Historic local newsreels and documentary to premiere at 7th St. in March

On Saturday, March 9, Hoquiam’s 7th St. Theatre will bring to a special premier of the historical documentary “Grays Harbor Happenings: The Newsreels of C.D. Anderson,” produced by the University of Washington libraries in partnership with the 7th Street Theatre Association, the Aberdeen Museum of History and the Polson Museum.

The documentary screening of some of the actual newsreels and live presentations on the project will take place at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Proceeds will benefit the 7th Street Theatre Association, the Aberdeen History Museum and the Polson Museum.

A few years ago, a cardboard box of 35mm nitrate films was discovered in a commercial storage unit in Seattle. They were given to the UW Libraries Special Collections. It was very clear that urgent preservation was needed to save the deteriorating films. As they were being preserved, it was discovered that the 53 films were amateur newsreels, mostly showing small town life in Grays Harbor County from more than 80 years ago.

Thanks to funding from the Apex Foundation, the newsreels were digitized from the original 35MM nitrate. A documentary was made under the direction of Ann Coppel, producer/writer/director at UWTV. The documentary includes selections from the newsreels and interviews with local Grays Harbor County historians and researchers who have helped identify the locations and content of the films. The documentary film was made possible with the efforts of the UW Libraries Special Collections and the support of many other organizations including the Grays Harbor Community Foundation, the UW Alumni Association and UWTV.

The newsreels contain footage from numerous events, including a marriage at the Grays Harbor County Fair, the sinking of the tugboat Harbor Queen in the Hoquiam River, Aberdeen-Hoquiam football games, a huge public gathering and barbecue, the opening of the Aberdeen-Willapa Highway, Aberdeen Fire Department drills, cows herded through Elma and the grand opening of Finch Playfield (featuring Edward Finch).

The original films provided years (from 1925 to 1933) and descriptions, but no details. What were the events depicted and who were the people involved? What’s the history of the newsreels themselves? Stepping up to find the answers to these questions was Roy Vataja, a local historian and longtime volunteer at the Aberdeen Museum of History, who spent countless hours researching newspaper articles at the Aberdeen Library and consulting Polk directories for information about these films.

One of Vataja’s first and most important finds was the article in the September 17, 1925, edition of the Aberdeen Daily World, entitled “Screen to Show Harbor Events.” The article states: “A news reel of recent Harbor events will be shown next week by the Anderson Photo Company, it was announced by C. D. Anderson today,” and “It is planned to show the pictures every week if the news happenings will warrant it. If not they will be shown as often as possible. It is expected that this new project will be well liked by the theater-going population of the city as Harbor theater managers say that news reels are among the most popular of the extra attractions shown.”

The first newsreel was shown at the Weir Theatre in Aberdeen in October of 1925 and featured the Smith Dairy team at the Elma fair, a children’s parade, Aberdeen winning the baseball championship of the Timber League, Mrs. Jean B. Stewart celebrating the 50th anniversary of her arrival in Aberdeen, the Lake Quinault suspension bridge and the new Camp Fire Girls home at Roosevelt Park (now Sam Benn Park).

Vataja discovered numerous articles about the events in the newsreels and learned that Anderson had a photography studio in several locations in Aberdeen from 1924 to 1935. John Larson of the Polson Museum, Dann Sears of the Aberdeen Museum, John Hughes, former publisher of the Daily World and chief historian of the Legacy Project, and local businessmen and historians Tom Quigg and George Donovan also provided historical information about the films.

At 7th St. Theatre, doors open at 1:30 p.m. for the 2 p.m. presentation and at 6:30 p.m. for the 7 p.m. event. All seats are $7 and tickets will be available at the door. Advance tickets are available at City Drug in Aberdeen, Harbor Drug in Hoquiam and online at www.harbor.brownpapertickets.com. For more information call (360) 537-7400 or check the theater’s website, www.7thstreettheatre.com.