Sunday, February 28, 2010

For the Love of Film -- February 28, 2010

This post is a follow-up to For the Love of Film, The Film Preservation Blogathon., which was hosted by Ferdy on Films ( and The Self-Styled Siren (

I added an incredible number of blogs to my favorites list. I learned a lot about film preservation. I had fun.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Red Sky at Night -- February 27, 2010

I had to stop and take another photo after mass. It rained lightly in the morning. In the early afternoon, it got dark, then rained violently. The cat yelled and ran upstairs.

Early this morning, there was an 8.8 earthquake in Chile. There were tsunami warnings all around the Pacific.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Pulp #9 -- February 26, 2010

This issue of Black Mask carried Dashiell Hammett's "The Farewell Murder," a Continental Op story. I liked the Op.

The image is from a wonderful site called Cover Browser:

We went to lunch at work today. When we came out of the restaurant, it was starting to rain. It got harder and harder, and the wind was violent. I had meetings and worked. I looked out the window at 2:30 or 3:00, and it was bright and sunny.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Loading Syndicate Wheat at Port Costa -- February 23, 2010

From the 14-June-1895 San Francisco Call. WA Coulter did many maritime drawings for the newspaper. This one shows square-rigged grain ships loading at Port Costa on the Carquinez Straits. Click on the image for a larger version. The syndicate is the sort of greedy people described in Frank Norris' The Octopus, The Pit, and "A Corner in Wheat." Senator James G (Slippery Jim) Fair was one of the Bonanza Kings. The largest ferry in the world was the Solano, which carried Southern Pacific trains across the Straits. Jack McAuliffe was a bare knuckle lightweight world champion. The administrators of his estate lacked some of his business skills. The accompanying article:

FOURTEEN big ships are lashed to the warehouse docks at Port Costa, and 200 sturdy men are loading the Fair syndicate wheat for Liverpool. It is a large lot — 180,000 tons in all — and fills the spacious warehouses to overflowing. This year's crop will begin to come in about the last week in June, and where it is to be stored is what nobody seems to know. At the rate of moving August will see only half of the present lot on shipboard, and where the harvest of the present season is to be stored is an enigma.

The combine is not at all worried. The market is theirs to play with as they choose, and the farmers of California are at their mercy. Now the mercy of a trust is not tender, and the producers arc sore afraid. With plenty of ships at their command and a thousand idle men hanging around the docks and begging for employment the warehouses might soon be cleared of this enormous block of wheat that has been used by a combination to bull the market of California. But the game is not yet over. The ultimate dollar has not yet been extracted, and it is fair to presume that the combine will hold the deal over the heads of the local producers as long as it can. They are in no hurry to ship, because when the wheat is on the Liverpool market they can no longer use it as a conjuror's rod wherewith to bring the farmer to their terms. When the last of the Fair wheat is on the water the market will probably revive. But the combine is in no hurry.

Administrators unused to subtle tricks of finance are not met with every day and forced to sell far below the market price because outgeneraled in the matter of transportation. Senator Fair in his lifetime did not do things that way. No one ever got up a corner on ships that he was likely to have use for. No combine ever forced him to sell at a loss.

One can imagine McNear, Eppinger and the others, trying to frighten the dead millionaire into selling the lot in question at $17 per ton, on the plea that all the ships had been chartered for the next six months. The weevil story would not have startled the dead financier either and at a pinch he would probably have built his own ships. But the administrators — that is another story. They sold, and Port Costa is glad that they did, because it has made things lively up there a month earlier than usual. Port Costa is a quiet town with a fluctuating population. For nine months in the year she dreams in languorous inactivity. There is little toil, and no spinning to speak of. But when the hills above the town grow bare and brown, and the long wheat trains rumble in from the valleys of the south, the town bestirs itself from a nine months' lethargy and takes on a boom aspect.

Big men with brawn and muscle to sell flock there from all parts of the State to help load the ships. Buildings along Steam Beer row, unused for months, rent readily for lodging-houses and stores, and the rusty rails that thread the principal thoroughfare grow bright under the incessant pounding of busy switch-engines. With returning activity the negro minstrel comes, the circus, the light-fingered faro dealer and the gaudily bedecked siren of the dance-hall. At Casey's place, down on the row, they run three games all night, and over in the canyon behind the hills longshoremen meet frequently to emulate the prowess of "Bloody Mike" Brennan
and Sailor Brown in a twenty-four foot ring.

Port Costa is not without real fame, though. Old settlers point with pride to the fact that it is the largest wheat depot in California. It shares with Benicia the honor of having the largest ferry-boat in the world. And then there was the Port Costa giant — Mike Brennan — who used to load wheat at 25 cents per nour. To be sure, he was not a native of Port Costa (who is ?),but he lived there for many years, waxed strong at rustling 100-pound wheat sacks, then whipped five men in Casey's one night, and finally trained on a free lunch diet and stood up for forty-nine furious rounds before the great Jack McAuliffe. The giant is living in Chicago now and has given up loading wheat, but they still boast of his mighty arms and lightning action as they stow away the grain for Liverpool.

When the wheat is all loaded and the ships have sailed away across the water the population runs rapidly from 1500 or 2000 souls down to 200 or less, and for those left there is absolutely nothing to do. The faro banks suspend, the stores close, the minstrel seeks a wider field, and those who decide to wait around for the wheat to come again occupy themselves in sleeping and catfishing around the wharves.

