Thanks to the generosity of retired local attorney Roger Hager, a painting commissioned by the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club for its clubhouse will soon hang in the visitor center of Johnstown Flood National Memorial. The painting by renowned Scalp Level artist George Hetzel, which is now known as Fishing on the Conemaugh 1887, was purchased by Mr. Hager’s grandfather at a 1904 auction of items belonging to the club.
Newspapers specializing in art and society happenings tell us that Mr. Hetzel was commissioned by the club to produce the painting in 1887 and delivered the painting to the club in July of that year. The painting, variously referred to as Rocky Valley and Scenes from the Connoquenessing, had hung in the parlor of the clubhouse for less than two years when the failure of the South Fork Dam caused the Johnstown Flood. The club quietly disbanded in the aftermath of the flood and neither the club nor individual members were found legally accountable for the failure of the dam they owned and maintained.
Fifteen years after the flood, items including this painting, furniture, silverware and other household items were sold at an auction advertised as a “Sale at an Historic Spot” (sic). While some details of the auction itself are known, any legal and financial agreements the sale might have been satisfying are not.
The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club was founded in 1879 and its membership eventually included the nation’s wealthiest men including Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon. For these gentlemen and their families the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club was a private summer retreat.
The club and its members valued privacy and discretion and few personal accounts or records of club business or the summer activities exist. The scarcity of artifacts and records makes the donation of such a striking and significant piece all the more important to Johnstown Flood National Memorial and the stories told at the park.