Students’ videos bring history of 1977 flood home
SIDMAN, Pa. — Dylan Wechtenhiser admits he didn’t know much about the 1977 Johnstown Flood before working on a project for his Forest Hills High School composition class project.
Interviewing flood survivors and researching news accounts and historical records gave the ninthgraders some personal perspective on the disaster.
“We learned what some of the people who had to go through the flood had to go through many hardships to survive and to get back to their families and loved ones,” Dylan said at the school in Sidman.
Students in Aspen Mock’s freshman composition classes spent several weeks exploring the events of July 20, 1977, and the weeks and months of recovery. The results of that work are featured in eight YouTube videos featured on the Johnstown Area Heritage Association website, www.jaha.org.
By interviewing family members, friends and neighbors who experienced the flood, students were able to see the events from a different perspective, Ms. Mock said.
“This was a unique opportunity to do qualitative interviews,” she said. “There are actually a lot of stories that were untold.”
Matthew Rozum was part of a team that interviewed his grandfather, Timothy Troy Sr., who was working in a Johnstown rail yard when the rain began that night.
“It was like a normal day,” Matthew said. “It started raining and it was like the storm got stuck. Luckily, my grandfather called off the workers before the dams broke.
“The railroad company was close to one of the dams. He supervised the men, and got everybody home before it was too nasty out.”
Mr. Troy told the students that when he was going home, he had to abandon his truck. He made his way to Bon Air, Conemaugh Township, where he ended up spending the night helping a stranger clean out his garage.
Students worked with heritage association curator Andrew Lang, who provided archival photos and artifacts from the flood for inclusion in the digital story videos.
“It shows how significant the memories of this event are in the area,” Mr. Lang said.
Class research began with historical information about a line of severe thunderstorms that stalled over Johnstown, dropping as much as a foot of rain in some areas. Small streams overflowed their banks, crashing through neighborhoods, highways and businesses. Laurel Run Reservoir and several other dams failed. The death toll reached 85, and property damage was estimated at $300 million.
The students’ digital story projects followed the National Geographic Learning framework, which encourages students to become explorers not only of their local surroundings, but of the region, said Ms. Mock, who recently became a National Geographic certified educator.