Mrs. Geek has an avid interest in her family's history. I know that part of this is due to the fact that she has so few immediate relations with whom she can connect. How can this be in a large Irish Catholic family, I hear you cry? Well, Mrs. Geek is an only child. Her mother was also an only child. Her mother passed away some years ago, and her mother's parents passed away before her mother and father were married. Her father is one of seven living siblings, but many of them and their issue are estranged from each other due to a storied series of legal and personal disputes that probably can only be truly described by a Russian novelist like Tolstoy. Her father's father died when she was a child, and her father's mother (also part of that Russian novel) died almost two years ago. So, Mrs. Geek is one branch of a large family tree where many of the branches can not or will not talk to each other. Consequently, she is very keen to hold on to whatever bits of her heritage that she can get her hands on.
It therefore drives her nuts when she gets phone calls like one we got about two weeks ago. Her second cousin K. (the one with the daughter that caused a bit of a wedding rumpus) is in the process of getting ready to move. This entails cleaning out the basement of the house where she lives... which is also the same house where K.'s mother used to live. In the midst of this cleaning operation, K. discovered some old home movies taken by two great uncles, A. and T. (both Roman Catholic priests), that K. and Mrs. Geek have in common. K. wanted to know if Mrs. Geek wanted them. Otherwise she said, they would be thrown out. Somewhat peeved that someone would even think about throwing out a part of the family history, Mrs. Geek of course said "yes."
Mrs. Geek and I finally got our hands on the film about 10 days ago. It arrived in a leather satchel covered with decades worth of dust. We were informed by K.'s mother that the film was taken by A. and T. during "a trip to Ireland". The home movies turned out to be that, and a lot more.
Part of the fun of viewing the movies was finding a working projector to show them. The film is all 16mm, not something commonly seen these days after decades of other options (8mm, Super 8mm, and various video formats.) A manual for a Kodak Kodascope G 16mm projector from the 1930's was included in the satchel, but alas, the manual was not accompanied by a projector. Mrs. Geek called up her Dad to see if he had one, and he did indeed have a rather rare antique projector in storage. We got it from her Dad late last week, but were unable to use immediately because its mechanism was frozen. Since I had some spare time on Saturday, I partially took it apart, applied some 3-in-1 oil to some key points, and brought some force to bear on a few key gears. My efforts were successful, and I soon had the projector humming along smoothly.
Once we had a working projector, Mrs. Geek and I sat down and watched all nine 7" reels of film (about 3600 feet of film in total) on Saturday night. It took about four hours. This was not just "a trip to Ireland". It turns out that the film documents a trip around the world by A. and T. to (what we think was) the 34th International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, Hungary in May of 1938. It appears that it was quite a trip. They left the United States via San Francisco by ship, and stopped in Hawaii, China, India, Egypt, Sicily (or southern Italy), Rome, Florence, and Venice on their way to Budapest. After the Congress, they went to Lourdes, Paris, London, and then on to Ireland before returning by ship to New York. Most of the film turned out to be in black and white, but about ten percent of it was in color... which had to be a little unusual for 1938.
There are some rather interesting moments throughout the trip. The film starts with shots of the San Francisco skyline, including the then new Bay Bridge (less than two years old) and the even newer Golden Gate Bridge (less than a year old.) There are some panoramic shots of pre-War Pearl Harbor and Diamond Head on Oahu. There is also footage of bombed out buildings, barbed wire, and ruins in China -- no doubt caused by conflict with the Japanese. There is film of a cricket match in India, along with some shots of Indian police in British Colonial uniforms. There is this one hilarious sequence where you see a group of about six women in traditional Muslim-style garb walking down a street in India. One of the women eventually sees the camera, and points at it. You see her say something to the others, and they become very excited. All the women then run into a large doorway in order to get out of sight. There is footage of one of our intrepid travelers riding a camel at the base of the Great Pyramid of Egypt, as well as footage showing a man quickly running down the side of one of the Pyramids. There is some fine scenery of one of those small Mediterranean seaside villages built into the side of steep mountain in Italy. You also get to see some of Mussolini's Fascists parading in St. Mark's Square in Venice. The Congress itself is full of parades and pageantry -- lots of priests (including some Orthodox or Eastern Rite clergy) and Cardinals in full garb as well as various locals in traditional costume. The Papal Legate at the Congress was Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (who would go on to become Pope Pius XII about a year later), and we have some decent footage, some in color, of him coming and going from the Congress. There is footage of Notre Dame, the Champs Elysees, and l'Arc de Triomphe in Paris and large processions at Lourdes, some at night.
Once A. and T. got to Ireland, we see that they visited the small town of Milford, which we think is the one in County Cork. They did not appear to stay at an Inn or Hotel and spent a lot of time with the same group of people. Since both of A. and T.'s parents (Mrs. Geek's great-grandparents) were born in Ireland, we think that these other people are likely to be Mrs. Geek's relatives or family friends, but we don't know who they are. K's mother is the last person alive who could possibly have any clue, but she is rather ambivalent about family history to the point that when asked, she felt that A. and T. probably went on this trip "in the 1920's" rather than 1938. In any case, we get to see A. and T. attempt to milk a couple goats, play a little golf, and go to "kiss the stone" at Blarney Castle with these people before leaving Ireland by ship. The footage of the trip closes with views of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline, where the then relatively new Empire State and Chrysler buildings may be visible.
As if all this wasn't enough, the last reel of film contains 15-20 minutes of color footage of the 20th Jubilee of T.'s ordination (he's a priest remember) taken in 1941. This includes pictures of Mrs. Geek's whole immediate family on her mother's side both outside a church about 6 blocks from where Mrs. Geek grew up and in the garden and the parlor of her great-grandparents home. You can see both Mrs. Geek's mother (who was about age 7) and K.'s mother (who was a few years older), plus Mrs. Geek's grandparents, Mrs. Geek's great-grandparents and K.'s grandparents. Mrs. Geek says she has few pictures of her mother as a child... and was definitely hoping that there
would be some footage of her in these movies somewhere. That last reel made the whole effort to get the film and view it worth the trouble for her... and I'm not ashamed to say that hearing Mrs. Geek say "it's my mother" made me a little teary eyed.
In all, watching those home movies made for a very interesting Saturday night. We're looking into the possibility of getting the film transferred to DVD. Despite what others in the family think, this seems like footage that should be preserved, both because of the family who are in it and the moment in history when it was taken.
on 2005-03-15 at 1:03 p.m.
The Wayback Machine - To Infinity And Beyond