Narration and frame from “What is a Baltimorean?”

On this geographic key board of cities on the eastern seaboard, four of them shine without any stigma, while the folk of the fifth remain an enigma. They are estranged from the other four in the city that’s known as Baltimore. Soft by the shores of the Chesapeake, there’s the question whose answer we seek, and so we find our story in, ‘What is a Baltimorean?'”

On #GivingTuesday in 2020, MARMIA’s CEO and Founder, Siobhan Hagan, posted a fundraiser on her private social media account and was able to raise $1,716 of the $2,000 goal! The focus of this campaign was to save audio from a 1965 WJZ-TV documentary titled “What is a Baltimorean?” It was written by Gwinn Owens and narrated by Jerry Turner. The audio was recorded on two 16mm full coat mag tapes that were literally falling apart (one is pictured below).

Before and after treatment and processing

We initially sent the soundtracks to Colorlab for evaluation, but they were unable to salvage anything with their equipment. We then sent the films to Audio Mechanics in Los Angeles and they were thankfully able to complete the work! You can listen to the narration, the music, effects, as well as see production elements on the Internet Archive.

“What is a Baltimorean” narration

We daydreamed about digitally recreating the film with the elements that we had digitized. We don’t typically restore or conserve films at MARMIA. Film conservation works to mitigate existing damage and film restoration aims to restore a film to its original form frame by frame. As an archive, MARMIA primarily works to preserve films to deter further damage. Preservation actions include removing harmful elements such as deteriorating masking tape splices (pictured below), rehousing items into archival containers, and storing them in ideal and safe conditions. Having the content digitized also enables us to grant access without creating further damage to the already fragile material.

Fortunately, the Peabody Award Collection at the University of Georgia had a copy of the entire film! They had a version that was digitized from a 2″ quad video reel from when WJZ entered the film into consideration for the award. It is viewable through their website (starts about 28 minutes in). The original elements we have are so interesting to compare against the entire film. Seeing what content was taken out and included, the outtakes, and the types of film used were like an unofficial behind-the-scenes tour of the making of the film. Perhaps one day a researcher will be interested in studying the production process further. There are not many instances that we know of where these elements are saved. 

Here are two clips of some of our outtakes showing some “Baltimorese,” and you can see the final cut of both these clips at (00:31:40) in UGA’s video (link above).

We are so happy we were able to salvage some original elements of this film and are so grateful to everyone who contributed and joined us in saving this uniquely Baltimorean AV history!

This blog post was written by Joana Stillwell, MARMIA’s AV Archivist.