Ken Kesey, 1976

5 Feb

“I’d rather be a skinny dog with no fleas than be a fat dog scratching all the time.”

Ken Kesey spins a metaphor about the importance of keeping it local. The footage was shot in 1976 at his farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon, on KEZI-TV, the local ABC affiliate in Eugene, Oregon. The University of Oregon Libraries holds Kesey’s manuscript collection, but a wealth of Kesey film can be found in the local TV news collection, as well.

MLK Memorial News Clips (1968)

19 Jan

Archival TV news collections can give a glimpse into past events as well as how those events were covered. When Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in April 1968, the ABC affiliate in Eugene, Oregon, sent a cameraman to document the memorial activities sponsored by the Black Student Union at the University of Oregon. Over 5,000 people attended the service at McArthur Court. BSU leaders gave speeches along with UO President Arthur S. Flemming (only Flemming’s speech made it on film), and student Charles Warfield led the group in singing “We Shall Overcome.” The clips also include a televised speech by Governor Tom McCall and footage of a march through downtown Eugene.

All clips are from the Chambers Communications Corp. collection (Coll 427) in Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries.

Luther Cressman’s Fieldwork Footage (c1938)

9 Dec

Luther S. Cressman (1897-1994) was an anthropology professor at the University of Oregon whose discoveries in eastern Oregon changed many of the long-held beliefs about human civilization in North America. He is best known for his discovery of the 10,000-year-old sagebrush bark sandals at Fort Rock in 1938, aka “the world’s oldest surviving shoes.” We recently digitized the films of his excavations in Fort Rock Cave and Paisley Cave in 1938-39. You can see him uncover a pair of children’s sandals at 04:52.

The Afterlife of Archival Film

17 Oct

Our archival footage has been turning up in a number of places lately (more to come on that soon), and while it’s cool to see it reused and integrated into new projects, for me it’s also unsettling. There is something about the decontextualized and atomized snippets that are so far removed from the original source material and creator, that even when our repository is credited, I still want to shout out, “That’s the Oregon Country Fair from 1971 from the KEZI TV news collection! That’s Cordially Yours, Corvallis from the Roy Adams Advertising Agency!” It’s not just visual wallpaper that came out of nowhere whose sole purpose is to stir up nostalgia. I know our job is to preserve films, make them accessible, and then set them free for all kinds of uses we really don’t even want to control. I know. But I can’t be the only one who’d like a bibliography with links to the full films, even in something like this:

Tracing Small-Town Movie Theaters in Oregon

31 Jul

I recently stumbled across a ghostly trace of the Little Gem Theatre in Eugene, Oregon, which was in operation on Willamette Street in 1907.

I thought I had uncovered all of the local movie theaters in Eugene and Springfield, Oregon, in the process of working on Hometown Show Oregon, which tells some of the early history of movie theaters in the two neighboring cities.  The nickelodeon era (1905-1915) was a very dynamic time for moviegoing, with storefront theaters popping up on Main Streets across the United States. Between 1909-1912, Eugene supported six theaters, all on Willamette Street, the commercial center of town. Three of those theaters had more than 600 seats apiece, all for a population of about 9,000 people.

The Little Gem item popped up when I was looking for something related to the Electric Theatre. Along the way I also ran across ads for the Orpheum Theatre, which took over the space formerly occupied by the Little Gem.


The Savoy Theatre, 1912. Lane County Historical Museum, Photo GN972

Whatever you might feel about Google, I adore the fact that they digitized back issues of the local newspapers in Eugene and Springfield. Few other traces remain that reveal the history of movie theaters here. Lane County Historical Society has a wonderful database of digital images that includes photographs of the Rex, the Savoy, and the Eugene, but no other substantial records seem to have survived. City directories and Sanborn Fire Maps can be helpful, but they published only once a year, and nickelodeon theaters could be notoriously short-lived. Like the Grand Theatre in Springfield, open less than a year in 1908, or the evocative Little Gem.

“The New Willamette” (1974)

28 Jul

“Here in Oregon we listen to water all the time.”


Homer Groening (1919-1996) was an ad man, cartoonist, and industrial filmmaker in Portland, Oregon (also father to Matt, creator of The Simpsons). The Army Corps of Engineers sponsored Groening’s 1974 film The New Willamette, which looks at environmental clean-up efforts on the mighty Willamette River.


Oregon Governor Tom McCall (1967-1975)

The film features environmentalist Governor Tom McCall, who led multiple efforts to protect Oregon beaches, waterways, and forests. He famously encouraged people to visit Oregon, “but for heaven’s sake, don’t come here to live.”

The film won the Golden Eagle Award for outstanding non-theatrical films in the United States in 1975, and the U.S. Information Agency entered it in several international film festivals.


Fisherman Jim Conway

Thanks to an inquiry from a retired Lane County teacher who used to show the film to her students, I was able to track down what is likely the sole surviving print, which resides in the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive. The staff graciously digitized it and put it online.

Skip Elsheimer of A/V Geeks has compiled a Homer Groening filmography.

University of Oregon Medical School Hospital, 1946-1951

31 Jan

Today I found an untitled silent film in gorgeous Kodachrome showing the construction of the University of Oregon Medical School Hospital, 1946-1951 (now Oregon Health & Sciences University). It appears to have been made (or sponsored) by the architecture firm that designed the building, Lawrence, Tucker, and Wallmann, of Portland, Oregon.


The film showcases the workers. This section was in black and white.


Still raw, but nearly complete.

Archival Mystique, or What I Found Today

30 Jan

What passed through my hands today:

  • A 16mm print of Olive Trees of Justice, a 1962 feature film by University of Oregon alum James Blue, who was the first American to win the Critics’ Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
  • A reel of Kodachrome from the 1930s and 1940s showing campus hijinks around homecoming. Parades, picnics, football, legendary track coach Bill Hayward, coeds in bathing suits log rolling on the Millrace.

Bill Hayward. Courtesy University of Oregon Libraries Special Collections & University Archives.

  • U.S. Senator Wayne Morse speaking at the Heathman Hotel in Portland, Oregon c1960s, but the film is silent.
  • A three-reel home movie of UO geology professor William D. Smith’s research trip to South America in 1930. He sailed from San Pedro, California, on the S.S. Rakuyo Maru, a cargo-passenger freighter built in 1921 by the Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Co. to serve the Toyo Kisen Kaisha’s South American line. In WWII, the Rakuyo Maru was used as a transport ship for Australian and British POWs, and en route from Singapore in Sept. 1944 it was torpedoed and sunk by the USS Sealion. Nearly all of the 1300 soldiers on board were killed.

The Exploding Whale on Film

1 Nov

In 1970 a 45-foot sperm whale washed ashore on the Oregon coast. It became pretty stinky as it started to decompose, so the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), which had jurisdiction over the beaches at that time, decided on a foolproof way to remove the whale: by blowing it up. Fifty pounds of dynamite later, rancid whale chunks were scattered over more than a quarter mile around the blast site, along with some smashed cars and bruised bystanders.


The ODOT engineer who masterminded this plan died this week, so the story was in the news again. TV news stations recorded the event, but I prefer the film shot by a local man who was a young, independent filmmaker at the time, and who grew up in the Oregon landscape. He was very attuned to the growing urgency of environmental problems, and he explored these issues in a number of films, including Natural Timber Country and Tamanawis Illahee: Rituals and Acts in a Landscape.

Educational film remixed

28 Sep

I’m in love with the UO College of Education’s update on the old-school educational film:

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