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Here: In Johnstown

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Photo by Annie O'Neill ~ Story by Lillian Thomas

Click photo for larger image.

The double image of the serious-looking Newfoundland on a stoop, his shoulder encircled by a young girl who leans against a man chomping a short stogie, is the only visual record of one Johnstown hero: a dog named Romey.

The dog, memorialized on a stereocard, saved three lives in the Great Flood of 1889. The family of his master, Charles Kress, had climbed to the roof of their Washington Street house to escape the floodwaters, and when Mrs. Kress, a domestic and a child slipped off, Romey plunged into the water and saved them.

"Here" is a weekly feature produced by Post-Gazette photographers and writers who roam the region to capture close-up slices of life. Can you point us to a special person or place, experience or story? E-mail us at here@post-gazette.com.

Link to past installments

HERE.


In the aftermath of the flood, many such stories of dramatic rescues emerged, including a number that involved heroics by horses and dogs.

Bob, "Dorsey King's spry black horse," and Jack, a big Newfoundland dog, also appeared in news accounts as rescuers. They live on with Romey in the archives of the Johnstown Flood Museum.

Over the years, those stories of animal heroes got tangled with a 700-pound zinc lawn ornament.

Morley's Dog, as he's called here, has stood guard before his master's Johnstown mansion, been washed away in the Great Flood, then recovered to stand guard again. He's been beaten by vandals and repaired by being stuffed with concrete. And he once appeared in a movie with Paul Newman.

But he's not a hero dog.

The Flood Museum archives contain a catalog from J.W. Fiske Iron Works, a New York company that sold jumbo-size animal lawn ornaments. Around 1870, James Morley, a Bethlehem Steel Co. executive, bought No. 271: "French Blood Hound, 3 feet 10 inches high, painted one coat $180; bronzed $195."

Morley's Dog lived on his master's lawn at Main and Walnut until he was wrenched away by the waters of the flood, swept downstream and finally recovered in the giant pile of debris at the Stone Bridge at the confluence of the Little Conemaugh and Stony Creek rivers.

He was returned to the family and lived on descendants' lawns until 1944, when he was donated to the city and placed near city hall. There he gained first hero, then urban-legend status. People believed the ornament was a memorial to a dog that had saved a child during the flood. That legend became celluloid fact in the 1977 film "Slapshot."

Johnstown children told each other he barked when the Cambria Iron Co. whistle blew at noon, or perhaps it was at midnight.

"I think that all got confused," said Richard Burkert, executive director of the Johnstown Area Heritage Association. "There were indeed heroic dogs, horses, locomotive operators during the flood. That folklore ... was still a living, verbal tradition" when Morley was donated to the city in 1994. "It somehow got attached to this lawn ornament."

Morley's Dog was photographed, straddled and abused several times by vandals. The concrete used to repair him expanded and contracted with the seasons, further damaging him. His hero dog image persisted, though no plaque or written account said it was so. Finally, he was enclosed in a chain-link fence.

"They raised the ante on irony now -- and Johnstown usually does not do irony too well," said Burkert. "First they put him in this pen, then they put a sign beside him that says, 'no dogs allowed.'"

Morley's Dog is awaiting a visit from a National Park Service monument conservator to see if he can be repaired and perhaps moved to an indoor kennel in the Flood Museum or the Heritage Discovery Center, Burkert said.

Though he never rescued anyone, he's a battered survivor who looks a bit like Romey around the eyes.

Romey, the Newfoundland dog, and members of the Kress family of Johnstown.

How to view this image in 3-D: This photo is a stereocard that may be viewed as a three-dimensional image using a technique called free-viewing, which works as follows: Click photo for larger image. Move your face a foot away from your computer monitor. Concentrate on one side of the image. Let your eyes relax. You will see two images slightly out of focus. Slowly cross your eyes until the images become superimposed. This may be easier if you move your face slowly back from the computer monitor while crossing your eyes. Focus your eyes on the superimposed image and the photo will appear to be three-dimensional. This may take some practice.

Stereocards were made by taking two pictures simultaneously using a camera equipped with lenses set the same distance apart as the average person's eyes. The human brain recreates the three-dimensional view using the separate views seen with each eye.

More information at http://www.3dphoto.net/stereo/text/viewing/technique.html


Lillian Thomas can be reached at lthomas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3566. Reach Annie O'Neill at aoneill@post-gazette.com.

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