April 18, 1906, a date forever seared into San Francisco history. The cataclysmic earthquake and fire divided eras and impressed unforgettable memories on all who experienced it.
All who experienced that horror firsthand are gone now. But by unbelievable good fortune, a compelling vision of the old San Francisco survives in the form of a motion picture, and the knowledge it provides us of the way it was keeps growing. Sunday afternoon, April 18, 2021, 115 years to the day after fire engulfed the shaken city, there will be a free webinar talking about how that previously little-known film became world-famous due to a combination of tireless detective work and creative technology. The link to sign up for the webinar is below.
We’re talking about the famous “Trip Down Market Street”, filmed just four days before the earth shook and the sky burned, by professional filmmakers the Miles Brothers, shooting a hand-cranked motion picture camera mounted on the front of a cable car as it rolled eastward on Market between Eighth Street and the Ferry Building. It was long thought to have been shot in 1905, and the only surviving copy, in the Library of Congress, was badly degraded.
But then, magic happened. Film historian David Kiehn, head of the Niles Film Museum in Fremont discovered the true filming date, greatly increasing the historic value of the film. Archivist and film preservationist Rick Prelinger arranged for a vastly improved transfer of the film, revealing many new details. And television’s most-watched news program, 60 Minutes, did a remarkable story, produced by David Browning and reported by Morley Safer, that brought much new attention to the film. (Safer later said it was among his favorite stories of the more than 900 he reported for 60 Minutes.)
Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher was interviewed for the 60 Minutes story, in part because he had written and recorded a narration for the film, explaining what the camera sees as it moves along Market Street, adding economic and social context as well as explaining the extensive cable car system then operating on our main street. You can watch that narrated version here, and purchase your own DVD of it in our online store.
The webinar is sponsored by the Niles Film Museum as part of its annual 1906 earthquake commemoration. Rick Laubscher will moderate the webinar, talking with David Kiehn, Rick Prelinger, and two descendants of the Miles Brothers, covering all aspects of the film and the 60 Minutes story. The experts will answer questions you have about the film.
You can join the webinar via Zoom at this link. The webinar will then be posted online so you can watch anytime; we’ll update this post with that link when we have it.