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Mary Farnsworth's Reminiscences, 1875-1904

Rise of Industrial America, 1876-1900 Rise of Industrial America

Mary Farnsworth spent her childhood and early marriage in New London, Connecticut, and her adult life in Southern California. She was married to E. Seymour Farnsworth, who was an employee of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. During her lifetime, she made several voyages between the two coasts. Her reminiscences cover a 70-year time span and contain detailed descriptions of family life, holidays, food, medicine, and sea travel. This 1889 segment tells of her sister and husband's experience when they were caught in the Johnstown flood.
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1889 entry...

On the 18th of May, they started for home stopping at Davenport Iowa to visit James cousin Mrs. Bills, leaving there just in time to be overtaken in the terrible Johnstown flood. They were in the observation car of the last train in and which was whirled along in the swift current, and finally thrown on one side against a car loaded with limestone. The glass in millions of fragments rained all over them, but of this they thought nothing, as the water rose in the car, and they were threatened with drowning. Climbing on the to escape as long as possible, my sister with great presence of mind, arranged her clothing to secure greatest freedom of motion fastened a handkerchief to her coat with a safety pin, with her name in plain sight, and awaited the issue. Two ladies, and a clergyman and his wife left the car hoping to save themselves, but were swept away with the houses, furniture, and trees which went rushing by. The minister seeing how futile all hopes were of being saved in that way tried to detain his wife but she slipped from his grasp, while he clung to the car, and was saved. They thought their last moment had come and Mr. Newcomb, taking warning by the fate of those who left the car, closed the door, and placing himself against it, told the passengers their only safety was in remaining in the car, if by any possibility they escaped death; and soon after the waters began to subside. While waiting for it to diminish sufficiently for them to land, the brakeman who was stationed on the roof on watch, called to them to be ready to leave the instant he gave the word, as the car ahead was on fire. Very soon the notice came, and they felt on vacating they were rushing from one danger into another, but the head torrent had ceased, and by seizing some of the floating wreckage, the employees made use of it to convey them safely to land, A truly marvelous escape from a terrible death. For months after, my dear sister was unable to close her eyes without a repetition in imagination of all these horrors. For six days their home coming was delayed, and very grateful were we all, for their wonderful preservation.

View the actual page images of the diary and read the rest of the text. She describes early life from 1830-1875 in Volume 1.