This year the town awoke a month earlier than usual and prepared to load the Fair wheat. In two days after the deal the population had trebled. In four days it had jumped from 200 to 1000, and they are still coming.

The big warehouses where the loading is going on stretch along the irregular shore line from Nevada dock to Stair's mills, a distance of nearly two miles. The Grangers' warehouse holds 398,903 centals, the Pacific warehouse 638,000 centals, the Port Costa warehouse 708,957 centals, the California warehouse 102,000 centals, the Nevada warehouse 760,403 centals and Starr's warehouse 811,312 centals. Some idea of the magnitude of this enormous sale may be gathered from the fact that the adininistrators received for the block the sum of $3,053,200.

George McNear got 60,050 tons, Eppinger & Co. 57,450 tons. Balfour, Guthrie & Co. 50,050 tons, and Blum, Baldwin & Girvin 12,000 tons. McNear's bill for storage alone amounted to $110,000, and the commissions on the sale to $89,000, this sum being equally divided between McGlauflin &, Co., and H. Dutard. Taxes on the lot for the year amounted to $25,961 65, which was paid by the administrators a short time before the sale.

Of course the weevil story, set on foot no doubt for a purpose which was not lacking in intended effect, was a myth pure and simple, as was also the rumor that the wheat was showing signs of decay. Now and then a rotten streak is encountered, and occasionally the work of the weevil is seen, but this would naturally follow in any lot of wheat two years old. As a matter of fact the loss from these sources will not amount to anything worth mentioning, and for grain from the crop of 1893, it may be said to be in as perfect condition as may be expected.

With the sacks it is different, and decay is everywhere. This occasions considerable difficulty in handling, but does not necessarily imply any loss further than the employment or an unusual number of men in resacking. This is said to be due to the methods used in harvesting, which are inferior to the old methods, where the grain must remain for a long time in storage. With the combined harvester the wheat is sacked and dumped from the trip board to the ground, where it is allowed to lie for four or five days on the ground exposed to the scorching rays of the sun.

This burns the sack, and the moving from the farmer's warehouse to the shipper's warehouse and then aboard the ship usually completes the havoc. Most of the Fair wheat, besides the usual exposure on the harvest-field, has been transferred so often that it is in anything but good condition for shipping.

In loading three methods are employed. As in every other department of human labor machinery has come to the aid of the owner and dispensed with the use of many hands seeking employment, thus rendering obsolete processes in former vogue.

Staging was formerly used, and had only one fault — it required too many hands. By this method fifty or sixty men could work on one ship, taking the sacks from the truckmen as they were brought alongside and passed from one stage to another, and thence over the side and down the hatchways. In some cases the ports were opened and the sacks passed through to men on the inside. At the present time hoisting is the method most in use, though the others are occasionally resorted to, the manner of loading being due, to some extent, to the position of the ship in the water.

In hoisting, a "donkey" engine is placed upon a barge, which is made fast to the opposite side of the ship. Tackle is lowered over the wharf side, and the sacks picked up and dropped into the hatchway -- eighteen in a bunch.

This is a big saving of labor, reducing the force necessary by either of the other processes by about one-half. The men are divided into gangs, ranging in number from six to twelve or fifteen, according to the needs of the situation. Gang bosses are paid $6 per day. Truckmen receive 25 cents per hour, while men who work in the hatches or over the side of the ship get 55 cents per hour. It is the duty of the gang bosses to keep the truckmen under them moving at an easy trot from 7 in the morning until 5 at night, with an hour off at noon. As the labor of the other men
depends upon the regularity with which the sacks are brought alongside, it may be inferred that the crews throughout are kept at the highest point of exertion.

The ships now at the Port Costa dock are, with a single exception, all iron bottoms of English build. In tonnage they range from 5000 tons to 1500 tons, the former being the tonnage of the Dunstaffnage, the heaviest ship in port, and the latter figures marking the burden of the Elmhurst, the smallest craft now waiting for a cargo.

Of the fourteen ships docked only six are being loaded. It is clear that the combine is in no hurry. The syndicate wheat is a heavy club for the farmers of California. The ships are there and the officers are impatient for their cargoes. The men are there and anxious to work, but the combine is not moved to action commensurate with the occasion, and the end is far away.

Monday, February 22, 2010

162 on Market Street -- February 22, 2010

Streetcar 162 was built in 1914 to carry people to the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. It served San Francisco for 44 years, then went to the Orange Empire Museum in Perris, CA for the next 44 years. Now, after a thorough renovation, it is running again in San Francisco. Here is a video clip I caught today. It was a nice, sunny day.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Grauman's Chinese #7 -- February 20, 2010

Raoul Walsh started out as an actor who also directed. He played John Wilkes Booth in DW Griffith's Birth of the Nation and the Marine in his own Sadie Thompson, opposite Gloria Swanson. After an auto accident in which a rabbit hit his windshield, he lost an eye and gave up acting. He went on to direct many talkies, including The Roaring Twenties, High Sierra, and White Heat.

He left hand, foot, and eye patch prints in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese on 14-November-1930. DSCN4141. I took this on 18-July-2009.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why Do We Need to Preserve Films? A Brief History of Nitrate (Part III) -- February 19, 2010

This post is part of For the Love of Film, The Film Preservation Blogathon, hosted by Ferdy on Films ( and The Self-Styled Siren (
In Part I, I talked about the history of nitrocellulose-based celluloid and its instability, illustrated with some newspaper articles. In Part II, I added a smattering of examples. In Part III, I decided to go out with a bang, using a single magazine article to illustrate a memorable event. From Insurance Engineering, Volume XVIII, Number 4, October, 1909. Click on the images to see larger versions.

