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Dawson film find yields more secrets

The silent movie films recovered from the Dawson City permafrost in 1978 have yielded another cinematic gem. Found among the 532 reels are four and a half minutes of footage covering the scandalous baseball World Series of 1919.

The silent movie films recovered from the Dawson City permafrost in 1978 have yielded another cinematic gem.

Found among the 532 reels are four and a half minutes of footage covering the scandalous baseball World Series of 1919. This news item was spotted by American filmmaker Bill Morrison, who is currently working on a documentary film about the film find.

If you haven’t already seen it, you can search YouTube for the following video: British Canadian Pathe News, 81A: [1919 World Series excerpt].

The 1919 World Series became linked to the infamous “Black Sox scandal,” in which several players on the Chicago White Sox were bribed to throw the series against Cincinnati. Mobster Arnold Rothstein was implicated in the scandal, but all the written records of the Grand Jury investigations and the signed confessions of several of those involved were mysteriously lost.

The baseball players, whose confessions disappeared, refused to testify, pleading the fifth amendment, and the case was dismissed.

No mobsters went to jail, but eight players implicated, who protested his innocence, were thrown out of professional baseball for good. Among them was the star outfielder, Shoeless Joe Jackson. The recently recognized footage adds considerably to what little footage of the 1919 World Series is known to exist.

But that is only one of the film gems recovered from this cinematic treasure trove. The films recovered span the time period from 1904 to 1920. They include rare or unique copies of films like Wild Fire, starring Lillian Russell, the famous stage personality, in her only film role, with Lionel Barrymore. Mae Murray appears in the 1917 film Polly of the Circus, which was the first film produced by Sam Goldwyn’s fledgling production company. Bliss, a 1917 film by Harold Lloyd, was thought to be lost forever until it was recovered in the Dawson City collection.

The cache also yielded films featuring both famous and unknown actors, directors and producers, and represents a valuable piece of American film history.

The Canadian content is equally exciting. Until the Dawson find, no copies of documentary newsreels of this era had survived. Almost two hundred were recovered, including such names as “International News,” “Gaumont British and World-wide News,” “British Canadian Pathe News,” “British War Office News” and the “British Government Official News.”

Included in this footage is a gem showing Alexander Graham Bell testing his hydrofoil in Baddeck, Nova Scotia. Baddeck

is now the location of Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site. The hydrofoil, known as the HD-4, was filmed breaking the world speed record here in 1919.

During the height of the gold rush, there was too much live entertainment, gambling, sporting events and drinking for the newly emerging film medium to attract much attention. There were advertisements for the amazing wonders of the Animatograph and the Projectoscope as early as the summer of 1898, but none of these caught on amid the Klondike frenzy.

“The Wondroscope - Next Sunday at the Monte Carlo” proclaimed an ad in the Klondike Nugget newspaper in its November 30, 1898, issue. Sunday was the only day of the week when the more raucous forms of entertainment were shut down by the mounted police. This presentation was offered at the Monte Carlo on Sundays through November and December, before it was moved to Grand Forks, at the junction of Bonanza and Eldorado Creeks, for a December 21st screening. After these cinematic presentations, Dawson seems to have turned its back on celluloid, at least for the remainder of that frantic winter.

Less than 20 years later, the aura of the gold rush was only a memory. Dawson City had shrunk to a tenth of its former size. Most of the theatres, dance halls and saloons had faded away, shut down by faltering economics, or changing community trends. Dawson City had its own Carnegie Library and numerous churches. Victorian respectability had replaced the wide-open gold rush energy of two decades before.

In this settled elegance, Dawsonites had constructed the Dawson Amateur Athletic Association or DAAA building, their version of today’s recreational complex, in which, among other activities, hockey was played in the winter and children swam in the indoor pool in the summer. Other special attractions at the DAAA were regular showings of films like Pearl of the Army (starring screen star Pearl White), or Fanchon the Cricket, starring Mary Pickford, or episodes in the serial, The Red Ace. Newsreels of current events from Canada and around the world accompanied these films.

Film had grown in popularity since 1898, and in the small town of 2,500 that Dawson had become, three movie theatres competed for the public’s patronage: The Dawson Amateur Athletic Association, the Orpheum, and the Auditorium Theatre.

The July 27, 1914 edition of the Dawson Daily News advertised the Vitagraph Photoplay titled The Money Kings at the DAAA (“Dawson’s Family Theatre”). Professor Carpenter was advertised as the key tickler for the evening. “A change of program three times a week” proclaimed the ad.

Meanwhile, the Auditorium Theatre (today known as the Palace Grand) offered a new three-reel feature titled Springtime of Life, and apologized in a small article for the confusion over the sale of the boxes at a recent opening night full house.

Down on Front Street, the Orpheum Theatre was offering a selection of films, including the snappy Western comedy titled Accident Insurance, starring Pearl White. Other films on the bill included Nobody’s Love Story, (an emotional drama of the Northland), a western drama, and a couple of comedies.

A few days later, British loyalty was stirred when the Dawson Daily News’ War Extra edition reached the theatre just as the film performance for the evening was ending.

World War I had just begun. The news that the British fleet had sunk six German ships was read out to the crowd with the permission of Mr. Creamer, the manager of the DAAA. Creamer then projected a slide of King George V on the screen. Mr. Carpenter, who was accompanist to the films, struck the introductory chords to “Rule Britannia” on the piano, and the audience rose in a body and sang “until the house shook.” That was followed by “God Save the King.” When the picture of Queen Mary was projected on the screen, the crowd sang “The Maple Leaf Forever.”

During my first summer in Dawson, back in 1978, I attended a screening of the most recent James Bond movie at the theatre operated by Fred and Palma Berger. Things had changed over the intervening years; there was only a small crowd in attendance, and no patriotic fervor in evidence. Crudely crafted announcements were marked on slides that were projected onto the screen before the movie commenced.

The following year, the theatre was ruined by the devastating spring flood and never reopened. After a run of 80 years, that, and the introduction of cable television, killed regular cinema in Dawson City.

Part two of my piece on Fort Selkirk will be continued in next week’s Yukon News.

Michael Gates is a Yukon historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. His latest book, Dalton’s Gold Rush Trail, is available in Yukon stores. You can contact him at