Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Lesson from Johnstown

I've been reading David McCullough's book on the Johnstown Flood. It was one of the greatest natural disasters in America, and over two thousand people died when it struck in 1889. Until I read the book, I didn't realize that the flood was caused by God and the Presbyterians.

For God's part, God sent a lot of rain.

As for the Presbyterians, they were people like Andrew Carnegie, Andrew Mellon, and Henry Clay Frick - wealthy industrialists who made millions on steel and railroads. They built a hunting camp about fifteen miles uphill from Johnstown. When summer came, it was a great place to escape the stress of their mansions in Pittsburgh.

However they didn't pay attention to the quality of the dam that created their fishing lake. They ignored warnings that the dam wasn't safe. After God sent all the rain, and the dam burst, and the flood waters roared down the hill, those rich old Covenanters made token donations to the victims' relief fund. Then they said, "Maybe we should start summering in the Adirondacks. Or in Paris."

As David McCullough reminds us, "There is a danger in assuming that because people are in positions of responsibility they are necessarily behaving responsibility."

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