Lights, Camera, Action! Moviemaking in Alaska Historical Newspapers

New Features In Motion Pictures Presented Yesterday

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 02 July 1917. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1917-07-02/ed-1/seq-3/>

Greetings, all!

With the plummeting temperatures and snow showers here in southeast Alaska, it’s that time of year to stay indoors, get warm, and watch movies.

Millions of people around the world have only seen Alaska through movies. In its earliest days, silent films such as the groundbreaking 1922 documentary Nanook of the North and Charlie Chaplin’s landmark 1925 comedy The Gold Rush (of which the Alaska State Library Historical Collections has a 16 millimeter copy) were the only glimpses of Alaska. Fewer people know that filmmakers have worked on location in Alaska for nearly a century. This week we’ll be looking at the Alaska film industry from its earliest days.

Given the remote nature of Alaska, and the influx of miners arriving during the birth of motion pictures, historic newspapers contain a valuable chronicle of the extent to which the motion picture industry ventured up north to film on location, and to distribute their films. Two films in particular receive special attention: The Girl Alaska and The Cheechakos.

seward gateway 11-22-17

Image credit: November 22, 1917 issue of the Seward Gateway

Billed at the time as “The First and Only Photoplay Ever Made on Alaskan Soil”, The Girl Alaska filmed on location for the first time to add a degree of authenticity to the picture- including an Alaskan cast (minus principal actors). The film premiered in Juneau at the Palace Theatre and screened for two days before the cast and crew returned to the Lower 48. Based on the following news items, The Girl Alaska resonated with audiences eager to see familiar locations on screen:

girlalaskamovie

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 07 Nov. 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1919-11-07/ed-1/seq-3/

Palace Theatre; John T. Spickett, Manager; Juneau, Alaska; OPEN LETTER TO THE PEOPLE OF GASTINEAU CHANNEL: Mr. and Mrs. John T. Spickett request your presence at the opening performance of their "GIRL ALASKA" Sunday evening. This feature is distinctly Alaskan, having been filmed on Alaskan soil, and through our efforts and acquaintance with those who make the films, was secured for the first release in Alaska, to be shown at the Palace Theatre. Hoping to see you present, we remain, Yours very truly, Mr. and Mrs. John T. Spickett

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 08 Nov. 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1919-11-08/ed-1/seq-3/>

"The Girl Alaska is Sunday Night Feature at the Palace. Among the August releases by World-Pictures is "The Girl Alaska", the first and only photoplay every made on Alaskan soil. Nothing quite the same as this, from several standpoints, has ever before been seen on the moving picture screen. This will be seen Sunday and Monday nights at the Palace. The girl's father has gone to the Yukon in the big gold rush and had never returned. The people with whom he had left his daughter have brought her up to be their servant. Early one morning, after having slept in a barrel all night, she picks up a dirty newspaper and in it reads of the wonderful opportunities awaiting ambitious young men in the Alaskan gold country. She appropriates a suit of boy's clothing and, shoving all her gorgeous blonde curls up under her cap, she saunters down to the dock where a passenger vessel is about to leave for the north country. When discovered she, always in her boy's clothes, is set to work cleaning up the decks. To her rescue comes a young chap who is also on his way to Alaska to seek his fortune among the snowy fastness of the land. In the north country, they buy their camping paraphernalia and engage a native guide to take them out to the gold region. One day, as they are passing down stream, along the foot of a monstrous glacier part of the face of the mountain of snow and ice crumbles, with a frightful roar, down upon them. The girl, her pal, and guide are overwhelmed by the sliding mass, and their boat is crushed as though is were made of paper. The guide is killed. After they have buried him, the two pals again travel toward the gold country, this time on foot, for they no longer have a boat. Day after day they climb mountains, descend into valleys, skirt around rivers, until at length the young chap is taken ill with fever and is unable to move forward. The girl is wild with anxiety and at a loss as to what to do. At last she falls on her knees and prays, and then as though in response to her prayer she sees a thin, just visible stream of white smoke coming up from amidst the tall trees in the valley at her feet. It is the cabin of an old miner and adventurer who has spent many years in this wild, alluring north country. He shelters the two pals and finally, after a terrific struggle of weeks and weeks, the old man and the girl manage to restore the young fellow to health. It is then arranged for the two of them to remain with the old man and work his claim. The last act of the old man's life is to leave his entire claim to the girl and her pal. The young man is dumbfounded to learn his pal is a girl, but she is such a charming and beautiful child that he cannot resist falling in love with her and then marrying her. The old man's claim is soon found to contain an immensely valuable gold mine, and soon everything ends happily for the young fellow and "The Girl Alaska."

