1906 film taken 4 days before big quake

October 16, 2010 7:04:14 PM PDT
A lot of interesting story ideas come from uReport Powered by YouTube. This one concerns a rather famous film clip that you've probably seen before, but none of us realized the significance of it, until now. If the film had been taken just four days later, it would have told a completely different story.

Market Street today like any other day, just a lot of people going about their business and barely worth looking at, but what if we could rewind this scene by 104 years? You wouldn't take it for granted anymore.

"You see the whole fabric of life right in front of you," says David Kiehn.

By now, you may have joined the million-plus YouTube viewers who have been mesmerized by the silent film from old San Francisco. It has a name -- "Trip Down Market Street."

Kiehn is a silent film historian at a museum in Niles, near Fremont. He had wondered about the market street film for years and looked into it. The work became even more fascinating when he learned the exact date.

"It was made April 14, 1906... four days before the earthquake," says Kiehn.

That makes this film like a time capsule from a lost civilization. The Miles Brothers Motion Picture Company made it as a promotion for San Francisco. They put a camera on a cable car, heading east from Eighth Street to the Ferry building. Every person in the film is oblivious to the impending doom that would shake and then burn everything away.

"It is very possible that the people who are staring right at the camera, and if you look at it, right at you, those people would be gone in just a few days," says Kiehn.

Kiehn went so deep in his research, he traced a license plate and learned that the man driving that car, Jay Anyway would survive until 1935 and die in Oakland. As for the kid, staring back from a cart, nobody knows.

One of the more interesting stories behind the story of this movie is the one about how it survived at all. As it turns out, the Miles Brothers who made it were the first bi-coastal film company. They had offices in San Francisco and New York. They processed the film here.

"And the night before the quake, they sent it to their New York office," says Kiehn.

Had they kept the film here, it would have burned along with everything else and we would never have seen the historic 12 minutes back in time, which isn't so much different from 12 minutes today.

"At any moment, you don't know what's going to happen in the future. It connects our world with theirs," says Kiehn.


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