Harold Johnson not only became superintendent
of production, he was also the subject of at least
a few images seen by customers around the world.
Keystone gave the world a view of middle
America that often drew a striking resemblance to
Local scenes and subjects, including
Harold Johnson, were often used in sets of cards
that depicted public servants or other slices of
Thus, customers from all over the globe
invited friends and family into their homes for
parties where they would view 3-D images of the
Talon zipper plant in Meadville or a horse-drawn
milk delivery wagon making deliveries on Market
The images weren't always as provincial.
Keystone sent its photographers around
the world, capturing photos on the battlefields
of World War I and in the
jungles of Africa.
The company produced and sold views of the
Brig Niagara and captured images of Charles Lindbergh
and the Spirit of St. Louis. Keystone's library
included images of Mahatma Gandhi and Thomas Edison
as well as Abraham Lincoln and each of the next
Turning back the clock
It was business that first brought Lance
Johnson and George Shaw together in the early 1990's,
when Shaw hired Johnson, president of Associated
Contractors in Conneaut Lake, to build a new machine
shop for Shaw Industries in Venango County.
They quickly discovered common acquaintances and
a shared interest in photography.
Several more years would pass, however,
before Shaw offered Eric and Lance Johnson a peek
inside his barn, where one of the world's largest
collections of stereoscopic photos awaited their
"We went into the first building and
our mouths dropped open." Lance Johnson said.
It was all there -- down to the last
wastebasket Shaw had hauled out of the Keystone
plant a quarter century earlier.
It was a collection that included more
than 60,000 view cards and 15,000 glass negatives,
all packed neatly away in custom cabinets, some
of them built by their grandfather, who worked as
a carpenter at Keystone.
"Mr. Shaw looked at us and said, 'You
haven't seen anything yet,'" Lance Johnson said.
After years of searching for fragments
of Keystone View, Eric and Lance Johnson had opened
what was for them the ultimate attic door.
"I walked over to this pile of papers,
opened a few files and there is some of my father's
correspondence," Eric Johnson said.
"For us, it's like getting struck by
lightning," his brother said. "I had been going
to auctions and thought it was neat if I could buy
Shaw's collection, which took four
tractor-trailers to haul, included printing presses,
hundreds of 3-D viewers, printing plates, letters,
correspondence and countless educational booklets
and workbooks that accompanied the company's educational
Other files were filled with glass
negatives, many of them hand colored by Isabel Johnson
or another of the company's commercial artists.
A slide encased in glass shows an
image of Charles Lindbergh's plane, Spirit of
This stereo photograph shows the
image of Guglielmo Marconi,
the inventor of wireless telegraphy.
"Finding Shaw's collection was a happy
moment," Eric Johnson said.
"Collectors felt so sorry thinking
Keystone just disappeared and this slice of life
was gone," he said.
Preserving the past
The moment didn't end there.
Eric and Lance Johnson were hatching
a plan for a new museum and Shaw quickly offered
In exchange for a tax credit,
he would donate the entire collection to the Johnson-Shaw
Stereoscopic Museum, a newly formed nonprofit company.
"It was really a win-win situation,"
Lance Johnson said.
In 2000, the fledgling museum bought
a new home -- the former Holland Land Co. building
on Chestnut Street. The Holland Land Co. was responsible
for distributing land used to repay loans made by
Dutch merchants during the American Revolution.
The museum, under executive director
Jodi Paich Kohlstrom, is expected to open later
Shaw, who is 85, said he didn't concern
himself about the collection that only gathered
dust for so many years.
"I had a big barn," he explained. "As long
as I had the room, when I would run into something
I thought was interesting I would store it in the
barn. Sooner or later someone would turn up and
I could dispose of it."
Peg Lang, now the president of Shaw
Industries, said stashing the collection in an old
barn is consistent with Shaw's personality.
"He is a person who doesn't like to
see anything old or obsolete discarded in the hopes
that someone would find a use for it," she said.
"When Lance Johnson came along, it turned out to
be a perfect match."
J I M
M A R T I N can be reached at
(814) 724-6397, 870-1668 or by email.