From the UW description of the film: “A collection of recovered films from the 1920s and ’30s gives insight into the life and times of the small Washington communities in Grays Harbor County. The films, meticulously restored by the UW Libraries film preservation experts, were shot by photographer Charles D. Anderson and reveals how the sense of community in this southwestern Washington town has stood the test of time.”
ED NOTE: this was recently sent to me and I was unaware of the films. I contacted our local newspaper editor who was aware and in fact had one of his reporters looking into it at one time. Will post information here as I learn more. Tom
April 15th 2014 – the Editor of The Vidette here in Montesano was kind enough to forward a report that none other than our current sitting City Councilman Marisa Salzar wrote. Thank you to the Vidette for sending and allowing to re-post the information on our shared history here in the harbor…Tom. Visit THE VIDETTE
Published 3-7-13 by Marisa Salzer
A rare collection of newsreel films featuring Harbor life at its economic peak in the 1920s has made a nearly century-long journey back into the hands of its descendants and residents.
“If a picture is worth a thousand words — moments frozen in time, some of them decisive — movies can move us with their magic. They can be a time machine,” said John Hughes, chief historian for the secretary of state, lifelong Harborite, and former editor and publisher of The Daily World and The Vidette.
The public will have a chance to see these films for the first time at the premiere showing of the documentary of these films at 2 p.m. and at 7 p.m., Saturday, March 9, at the historic 7th Street Theatre. The documentary is narrated by Hughes.
“These newsreels are nothing less than a community treasure,” Hughes said.
A box of highly combustible 35 mm tinted and black and white nitrate film was discovered in a commercial storage unit in Seattle after its contents were purchased during an auction several years ago. Randy and Gina Noll brought the films to the University of Washington Libraries after learning about the university’s Home Movie Day event.
Though the University of Washington did not have the capacity to “work with the deteriorating reels,” Hannah Palin, film archives specialist of the special collections division at the university, said, it sought the expertise of the Library of Congress. “According to George Willeman, Library of Congress nitrate vault film manager, the films were extremely rare newsreels shot by C.D. Anderson, a photographer from Aberdeen. The films were shown in conjunction with national newsreels on the movie screens of Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Grays Harbor,” Palin said.
Noll recognized its importance and donated the films to the university in 2004, to give the films an opportunity to be restored and brought back to life, explained Joyce Agee, associate director of development for the university’s library.
One of the films contained a strange scene that was released to the public approximately a year ago in attempts to identify what was being filmed. A group of children and adults were seen walking in a circle in a large field, then standing still. With the center of the circle cleared, a man stands on a crate in the center of the circle and hands a document to a boy who holds it over a fire until it burns. The crowd then ran in one direction, disappearing from the scene.
“It was the utter weirdness of that clip that got me interested in the project. I looked at the project as a mystery that needed to be solved and I took it on as a personal challenge,” said Roy Vataja, vice president of the Aberdeen Museum of History board.
Vataja explained that on a hunch, he determined that the scene took place at the end of a school year, and searched newspaper clippings for any clue that would solve the mystery. His hunch proved to be correct — he determined the gathering was of school children and adults for what might be a mortgage burning ceremony for Franklin School, located near the site of the since-demolished natatorium in Hoquiam.
With the help of two grants from the National Film Preservation Foundation, preservation was done by Colorlab in Maryland, producing new prints of the original films, then transferred to a high-end master videotape with DVD viewing copies, Palin said. Another grant was awarded to write a collection guide and to post the entire collection on the university’s digital collection’s website.
The final portion of the collection, consisting primarily of tinted footage, was preserved with funding from the Apex Foundation.
While the films were being restored, the University of Washington Libraries formed a “true partnership,” Agee said, with representatives of the Harbor to create a documentary featuring many of these films. Those helping include Hughes, John Larson, director of the Polson Museum, Mickey Thurman of the 7th Street Theatre Association and Realtor and local historian Tom Quigg.
“It is a great example of a collaborative effort that was executed well,” Larson explained.
In fact, the university hopes the documentary project encourages other communities in Washington to look in their storage units and dig up their own old films and bring them to the university, Agee said.
Under the direction of Ann Coppel, of UWTV, the documentary came together with interviews from those involved in the project as well as current-day shots of where the scenes were originally filmed. The Grays Harbor Community Foundation provided the final grant that gave the university the support to “take the production from good to great,” Agee added.
The person who was most instrumental in bringing this film together was Vataja, said his partners on the project. He “was able to make it all come alive,” Larson said.
“Roy has been an absolute Godsend,” Thurman agreed. “He has spent countless hours at the library researching old newspapers.”
Vataja’s fascination with Harbor history began when he was a young child in the 1970s, he said.
Reflecting on what he was seeing in downtown Aberdeen, he said, “The buildings are so cool. I noticed that there were no buildings older than 1903, which made me ask why and the next thing you know, I was at the library, reading old newspapers on microfilm.”
In fact, Vataja was so involved in Harbor history, he was named to the Aberdeen Museum of History’s Board at the age of 17 and currently serves as vice president.
THEN AND NOW
The “roaring” ’20s was named “because prosperity reigned all across America. On the Harbor, people from all walks of life and ethnicity were joiners. There was a profusion of fraternal, social, church and union groups: The Elks, Eagles, Moose and Masons; the Odd Fellows, Rotary and Neighbors of Woodcraft; guilds, ladies’ auxiliaries and the venerable Daughters of the American Revolution with their pinkies in the air. There were Finnish halls (three, in fact), Swedish, Norwegian, Croatian and Italian Halls. People went to the movies at least twice a week; to dances and parties every weekend. Afterward, they went to Chinese restaurants that stayed open until 2 a.m. They knew their neighbors and gathered often to play cards or charades; to listen to the radio, gossip and laugh,” Hughes said.
Hughes estimates that nearly 70 percent of the historic buildings, some of which are shown in the films, are still standing today. The Harbor was the lumber capital of the world during this time, in which Aberdeen’s population topped 22,000 and Hoquiam’s at 15,000, he explained.
In 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated Aberdeen’s population at nearly 17,000 in 2012 and Hoquiam at nearly 9,000.
The documentary will be shown twice — at 2 p.m. and at 7 p.m., Saturday, March 9.
Guest speakers will include Lizabeth “Betsy” Wilson, Dean of the University of Washington Libraries; Paul Constantine, associate Dean of the University of Washington Libraries and director of special collections; Nicolette Bromberg, University of Washington Libraries visual materials curator; Hannah Palin, University of Washington Libraries film archives specialist; Ann Coppel, director of UWTV; Ray Kahler, president of the 7th Street Theatre Association, Hoquiam Mayor Jack Durney, Larson of the Polson Museum and Vataja of the Aberdeen Museum of History.
A surprise guest of honor will be featured during the 7 p.m. show.
“Anderson’s movies are ‘reel-life’ — everything from a wedding at the county fair to fire drills at every school in town. The nuns in their habits shoo the kids down the stairs at St. Mary’s; high schoolers at the towering Terrace Heights School flood onto the front lawn, the girls in their starched dresses and hair bows. On Thanksgiving, Aberdeen and Hoquiam football players in their leather helmets square off on a quagmire as thousands cheer,” Hughes said.