Tuesday, March 31, 2015


Fifty years after an earthen dam broke and sent a thirty foot wall of raging destruction down on the city of Johnstown, PA, Pamela McRae looks back on the tragedy with new perspective.

When the flood hit, it wiped out Pam’s fondest hopes, taking her fiancé and her brother’s lives and her mother’s sanity, and within a year her father walked away, leaving his daughter

—now the sole support of her mother—to cope with poverty and loneliness.

The arrival of Katya, a poor Hungarian girl running away from an arranged marriage, finally gives Pam the chance she needs to get back into the world; Katya can care for her mother, and Pam can go to work for the Johnstown Clarion as a society reporter.

Then Davy Hughes, Pam’s fiancé before the flood, reappears and, instead of being the answer to her prayers, further complicates her life. Someone is seeking revenge on the owners of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, the Pittsburgh millionaires who owned the failed dam, and Pam is afraid Davy has something to do with it.


"Waterproof" truly reads like a memoir of a person who has been scared by memories of a horrible event. This is the story of the Johnstown flood survivors, their healing and recovery...particularly a young woman named Pamela. When the flood strikes Pamela loses all of life as she knows it...eventually finding herself living in poverty and the sole caregiver to her invalid mother. We follow along through Pamela's extensive, and sometimes cloudy recollections, as she tries to gain closure. Eventually, Pam is able to work at the newspaper and finds a guilt-tinged happiness at her independence. When the young man she loved, Davy Hughes comes back things start turning sinister in all of Johnstown...it seems her fiance may be seeking greater and greater revenge on the people he sees as responsible for the lives lost in the flood. As the recovery, relief and healing efforts go on it is clear that pretty much any person who lived in Johnstown during The Great Flood of 1889 is not "Waterproof."
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars. Another great historical fiction find for the high school years of our homeschooling!


Judith Redline Coopey, born in Altoona, PA holds degrees from the Pennsylvania State University and Arizona State University. A passion for history inherited from her father drives her writing and a love for Pennsylvania sustains it. Her first book, Redfield Farm was the story of the Underground Railroad in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. The second, Waterproof, tells how the 1889 Johnstown Flood nearly destroyed a whole city and one young woman’s life. Looking For Jane is a quest for love and family in the 1890s brought to life through the eyes of Nell, a young girl convinced that Calamity Jane is her mother. Her most recent work, The Furnace: Volume One of the Juniata Iron Trilogy, is set on an iron plantation near where she grew up and tells the story of an ill conceived marriage of convenience as it plays out over a lifetime. As a teacher, writer and student of history, Ms Coopey finds her inspiration in the rich history of her native state and in stories of the lives of those who have gone before.
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Interview with Judith Redline Coopey!

I can take a guess but do you think the  South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club was in some way responsible for the Johnstown flood?
Yes, I do. I don’t think they were intentional in their responsibility for the flood, but I do think they were negligent. The dam was certainly not properly maintained, and while individual members couldn’t be held responsible for that, the club as a whole could. I see their actions in the aftermath as reprehensible. They had the wherewithal to go a long way toward making things right, but they chose to stonewall and give little or no help.

We are homeschooling and plan to visit all 50 states in some meaningful way before our children turn 18. What are some of the lesser known areas that you would recommend visiting when learning about Pennsylvania history?
I think Johnstown would be a good place to start. The 1889 flood was such a major event and so tragic. Outside of Pennsylvania, few people know about it, but it was the greatest loss of human life in the United States prior to Pearl Harbor.
Altoona is another interesting place because of its railroad history. The importance of the railroads in the development of our country can’t be over emphasized. There is a fine railroad museum there, and the Horseshoe Curve on the Pennsylvania Railroad is an engineering marvel.
Nearby is the Portage Railroad National Historic Site which was another engineering marvel. It carried canal boats up the Allegheny escarpment before the railroads came.
Another important, but little known historical site is Drake’s Well at Titusville, the first commercial oil well in the United States.
I could go on and on about Pennsylvania, but these are a few lesser known points of interest. There’s plenty to learn at Gettysburg, Valley Forge and Philadelphia, but it’s nice to know about the less popular places.

What books, fiction or non-fiction, would you recommend for further reading on the flood?
The best book I’ve come across is David McCullough’s The Johnstown Flood. He’s synthesized all of the older accounts and it really is a comprehensive and very readable account.
(Interviewer note: The video I posted is narrated by David McCullough.)

Please tell about your experiences visiting the sites of the flood.
There are two flood museums, one in the city of Johnstown itself – not to be missed. It includes an “Oklahoma House” like the one Pam lived in, and well-done exhibits showing the path of the flood and first hand accounts of the devastation.
The second museum is fourteen miles away from the city where the dam itself was located. You can still see the broken breast of the dam and the original clubhouse owned by the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. This place is the National Flood Memorial, run by the Dept of the Interior.
I found both places extremely interesting and informative. I’ve gone back several times to gather details to include in my book.

"Waterproof" is a story of much sadness. How did you maintain your emotional health while writing this book?
I’ve often been curious about how the human spirit can get over, rise above or just survive a catastrophe like the flood. I think we have much more to learn about the effects of trauma on the human psyche, and events like this help us to realize that human beings are resilient, strong and compassionate. Stories of survival always contain an element of hope which sustains and strengthens. As a person, I’ve always been optimistic and I try to create characters who share that trait. I think ultimately Pam was an optimist struggling against Davy’s pessimism.

Of course, with a disaster like this great change comes into many lives. Did you sometimes have a hard time making decisions for your characters while writing this book?
I don’t recall having trouble making decisions for them. Once you create a character you know who they are and how they’ll think. So the characters take on their own identity and it is the writer’s responsibility to keep true to that identity. They do what they would do, given who they are and how they think.

You seem to be a very busy writer! What are some of your upcoming projects?
My immediate project is Volume Two of the Juniata Iron Trilogy which is coming out in November. After that will be Volume Three, so my work is cut out for me for the near future. I have more projects I’d like to tackle beyond that – maybe another book about the Underground Railroad, which seems to be a theme people find interesting. One thing is for sure. I’ll be writing as long as my brain keeps working!


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