Stu­dents’ videos bring his­tory of 1977 flood home

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Local News - By Randy Grif­fith

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.

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