The Johnstown Girls, by Kathleen George (Pittsburgh, 348 pp., $24.95)
On May 31 of this year, the often-flooded city of Johnstown, Pa., marked the 125th anniversary of the Great Flood of 1889. Five hundred more people died that day (more than 2,200 out of a city of 29,000) than died in the horrific Hurricane Katrina in 2005. There were more civilian deaths in Johnstown that day than in any American disaster except 9/11.
Whole families were wiped out in minutes. Once darkness fell, many bodies were consumed when debris piled up at the Stone Bridge burst into flame. In the next days, bodies — many never to be identified — lay in temporary morgues all along the flood’s path. More than 2,000 coffins were needed immediately. Hundreds of unidentified corpses now lie buried in neat rows in Grandview Cemetery high up on Westmont Hill overlooking the flood plain.