Alan Bemis Collection
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Collection Identifier(s)
[Alan Bemis--home movies], 2313
image
Credit: Alan Bemis Collection, Northeast Historic Film. Crews construct High Head, the summer home of Alan Bemis, Brooklin, ME, 1937.
Credit: Alan Bemis Collection, Northeast Historic Film. Crews construct High Head, the summer home of Alan Bemis, Brooklin, ME, 1937.
Primary Format and Extent
film (13,625 ft.) : si., b&w and col. ; 16 mm.
Secondary Format and Extent
2 VHS tapes
Collection Date Range
1927 to 1948
Summary
The Alan Bemis Collection contains 47 reels of 16 mm. film shot by Alan Bemis and Sidney Shurcliff between 1927 and 1948, 2 VHS tapes, and an Ampro Precision 16 mm. projector. The collection shows various yacht cruises and voyages, offering sea and aerial views of the coast of New England. These films were used to record annual men’s and mixed cruises from Brooklin, Maine, to Passamaquoddy Bay (an inlet of the Bay of Fundy between Maine and New Brunswick, Canada) on the yacht Cirrus. Footage depicts sailing, seaplanes, and lighthouses along the Maine coast. Among the sea voyages, the collection contains many family scenes depicting winter activities like sledding and skiing, as well as birthday parties and trick family films. The collection also contains a group of Motormauler films, conceived and shot by Sidney Shurcliff. The Motormauler films are amateur films in which the Motormauler Club used $10 junk cars to create dramatic, often dangerous chase and crash scenes filmed in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
Biographical/Historical Notes
Alan Cogswell Bemis (1906-1991) was the third of seven children born to Albert Farwell Bemis and Faith Gregg Bemis. (See also: the Albert Farwell Bemis collection in NHF). The children were born between 1900 and 1916. Bemis attended Milton Academy, graduated from Harvard University in 1928, and received a doctorate degree in physical meteorology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a professor of physics at MIT, and was director of MIT's Weather Radar Research Project. He worked on guided missile technology during World War II as part of a defense grant to MIT, and received a Certificate of Merit from President Harry S. Truman. He retired from MIT in 1972.

Alan Bemis married Mary Chapin (Chapie) in 1928. They raised five daughters: Ann, Margot, Alice, Faith and Becky. They lived in homes in Boston, Weston, Wayland, and Concord, Massachusetts. Early summers were spent at the senior Bemis' home in Cohasset, MA, and other vacations at the family home in South Tamworth, NH. In 1930, Ken and Margy Parson from Weston, MA, invited Alan and Chapie to spend a weekend at their summer home in Brooklin, ME. Thereafter the Bemis family spent part of every year in Maine, building their summer home "High Head" on Naskeag Point in Brooklin in 1937.

For further biographical information about Alan C. Bemis, see the donor file, which includes his "Random Recollections" which were dictated in 1988 and 1989. Bemis offers reminiscences of personal and family history, his wedding and life with his wife Mary Chapin Bemis, his automobile collections, boating and sailing, flying experiences, and Maine storytelling. The Collection File also includes a biography created for his Harvard class reunions, a list of owned cars, and recollections of family fun. A copy of "The Saga of the Motormaulers" by Bemis and Sid Shurcliff written in 1980 which describes the making of the Motormaulers film series is also included in the collection.

Bemis's name appears in the correspondence register of the Vannevar Bush papers at the Library of Congress: http://www.loc.gov/rr/mss/text/bush.html.

Sidney N. Shurcliff, who photographed and edited the "Motormauler" films in this collection, was a classmate of Alan Bemis's at Harvard. His father, Arthur, and Frederick Law Olmsted, founded the Harvard School of Landscape Design, the first professional program of its kind in the world. Arthur Shurcliff was the landscape designer for the gardens of Colonial Williamsburg. Sidney N. Shurcliff received his education as a landscape designer at Harvard, and joined his father in practice in the 1930s, expanding the office to become Shurcliff, Merrill & Footit. He is notable for being instrumental in the revival of interest in Olmsted's work. Papers of Arthur A. Shurcliff and Sidney N. Shurcliff can be found at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Frances Loeb Library Special Collections Sidney Shurcliff was a frequent guest of Bemis's in Maine, and also edited many of the sailing/cruising films in this collection. The papers include information about Sidney Shurcliff's interests in movie-making, sports and automobile racing.

Bemis had a lifelong interest in automobiles, collecting many classic models which he restored or used. His 1913 Rolls Royce Touring Car was donated to the Owls Head Transportation Museum in Maine. A complete list of all cars owned is in the donor file. Additional information about his automobiles may be found in the Alan C. Bemis Automotive Papers, 1946-1969 at the Concord (MA) Public Library: http://www.concordlibrary.org/scollect/Fin_Aids/Bemis_AC_Papers.htm.

The Motormaulers Club

“The general plan was that the Club would meet once a year. Each member was to show up with a $10.00 automobile which he would contribute to the outing. Sid Shurcliff would dream up a movie scenario involving a chase of some kind.

