Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on May 30, 1976 · Page 70
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May 30, 1976

Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 70

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Charleston, West Virginia
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Sunday, May 30, 1976
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Page 70
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Curtain of the Future By Doane R. Hoar JOHNSTOWN, Penn., May 30, (89 -- Just before three p.m. today, Homer Bellew, a retired railroad worker, sat down in his favorite easy chair, propped up his feet and closed his eyes for a nap. From the kitchen he heard the grandfather clock begin to strike the hour. One.. .two.. .three. But as he dozed off, the chimes just kept ringing. F o u r:... . : f i v e ... s i x.. .seven.. .on and on they went. Then, in his dream, it seemed to ; Homer that it was not a clock chiming, it was church bells. And he was not in his'familiar-easy'[chair, he was in a church. People had their, heads bent in prayer, and a minis-" ter was reading from the Bible: "What's going on here?" he asked a man next to him. ····;· "Don't you know?" the man replied. "The dam broke. They're praying for the victims of the flood!" Bellew woke up. The clock had stopped chiming. It was now ten minutes past three. He felt strangely upset and uneasy. He went out in the kitchen and got himself a drink. At approximately three p.m: the next day, Friday, a farm boy stood on a hillside overlooking the old Conemaugh Dam a few miles above the town. For weeks rain had been falling steadily oh the green Pennsylvania hills. Behind the dam, .which was a hundred feet high, the water had backed up for miles. The county engineers said there were now four and a half billion gallons of water behind it. At 3:10 p.nuthe farm boy saw the whole huge dam begin to move There was a roar like that of an earthquake. The dam slid for a few yards, then crumbled apart. Down the valley went a solid wall of water that was 40 feet high and weighed, it was estimated; 18 million tons: . The torrent picked up farmhouses as if they were egg crates and carried them/bodily down the valley. At a bend in the river it struck the roundhouse of the Pennsylvania freight yards and wiped it clean. Down the valley with the deluge now went more than a hundred freight and passenger cars and 33 locomotives, rolling over and over Famous Fables By E . E . Edgar BOOK REVIEW: A writer who had finished his first novel asked Sir James M. Barrie to read the manuscript. Barrie, a friend of the author, hesitated to tell him that he considered the. work inferior. "You can be frank with me," said the other. "If you don't care for it, say so. It will not be disastrous, as I have other irons in the fire." "If that is the case," replied Barrie, "I would suggest that you put the book with the other irons." like logs.'On top of a mail coach three men climbed frantically around and around the rolling car, trying to stay on top.. The towns of Mineral Point, Franklin, Woodvale and Prospect were swept away. Then the Wire Works went. And now to the avalanche of houses and buildings and railroad cars was added a gigantic tangle of mites upon miles of twist- e d barbed wire: · : - : · · Five minutes later the deluge hit Johnstown. In his home on the edge of town one Abe Sniithers, a lawyer, was just finishing a late lunch when the torrent hit. He was actually carried downstream over a quarter of a mile, right through the ; w|ndqws of a flooded building, into his'own law office! Others weren't so lucky. Twenty- two hundred people were engulfed in that mountain of wreckage: And then came the worst terror of all. A thick yellow scum.of oil from an overturned tank car spread across the flood waters and drenched the wreckage. Then nature played her crudest trick of all. Down the swollen river came a single house,-bobbing along in the flood, its roof ablaze from an upset kitchen stove: Nobody could do a thing. Watching from the hillsides to which they had desperately scrambled, they simply waited in horror for the inevitable to happen. Which it did. Like a match set to tinder, the burning house moved closer and closer to the oil slick. Then suddenly the whole town, what was left of it, was turned into a single, ghastly funeral pyre. · .That was the end of Johnstown^ Pa., the flames could be seen for miles away, licking upwards at the dense black cloud of oil-thick smoke that filled the sky: Last of all, out of the burning wreckage, driven from their homes just like the human beings who had also lived there, came an endless stream of thousands upon thousands of rats, they were the last living things to abandon the city of Johnstown on that fateful day in 1889. While 2,200 lives had been lost, among those who were saved were Homer Bellew and his family. He had taken his prophetic dream seriously enough to go visit his sister in another part of the state just the night before disaster struck. Odd, yes. But it's a fact that every time a major disaster strikes half a dozen people will turn up afterwards with reports of premonitory warnings that saved their lives. The Titanic, the Waratah, the San Francisco Earthquake, the assassination of Francis Ferdinand that started the First World War -each had its eerie warnings. Sometimes it can be explained by coincidence, sometimes by peo pie's imaginations. Sometimes not. Sometimes it seems as if the curtain of the future parts for an instant to give us a brief and tantalizing peek down the dark road that lies ahead. It did for Homer Bellew, and it saved his life - and that of his family. Political barbecue of 1840 · ' . By Sid Moody ; v. ^i-at Wai John Tyler wanted above all was "permanent and substantial fame," for his presidency. What fame he got, alas, has been second billing on a campaign slogan. ." · Yet the forgotten administration'; of the tenth