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 08 Nov. 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1919-11-08/ed-1/seq-3/>

Palace: Last time tonight: "The Girl Alaska" The unique picture of the gold country: Ask those of the packed house who attended last night. We told you we had 640 seats, which were nearly filled two times. Don't miss this opportunity to see an All-Alaskan picture.

The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 10 Nov. 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020657/1919-11-10/ed-1/seq-3/>

While The Girl Alaska marketed itself heavily as an Alaska-filmed production, the first movie entirely filmed in Alaska used the working title The Great White Silence, which was later released as The Cheechakos (sometimes spelled The Cheechahcos) in 1923.  The digital archives at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks contain a collection of production stills that document filming locations and cast members. Additionally, Alaska newspapers chronicle the making of the film:

great white silence

Image credit: The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 12 Feb. 1923. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072239/1923-02-12/ed-1/seq-5/>

great white silence a

The Cordova daily times. (Cordova, Alaska), 07 March 1923. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86072239/1923-03-07/ed-1/seq-8/>

Word spread quickly about the production cast and crew arriving in Anchorage. The film needed extras, and the Anchorage Daily Times published a call idea of appearing in a major motion picture thrilled a great many Anchorage residents, and a call for extras appeared in the Anchorage Daily Times:

Free Excursion, Thursday, 8:00 AM Stage Set for Typical Alaskan Picture Featuring Golden Days; All Aboard for Mile 52, the scene of the million-dollar picture which is destined to make Alaska famous. Watch The Times for definite date. Weather alone prevented the excursion last Sunday when everybody was primed to go. Weather reports today advise small flurries of snow and a falling barometer. The thirty members of the troupe, together with a small army of attendants are on the ground taking pictures between squalls. Advices from Mile 52 report some splendid pictures have been taken, but the big thing comes of when the 250 Anchorage people arrive on the scene to take part in the mad gold rush of '98. Captain A.E. Lathrop, in charge of local affairs, invites the public to take part in the scene that so aptly shows Alaska during the olden, golden days. This is a free-for-all, and everybody is welcome. Hot coffee will be served on the trail, but guests are asked to take their own lunches. This scene will appear prominently in the production of the "Great White Silence" being filmed by the Alaska Moving Pictures corporation, owned and managed by Alaskans. Captain Lathrop also asks the guests to dress in the manner of the typical stampeder. Wear old clothes, mackinaws, boots or mukluks or rubber pacs, flannel shirts of brilliant colors, fur caps and other clothing featuring the mad rush of the gold stampedes. These articles of clothing are not absolutely essential, but the idea is to wear old clothes and not white collars. It is up to Anchorage to assist in this pictures and at least 250 men and some women are needed to furnish the local color. Take a day off and make the trip and at least see how moving pictures are made. Women, of course, Captain Lathrop says, are more than welcome. But they too are asked to dress accordingly. According to present plans the free excursion train will leave Anchorage depot at 8 o'clock Thursday morning and return the same day. Definite announcements will be reported in Wednesday's Times. In the meantime, make preparations to participate in the moving picture; take a day's vacation and at the same time assist the management in producing a typical Alaska Picture.

