By Siobhan Hagan
Clip from Druid Hill Park Zoo (1927).
Many people may cringe at the idea of watching other people’s home movies. For example, my boyfriend subtly noted that my family home videos mostly document the lives of our many dogs rather than those of the humans. However, home movies are treasure troves full of not only family pets, birthdays and Easter outfits, but of local cultures, traditions and historical events. Even interspersed throughout the Hagan family movies there is footage of the first opening day at Camden Yards along with a few seconds of a Mayor Schmoke appearance at a pre-Preakness party. Yes, world, I will post those videos on MarMIA soon. And yes, I will include a few seconds of puppies.
Lots of museums, libraries and archives in Maryland have home movies in their collections. Today I would like to discuss two home movies held by the Maryland Historical Society (MdHS). The films have been titled Fair of the Iron Horse and Druid Hill Park Zoo based on their subject matter.
These two reels are home movies from 1927 belonging to the Siebert family. G. Everett Siebert was a prominent Baltimore attorney and married Marguerite Siebert in 1916. The couple had their only child, Sara, in 1919. Sara, also known as Bunny, became an esteemed resident of Baltimore City: she was a popular librarian at Enoch Pratt Free Library for decades, and after her death in 2008, her entire estate of $2 million was given to various Baltimore libraries, museums and colleges.
Fair of the Iron Horse documents the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad’s centenary exhibition and pageant, held September 24 through October 8, 1927 in Halethorpe, Maryland. People came from across the nation and the world—the total headcount was estimated to have reached 1.3 million. The film was taken from a spectator’s view of the B&O Railroad car procession, depicting railroad machinery from the first hundred years of the company’s history. The B&O Railroad Company was America’s first carrier railroad and is one of the world’s oldest railroad companies. The B&O began operation in 1827 and transported passengers from Baltimore to New York, Washington, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, and points in between.
Druid Hill Park Zoo is composed of images of a Siebert family outing to the local zoo. This may have been a regular occurrence for the Siebert family as they lived nearby. The film shows adults walking through the park, and children running across fields of grass and interacting closely with several animals. Druid Hill Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Located north of the Baltimore city line, it was established in 1860. The park was the site of many ponds, springs and reservoirs, with various facilities for recreation and entertainment. The zoo first opened in 1876 and was located in the center of the park. Now known as the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, it is the third oldest zoo in the United States.
The Siebert family home movie originals are silent black and white 16mm reversal films, approximately 100 feet each. Both are extremely brittle and when first inspected were found to be literally in pieces. There were broken splices, aged tape splices, and the first stages of vinegar syndrome. Both films also contained a few burnt frames from a projector at the head of the films. Due to their old age, rapidly deteriorating condition and research significance, the films were preserved through the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) in 2011. However the MdHS has many more home movies in its audiovisual collection that have not yet been preserved. To learn more about home movie appreciation and preservation, please visit the Center for Home Movies website.