Last Johnstown Flood Survivor Dies...

Last Johnstown Flood Survivor dies at 108
Indiana Gazette March 21, 1997

by Randy Wells, Gazette Staff Writer

Frank Shomo, the Indiana County man who made it into the record books as the last survivor of the Johnstown [Cambria County] Flood of 1889, died Thursday [March 20, 1997] at Blattenberger’s Personal Care Home in Black Lick.

He was 108 years old. In recent years Shomo had also been recognized as the oldest registered Republican in Indiana County, the oldest member of Zion Lutheran (now Faith Lutheran) Church in Robinson, and one of the oldest Master Masons in Pennsylvania.

Asked several years ago for the secret of his longevity, he replied, Put good cement in the foundation, tend to your own business, and treat others right.

Shomo was three months old on May 31, 1889 - the night the South Fork Dam on the Little Conemaugh River broke, sending a wall of water crashing into neighborhoods downstream, killing more than 2,200 people.

The Shomo family home along the former Main Line Canal in Lockport, Westmoreland County, was on ground high enough to escape the flood, and Shomp’s father often recounted for his son the terror of that night, and how their home became a haven for flood survivors.

Shomo once said his father kidded him and his brother about dipping their feet in the water, so they could say they survived the flood.

The family later moved to Pack Saddle, between Blairsville and Robinson, and at age 14 Shomo went to work at the James Gardner Brick Retort Works in Blairsville, making retorts that converted coal into gas. He also worked 45 years for the Pennsylvania Railroad, 38 years as a foreman. I had the best gang of men on the railroad,: he once said.

He helped repair rail lines following Johnstown’s second great flood in 1936. That storm washed the earth away from underneath the tracks, leaving them suspended in air like a big clothes line, he said.

At age 70 he took up a new hobby -- leather-working. In his workshop on the enclosed porch of his home he fashioned leather purses and wallets.

God has been good to me, he said in an interview a few years ago. Twice I’ve been bitten by a snake, and once I was in a coal mine where the whole roof caved in.

Shomo never owned a car, and at age 100 was still keeping in shape by riding an excercise bike in his home each day.

I’ve ridden 700 miles and never left this room, he said.

Last year he was recognized as the oldest registered Republican voter in Indiana County, but said Democrat Woodrow Wilson was his favorite president. Woodrow Wilson did a lot for the working man, Shomo said.

On his 104th birthday, he was asked if he felt that old, and Shomo jokingly replied, No.. 200.

His explanation then for his long life: I eat solid grub. That means lots of pot pies and cabbage and potatoes.

Shomo lived longer than his two wives and a daughter. He died Thursday without learning more details about his only son, Curtis, who mysteriously disappeared after World War II.

He used to keep me posted by sending me a card from different cities.” Shomo said in 1993. But I haven’t heard from him in quite some time. I’ve tried everything (to find him.)

From his obituary:
Parents: Joseph H. and Harriette “Addie” Milliken Shomo. Born in Lockport, Pa Wives: (1) Adda Belle Cunningham d. 1944
(2) Edna McDermott
Children: Isabel Hoskinson d. 1984 and Curtis Shomo.
Sister: Maude McCollum
Brothers: William and George Shomo
Burial: Blairsville Cemetery, Indiana County, Pa

 

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