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.