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Big Chuck

February 25, 2013

Film clip a window into Oneonta's past

One of my radio listeners sent me an astonishing piece of video recently. I posted it on my Facebook page (go to Facebook, search “Big Chuck”) and it has been viewed by well over 1,000 people in just a week.

It is all of 11 seconds long.

It was shot in 1927 and shows a scene of downtown Oneonta.

So what can you see in this priceless black-and-white snippet?


The stores are all right out of an old MGM movie set. Big windows, overhanging awnings, each business with a large sign sticking out giving the establishment’s name. One store proclaims “Bakers” while another boasts a tall, free-standing barber pole.

The little 11-second “moviette” opens with a clear panning shot of Bresee’s Oneonta Department Store, standing confidently at its longtime Main Street location. Eighty-six years ago. Amazing.

The cars are big and black with large round drum headlights, huge curved fenders and tiny windows. Cars not unlike those from one of my favorite television shows, “The Untouchables.”

Everyone seen in the video is dressed up. It has all the appearances of a normal shopping day in downtown Oneonta,1927.

We can see two women bustle across Main Street. Each is dressed in a formal long heavy coat, stylish hat and high heels. We also see a couple of men in the scene, one of them up close.

He is in a hurry as he walks away from the camera. He is obviously a man with a purpose. Maybe a banker. Or a lawyer. He is wearing glasses and a long coat as well as a bowler hat. In fact every one of the few people seen in this little video is wearing a hat: man, woman and child.

“Mr. Important,” is in a hurry but not in such a hurry that he doesn’t pause oh-so-briefly in his stride to cast a glance over his left shoulder right at the camera. Right at us. One can only guess what the distraction was that caused him to look back. We will, of course, never know. I’d like to think that he was just curious at the sight of somebody standing in the middle of the sidewalk holding up one of those “new-fangled movie machines.”

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