president, which spme- times bordered on farce, had elements still alive, if not always well, in the Oval Office. Few, if any; presidents' have brought more experience to;the job. John Tyler had served in both houses of the Virginia legislature, been the state's governor and had been elected to both houses of Congress. That he became president at alii however; was due to an accident of weather: It rained. The Whig Party of 1840 was one in name only. The convention that nominated old William Henry Harrison didn't even have a campaign plaiform for fear someone might 2m CHARLESTON. W. VA. . The Whigs; werei'states^ rightists in the : South," remnants bf the old ' strong federal ;^overnmeht f Federalists in :New/ England;" fearers ft- Jacksoniah proletarian democracy in New: York and outs who wanted r in everywhere. Harrison; the; old Indian fighter who had sinecure as cjerk of the Cincinnati court, said, mysteriously, he was- for "sound Democratic Republican Doctrine." Fortunately, no one asked him what that meant. Instead, voters . were treated, to booze-soaked torchlight parades where they chanted ; '":tippecanoe (Harrison's rout of Tecumseh) and. Tyler, Too!"; and- dragged replicas of the general's alleged log cabin- birthplace. (Actually..he was the aristo- . era tic son of the first president of _the Continental Congress and was classically educated). "There was rhyme but no reason in it." said one observer . of the. campaign and the slogan. Three weeks after this inaugural, Harrison took his usual morning walk in the rain. A week later, the oldest president (68) ever to take office was dead of pneumonia. The agony of John Tyler-- "His Accidency"-- began. The story that he had to borrow money to get to Washington after having been Ja\ykened^iiuhis nightshirt,at : his , Williariisburg home arid told lie was president is a myth. But at 51, he; was, the .youngest chief executive yet. Nominally a strict interpreter of the: Constitution. Tyler nonetheless interpreted his powers broadly as the first vice president to inherit the highest office. Conscious he -,was making precedent.with' every ~ niove, he remembered dignity and "forgot;politics. Mail addressed to the "Acting President" he sent back unopehed. - :, ., .'Of more'lasting significance,. however, was the power struggle to fill the gap left by Harrisiori's death, a dubious,gap for 1841 but portentous for future "Acciden- ciesV' Henry Clay, the Whig colos: sus in" the Senate, set out to destroy Tyler to further his own perennial 'candidacy. Harrison; when he spoke about his forthcoming administration at alii had indicated he would remain as aloof as a tennis umpire while Congress created the necessary legislation. When Tyler suggested he "would be equally passive. Clay took it as a sign of v'Wfeakhess.ahd moved in on the ma ; n fie considered but a caretaker. The-issue became rechartering :.the Bank of UieiUnited States in modified form. In any form, the bank was anattema to Southerners and states rightists of which Tyler was both! The more he" tried to compromise, with Clay, the Great Compromiser, the more bitter the .struggle became. . ;.\ "Go you now, then, Mr. Clay ; to your end of the avenue, where stands the Capitol, and there perform-your duty ."-;-;· as you shall think proper.' So help me God. I shall do mine at this end of it as I shall think proper," the president finally told the Kentuckian. Tyler twice vetoed bank bills and became known as "Old Veto.". He had become vice presidential can-, didate by default, no one else wanting the job or being from the wrong state to balance the ticket. His own Virginia delegation even refrained from voting for his nomination. He had little more muscle in Congress. Indeed. Congressional parsimony and vindictiveness left even the White House a shambles in a deliberate insult to the President. To- bacco juice stained the columns, paint peeled, candles burned down to stumps in the chandeliers and chairs in the East Room became so uristuffed they "would be kicked out of a brothel." On September, 13, 1841. the Whigs threw Tyler out of;the party, the only president so disowned. When he vetoed a bill that would have forced a tariff measure on a nearly bankrupt government, further embarrassing the free trade president, a Congressional committee declared Tyler fit for impeachment. Orchestrated by Clay, the Cabinet finally quit en masse except for Secretary of State Daniel ' Webster ·.-·..:.x.. v: - ' · . : ' - . / ; / - ·:';;'All but deserted. "Tyler seized on his last-Hope--the annexation of Texas, a massive jewel to crown his name. Chance again intervened. His^brilliant Secretary of State, Abel Upshur, who. eventually re,. placed Webster..was killed Feb. 28. 1844;:in the accidental explosion on .; a presidential Potomac excursion : of the"'·Peacemaker," the world's largest ;haval gun." : ·-;;'-·; Unbeknownst to Tyler, a friend the v^ry next day offered Upshur's job to John Calhoun. slavery's most eloquent champion. Tyler was furious but let his hand" be forced rather than alienate the whole South. But Calhoun made slavery a visible aspect of annexation, alienating the Northi which did not want . Texas added as another slave state. Besides tilting the Whigs a little more north and the Democrats a little more south in the gathering storm of sectionalism. Calhoun's partisanship doomed the annexation treaty to defeat. Finally playing politics as ruthlessly as Clay. Tyler purged the government of opponents and made a half-baked try at organizing a third party for annexation. It worked. Annexation, now a resolution instead of a treaty, thus passed Congress and was signed by Tyler March 1.1845, three days before his term expired. John Tyler had his jewel, he thought. But history, instead, has given the diadem to James Knox Polk. Tyler's, successor. He fought for Texas--and California, loo. Next: James Knox Polk. Mhy":h ; /.97fi.' SVndoy Gazct tv-Mail

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