Who is to Blame?

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After a disaster of such magnitude like the Johnstown Flood, the natural inclination is to attempt to blame somebody(s) or something for the tragic event. The cause of the flood could be attributed to the deforestation, cyclical flooding, and industrialization like Schmidt points out. The people of Johnstown were accustomed to frequent floods and viewed them as a part of life. On the other hand, the owners of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club and the expert they hired to assess the strength of the dam could also be at fault. Ruff, the man hired to oversee the maintenance of the dam could also be a culprit since he ignored the advice of John Fulton who believed the dam would break.

I believe the improper maintenance of the dam is to blame for the disaster, while environmental factors exacerbated the damage. If the dam had been properly managed the incredible magnitude of the flood could have been averted. The question now becomes: whose job was it to maintain the dam? Were the owners of South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club responsible? Or was Ruff guilty of ignoring the danger the dam presented? Both parties share a portion of the blame. As a proprietor of a piece of land, it becomes the responsibility of an owner to ensure all structures on the land are sturdy—especially when not doing so places human lives in danger. Ruff was guilty of ignoring voices that said the dam was structurally unsound. Both Ruff and the owners were negligent but in different ways.

Lastly, I want to comment on how the Johnstown Flood fits into the narrative of the Gilded Age made by Edwards. Edwards presents the notion of The Wedge to explain the distance between the working class and the rich industrialists. Seemingly, the relationship between the wealthy residents of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club and the working class inhabitants of Johnstown fits into this narrative. I think this, however, would oversimplify the relationship. McCullough mentions the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club employing local residents of Johnstown to do construction work. Additionally, Johnstownians were proud that they had such wealthy neighbors. While there is clearly an economic and geographical wedge, this situation does not fit into the category of extreme disconnect that Edwards believes in. There seems to be a comfortable homeostasis between the two groups.

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