Carnegie Hall is perhaps THE greatest institution of music and performing arts in the world, its beginnings are often obscured by its artists accomplishments and its performances. Look at Wikipedia and the story begins; Carnegie Hall was built in 1891 financed by Andrew Carnegie …
The reality is, this wondrous palace of the performing arts is built on the foundation of the guilt laid down in the mud of the flood at Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1889. I came across this information vicariously, while watching ‘The Men Who Made America’ on The History Channel.
Andrew Carnegie, was without a doubt a brilliant man, a visionary who could see things developing around him, manage finances with dogged determination, and skillful at building partnerships. He was however intensely human, and born into an age, that could drive a man, contrary to scripture, to be in the world and of the world.
As Carnegie rose in wealth, he started to develop something of a complex at only being the second richest man in the world. Let me repeat that; ONLY THE SECOND RICHEST MAN IN THE WORLD. John D. Rockefeller was the richest, and regardless of the goodness in Carnegie’s heart a rivalry ensued that would ultimately bring devastation to Johnstown, and the rise of Carnegie Hall.
Driven to become the richest man in the world Carnegie felt he needed an edge, and decided to find a partner who was driven in business, ruthless, who would drive his steel business at a pace that would bring him to the pinnacle of wealth, and leave John D. in second place – maybe forever.
Henry Clay Frick turned out to be that man, and while he did enrich Carnegie’s fortune, like most men of his ilk he also enriched his own, putting his own fortune, and wealth ahead of Carnegie’s. As his wealth grew Henry Frick started looking for a place to flaunt his riches, and that place turned out to be – The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club – Frick would invite his wealthy friends to join as members and to spend their weekends and holidays there. He would spare no expense on the club and his visitors. The club was built along the shore of Lake Conemaugh, held in place by The South Fork Dam, and below it was the city Johnstown, PA.
What is known for sure is that the only money for the improvement of the dam that Frick provided was for a road along it to provide access to the club, lowering and weakening the earthen structure. On Friday, May 31 1889, after several days of unusually heavy spring rains, at 3:10 in the afternoon, the dam could no longer support the weight of burgeoning lake. It collapsed in a matter of minutes, sending 20 million tons of water down the valley straight toward Johnstown, only 14 miles away. On that day 2,209 people lost their lives. The largest single loss of life in one day on American soil until Sept 11, 2001.
It is said that Carnegie never spoke to Frick again after this, and was filled with such remorse that he couldn’t work, or face the public for a long period of time. In 1887 he met and married Louise Whitfield and on their honeymoon voyage to Scotland the seeds of Carnegie Hall were planted. On that trip he met Walter Damrosch, who had just finished his second season as conductor and musical director of the Symphony Society of New York. Damrosch raised an interest in Carnegie to build a music hall in New York. On May 13, 1890, nearly one year after the Johnstown flood Mrs. Carnegie cemented the cornerstone in place, Carnegie spared no expense in its construction.
It is said that this was done to assuage Andrew’s guilt for what he had allowed Frick to do to the people of Johnstown, and it is not hard to imagine, that any man with a heart who had wandered from the path would feel compelled to do so. It is also not hard to see how the people of Johnstown helped to build Carnegie Hall … Perhaps though, we have given it the wrong name …
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