Image credit: April 17, 1923 issue of the Anchorage Daily Times. Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Despite efforts on behalf of director Austin Lathrop, who even built a studio in downtown Anchorage, The Alaska Moving Pictures Corp only ended up producing The Cheechakos. The cost of shooting on location was simply too great, even though the film opened to positive reviews and widespread distribution. Fortunately for future audiences, the National Film Preservation Foundation selected The Cheechakos for preservation in 2000, according to John Combs, Alaska Railroad enthusiast.

alaska motion pictures corp

Cast and crew of The Cheechakos on location outside the entrance to Denali Park c. 1923. Courtesy of the Alaska and Polar Regions Collections, Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Many Hollywood productions used Alaska as a backdrop for stories of adventure, romance, and survival. Movies, then and now, provide visibility for Alaska and give filmgoers an opportunity to see the Great Land.

Special thanks to Damon Stuebner, Chris Beheim, University of Alaska, Anchorage Special Collections and Archives, and University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Archives.

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Newsprint as a Preservation Priority

Greetings, all!

The nature of newsprint preservation is a race against time. Like nearly all historic documents, decay is inevitable, but with newsprint, that threat comes faster. Why is this? The answer comes in the way in which it is processed.

Inherent Vice

Not just the title of a Thomas Pynchon novel, the term “inherent vice” refers to an item’s low-quality materials that hasten its decay- a term that perfectly describes the properties of newspaper. The durability and longevity of paper relies on its fiber. Unlike paper made from cotton fibers (such as paper money made from long-stranded cloth fiber), newsprint is created from short-stranded wood pulp, the inexpensive byproduct of the paper-making process. The difference in the fiber strand size impacts the breaking point: short strands break more easily than long strands, which leads to more rapid decay:

The cheap pulp and its relatively rapid decay process reflect the ephemeral nature of the medium itself: Who among us has not heard of a newspaper referred to as “fishwrap”? Or heard the term “Yesterday’s news”? Or have even heard of seedy paperback novels as referred to as “pulp fiction”?

But to those who work to preserve the medium, there is intrinsic value in retaining original newspaper copies. While best practices dictate displaying digital copies of newspapers or articles that have been printed out, such as these from the recent Princess Sophia shipwreck centennial at the Alaska State Museum…

IMG-7880

Curators chose to display a physical copy of the Nome Tri-Weekly Nugget in the Princess Sofia exhibit to display the magnitude of the printed names of the passengers who died on board the ship:

Sophia Newspaper

100 years later, one can see the extent of decay from the brittle, yellowed quality of the paper. But it certainly packs an emotional punch.

Solutions?

To stave off the slow burn of newsprint, preservationists turned to microfilm starting as early as the 1950s. Microfilm started to be used widely in libraries in the 1970s as a way to condense larger documents, and therefore use less space. Newspapers stored on microfilm was an ideal solution to the issues surrounding both storage and preservation, and are still in wide use today. However, quality control is a must. As discussed in last week’s post, if there are any filming errors, and the physical newspaper has been destroyed, there is no way to re-create a microfilm copy.

At the Alaska State Library, we still keep original copies of newspapers for just this reason. Boxes of newspapers lie flat in the vault kept at 50 degrees Fahrenheit. For the most part (with the exception for the display of historical artifacts), the only light exposure the paper receives is through a BookEye machine to create a digital copy, if no microfilm issue exists.

Microfilm itself is not a perfect medium. Master reels need to be held in cold storage (ASL keeps the temperature at a chilly 40 degrees Fahrenheit). The reels of silver nitrate and the chemicals used to create images can be very expensive. So what comes next?

For many libraries, the future of historic newspapers is to create a digital platform, which is what Chronicling America is creating. State institutions and libraries are creating digital interfaces of their own: the Arizona Memory Project stands out as a way forward in creating an accessible web-based platform for its historic newspapers.

