Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

By Siobhan Hagan

To help celebrate Maryland Day, I would like to present the Maryland Moving Image Archive (MarMIA) Blog. Welcome one and all, from the current Maryland resident to the person across the world who isn’t exactly sure where Maryland is located on a map. I hope that you not only learn about the diverse arts, cultures and traditions of the Old Line State but that you unearth the common notion of place and home–even if you have never been to Maryland.

I thought the best way to start would be to discuss the oldest extant moving images taken of Maryland. The first person who brought these films to my attention was Matt Barry, a native of Baltimore who currently resides in New York City and is both an academic and a filmmaker. He sent me a Youtube link to “Buying Stamps from Rural Wagon, U.S.P.O.” which the description indicated was shot in Westminster, Maryland on August 10, 1903.

Upon further research, I found that there was a whole series of United States Post Office Department documentary films that the American Mutoscope & Biograph Company produced in 1903. Several of the films were shot in Maryland. The following were also shot in Westminster on August 10, 1903: “Exchange of Mail at Rural P.O., U.S.P.O.”; “Rural Wagon Delivering Mail, U.S.P.O.”; and “Rural Wagon Giving Mail to Branch, U.S.P.O.”. I also found out that these films are all part of the Paper Print Collection at the Library of Congress and are easily found on Youtube (albeit sometimes the quality is just awful, as it is with the “Exchange of Mail at Rural P.O., U.S.P.O.“).

I ordered the book “Early Motion Pictures: The Paper Print Collection in the Library of Congress” by Kemp R. Niver (1985 version). Not because I don’t love to go to libraries (I work for one), but because I have a strong compulsion to buy old books under $20. Looking up “Maryland”  in the Names and Subjects index, I saw that there were entries for “Annapolis”, “Baltimore”, and the curious destination of “St. Georges”, in addition to the previously mentioned films shot in Westminster.

The films listed under “Baltimore” all seem to be documentation of devastation caused by the 1904 Great Baltimore Fire. I am particularly intrigued by these films mainly due to the fact that I am magnificently obsessed with the City of Baltimore (even more so than the state of Maryland). I believe this fascination stems from the fact that I lived the first decade of my life in Baltimore County and the frequent trips into the city, for better or for worse, had a permanent effect on me.

According to the Niver book, the films shot in Annapolis prove to be the earliest films of Maryland, beating out the U.S.P.O. films by two years. They were shot in April of 1901 and apparently depict many of the activities of cadets from the Unites States Naval Academy with several different types of vessels. For those not from Maryland, boating is a pretty important pastime there, and we are particularly proud to house the Naval Academy within our borders (Go Navy, beat Army!). My childhood was littered with sailing camps in Annapolis and family sailing trips on the Chesapeake Bay. Also, my grandfather was a Navy man in World War II. I was really hoping to find these films on the Internet in order to show my dad.

However, while the Baltimore and Annapolis films are in the print catalog, I had a very hard time finding any of them on the Library of Congress’ online catalog. I contacted some wonderful people at the library and they informed me that this is part of a huge backlog that they are diligently working on in order to update their online catalog. They assured me that these films do exist and the Niver book’s information is correct. Unfortunately, the only way to watch them is to pay a visit to Washington, D.C. and give them 24-hours to prep the viewing copies. I hope someday soon to do this, but as I currently live in Los Angeles it might be a little while.

The films that are listed as being shot in St. Georges, Maryland are also online (seems like all the U.S.P.O. films have been put up). These films, like the Westminster ones, are from the fall of 1903. A mystery arose which I intend to solve in a future post is: where the heck is St. Georges, Maryland? There is a St. George Island in southern Maryland, but this is a tiny island without any trains running to it and technically it is in the Piney Point zip code. There is a Prince George’s County in Maryland, and about a zillion churches named St. George’s.

My only real lead came from Googling and finding this bit of info, which says that St. Georges is a populated place that appears on the Reisterstown U.S. Geological Survey Map. I found this extremely exciting: remember that decade of Baltimore County living I mentioned previously? Well, it took place very specifically in Reisterstown, Maryland at 627 St. Georges Station Road, with a train whistle constantly wailing day and night. This is where my detecting must pause, however. I would like to give myself time to fantasize that these films were indeed shot in my St. Georges, Maryland. And also I personally can only watch so many silent films about the Post Office. Please visit the MarMIA Blog next Monday (and every Monday, for that matter) for another Maryland moving image and recorded sound discovery.

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One thought on “Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

  1. I enjoyed reading about the early films made by the Post Office, and the 1901 Baltimore fire,the now defunct St Georges, etc. My computer is terrible, being very old and some programs (like the video player) have been removed to free up memory, but I will return to see the films as I love old films very much, when I get a new computer.

    Great research …I will return!

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