(Photo courtesy of NPS)
I love that the parks in the National Parks system are able to inspire incredible art. Most of the time we see this with our eyes in photographs, paintings or sculpture. Less often do we think about the music that the National Parks inspire, but the National Parks certainly do this as well. Angela Easterling’s song Johnstown, Pennsylvania was inspired by a trip to the Johnstown Flood National Memorial. I’ll let her describe how her song came into being:
I had an interest in the tragic Johnstown, Pennsylvania Flood of 1889 since learning about it in History in about the 4th Grade. Over the years I read several books about it and it always struck a chord with me and amazed me how little it’s spoken of in US history. I thought it was such a dramatic and intense story – and almost hard to imagine. Over 2200 people being drowned in the middle of their town, in less than an hour.
What really made the history come alive for me was visiting the Johnstown Flood National Memorial, at the site of where the South Fork Dam used to be. A park ranger took us on a tour of the sites left from the time of the Flood and told us much more in-depth information about the time leading up to the dam’s breaking, and also the aftermath of the Flood. Being in that place gives you a sense of understanding and compassion, the powerful reality of truth of these events, the suffering and damage, terror and chaos, that no book could ever impart.
This really inspired me to write my song, “Johnstown, Pennsylvania” about the flood. I tried to write it in the voice of someone of that time, in my own way, to try to bring the Flood to life, with music and words. I hope that listening to my song will encourage more people to learn about the Johnstown Flood and to visit Johnstown and the Memorial. It’s such a fascinating piece of American History, and one that, I believe, holds many lessons for our times, as well as being a compelling, exciting, tragic, but ultimately triumphant tale.