Kinescope Memories

The Edison Manufacturing Company (later known as Thomas A. Edison, Inc.) shot this film of a BMT train crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, via Brooklyn to Manhattan, on September 22, 1899. It was among the first pioneering efforts to document New York City using the fledgling medium of motion pictures.

Edison himself took no direct part in his company’s film productions (outside of being the company’s owner, appointing William Gilmore as its vice-president and general manager, and, of course, reaping the profits) but his film crews had permission to shoot almost anything of contemporary interest or importance.

The “Wizard of Menlo Park” had three production facilities: the first was Edison‘s Black Maria studio in West Orange, New Jersey built in 1892; a second, glass-enclosed rooftop studio at 41 East 21st Street in Manhattan, opened in 1901; and, in 1907, a third studio opened at Decatur Avenue and Oliver Place in the Bronx. The studios created over 1200 films (mostly short subjects), many of which were virtually devoid of dynamism and quite stagnant.

Nevertheless, these films were the first commercially exhibited motion pictures in the United States, premiering at Kinetoscope parlors in New York City on April 14, 1894. Featuring a potpourri of subjects (acrobats, parades, dancers, fire rescues, etc.), audiences were enthralled by viewing the world around them reflected in Kinetoscope. In 1896, to keep up with a growing competition that was exhibiting films on screen, the Edison Company developed a Projecting Kinetoscope.

While the jittery, grainy quality of these films, marinated in antiquity, is overwhelmingly apparent, they seem to possess a strange and special element: they seem to inadvertently capture a distant memory in all of its detached and decomposed richness—high-definition could never be as peculiarly faithful to life and to history.

In the words of Hart Crane: “I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights…” (To Brooklyn Bridge)

Edison Studios at Wikipedia


McCullough Does The Bridge

David McCullough, at the DUMBO end of the Brooklyn Bridge last week, on the 40th anniversary of publication of “The Great Bridge.” The book’s been reissued with a new introduction by the 78-year-old writer. AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews {read more} Brooklyn Eagle

Guess The Color

While half of New York City is currently engaged in modernization the other half is engaged in a relatively new endeavor: historical restoration. While the old is being rapidly replaced by the (arguably) new and improved, the old is also gaining a new lease on life due to its historic or nostalgic significance. Enormous sums of money are being spent towards restoring abandoned buildings and factories, tottering neighborhoods and subway stations, for their olde worlde charm. When one of NYC’s landmarks is under restoration, and when that landmark happens to be the Brooklyn Bridge, developers spend an unlimited amount of time, energy and taxpayers’ money in achieving their restorative goals.

The Brooklyn Bridge is in the process of being repainted; a massive endeavor, not only for the scope of the project, but for what it seeks to accomplish: restoring the bridge to its “original” color. Contrary to what may be popular opinion or apathetic acceptance, the present-day coloring of the bridge IS NOT its original look. The bridge’s current appearance comes from nearly 130 years of weather-beaten days and nights; the color of rigorous age but not of rigorous youth. The only problem is that no one really knows exactly what colors the Brooklyn Bridge wore in its youthful, original days.

Early accounts say that the bridge’s first paint job was a shade of red — Rawlins Red, a pigment derived from iron oxide mined near Rawlins, Wyoming. And there appears some striking visual evidence to support this claim: a Currier and Ives print circa 1877 — six years before the bridge opened — depicts the span painted a glorious blood red.

Experts ranging from Rans Baker, a research historian at the Carbon County Museum in (aforementioned) Rawlins, Wyoming to Lisi De Bourbon, a spokeswoman at the Landmarks Preservation Commission, have their favorite if conflicting ideas regarding the bridge’s original colors. Baker, along with the citizens of Rawlings, take special pride in knowing that the town provided the paint (an iron oxide or hematite) for “one of the country’s most-astounding architectural achievements.

However, it’s not known for sure if this is true and/or what coloring this iron oxide blended paint would’ve looked like because the companies that furnished it are long since gone. The Landmarks Preservation Commission claims are as doubtful as Baker’s; the research they’ve attempted has led to a dead end. They’re claiming that they’ve traced the color to something called “Brooklyn Bridge Tan” (coined by the Department of Transportation); however, the exact name of the original paint colors is absent from the agency’s files. “That means ‘Brooklyn Bridge Tan’ — the Landmarks approved name — may be as real as ‘Santa Claus Red’ or ‘Tooth Fairy Pink.’”

Read more about this “true cover up.”  Brooklyn Paper