Moving-Picture Film Exchanges.


ONE difference between underwriters and municipal authorities is that the former are constantly studying fire causes and fire waste and are endeavoring to assist property owners in preventing serious fires, while the latter apparently wait for something to happen before taking action of a remedial or preventive nature.

Inspector Torbohm's Warning.—Early in the year Edwin O. Torbohm, Inspector for the Home Insurance Co., of New York, called attention, in an article printed in Insurance Engineering for February, to the dangerous quantities of celluloid represented by the large stocks of moving picture films carried by film exchanges. Some cities limit the amount of celluloid (when called by that name) that may be stored in any premises without a permit, but no restriction appears to have been put on the quantity of moving picture film that can be kept on hand in film exchanges.
Fire In Omaha.—Inspector Torbohm's warning was timely. Underwriters and the authorities in Omaha, Neb., had just been reminded of the highly inflammable nature of moving picture film by a fire on January 7, in the Karbach Block. The Omaha authorities co-operated with the underwriters in restricting the handling of moving picture films in the business district, but apparently the Karbach Block fire did not impress other cities.

There was no inspection of any kind in Omaha before the Karbach Block fire nor was a license required for the sale of moving picture films.

Large Stocks Of "plays."—An inquiry made by Insurance Engineering to ascertain the maximum and minimum quantities of moving picture film carried by film exchanges showed that as high as 800,000 feet of film (about 4,000 lbs. of celluloid) was carried by one film exchange in a room lighted by electricity.

Pittsburg Film Exchange Fire.—At about 11:20 o'clock on Monday morning, September 27, a fire occurred in the film storage vault in the occupancy of the Columbia Film Company in the fourth story of the Ferguson Building, 309 Third avenue, Pittsburg. The fire was quickly followed by an explosion that wrecked the building and injured more than a score of persons.

The first reports on the fire, judging from the accompanying views of the Ferguson Building, taken after the explosion, did not exaggerate the facts. Persons in various parts of the building were knocked down where they stood by the force of the explosion, and others in the street also felt the shock. The nature of the injuries sustained is indicated in the accompanying list of casualties.

An investigation of the cause of the fire-explosion has been undertaken by the Technological Branch of the United States Geological Survey at the Arsenal Station, Pittsburg, in co-operation with Fire Marshal W. D. McGill and Inspector W. H. Coster of the Municipal Explosives Board. Testimony given at a preliminary hearing conducted by Fire Marshal McGill seemed to show that the fire was caused by a spark from an electric switch or a broken bulb of an incandescent lamp inside of the vault. If the fire was due to either of these causes, the films in the vault could not have been in tight metallic cases.

Fire Hazard Of "Exchange Day." — The fire-explosion occurred at the most favorable time for disastrous results. Monday is "exchange day," and at the time of the fire there was sure to be a good many persons in an office building. Regarding the hazard of exchange day, Inspector Torbohm said:

"The forenoon represents probably the most dangerous period as respecting the fire hazard. During the morning hours daily there is a constant stream of messengers from the various show houses delivering and receiving films. For the most part they are young men of eighteen or twenty years of age, of a readily recognizable type, and with greatly exaggerated notions of their own peculiar ability and importance. Practically all of them smoke cigarettes and smoke most of the time while they are in the exchange. Nominally they are supposed to remain outside of the counter. As a matter of fact, most of them do, but some wander freely among the examiners and repairers, smoking their cigarettes quite unmindful of the quantities of reeled and unreeled film, also scrap film, on the tables and on the floors. It is the general practice among exchanges to sweep up scrap celluloid film along with paper and rubbish, and deposit the same in wooden bins for removal, sometimes daily, sometimes less frequently. In one instance this refuse was stored regularly in the public hallway leading to the film exchange."

Who are the interested parties? Are cities interested in protecting valuable business property and the lives of citizens from explosions of highly combustible materials handled in ways that show an utter disregard of the danger? Should the tenants of office buildings have their lives put in jeopardy by the presence of any one dealing in quantities of an explosive material that would probably be prohibited by ordinance in some cities if called by its right name?

The value of moving picture films (the average price for a new "play" is about $115) would seem to be sufficient reason why exchanges should want to do everything in their power to prevent fire.

In addition to the interest of the public and the interest of the exchanges is the larger interest, from a commercial point of view, of the companies controlling the patents on moving-picture machines and the companies that produce the plays. The moving picture play, as a popular form of public amusement, has had a wonderful growth. A great deal has been heard through the medium of newspaper articles about the safeguards promoted by the large commercial interests in the moving-picture business, but if the conditions that caused the Pittsburg disaster are any criterion, apparently there is considerable room for improvement in the present method of handling and storing moving-picture films.

Fine distinctions between the different forms of so-called celluloid products should be prohibited by law. Any substance with a nitro-cellulose base should be regarded with suspicion. In the manufacture of celluloid goods and imitations of them small, well ventilated rooms are employed for the more hazardous processes. The reason for this precaution is not that the processes themselves are hazardous but that the materials used and produced are highly combustible.

(Editorial, The Pittsburg Dispatch.)

