Like any right-minded individual, I rejoiced in the return of baseball to the Nation’s Capital in 2005 and have certainly reveled in the Washington Nationals’ fabulous 2014 season. Exciting as it has been (the post All-Star Game surge, Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter on the last day of the season, the eager anticipation of post-season glory), I never imagined that a perfectly timed film find–the only footage yet discovered of the Washington Senators’ 1924 World Series victory–would be the icing on an already delicious cake.
It started with Lynanne Schweighofer, a Moving Image Preservation Specialist at the Packard Campus. Lynanne’s mother had been named executor of the estate left by an elderly neighbor who passed away last year in a suburb of Worcester, Massachusetts. While preparing the neighbor’s house for sale, Lynanne’s father found eight cans of film in the rafters of the detached and not climate-controlled garage, a space we archivists would not normally recommend for long term storage of motion picture film…especially since these reels were labeled as nitrate film stock.
Now, nitrate film is flammable, creates its own oxygen when it burns, and we have 124 individual vaults at the Packard Campus, each at 39° F / 30% RH, to store the nearly 140 million feet of nitrate we have in our collection. Once it starts to deteriorate, the degradation proceeds rather rapidly and given the temperature fluctuations to which these reels had been subjected for years, we weren’t optimistic about their condition.
So, we contacted Liz Coffey at the Harvard Film Archive, who retrieved the reels on our behalf. She confirmed the film as nitrate and arranged with a certified hazmat shipper at the HFA to send the batch to Culpeper. They were in astonishingly good shape; only a couple evidenced any sign of slight mold or mildew. Many of the reels were printed on Bay State nitrate stock. Bay State was a Kodak competitor back in the day and its nitrate film has proven notoriously unstable, but miraculously not in this instance. The oldest film was from 1919 and the newest from 1926. The house had been sold a couple of times over the years; we expect the first owners placed the film in the garage, although we have no idea why. It seems very likely no one knew they existed until their discovery a few months ago.
Lynanne performed an initial bench inspection and immediately noted that one was a “Kinograms” newsreel featuring a prominent story on Game 7 of the 1924 World Series, won by the Washington Senators in a thrilling extra innings victory over the New York Giants. We baseball geeks (or, rather, historians) know the game for the heroic efforts of Senators ace Walter “Big Train” Johnson, who pitched the last four innings on short rest. It’s the only time a DC baseball team has won the World Series…at least until this year, we hope. I’ve seen pictures of the game but never any film footage, and to watch Muddy Ruel lumbering home with the winning run in the bottom of the 12th inning was, well, almost like being there. Ninety years on, you can feel the electric joy of the crowd surging on to the Griffith Stadium field.
We hustled the reel up to the film lab where it was prepped and cleaned for Datacine Operator Pat Kennedy to make the digital transfer; we’re photochemically preserving it on safety film stock as well. After the Senators story was excerpted and speed-corrected, I sent it to pianist/Nats fan Andrew Simpson for musical scoring. Perhaps more footage will eventually turn up, but for now we’re thrilled to present the 1924 World Series champion Washington Senators in hopes that what’s past truly is prologue.
LET’S GO NATS!
[Kinograms: Senators Win World Series] (Educational Pictures, 1924)
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