Unconquered: Cook Forest
“At the forks of the Ohio stands an American city, a colossus of steel whose mills bring forth bone and sinew for our nation.”
This is the first line from the 1947 movie “Unconquered,” directed by Cecil B. DeMille. If you live in the PA Wilds, specifically the Cook Forest & the Ancients Landscape, and you watch that movie, about forty-four minutes in, you’ll begin to see scenes that look hauntingly familiar.
The movie, which is based on a book of the same title (pictured at right), stars Gary Cooper, Boris Karloff, and Paulette Goddard. It’s set in 1763. Goddard plays a London woman who is sold into slavery in America instead of being hung for a trumped-up crime. She is taken to Fort Pitt, which stood on the site of modern-day Pittsburgh, kidnapped by the bad guys, and eventually rescued by Cooper.
The neat part of this is that some of it was filmed in Cook Forest.
When he was scouting locations to film in 1946, Cecil B. DeMille decided that Cook Forest was the perfect place to stage some of his forest scenes. The area is still there today, largely unchanged, and anyone is welcome to hike out and see where Gary Cooper filmed his scenes.
It’s on the Deer Park Trail, which connects PA Route 36 and the Seneca Trail, according to the Cook Forest State Park website. It’s listed as running for just over a mile, and classified as “more difficult” hiking. Visitors also get to walk through the site of tornado damage from 1976, which is equally exciting.
(At right: PA Forests and Waters Volume 1 Number 2 outlines filming of “Unconquered.” Image provided by Cook Forest State Park staff.)
The scenes in the movie stand out. If you go into it knowing that some of it was filmed in Pennsylvania, you can easily pick out the portions that were filmed in Cook Forest. The trees, the rock outcroppings… It just plain looks like Pennsylvania. I wanted to see if I could pick it out, so I turned it on and watched with my son one day. (When I began contributing stories for the PA Wilds, I had visions of bravely exploring the wilderness and having adventures. So here I sit on the couch, in the line of duty, watching a movie on YouTube with my kid.) The scenery looks remarkably familiar if you’ve spent any time hiking around central Pennsylvania.
Given DeMille’s directing style, we’re actually somewhat lucky to still have Cook Forest. At one point during filming elsewhere, he insisted that actual flaming arrows be shot at the set. This resulted in a genuine fire, injuring several actors.
Cook Forest has 47 miles of hiking trails, including the one seen in the movie. There are also places for biking, hunting, fishing, kayaking, and other activities. It’s north of Interstate 80 in Clarion and Forest Counties. The park office is at 113 River Road, Cooksburg, Pennsylvania, and can be contacted at 814-744-8407.
The Deer Park Trail is on the southern end of the park, beginning along Route 36 and going roughly south toward the Clarion River.
If you’re not a big fan of classic movies, it’s still worth it to hike there. If you are a movie buff, watch the movie first, and then go enjoy the scenery in person. You can see what Boris Karloff saw, and stand where Gary Cooper stood.
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