A curious demonstration of the way in which new inventions bring new perils is afforded by the explosion of cinematograph films in the office of an exchange of those new commodities at the Ferguson Building. It was well known that these films are highly inflammable, but it is now learned by dear experience that they can produce an explosion powerful enough to wreck a modern office building and to inflict injuries on some three score people—though by good fortune no fatal injuries are reported.

Plainly a new article of trade which possesses such possibilities of explosion and fire calls for restrictions as to handling and storage. The theory that an electric spark was the start of the trouble on this occasion seems to emphasize the variety of slight and unforeseen causes that may cause disaster in crowded localities. The Fire Marshall's stand that the film exchanges should not be allowed in office buildings seems a mild deduction from the premises disclosed by the shattering of a big building.

Investigation may well busy itself with the question whether their dangerous qualities do not require stricter regulation than that, both in wholesale lots and in the theatoriums and nickelodeons, which do not impress the observer as particularly fireproof.


Young woman stenographer, sixth floor, hair burned and face cut.
Young woman, second floor, cut and bruised by falling glass; rescued by fireman.
Young woman, sixth floor, burned about face and hands.
Young woman, burned about face and hands and overcome by fumes.
Young woman, third floor, cut by flying glass.
Young woman bookkeeper, Columbia Film Co., seriously burned about the hands and face, also suffered shock; condition serious. Removed to hospital.
Young woman, cut by flying glass.
Young woman, cut by flying glass while going down fire escape.
Young man, elevator operator, burned about face and hands and cut by glass while running car to rescue victims.
Tenant, sixth floor, cut on nose and forehead by glass.
Engineer of building, right hand cut.
Tenant, third floor, right wrist cut.
Tenant, fourth story, cut about face and arms.
Partner of last-named tenant, cut about face and arms by glass.
Lieutenant of engine company, both hands cut by flying glass.
Driver for local ice company, suffered from shock.
Driver for local ice company, suffered from shock.
Fireman of building, left shoulder lacerated, also burns about face and body.
Tenant of building across street, right wrist cut.
Young woman, fingers of both hands cut.
Young woman stenographer, right ear and forehead lacerated. Removed to hospital.
Young woman, fourth floor, bruised and cut about arms and body.
Young man, Columbia Film Co., cut by glass and singed.

Thank you to Ferdy on Films ( and The Self-Styled Siren ( for organizing this blogathon. I'm having fun and learning.

Please consider donating to the National Film Preservation Foundation.

The newspaper articles come from Chronicling America (, a project of the Library of Congress.

Huck Finn 125 Years -- February 18, 2010

Today is the 125th anniversary of the publication of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the United States. It would have been published a bit earlier, as it was in the UK, but some engraver had tampered with one of Kemble's images and made it into an obscene joke.

"But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why Do We Need to Preserve Films? A Brief History of Nitrate (Part II) -- February 17, 2010

This post is part of For the Love of Film, The Film Preservation Blogathon, hosted by Ferdy on Films ( and The Self-Styled Siren ( In Part I, I talked about the history of nitrocellulose-based celluloid and its instability, illustrated with some newspaper articles. In Part II, I add a smattering of examples.

I don't think there was any question that nitrate-based celluloid was flammable, but apparently there was some question whether it was explosive. An untitled item from the 01-June-1905 New York Tribune indicates that celluloid movies weren't the only things that could blow up.

Whether celluloid is explosive or not is a question regarding which there is some disagreement. In a short article on the composition of the substance in "Johnson's Encyclopaedia" Professor C. F. Chandler declares that it is made of guncotton and camphor. He does not there refer to the possibility of its being dangerous, but in a letter addressed to a company that has a commercial interest in the matter he has expressed the opinion that it is fully as safe as light textile fabrics, straw goods and laces. Light is thrown on this apparent inconsistency by Charles E. Munroe, of Washington, a government adviser in regard to explosives. Gun cotton is only one of several pyroxylins, made by treating vegetable fibre with nitric and sulphuric acids. Some are explosive, he says, and some are not. He regards the particular pyroxylin used in the manufacture of celluloid as non-exploaive, but he remarks that accidents sometimes occur in consequence of the ignition of the vapor of ether or alcohol which has been employed in the production of celluloid. Utterances by men of such standing as Chandler and Munroe deserve consideration; but this is undeniable: A number of firemen were hurt by an explosion in a building in Broome-st. a few days ago, and the building was popularly known as a factory in which celluloid combs were made. If celluloid did not cause the mischief, what did? Again, why should the authorities of Massachusetts, in regulating the use of cinematographs, prescribe that the celluloid films employed therewith shall be inclosed in a metal box?

An excerpt from a 09-May-1909 New York Tribune article on motion picture censorship mentions problems besides immorality that were caused by movies:

But the lightning express growth of moving pictures has brought varied evils in its train. They thronged into tenement houses and into any vacant store, and as they employ a highly inflammable material in the celluloid film through which the picture is projected there was obvious danger from fire. Sanitary requirements were disregarded, police protection was ignored and the programmes themselves were pretty much a business of catch-as-catch-can.

People were aware that nitrate film would not only burn and explode, but it was also prone to shrinking, which could render prints unprojectable. This article may describe an early example of film preservation and restoration.