Given the importance of historic newspapers as primary sources, it is vital that archives and historical collections make newspaper preservation a priority. The medium does not make this easy, but by working from copies saved in cold storage and on microfilm, we are making headway in making newspapers digitally accessible. Not bad for a bunch of chopped-up wood pulp!

 

Microfilm Quality Control: Or, What Can Possibly Go Wrong?

Greetings, all!

Last week, we provided an update on the re-filming the Nome Nugget. To delve a bit deeper in the topic, I’d like to share some background on the process of filming newspaper- specifically, what we look for in controlling the quality of newspaper images.

Human Error

When looking through microfilm, an occasional, unexpected sight appears:

microfilm invader

(Photo credit: Historical Tennessee Newspapers on Pinterest)

Hands and fingers secure pages when shooting an image, and at worst can cover text in an image and make it difficult to read. This problem is not limited to newspapers, however. Eagle-eyed readers on Google Books have compiled several instances of imaging tech’s fingers, such as these ones:

tumblr_n0lb28U6ED1qixa76o1_1280

Photo credit: The Art of Google Books Tumblr

Some of these errors are linked to the need to speed up production, at the expense of overall image quality. (The Google Books project has its share of images that document unexpected findings within its digital pages: theartofgooglebooks.tumblr.com)

Moire

Have you ever tried to take a photo of something on a computer screen? If so, then you’re familiar with the pattern that appears in these images:

moirenewspaper

There’s a name for that effect: Moire. It’s a pattern formed by two sets of parallel lines slightly distorted:

Moiré_pattern.svg

(Photo credit: Wikimedia commons)

This term is also used in the world of fashion as a type of effect with fabric often seen in silk and damask worn in portraits of noblemen and women.

In addition, another type of fabric, called shot silk, combines two colors, one on the warp (the top of the weave) another on the weft (the side of the weave), to create a color-changing effect depending on where the light hits it:

Salzburg_Mattes_2013-08-03_(31)

Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

Similarly, when taking a photo of a computer screen, frequencies create a visual effect.

When images are filmed on the Book Eye or the Mekel microfilming machine, they are filmed without a digital interface, and therefore without the moire effect.

Book/Newspaper errors

These errors pose an interesting question: when filming, how much of the actual document should people see? For instance, filmed fingers on pages or handwritten marginalia or entire articles cut out allows the reader to view the document not as a newspaper in a vacuum, but as a copy that others have held and read in the past.

We at the National Digital Newspaper Project do our best to provide newspaper images from original microfilm- and many times the images show marginalia on the pages (usually to correct the dates or issue numbers). One could argue that these errors recreate an experience we’re more accustomed to when dealing with physical objects: stains, marginalia, bookmarks, and even pressed flowers come into play in this digital format. More often than not, an actual person is the one opening the pages and shooting the images. These errors, then, allow us to see the human side of the process.

Many thanks to The Art of Google Books (http://theartofgooglebooks.tumblr.com/) and to Historic Tennessee Newspapers on Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/historictnnews/microfilm-invaders/) !

Stay tuned for next week’s post on newspaper as a preservation priority!

Re-Filming the Nome Nugget

Greetings, all!

Even though production has ended on the 2016-2018 National Digital Newspaper Program cycle, we are still hard at work. One particular area of focus is on the venerable Nome Nugget, the oldest continually published newspaper in Alaska. Our Micrographics department is busy re-filming bound volumes of the Nome Nugget from 1911-1924 to include on Chronicling America. The current state of its microfilm is rather poor, as you can see here:

Nome Nugget 1900

Fortunately, the Alaska State Library still has issues of the Nome Nugget from which to shoot better microfilm copies. These issues come in large bound volumes of newsprint, and roughly the size of a standard newspaper today. To film each page, we scan an image on a machine called a Book Eye:

Nome Nugget 1

To capture an image as crisp as possible, we are filming the pages without the glass plate in front. Once the Book Eye scans a page, the image shows up on a screen, which Amber Glen from the Micrographics Department uses to assess the image quality:

Nome Nugget 2

Once an image is saved, we use that digital copy to compile into a master microfilm reel once a volume has been scanned in its entirety. Thanks to her efforts, and those of everyone in the Micrographics Department at the Alaska State Library, we now have high-resolution digital images that will one day be text-searchable on Chronicling America. In other words, a drastic change from images like these:

Nome Nugget 1912 A

To sharper, more legible pages like this:

Nome Nugget 1912 B

Stay tuned for next week’s post on microfilming quality control!

