Abraham Lincoln film found in barn
Published 14/04/2010 | 12:57
A contractor cleaning out an old New Hampshire barn destined for demolition found seven reels of nitrate film inside, including the only known copy of a 1913 silent film about Abraham Lincoln.
"When Lincoln Paid", a 30-minute film about the mother of a dead Union soldier asking Lincoln to pardon a Confederate soldier whom she had initially turned in, stars the brother of John Ford, director of The Grapes of Wrath, The Quiet Man and other classics.
"I was up in the attic space, and shoved away over in a corner was the film and a silent movie projector, as well," Peter Massie, a movie buff, said of his discovery in the western New Hampshire town of Nelson. "I thought it was really cool."
After finding it in 2006, the film canisters sat in his basement for a while before Massie thought of contacting nearby Keene State College, where film professor Larry Benaquist thought it was a rare find.
After working with the George Eastman House film preservation museum in Rochester, New York, the college discovered that the film, directed by and starring Francis Ford, did not exist in film archives.
In fact, it was one of eight silent films starring Ford as Lincoln; there are no known surviving copies of the others.
"The vast majority of silent films, particularly from the early period -- the first decade of the 20th century -- are gone," said Caroline Frick Page, curator of motion pictures at George Eastman House. "That's what makes these stories so incredibly special."
The college, which plans an April 20 film screening, received a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation to restore it. It took a Colorado lab a year to complete the task.
Benaquist said the images themselves were well preserved, probably because they endured decades of New England winters in the barn, which also was well sheltered by trees.
Nitrate film, which was phased out in Hollywood in the 1950s, is highly flammable. The 35 mm film itself had shrunk and the sprocket holes used on projectors were shredded.