From the 22-October-1921 New York Tribune

Cecil M. Hepworth, pioneer British film producer, will arrive in this country on October 24, bringing with him a pictured chronicle of events of the past twenty-three years, covering in part the reigns of three English monarchs -- Victoria, King Edward and King George. It is entitled "Through Three Reigns." It illustrates in a graphic manner what the motion picture camera can do as a recorder of historical events for posterity. Mr. Hepworth is perhaps the oldest motion picture producer in the world. Although he is still a young man, he was producing pictures away back in 1894. The negatives of these interesting events were carefully stored in the Hepworth studio.

Naturally the celluloid film on which many of them were taken has slightly shrunk in the course of years, but Mr. Hepworth has overcome that difficulty and the result is a fascinating if almost uncanny picture which reveals such "Ghosts" as the return of the British troops after the South African war; the funeral procession of Queen Victoria; the coronation procession of King Edward; the Henley regatta in 1899; one of the first motor cars, and the introduction of the divided skirt in the women's first bicycling event.

This is the first opportunity which the public has had of seeing history in such remote perspective by means of the motion picture camera, and it certainly should set one thinking of the educational uses to which the camera can and should be put. What an aid to the history writers of the future generations it will be to have recourse to the files of motion picture film for verification of their chronicles.

Luke McKernan of the wonderful blog The Bioscope ( reports that "Through Three Reigns" has survived.

I wonder if this 1897 effort at film preservation would have been successful?

From the 23-April-1897 Hopkinsville Kentuckian

The lively optical instrument with many names but known in England as the animatograph is to be used to preserve for posterity living pictures of Princess Maud's wedding, the derby won by the prince of Wales the coming jubilee of the queen and several types of London street scenes. The celluloid films bearing the views will be inclosed in several tubes and ought to be good for many reproductions a thousand years from now.

Luke McKernan reports that the tubes are not known to have survived. Based on the use of the name animatograph, he surmises that these films were by pioneer Robert Paul. Paul's derby film and various London street scenes have survived and are available on DVD.

Here are a few more examples of theater fires. I take interest in these stories because I used to be emergency team floor warden at work. Notice the common practice of someone yelling "Fire" and everyone else panicking. Both bad ideas if you ever find yourself in a fire.

From the 26-February-1906 Los Angeles Herald.

Special to the Herald.

ALTON, Ill., Feb. 25.— Four hundred children, who were being entertained this evening with a moving picture show in St. Mary's school hall, were thrown into a panic by the accidental ignition of a roll of celluloid films.

John Scherrer of Chicago, who gives exhibitions of views of the passion play, Oberammergau, was in charge. Slamming the lid shut he started to run from the hall, but could not get out because of a jam of children at the three exits.

The stairway at the south end of the hall, toward which they rushed, became crowded with children, who fell down the steps and rolled over each other. It is estimated that about fifty were injured by being trampled upon, but none was seriously hurt and no bones were broken.

An exit at the back of the hall was locked and a number of children drilled to seek that place of escape made a rush for it but could not get out.

From the 29-December-1908 New York Tribune. Fire escape wired shut? Bad idea.

Eighty persons in a moving picture place at No. 180 Thompson street were thrown into a panic at 8 o'clock last night, when the celluloid film in the picture machine caught fire and burned like powder. To make matters worse, the spectators who tried to escape by a rear exit leading into a yard, found their way barred by a wire netting. Several men threw their bodies against the screen, and it finally gave way, permitting the temporary prisoners to escape.

Five cents is the price of admission to the show. which is on the ground floor. The building is three stories in height, the two upper floors being occupied by the Tucker Athletic Club. Last night, while a number of persons, including men, women and children, were in the place, and Mme. Rossi, a vaudeville performer, and her husband were on the stage at the rear of the hall, a celluloid film in the box of the operator caught fire from a spark from the moving picture machine, and set fire to the woodwork of the box.

The operator, Rosario Calderone of No. 133 Avenue A, was arranging a film showing the evolutions of Farman's aeroplane, and it was this film that caught fire. The operator's box was on a platform just inside the entrance of the hall.

The fire was seen by Mme. Rossi on the stage, and she shouted "Fire!" This caused the crowd to rush wildly for safety. Most of the frightened spectators dashed toward the street entrance, but a few went to the rear of the hall, where there were two signs marked "Exit" over doors on each side of the stage. There was a slight jam at the front entrance for a time, but all reached the street safely.

Those, however, who went to the rear, found an unexpected obstruction confronting them. The rear exits led to an iron platform that extended through a gate into the yard at the rear of No. 178 Thompson street. When the first to dart out the rear exits reached the gate, they say they found it closed and bound with wire.

Among the first to reach the gate were Mrs. Julia Fellini of No. 215 Thompson street, and her two children. John and Edna. Mrs Fellini tried to open the gate, but could not. She pushed against the gate, she said, but could not budge it. A man and a woman joined her and they also tried to open it. but the combined efforts of the three proved unsuccessful. The young man helped her two children over the fence. Then several men threw their weights against the gate, the wires broke, and they passed through into the yard and reached the street by way of the hallway of No. 178.

The firemen came in response to an alarm sent in by Patrolman Daniel Keenan of the
Mercer street station. The fire had consumed the operator's box on the ground floor and made its way through the floor into the rooms of the athletic club on the floor above. It was extinguished, with an estimated damage of $500.

From the 30-June-1911 Graham Guardian (Safford, Arizona). What the heck is an "air dome?" Based on text evidence, I would say a store, but the name is not capitalized.

