Neatorama is proud to bring you a guest post from history buff and Neatoramanaut WTM, who wishes to remain otherwise anonymous.
At the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, there was found on the Midway an interactive ‘scenograph’ exhibit of something called the “Johnstown Flood”. Similar exhibits concerning this “Johnstown Flood” would later be found at Coney Island in New York and the Atlantic Boardwalk. All were immensely popular with the viewing (and paying) public for reasons that will be made clear.
In 1926, there was released a film by the name of The Johnstown Flood, it being the type of drama termed a ‘potboiler’ at the time. From the movie poster below, one can easily deduce that the Johnstown Flood was some sort of epic disaster involving a flood, prominent enough to warrant an exposition midway exhibit and a film.
And in a scene found in the 1931 film Public Enemy, purported to take place in 1909, there is a sign on a wall that states, "Don't Spit ON THE FLOOR Remember the JOHNSTOWN FLOOD!" This sign or facsimile was typically employed in early 20th century restaurants, businesses, and movie theaters, on the silver screen during intermission in theaters and on the walls in other venues, as a gentle reminder in an age when many men chewed tobacco and would spit the results indiscriminately. (A similar reminder of the period was, ‘Do not expect to rate as a gentleman if you expectorate on the floor.’) But what exactly was this ‘Johnstown Flood’ in which there was such interest, especially in films, and why and how did it become such a cultural phenomenon?