Share in our discoveries across three projects as we work to provide the first intellectual access to our hidden treasures relating to work and labor in early 20th Century New England, the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair and its period, and Boston local TV news.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Curiouser! Curiouser!

I've been happily immersed in the first twenty-five collections, thrilled to see each finding aid with a beautiful still image representation in our initial Web UI as we approach the launch of the new website. Building the foundation for the project alongside conducting the actual work of the project has been an enlightening experience. As pieces come together it is that much more satisfying. While I wish to write for days about all of our discoveries since my arrival in February, I thought I could provide a few highlights:

While working on the Gillingham Collection, I was sitting in the middle of the reading room, viewing the VHS access copy. I was watching a simple scene of a family trip to a docked, historic ship (imagine cannons, huge masts, tourists looking through the portholes, etc.). Executive Director David Weiss was walking behind me just as the camera panned out to the water, briefly (maybe five seconds?) depicting an anchored boat before scanning the shoreline. As if from nowhere, I hear: "That's the USS Sultana!" While I could not identify the historic tourist attraction star of this scene (nor could he), he did happen to correctly identify an old war ship that was out on the water! This is not just any old ship, but the star of The Seventh Day - a 1922 film shot in Maine. NHF actually used a clip from the film (not only highlighting the ship, but also depicting the proper New England women scoffing at the exposed ankles of the wild New York women) in our recent collaboration with Maine Boats Homes & Harbors Magazine, In Our Wake. David dutifully retrieved the movie poster which had burned the image of the ship into his mind. This is yet another argument in favor of opening these amateur film collections to the public for outside perspectives that can potentially provide more in-depth description of even the smallest details.

Another thrilling discovery came when Monica was viewing footage from the Sally Johnston Collection, which consists of home movies shot between 1936 and 1968. Some of the footage contains casual views of cast and crew members at the Lakewood Theatre, a summer playhouse near Skowhegan, Maine. Rumour had it some celebrities had ties to the Lakewood Theatre, so Monica was in charge of scouting footage for celebrity sightings. Imagine our surprise when handsome, young Bogie drove up in a convertible!

Sally Johnston Collection, Northeast Historic Film. Humphrey Bogart outside of the Lakewood Theatre in Skowhegan, Maine, ca. 1930s.

I have also been affected by various stories I uncover during my detective work with our collections. I am not sure where else to highlight these stories - there is no DACS element for ironic/poetic/pull-your-heartstrings fates of collection creators. While the first two fates are captured in the biographical/historical notes of our finding aids, this will be the only public record of Raymond Cotton's story.

Milford Baker Collection:
Milford Baker was a young photographer who documented the construction of the Wyman Dam on the Kennebec River in Moscow, Maine. He set up shop at the base of the construction site where he would sell his photographs of the progress over time. Baker tirelessly documented the Wyman Dam construction in both still and moving images from 1928-1931, only to drown in the salmon pool directly below the dam in 1933 while fishing with friends.

Norma Willard Collection:
This collection consists of one reel of film shot by Norman L. Skene, who was a naval architect and author of "Elements of Yacht Design" (1904). Skene was one of the best known marine architects of the 20th Century, and adapted South Greenland kayak designs for use in North America. He disappeared at sea off Marblehead, Massachusetts in 1932. His kayak was found with a broken paddle and a hole punctured in the bow.

Hiram Historical Society Collection:
I most recently learned that NHF holds the last footage shot by Raymond Cotton, who took great care in documenting life in and around Hiram, Maine. Mr. Cotton had taken his wife and daughter with him to shoot high water on the banks of a river or stream in town. A sudden burst of rain came, causing a nearby dam to break, and all three were swept away in a flash flood. He was the only survivor -- lost his wife, daughter, and camera to the water -- never to shoot again.


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