While holding a moving picture show at the air dome Thursday evening, in some unaccountable manner the celluloid films caught fire, the flames leaped high into the air and at the same time making such a loud report that it caused a stampede in the audience for a time. People rushed madly in every direction. Women and children screamed, some fainted many climbed right on top of the store buildings by the aid of the piano. There was some anxiety for a time lest the store buildings on either side would catch on fire but a few buckets of water promptly extinguished the flames. C. C. Cole was badly burned on the hands and face, others were slightly burned. Ernest Tomlinson was hurt quite badly by falling. Many were severely frightened, and the moving picture machine destroyed.

Thank you to Ferdy on Films ( and The Self-Styled Siren ( for organizing this blogathon. I'm having fun and learning.

Please consider donating to the National Film Preservation Foundation.

The newspaper articles come from Chronicling America (, a project of the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why Do We Need to Preserve Films? A Brief History of Nitrate (Part I) -- February 16, 2010

This post is part of For the Love of Film, The Film Preservation Blogathon, hosted by Ferdy on Films ( and The Self-Styled Siren (

Works of art often need active help to be preserved. Librarians have been fighting bookworms and mold for centuries. Many old oil paintings were covered with shellac in an effort to protect them. Europeans have discovered that acid rain is not good for marble sculptures.

Motion pictures, long strips of pictures on a thin cellulose base, have special issues for preservation. Until about 1950, virtually all motion pictures intended for theatrical exhibition were shot and printed on film using nitrocellulose as a base. This film is generally referred to as "nitrate." Nitrocellulose, a compound originally made of cotton (cellulose) treated with nitric and sulfuric acids, was developed in the Nineteenth Century as an explosive. By their nature, explosives are unstable. Celluloid used in photographic film was produced by treating nitrocellulose with camphor, to produce a plastic-like substance.

From the Salt Lake Herald, September 04, 1889. This article is an early description of the use of nitrocellulose film in photography.

An important discovery in photography was recently demonstrated before the Society of Amateur Photographers in New York. This is a transparent flexible film possessing all the qualities of a sensitive plate and so thin that it may be rolled up and a large quantity carried in very small space. It takes the place of glass plates which are heavy, bulky and subject to breakage. The demonstration was given by Mr Gus D. Milburn, who is a member of the society. He showed the films, which are as thin as notepaper and have a polished surface like celluloid. The negatives were as clear as though they were taken on glass and the finished photographs were excellent. The backing of the film is a compound of nitrocellulose and camphor, using alcohol as a solvent, and is impervious to water and unaffected by the chemicals used in development. The new article requires no change in the method of operation except that the plate holders in the camera are replaced by a roll holder.

Nitrocellulose, known as gun cotton when used as an explosive, was a hot topic in the late Nineteenth Century. I found this item used as a filler in at least five newspapers around 1901. This example comes from the San Francisco Call, 07-July-1901:

People became aware fairly early that nitrocellulose and celluloid were not stable. Nitrate motion picture film decomposes, releasing the nitric acid from the compound, which causes faster decomposition. The first signs of decomposition are a smell commonly called "vinegar syndrome."

From the New York Tribune, 20-September-1914. I was fascinated when I came across this article, written just a month after the start of World War One, which speculates that poor marksmanship attributed to German infantrymen may have been caused by their use of nitrocellulose powder, which suffered from what film collectors call vinegar syndrome. The Allies used cordite-based gunpowder, which was more stable.

What appears to be a logical and reasonable explanation of the poor marksmanship attributed to the infantry of the German army is the subject of an article in a recent issue of The Field. The writer asserts that the fault does not lie either with the man or the rifle, but with the ammunition, which, he says, is deficient in two vital particulars.

Calling attention to the fact that the German service propellant is of the nitro-cellulose order, he says: "In a remarkably short space of time the explosive undergoes acid decomposition, whereby shooting quality deteriorates, as many sportsmen in hot countries have learned to their cost. So marked are the decomposition tendencies of nitro-cellulose powders that small quantities put aside in specimen tubes develop in about a couple of years the characteristic smell of nitric acid. When the decomposition proceeds in the cartridge case the brass is attacked, becomes rotten, and exhibits the green discoloration termed in domestic circles verdigris. In due course the mouth of the case splits, assisted, no doubt, by the wedging action of the tightly gripped bullet."

Aside from its tendency to decompose rapidly, the instability of nitrate motion picture film made it liable to burn and/or explode. This resulted in several fatal fires including the 04-May-1897 Charity Bazaar fire in Paris, which killed 125 people, including several aristocrats.

From the Richmond Times, 24-June-1897. Fire Wardens express their problems with motion picture exhibition.

In a letter to Hon. G. L. Heckler, Director of Fire Service at Cleveland, Ohio, Messrs. Reif and Miller, Fire Wardens, say:

"We would respectfully report that we investigated fire report of June 7, box No. 21 at 2:33 P. M., in one-story frame-and-brick building, Nos. 22 and 24 Public Square, owned by Hull & Dutton, occupied by O'Donnell & Quinn, and found cause of fire to be a spark from the arc light in the kinetoscope machine to the celluloid film, and in our opinion said machines are very dangerous, even when handled with the utmost care by a skilled operator.

"The distance from the lens to the celluloid films is about eight inches, and if the film is not kept moving and the cap is off the lens the film will ignite immediately. It is so powerful that you cannot hold your hand before said light when cap is off, and what makes it more dangerous is that they have the films which are not in use hanging up alongside of the machine, and everything about the machine is inflammable. We condemn the use of said machines in any building in the city, and especially in places of amusement."

