come to the Johnstown Flood National Memorial and pass a line of luminaries that are lit each year to pay tribute to the 2,209 men, women and children killed that day.
“My grandmother was just 5 months old at the time,” Nancy Alexander said, noting her grandmother survived that day.
National Park Service staff members said such stories are still common after all of these years, and perhaps more so, on the flood’s anniversary date.
“It’s different on May 31st. Just about everybody who ever comes on the anniversary date has been here before. They know about the flood,” said Megan O’Malley, the local Park Service’s Chief of Interpretation. “And they’re here to pay tribute to the victims.”
Tuesday evening’s events included the lighting of luminaries placed to honor the flood victims and the placing of a wreath at an overlook on the site where the massive, man-made South Fork Dam once stood – and failed.
Alverta Vivis of Salix was among a steady crowd of visitors who walked the park’s grounds Tuesday.