The Halcyon Years of Horse Racing

horses TuttleKodachrome

<<Siobhan Hagan

One of my favorite parts of being an archivist is the detective game one gets to play with the collections you find. One such collection has been nagging me at the Maryland Historical Society for years. It consisted of 2 boxes of films and photographs, and the content looked pretty interesting: Maryland horse racing. However, since it was never a main project I was working on and I am a volunteer with limited time to work on things at the physical library location, I was never able to delve too deeply into the provenance of the collection.

Thanks to the help of librarians at the Maryland Historical Society, we have been able to shed some light on these two boxes, their exact content, and who created these films. The collection was donated by Stiles Colwill, a well-know Baltimore citizen. Colwill is an interior designer, owns and operates an antique store, Halcyon House Antiques, and has served on the Baltimore Museum of Art’s board of trustees since 1995. He also spent 16 years working with the Maryland Historical Society as an associate curator and eventually as the chief curator.

The films were made by Colwill’s maternal grandfather, Clarence Ewing Tuttle. Tuttle was the president of the Rustless Iron and Steel Corporation which was located on East Chase Street in Baltimore. In addition, he bred thoroughbred racehorses on his 122-acre Halcyon Farm in Greenspring Valley. Tuttle also owned a ranch in Oregon where he bred cattle. It turns out there is a collection of the Tuttle Ranch’s activities at the Oregon Historical Society. J. Fred Colwill rode the winning horse in the Maryland Hunt Cut for 3 years in a row (1938-1940), and then married Tuttle’s daughter Marion in 1941. Stiles Colwill was their only child. Clarence Ewing Tuttle died in Baltimore in 1962.

The collection at the Maryland Historical Society consists of 3200 feet of 16mm safety film, or about an hour and a half of footage. The content of the films are mostly Maryland horse racing related, although there are some from what we assume document Tuttle’s ranch in Oregon. Here is a brief summary of the films:

  • Maryland Hunt Cup Race, 1942
  • Several Pimlico races, 1951
  • Kodachrome films from the early 1940s of “western scenery”: cattle, Native Americans, and a more mountainous desert-like climate
  • “Maryland Futurity” October 24, 1956: I am pretty sure this is film of a show of yearlings (young horses) to be judged according to the hunter breeding standard, or it could be a race of yearlings
  • Preakness: May 16, 1970 and May 15, 1971
  • Several unidentified films

The collection still needs to be thoroughly inspected, but I can tell from a cursory look that these are highly unique, one-of-a-kind films that deserve preservation. They not only document Maryland horse racing history, but all of United States horse racing, breeding and showing history, as well as Oregon and cattle breeding history. Film preservation is a very costly endeavor: a just under ten minute film undergoing full photochemical film preservation can cost approximately $3,000 (this is based on the film being in bad condition and is an extremely approximate number, but based on an actual film preservation project)–reformatting this entire collection for preservation could easily cost $25,000-$30,000. Then you have to add in the overhead costs of storing the films in temperature controlled areas for hundreds of years, along with staff time to manage everything. Most non-profits who collect and protect these films do not have the money to spend on the reformatting, so rely on donations and grant funding. I would be curious to know how our readers feel about this cost: do you feel like it is worth it? I know I do, but I am open to hearing other opinions in the comments section!

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