Truth about the “Trip Down Market Street” video on You Tube

How does a video suddenly “go viral” after more than a century?  Amazingly, we’re hearing from people all over the world, asking about a video (or more accurately, a film) made on Market Street that has gained 1,100,000 views on You Tube at this writing. Here’s the You Tube version — but it’s only a shadow of what we have.

The film has been in the public domain for decades, but had always been thought to have been made in 1905.  When we started our San Francisco Railway Museum 3 1/2 years ago, we got a  copy of the film from the great Rick Prelinger, a San Franciscan whose Prelinger Archives have preserved incredible amounts of historic motion picture footage.
Rick introduced me back then to David Kiehn of the Essenay Silent Film Museum in Niles (itself an early capital of filmmaking, now part of Fremont). David had just completed research that made a compelling and startling case: the film was in fact shot just four days or so before the April 18, 1906 earthquake and fire that destroyed downtown San Francisco — and would have incinerated this film as well, had its makers, the Miles Brothers, based on Market near Eighth Street, not shipped the footage off to New York, perhaps only a day earlier.
Using information generously contributed by David, and our own archival material, we created a commentary for the footage (our version of which starts near Eighth Street, not Fourth Street as in the You Tube version) that puts everything you see in the film in context. It explains why the automobiles you see are weaving wildly around the street. It identifies the streetcars that cross the cable car lines running along Market (no, those aren’t “streetcars” as the streetcar caption says, but the cable car lines of United Railroads). It identifies landmarks, provides social history, and sketches the politics that influenced the state of Market Street back then.
And we offer this video, more than 10 minutes long, free on the video displays at our museum, at 77 Steuart Street, which is open every day except Monday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Here’s a sample, which we’ve just uploaded to You Tube.

To anticipate a question, yes, we’ve thought about putting our entire narrated version on You Tube, but we don’t plan to.  Instead, we are getting an even higher quality version of the footage and will offer our narrated version along with a collection of other historic San Francisco transit clips we are producing and narrating, for sale by this summer at the museum and here in our online store. 
We want to do it this way because, frankly, we’ve done a lot of work on this (all of it donated) and we believe it’s worth something. Since all the proceeds will go to Market Street Railway’s preservation efforts, it’s a win-win.
We’ll let you know when the video is available for purchase. In the meantime, of course, you can always come to the museum…and for those of you out of town, it’ll still be here next time you get to San Francisco!  


Comments: 10

  1. I certainly can’t wait until you have that on video. It will be a great trip through time.

  2. “and for those of you out of town, it’ll still be here next time you get to San Francisco!”.
    So long as another earthquake doesn’t get to you first.
    Thanks for the narrated sample, it’s putting San Francisco on the ‘places I want to visit’ list.

  3. My friend and I have a few questions —
    Was the camera being hand-cranked? If so, it is extremely even in speed.
    How did the filmmakers prevent vibration from the streetcar — the film seems to be a very steady image as well.

  4. No one is sure how the camera was cranked, as no photographs or notes of the setup have ever been found. It’s presumed by film historians to have been hand-cranked because of the technology limits of the day. And remember, this is a camera mounted in front of a cable car gripman on a standard cable car. The available space would have been tiny. (Really a pity the details of the setup don’t survive.)
    Nor is it known whether some sort of dampening system was used to isolate the camera from any jolts. It is worth noting though that because the cable underneath the street operates at a fixed, steady speed, a cable car that is firmly attached to it is a pretty steady platform. And from the film, you can tell that the car is at a steady speed all the way, indicating that the car was always firmly attached to the grip.

  5. Available now on our online store (click store tab at top of page) and in our museum.

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