The Old As New

Chronicle hosts as Peter Mehegan and Mary Richardson

The WCVB Chronicles’ Main Streets and Back Roads series transported me this year to the northern most corner of Aroostook County during potato harvest season and taught me something about forest management there while I reviewed the 1980s and 90s tapes we are preparing for uploading in the archive.

I also learned about boat building, lobster hauling and the infinite number of ways to tell a fishing story, as Peter Mehegan visited the Maine coast, and sometimes drifted south into New Hampshire and onto Martha’s Vineyard.

There were other kinds of travels, too, that included visits to villages in the mountains and along lakeshores throughout New England interior, with Mary Richardson, Andria Hall, Ted Weinstein and Mike Barnicle.

David Weiss holding a can of nitrate film

The series that Chronicle offered periodically on historical topics within MSBR was titled “The Way We Were.” And so when recently I began reviewing Accession #2716.3802, March 13, 1991, I expected another comfortable half-hour of the familiar in sweeping views.  What I found was familiar and very close indeed.

The subject for the this broadcast is “New England Film”, and as Mary Richardson provides voice over the visuals of 1894 footage, the images are those that can be found in very few collections. We see images of men ice-skating in 1905, bicycle racing, and clam diggers on the beach in Boston, cars driving up Mount Washington.

The original location of Northeast Historic Film at an old chicken barn in Blue Hill.

An un-credited voice, but that I recognize as Karan Sheldon, co-founder of Northeast Historic Film, adds that 50 percent of all the films made before 1950 are completely lost.  And at nearly seven minutes into the broadcast Northeast Historic Film, “in tiny Blue Hill Falls, Maine”, is featured as a home for many of these precious films.

There is a shot of David Weiss and Karan, side-by-side, working at the old location for the business offices of archive, a building locally known as the Hen House. They provide examples of promotional films developed during the early days of motion picture history.  Trains to campgrounds and logging along the rivers are some of the kinds of movies that were made and now preserved.

Northeast Historic Film founders, Karan Sheldon and David Weiss, editing video in 1991

Karan talks about dramatic films that were made and lost, and about the value of home movies now to creating a historical record about life in New England. David explains the dangers of nitrate film.

Interestingly, Richardson and Mehegan take a moment to editorialize on how wonderful Northeast Historic Film is as an open resource for film history, when so many other preservationists are not like-minded.

Then Mehegan, in a comment at the end of the broadcast, casually says, “The next generation of archivists is going to be very busy with all these video cams available now.”  And I realize, that’s me. I’m the archivist, 30 years later, that is busy.

— Shannon E. Martin, December 2022