I found many accounts of theaters burning when the celluloid films caught fire.

From the Los Angeles Herald, 10-April-1905. The theater burned but there was only one fatality thanks to the well-designed fire escape system and well-trained employees. So why was a bag of films hanging over the balcony railing? To keep them away from the projector to reduce the fire hazard?
By Associated Press.

KOKOMO, Ind., April 9. -- George Armstrong, l6 years, old was fatally injured and a score of persons severely burned tonight during a fire in the Sipt theater, caused by a roll of celluloid films used in operating a moving picture machine having ignited. In the panic that followed Armstrong jumped through a window in the third floor and was fatally injured.

During an intermission a bag of celluloid films, suspended over the balcony railing, was ignited by an electric light. The machine operator brought the audience into a panic by crying, "Look out everybody; the theater is on fire."

In an instant 600 people became a crushing mass of humanity.

Leaps to Death

That more were not hurt is due largely to the excellent system of fire escapes and exits in the theater and the deportment of the house employes.

Armstrong occupied a seat in the gallery and at the warning cry broke a plate glass window and jumped to the sidewalk, a distance of forty feet. Both his legs were broken and he was internally injured.

Mrs. Bert Jacobs was so affected by the shock as to require the attention of a physician. Her condition is serious.
Vance Hunt was badly burned by the flaming films. Several others were severely burned. The theater was damaged by smoke only.

Theater fires led several states to require fireproof projection booths in theaters and auditoriums. Scientists also developed safety film, cellulose acetate, which allowed films to be shown in schools and homes. Safety film melts rather than burning and exploding.

This ad from the 14-December-1919 New York Tribune, touting the Pathéscope, a home projector, stresses the use of "slow-burning film." Click on the image to see a larger version:

To stress the point further, the ad includes a box mentioning fire-proof booth requirements:

Sadly, most films didn't survive long enough to decompose or burn. Producers sold prints and sometimes negatives to companies that would burn them to recover the silver used to capture the images. Others dumped prints that no longer seemed useful in landfills. There are stories, possibly true, that some movies were recycled as guitar picks.

Part II tomorrow will include a smattering of examples of fires, and early attempts at preservation and restoration.

Thank you to Ferdy on Films ( and The Self-Styled Siren ( for organizing this blogathon. I'm having fun and learning.

Please consider donating to the National Film Preservation Foundation.

The newspaper articles come from Chronicling America (, a project of the Library of Congress.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Happy Presidents' Day #2 -- February 15, 2010

Thomas Jefferson has a mixed reputation. He wrote the Declaration of Indepence. He owned slaves. He made the Louisiana Purchase. He was a propenent of limited government powers. I think his virtues outweigh his faults. I first became interested in him when I found an old issue of National Geographic which had an article about Monticello. I liked his automatic doors and his clock.

"Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Saint Valentine's Day #3 -- February 14, 2010

Happy Saint Valentine's Day, everyone.

I took the photo on 17-March-2009 in the Yerba Buena Gardens. The heart is part of the Hearts in San Francisco program. This one is "Painted Ladies We Love" by Alan Roth and Nick Berg. It shows the famous row of Victorians across from Alamo Square on Steiner Street.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Hark the Herald #4 -- February 13, 2010

I like railroad heralds, and I especially like the Key System's logo. I took this photo at Western Railway Museum in Rio Vista Junction, showing the logo on the side of car 987, which was built in the Key's Emeryville Shops. I took the photo in October, 2009.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Happy Birthday, President Lincoln #3 -- February 12, 2010

Today is Abraham Lincoln's 201st birthday. My favorite president.

"A capacity, and taste, for reading, gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others. It is the key, or one of the keys, to the already solved problems. And not only so. It gives a relish, and facility, for successfully pursuing the unsolved ones." -- Address Before the Wisconsin Agricultural Society, September 30, 1859

Joe Wasn't Here -- February 11, 2010

I was walking down Third Street yesterday at lunch time, and I noticed this in the extended bus stop part of the sidewalk near Townsend. I'm surprised I had not noticed it till then.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Alley #4 -- February 9, 2010

Vernon Alley, near the China Warehouse, is too modern-looking for my taste, but it was named in honor of Vernon Alley, the string bass player, who spent many years working in and around San Francisco. He was also an alumnus of Count Basie and Lionel Hampton's bands. Vernon Alley died in 2004.

It was very cold today.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Hollywood Walk of Fame -- February 8, 2010

Today the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce started celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I took this photo of Harold Lloyd's star, which is rather well-worn, on 18-July-2009.

Today I had a vacation day. I took my daughter to Half Moon Bay for lunch. After we visited Bay Books and picked up a few volumes, she waited patiently while I looked for firehouses and Ocean Shore Railroad stations to take photos. Granada Station was hard to find. She was amused that Kelly Street Station in Half Moon Bay was being used for a Jazzercise class. I'm grateful that my family puts up with my interests.

I have mixed feelings about the tunnel to replace Devil's Slide. I'll miss the view.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Brief Biographical Sketch of Doctor Van der Weyde -- February 7, 2010

Doctor Peter Henri Van Der Weyde wrote the series of articles which gave this blog its name. Here is a brief biographical sketch from the book The World's Sages, Thinkers and Reformers by DM Bennett, 1876.

The image comes from the first installment of his memoirs, "Reminisces of an Active Life", in the February, 1893 issue of Manufacturer and Builder.

