By TOM LAVIS
The history of Johnstown is a testament to the strength of the people who call it home.
That reality becomes crystal clear in a wide-ranging chronicle written by Johnstown resident Randy Whittle of the 8th Ward.
Scheduled to be released this month by The History Press, it is the second of a two-volume set by Whittle titled “Johnstown, Pennsylvania: A History, Part II, 1937-1980.”
The History Press, a Charleston, S.C.,-based publisher, decided to print the book in two parts.
The first part, released in January 2006, begins after the 1889 Flood and concludes with the 1936 Flood and subsequent recovery efforts.
The second volume begins with the steel strike in the mid-1930s and conclude with recovery efforts after the 1977 Flood.
The latest book shows how Johnstown pulled together, even after the devastation of a flood in 1936 that inflicted massive damage throughout the community.
Whittle said he attempted to give readers a picture of Johnstown as it was affected by the most significant events of the time.
Whittle is a native of Roanoke, Va. He came to Johnstown in 1979 to become executive director of the Greater Johnstown Committee.
“Cities are kind of my bag, and I love history,” Whittle said. “So, when I retired as Johnstown’s city manager, this gave me something to do.”
Whittle began writing the history in 1998 and it took him nearly two years to complete.
He said he was motivated to write by Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough, who wrote the widely successful “The Johnstown Flood.”
Whittle asked the author if he would be interested in writing a sequel to “The Johnstown Flood,” and McCullough instead said to Whittle: “Why don’t you do it?”
“When I got it done, the history contained about 300,000 words,” Whittle said.
The publisher wanted the project to be cut down to 200,000 words and divided into two volumes.
“I wanted to include more from the ethnic community, the 1918 flu epidemic and the impact of the airport, but those were edited out,” Whittle said.
Spanning politics, economics, education, civic reform and entertainment, this history strives to give readers a picture of Johnstown as it was affected by the most significant events of the time.
“I write about the near loss of the steel industry following the 1977 Flood,” Whittle said. “Bethlehem Steel had not left at that time, but the seeds of the decline are contained throughout the book.”
Among his most-used sources were newspapers from the former Johnstown Democrat and Johnstown Tribune to The Tribune-Democrat and The New York Times.
The book’s cover is a photo of a picket-line confrontation at Bethlehem’s Franklin Works during the Little Steel Strike of 1937.
“It was taken by a UPI photographer, and I had to pay in order to use the picture,” Whittle said.
“But it shows a man holding bricks, and it best demonstrated the unrest of the strike.”
The book costs $24.99 and is expected to be on sale in area outlets.
What: “Johnstown, Pennsylvania: A History, Part II, 1937-1980,” by Randy Whittle.
Publisher: The History Press, Charleston, S.C.
Pages: 256; paperback.
By TOM LAVIS