We would prepare the cars by removing all the glass (if indeed they had any). For sending cars off banks and for head-on collision we would rig a throttle control that could be yanked wide open as the driver bailed out at the last moment. Marshall was a maestro at high-speed bail-outs, but we all took our turn. The bail-outs were made on grass to minimize bruises.

The whole operation, as well as being a pole of fun, took much planning, and two weekends for each one. On the first weekend we did little motormauling, but took all the character and plot-development shots. Then, on the second weekend we got going on the fender-benders and big final crashes. As anyone knows who has done any movie editing it is a tremendous and demanding job. Sid did it all. What a great result!” Excerpt of The Saga of the Motormaulers, written by Alan Bemis and Sidney Shurcliff in 1980, which can be found in the Collection File.

The yacht Cirrus is a Fisher Island Sound 31 class sloop, sail number 11 with a distinctive red hull. She was built at Herreshoff Manufacturing Company, Bristol, RI, in 1930 (originally named Kelpie) and bought by Alan Bemis in 1935. There were 14 boats in the class. LOA 44 ft. A sister ship "Torch" (sail number 7) is on display at the Herreshoff Marine Museum, Bristol, RI. In 1954, Bemis converted Cirrus to a yawl rig. Bemis owned Cirrus for more than 50 years, sailing and racing her almost exclusively in Maine and Canadian waters. The pairing was legendary. He made annual cruises to Canadian waters each summer. In the early 1970s he became Commodore of the Cruising Club of America, at which time he organized the first winter cruises to tropical waters for the Club. More information on Cirrus can be found in the book "Wood, Water & Light: Classic Wooden Boats," text by Joel White, photographs by Benjamin Mendlowitz, Norton, 1988. WorldCat

For information about stone freighters and schooners that ran the Maine coast like the Annie and Reuben seen in Reel 17 of this collection, see the article: "Droghers, Limers and Packets" by Mike Crowe, in "Fishermen's Voice," Vol. 5, No. 3, March 2000 at: http://www.fishermensvoice.com/archives/mar00.html

Place(s)
Repository
Northeast Historic Film
Availability
The Collection is open for research.
Condition Governing Reproduction and Use
Authorization to reuse and/or reproduce must be obtained from Northeast Historic Film. See http://oldfilm.org/content/stock-footage-licensing for more information.
Encoded archival description
Items in this collection: 39
Showing 1 - 10 of 39:
1) [Alan Bemis—home movies] Reel 1
Can notes: "Bemi Trunk Movie - In + Out 1922? + 8/23/47 copy made Feb. 1962." Donor notes: "Original copy (I think) of '34 Bemi Explode from a Trunk'. August 23, 1947 Plus other So....more
2) [Alan Bemis—home movies] Reel 2
Donor notes: "Original copy (I think) of '34 Bemi Explode from a Trunk'. August 23, 1947 Plus other So. Tam. [South Tamworth, NH] . Reunion events of same date (Mother's 70th year). Th...more
3) [Alan Bemis—home movies] Reel 3
Can notes: "Cirrus Cruises 1930's. An edited SNS original" On leader: "SNS Pix Cruising on Cirrus". Sidney Shurcliff was a classmate of Alan Bemis' at Harvard. Shurcliff also pho...more
4) [Alan Bemis—home movies] Reel 5
Can notes:"Grown-up Stuff MAINE 1937 "Men's Cruise" + other" Donor notes: "Grownup Stuff Maine 1937 Picnic at Marshalls (black +white) early July [Cruise to the Eastward loading bo...more
5) [Alan Bemis—home movies] Reel 6
Donor notes: "Mixed Cruise 1941 Reel 1 Loves, windjammer" The yacht "Cirrus" is a Fisher Island Sound class sloop, sail number 11 with a distinctive red hull. She was built at Herre...more
6) [Alan Bemis—home movies] Reel 7
Donor notes: "Mixed cruise 1941 Reel 2" The yacht "Cirrus" is a Fisher Island Sound class sloop, sail number 11 with a distinctive red hull. She was built at Herreshoff Manufacturing...more
7) [Alan Bemis—home movies] Reel 8
Can notes: "Maine Cruises 1946". Donor notes:"Kids Cruise - Ann, Margot, F…[unreadable] Parson et al to Roque with Kingmans on Hob Nob + Camerons on Blessed Event Cruise with Loves a...more
8) [Alan Bemis—home movies] Reel 9
Can notes: "S.T. Christmas 1927" Bemis family Christmas at their farm in South Tamworth, New Hampshire, 1927. Alan Bemis in some shots. Sunny day with snow on the ground. Snowball f...more
9) [Alan Bemis—home movies] Reel 10
Can notes: "Ann + Margot 1931." Donor notes: "Ann + Margot Weston March 21, 1931 Ann + Margot indoors Cohasset June 1931 Ann + Margot outdoors Kodacolor poor color Cohassett Summer...more
10) [Alan Bemis—home movies] Reel 11
The Saga of the Motormaulers The Motormaulers First Film - Concord, N.H. In 1930, when some of us involved were still hanging around Harvard University, Sid Shurcliff reported that he...more
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