SOUTH FORK, Pa. – The spirit of John Bosley, channeled through his great-great-grandson Doug Bosley, was present at the Johnstown Flood National Memorial on Tuesday.

John Bosley survived the city’s great disaster that occurred 133 years ago on May 31, 1889.

Dressed in period clothes, Doug Bosley, a park ranger at the site, told his ancestor’s story to a group of children.

John Bosley owned a carpet and upholstery business on Franklin Street. The building was destroyed by the flood. He moved out of town soon thereafter, leaving behind his family and wandering from California to the Midwest and other spots, according to research done by his great-great-grandson.

“It does have an extra connection when I’m talking about the flood with visitors,” Doug Bosley said. “My family’s been in the Johnstown area since the 1830s and ’40s. I actually had quite a few ancestors involved in the flood, one way or another, on both sides of my family. It’s just that extra connection.

"Thankfully, none of them were killed in the flood or, depending on who it may have been, I might not be here talking to you right now.”

Bosley’s presentation was given to a group of children who were participating in a craft program, making sailboats and fish, representing the leisure activity at the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, along with sewing cards and thaumatropes, a popular optical illusion toy at the time.

“We try to incorporate interpretive ideas and themes so that we can get across to the children a little bit of the history that goes along with the story of what happened here,” said Melinda Kuzminsky, a park ranger.

The club was a gathering place for Pittsburgh’s rich elites.

However, they neglected care of the earthen dam that held back Lake Conemaugh. So, when a historic rainfall drenched the land, the dam broke, sending a rushing wave of water down the valley until it crashed into Johnstown.

The flood killed 2,209 people.

As part of the anniversary commemoration, a luminaria was lit for each individual victim at the memorial where the abutments of the dam still stand today.

“I find it very fulfilling work,” said Brandon Sliko, a volunteer who helped place the luminarias. “I always enjoy supporting my local community. I want to give back some way. I’m a history buff, and also just to recognize the sense of scale and the loss of life that happened 133 years ago.

“There are a lot of lessons to be learned. Today is a special day to remember and mourn those that have been lost and remember why.” 

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.

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