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The Johnstown Disaster, 1889
by [?]

Each creek becomes a river, each pool a little sea,
The tidal wave comes rushing on, men know not where to flee,
But on he rides, still shouting, as angels did of old,
“Flee! Flee ye to the mountain! Flee! forsake your homes and gold!”

His horse now shares his spirit, and leaps each swollen stream.
With panting flanks and nostrils wide, and breath like scalding steam,
He dashes down the roadway, and fairly seems to fly,
Obedient to his rider’s rein, resolved to do or die.

Some heed our hero’s warning. See, toward the hills they fly!
Will Periton now turn aside, or like a hero die?
Straight on he goes, brave fellow; to turn aside he scorned,
His life he deems of little worth if other men be warned.

We honor those brave soldiers, who scaled the rampart height,
To plant the standard of their queen in the defence of right,
The fire was hot before them, and bursting shells o’erhead,
Yet on they pressed, till bullet-pierced they fell–our honored dead;
But he, I hold, was braver, who ran his race alone,
No comrade’s cheer to urge him on, no bugle blast was blown,
Nor grand review to follow if he should win the day;
But thoughts of self were all too weak his onward course to stay.

Spur up your steed, brave fellow–the flood is at his heels!
Too late! the waves now gird him round; the gallant rider reels;
Entombed beneath the debris his warning voice is stilled,
But he, I trust, ran not in vain; his mission is fulfilled.

Like Jesus, he saved others, yet would not save himself;
The plaudits of the world sought not, but scorned its praise and pelf.
He still sat in the saddle, and held the guiding rein,
Yet wind and wave awoke him not, and thunders roared in vain.
His spirit had ascended, death set the hero free,
And God shall say in His great day, “Thou didst it unto Me!”

Look down, ye Alleghenies, with ever-darkening frown,
Upon the selfishness which caused the ruin of Johnstown.
A reservoir was fashioned, of full three miles in length,
An inland lake, kept back by dam of insufficient strength;
No mills were driven by it; no water-works supplied;
A few rich men, for selfish sport, claimed all these waters wide.

They rode upon its surface in skiff, and bark canoe,
Shot grouse and duck, caught fish and eel, and held their title true;
For other people’s safety took not a single thought–
Ten thousand lives were less to them than fish thus daily caught.
The dam revealed its weakness by frequent leaks, but they
Turned not aside to strengthen it till came the fateful day;
But God, who rules the nations, to whom all bow the knee,
Will say to them on judgment day, “Ye did it not to Me.”