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Seven Years Away, Johnstown’s Best Friend Comes Home

If Morley’s Dog had a proper name, it washed away along with everything else in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, when a dam burst and destroyed the city in 1889.

19th century art of Morley's dog.The “dog” was a mass-produced metal lawn ornament. It stood in the yard of local businessman James Morley — and was found after the flood in a huge pile of wreckage. Johnstown gradually rebuilt itself, and Morley’s Dog became a symbol of the resilient city, “Johnstown’s Best Friend,” occupying a place of honor in a downtown park. Legends grew around it. Some believed that the statue was of a noble dog that had saved a family from the flood. Others believed that it was a real, petrified dog, fossilized instantaneously under the crush of mud and debris.

Although Morley’s Dog was catastrophe-proof, it couldn’t survive a long, slow century of Pennsylvania winters and people straddling it for souvenir snapshots. “It was gonna fall apart,” said Richard Burkert, president of the Johnstown Area Heritage Association. “No one wanted to wake up one morning a see a photo of Morley’s Dog’s head on the ground.” In 2004 the statue was taken away for preservation (It was replaced in the park by a nearly identical replica, so most tourists didn’t notice).

Morley's dog, 2004.Seven years passed. The dog was analyzed by metallurgists and probed by restorationists. It was sliced apart, reassembled, patched, sealed, painted in what Johnstown could only guess were its original colors, and given a new tail from an identical statue (the original broke off years ago).

Morley’s Dog is now finally back in Johnstown, on public view (briefly), displayed behind glass in an empty storefront window across from the city’s train station. Purchased from a catalog for under $200, the dog cost $14,000 to fix. “It’s a piece of lawn art from the 1870s,” said Richard, explaining why its repair took so long and cost so much. “I don’t think anyone assumed it would be around in 140 years.”

Morley's dog, 2011.Where the dog goes next is anyone’s guess: possibly to the Johnstown Area Heritage Discovery Center, possibly to the Johnstown Flood Museum. It’s clear, however, that Morley’s Dog, a tough survivor in 1889, is now too fragile (and valuable) to replace the replica that replaced it in the park.

“He needs,” said Richard, “to be an indoor dog.”

Sections: Attraction News, Statues Comments Off on Seven Years Away, Johnstown’s Best Friend Comes Home

Morley's Dog

Main St., Johnstown, PA
A replica still stands downtown, in a tiny park on the northwest corner of Main and Market Sts. The original statue stands about a mile downriver, in the lobby of the town's Heritage Discovery Center, at the intersection of 7th St. and Hwy 56/Broad St.
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