Sunday, July 10, 2011

Historic Market Street 1906

I have seen parts of this film before, not restored and not full length. Last night on 60 Minutes we were treated to the restored researched "A Trip Down Market Street." Shot days before the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 we are transported to another time and permitted to watch the residents of 1906 San Francisco going about their daily lives.

I loved the one second glimpse of a woman negotiating the long skirts of the day as she catches a trolley car. She makes it look easy.

We see the dare devil traffic and the looks on the faces of those who at that moment realize they are being filmed. The end of the film shows a group of young newspaper boys who gather on the tracks to wave and mug for the camera. My favorite scene.

The mystery always has been who shot the film and when. Who were those carefree filmmakers and how did the film survive?

The Library of Congress had dated the film September 1905. Using the tools of any good historian or genealogist, California archivist David Kiehn vowed to solve the mystery. He researched the newly restored film for license plates and weather reports chasing the date into April 1906. Kiehn describes himself as having an incurable curiosity and a love for silent films. Add to that dogged determination.

Then Kiehn found The New York Clipper newspaper articles advertising "A Trip Down Market Street" by the Miles Brothers. The film was made one week before the destruction of every building shown in the film. One of those buildings was the office of the Miles brothers. The film makers had the good fortune to send the film by rail to New York the night before the quake.

I watched the film again. This time with the benefit of Kiehn's research. Now I know what is merely days away. Now I know the sad reality that many of the film's faces probably did not survive the quake and resulting fire.

What struck me was not that these smiling people didn't know what was about to happen to them, but rather that I did. And I am a hundred years too late.


Blogger Kristin said...

That was amazing, the mix of horses, cars, trollies and pedestrians, the way men jump on and hitch a ride from anything moving. I missed the lady getting on the trolley so I guess I'll watch it again. I wonder we didn't see any crashes or injuries. It is sobering to think they had no idea. And yet, neither do we.

July 11, 2011 at 9:53 AM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

It is amazing.

The woman is only on screen for a split second jumping onto a trolley. When I visit San Francisco I can barely make the jump in sneakers and jeans. They certainly knew how to work those skirts.

So true, so sobering. I'm sure film in front of the World Trade Center the week before 9/11 probably captured life in much the same way.

It's just the fact that I knew what was coming that caught me so off guard.


July 11, 2011 at 12:52 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Love this. Faves? That no one got run over, the ones who waved at the camera, the man at the end with the big bushy beard blowing in the wind, & the newsies.

They were so unassuming, so happy, so normal.

How sad to think about what came next.


July 13, 2011 at 8:27 AM  
Blogger Wendy B. said...

I love this so much!! I work right on Market Street, and can pretty much make out where the film goes past where my building now stands. There are still dare devils (car and bus drivers, pedestrians and cyclists), but it's not nearly as charming as it looks in this wonderful film. Thanks for sharing!

July 15, 2011 at 8:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is fantastic!! What a great look into life then! Wow! O loved looking at the style of dress!! The only thing that could have been better was color! As for the earthquake....none of know what is to come so we should cherish each day! ;)

August 8, 2011 at 10:14 AM  

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