Greetings from the Alaska Anthropological Association Conference!

AAA PosterLast week, National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) director Anastasia Tarmann and project coordinator Janey Thompson attended the 45th Annual Meeting of the Alaska Anthropological Association in Anchorage to spread the word about historic Alaska newspapers and progress on the project.

In addition to a poster, we prepared brochures that provided a brief overview of the project, a Chronicling America demonstration on a laptop computer, and unique microfilm bookmarks.

While talking to scholars at the table, many shared their experiences using Chronicling America to assist in their research, one of whom used the site to study changes in brand logos in advertisements over time. Additionally, a few attendees shared titles that we should consider adding to the project and offered to serve on the title selection committee.

In addition to “tabling”, we each had the opportunity to attend lectures given by conference attendees. These presentations of their papers related to the archaeology and anthropology of Alaska, with topics ranging from language revitalization, to museum exhibit design, to the excavation of hearth sites, to the affects of global warming on historic anthropological landmarks.

The Alaska Anthropological Association annual meeting gave us an opportunity to see what researchers and scholars throughout Alaska are studying, and how best our newspaper resources can assist them. Many thanks to all those who made the annual meeting possible!

AAA Conference

On This Day In History: July 18

A plea for the preservation of scenic woodlands surrounding Skagway, Alaska printed in the July 18, 1901 issue of The Daily Alaskan.  It would not be for another six years until that plea was answered by the creation of the Tongass National Forest in September 1907 through a presidential proclamation by Theodore Roosevelt.


 

DailyAlaskan_19010718_SkagwayForestPreservation


“Three years ago the Skagway and Dyea canyons were wooded with stately trees.  The mountain sides were clothed in a mantle of attractive evergreens.  Today the bottoms of the Skagway river have been cleared for the townsite and its extension, and the beauty of the scenery is marred by vast expanses of charred tree trunks.  Much of the primeval attraction of the country is gone forever.  Each succeeding summer marks the recurrence of devastating forest fires.  In most cases they are caused by negligence that is little short of criminal.  There is no closely adjacent timber to Skagway left to protect.  If some concerted action is not taken to preserve the woodlands at the head of Lynn canal it will be but a very few years before the shores of the scenic waters are but blackened and ungainly wastes.

No country on the face of the globe contains a nook more scenically beautiful than West creek, the lower tributary of the Dyea river.  The beetling crags, the walled valley, the pinnacles of the mountains, the glistening glaciers hanging to their precipitous inclines, combined with the sweeping, placid curves of the shaded stream, that in places breaks into a roaring torrent of rapids and waterfalls.  And all this beauty was enhanced with moss carpeted evergreen groves.  This summer must be recorded the defacement of the loveliest feature in this scenic paradise for the green forests in its radius are now but charred and unattractive expanses.  Those who do not care for natural beauties of the country may reasonably remain passive over the destruction of the forests, though people who have cast their lot here must certainly be alive not only to the destruction of valuable timber but to the commercial value of strikingly beautiful scenery.

It will not be many years before people of leasure and means will tarry in Alaska for their summer outings.  The Gun Club, Camera Club, the Chamber of Commerce and all other organizations, called into being for the furtherance of vested interests, or the enjoyment of the beauty and sport afforded by flood, field, mountain and fell, should combine to devise some means whereby Goths and Vandals may be restrained from destroying that which nature has taken centuries to produce.”