P. H. Van der Weyde.

This eminent scientist was born February 5, 1813, in Nymeque, Netherlands. He is a descendant of Walter Van der Weyde, the brave troubadour of the fourteenth century. His family emigrated from Germany to the Netherlands during the reformation, in which they took an active part.

The subject of this sketch studied in Durpldorf, and later in the Royal Academy of Delft, where he graduated.

His principal occupation has been that of a writer and teacher of science in Holland, and Professor of Mathematics in a government school of design, and lecturer on Natural Philosophy. He founded, in 1842, a journal for Mathematics and Physics; and obtained, in 1865, a gold medal from the Netherland Association for the Promotion of Scientific Knowledge for a textbook in Natural Philosophy. He took an active part in the politics of Netherlands, writing extensively and acting as editor-in-chief of a Liberal daily paper, attacking the defects in the administration and successfully advocating reforms.

In 1849 he moved to New York and established himself as private teacher. His inclination attracted him towards Prof. John W. Draper, by whose advice he went through the course of medical studies in the New York University, where he graduated in 1856, and was appointed Physician to the Northwestern Dispensary in New York. He abandoned the practice of medicine in 1859 and became connected with the Cooper Institute, where he successively filled the positions of Professor of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, and Higher Mathematics and Mechanics. He accepted also, at the same time, the Professorship of Chemistry in the New York Medical College. In 1864 he was called to a chair expressly created for him, that of Industrial Science in Girard College, Philadelphia; the institution, however, becoming a mere political engine, caused him to resign in 1866, and in 1867 he returned to New York to accept the chair of Professor of Chemistry in the New York Dental College, which he afterwards left for that in the Medical College for Women.

For the last ten years he has been chiefly engaged in writing on practical scientific subjects for several journals, as the "Scientific American," "Journal of Mining and Engineering," etc. In 1869 he produced, with the Brothers Watson, an Industrial Monthly, entitled "The Manufacturer and Builder," which has since enjoyed an eminent success. His name is also mentioned as one of the editors of "Appleton's New American Cyclopedia," to which he contributed valuable articles.

Prof. Van der Weyde is one of the most advanced, independent, and Liberal thinkers of the age. This is evinced occasionally in his writings, but more especially in his lectures before the New York Liberal Club, of which he is one of the founders. He agrees with Draper, Darwin, Huxley, Spencer, Haeckel, and others of that class. He is perfectly familiar with their works as well as the doctrines of the older philosophers, as Kant, Leibnitz, Descartes, and Spinoza. His remarks before the Club and in other meetings, show an honest desire for a knowledge of the truth, whatever that may be, no matter if it requires the sacrifice of personal predilections. This is also the reason why he has steadily acted as the champion in unmasking the frauds perpetrated in in the name of Spiritualism, and being an acute experimenter and observer, he has detected the class of frauds alluded to, where scores of other witnesses were deceived. Besides his scientific attainments, he is familiar with several languages; he is an amateur artist painter of no mean pretension and a superior musician. Every Sunday he may be heard performing on the organ at one of the lending orthodox churches in Brooklyn.

He has occupied a position of a similar character for twenty years. His treatment of the organ is said to be peculiar; all his performances are improvisations, eminently dignified and of a strictly religious character. They add more to the devotional feelings of the orthodox congregation than is the case with any other organist. This is an interesting fact, considering that he does not himself share in belief with the orthodoxy; it proves that the devotional feelings are independent of particular theological doctrines.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Clouds Over the Pacific -- February 6, 2010

When we left Good Shepherd after 5pm mass, we saw these clouds over the Pacific. I had to stop and take a picture.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Train Station #19 -- February 5, 2010

The Colma passenger depot is preserved as part of the museum of the Colma Historical Association ( It was built about 1863-1864 as the Schoolhouse Stop on the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad. Southern Pacific stopped using it in the 1960s, and it was moved to its present location on Hillside Boulevard in the 1990s, I think.

I took this fuzzy photo of the station sign on 30-December-2009.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Firehouse #28 -- February 3, 2010

Central County Fire Department (San Mateo County) Engine 33 is based at the top of Chateau Drive in Hillsborough, near 280. I took the photo on 14-December-2009.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Happy Groundhog Day -- February 2, 2010

"Groundhog in Lincoln Park" reads the caption from a 1925 Chicago Daily News photo. The Groundhog is posing at the zoo, in front of a painted background. I hope it is not a stuffed groundhog.

The photo comes from the Library of Congress' wonderful American Memory site ( DN-0078555, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago Historical Society.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Biplane That He Built In His Backyard -- February 1, 2010

"Aviator J. E. Mair's biplane that he built in his backyard at 3106 West Fullerton Avenue." According to Aerofiles (, it was "A copy of Wright Flier built in Mair's back yard, but no record of it flying or if it even left the back yard." From the 30-August-1910 Chicago Daily News. I assume that is Mair himself working on the upper wing.

I wanted to build an airplane like this, in my basement and backyard, when I was in grammar school. I didn't have the money for materials and I couldn't figure out how I would get it two blocks to Golden Gate Park, and get it through the trees to a meadow where I could fly it.

The photo comes from the Library of Congress' wonderful American Memory site ( DN-0008677, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago Historical Society.

Congratulations to Jon Miller, who won the Ford C Frick award. I'm looking forward to his speech at Cooperstown.