Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Vintage Chicago film found at estate sale shows 1940s-era city

Vintage Chicago Film Found at Estate Sale Shows 1940s-era City

The subject of this post sounds like something my aunt and uncle would find during their numerous trawls of estate sales, or a treasure we could only dream of unearthing in the far rarer house clearances that occur with much less frequency in Britain.

It's a constant source of amazement to me that films such as this can turn up in the most unlikeliest of places decades after they were shot, capturing the attention of people - social historians, nostalgists, you, me - that the makers (and those who appeared on the screen) could never have even imagined.  But they do, as this latest example so amply demonstrates, and I for one am continually grateful for the fact.  How many historical gems have lain - and continue to lay - forgotten and undiscovered in the corner of a dusty archive, or nearly been thrown away (or worse, actually thrown away), all because of a vague/wrong label?

This could have been the case here (and likely would have been, had it occurred in this country) had the canister containing the film not been snapped up by a curious Chicagoan.  It is perhaps not surprising that the new owner showed such an interest in it since, in one of those serendipitous incidents that sometimes occur, the chap is a young film & video technician.  I'll bet even he never expected to uncover an amazing portal to Chicago 70 years ago, though, and neither did anybody else judging by the negligible amount of money he ended up paying for it!

The contents have proved to be of far greater historical value, however, containing as they do over thirty minutes' footage of mid-Forties Chicago - everywhere from the usual tourist haunts to the less-visited working districts.  It is a wonderful time capsule of what still remains "a city of beauty, strength and power" and a glorious glimpse of a time past; so unusual that even the Chicago Film Archives and the Chicago Board of Education (for whom the original film was made) are having trouble finding a record of it.

Regardless of whether the reasons become known as to why this film was shot and how it stayed undiscovered for so, it is splendid to see it again in all its glory and to know that it will be appreciated as a snapshot of history.  Once again, it makes you wonder just what else is out there waiting to be found!


  1. Ahh, my kind of town, Chicago. This is an awesome find. I'm perhaps glad that I didn't see it before my trip to Chicago last year as I might have been disappointed not to see it in its 1940s guise... But who am I kidding, it would have been a fabulous city regardless. This is really fun to see though.

  2. It's wonderful when things are rediscovered by people who can appreciate them - even now, I live in hope of lost silent films being rediscovered.


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