Even though we’re in an age when everyone captures images or video on their phones or tablets and uploads them to places such as YouTube, there’s still something exciting about seeing your hometown where potentially millions can also view it. The same might be said about filming portions of a motion picture in Oneonta last week, “The Automatic Hate.”
Oneontans were probably feeling that same sort of excitement 100 years ago when a film company came to the city and proposed filming two reels of motion pictures, a medium still pretty much in its infancy.
Elmer Dwiggins, president of the Civic Film Co., had approached the Oneonta Chamber of Commerce in the summer months of 1913 about making such a film, not only as a bit of novelty, but also to promote Oneonta as a good place in which to live and start a business.
The Chamber hired the company, as several local businesses paid subscriptions to bring the filmmaker to Oneonta. Edwin W. Elmore was the Chamber president at the time as well as the owner of the Elmore Milling Co., once found at the corner of Main Street and Neahwa Place. The feeling was that a film could show potential business owners what Oneonta had to offer.
“Moving pictures are also extensively used in schools and colleges as the easiest and surest method of teaching many subjects,” Elmore said in The Oneonta Star of Tuesday, Sept. 16, 1913.
Elmore’s mill had burned to the ground in May that year, and he knew that keeping Oneonta competitive in the business world was becoming increasingly important.
“Immediately after the fire,” Elmore said, “I was greatly impressed by the active competition for factories and plants by hosts of other cities who seem to be constantly on the lookout for reasons for removal. Our ruins had hardly ceased smoking before we began to receive hundreds of letters from secretaries of boards of trade of other cities urging reasons for our removal. Cities which had never heard of us before seemed to know about the fire and sent batches and bales of reasons why we should not rebuild here but move elsewhere.”
The Civic Film Co. brought a cameraman, Jay Dwiggins, to Oneonta to begin filming on Thursday, Sept. 18. He couldn’t have come at a better time of year, as plenty of activity was going on. Students had recently returned to classes at the Oneonta Normal School. It was also the week of the annual Central New York Fair, held where the Belmont Circle neighborhood is today.
According to Elmer Dwiggins, “Just after noon we will take Main street when the crowd is the thickest. A comedy scene of ‘The Intoxicated Automobile’ will be rehearsed and taken on Main street also.” Unfortunately Dwiggins didn’t elaborate on the latter.
“Later in the afternoon the crowds leaving the fair will be caught. General scenes of interest will be on the programme,” he said, “and the photographing and featuring of wholesale houses, stores and business places will be done.”
The filming went on for a few days and included a few surprises, according to the Star of Monday, Sept. 22.
“Oneonta is certainly excited over getting her ‘picture took.’ Half the town was running to the fire on Friday, which called out every man and horse in the department. The day before everyone was astonished at the spectacle of Chief of Police Blizard running out of the Municipal building,” today’s 242 Main St., “shouting orders to Sergeant Stapleton who, with three officers sprang into an automobile and dashed to the fairgrounds to pinch a bunch of presumable pick-pockets.”
Filming ended Monday, with the finished product to be called “Picturesque Oneonta.” The Dwiggins made plans to bring a projection machine, booth and screen from New York, with an experienced operator to show the film at Municipal Hall near the end of the month.
A state fire marshal learned of the plan and gave orders to Oneonta Fire Chief John Crotty, forbidding the display in the Municipal Building, because of a lack of fire escapes on the second floor, where it would be shown. Projection equipment had potential to be dangerously hot and ignite films at that time.
The Star had reported that plans for the Municipal Building had “aroused the jealousy of the theaters,” likely the reason a state marshal had intervened. All theaters battled to get “Picturesque Oneonta” in their hall. It was reported that “Manager Cronin of the Broad Street Theatre” was the winner, and showings began on Saturday, Sept. 27. The evening exhibitions drew 1,150 patrons, and in order to accommodate everyone else, the picture played afternoons and evenings until the following Friday.
It is uncertain whether “Picturesque Oneonta” attracted any new businesses or residents to Oneonta, but it was indeed a box office hit among the locals.
On Monday: A nearly 30-year effort was made to build today’s Alumni Fieldhouse at State University College at Oneonta.
City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at email@example.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.