The Scene Of The Crime


It was like opening King Tut’s tomb. Here before us in magnificent detail was life as it was at Lake Conemaugh a hundred years ago. Everything was there. The sailboats, the cottages, the clubhouse, the dam. Best of all there were pictures of people—wonderful pictures of the great people of Pittsburgh dressed for afternoon picnics, regattas, and other gatherings.

Assuming photos of life at the lake had been taken at all, they long seemed to have been expunged from the archives.

The pictures were the work of Louis Semple Clarke, Cooper’s grandfather, who as a young man had exposed his glass-plate negatives in a camera of his own design. By any measure Louis Clarke was a gifted photographer. At seventeen he was also an inventor, having built in Pittsburgh and moved to the lake a batterypowered catamaran. Clarke would later become a successful industrialist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. Before his death in 1957 he had founded the Autocar Company and had many inventions to his credit, including an automobile transmission, an improved spark plug, and a naval depth charge.

But nothing could have been more remarkable than the pictures he had taken of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club a hundred years ago. In fact, so sensitive and revealing was his work that we were determined to make a new, expanded version of the film we had already completed. There was no way that Louis Clarke’s photographs were going to be hidden for another hundred years. In the fall of 1991 an expanded version of “The Johnstown Flood,” incorporating Louis Semple Clarke’s photographs, was seen on the PBS series The American Experience , all thanks to Clarke’s proud and loving granddaughter with a sense of American history.