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December 14, 2017

A Christmas Movie

A Christmas Movie

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

Historical documents can take a lot of different forms.  In 1935, the Noblesville Kiwanis club created a movie of their charitable work.  It was filmed by member Bert Cresson and was shown around central Indiana for few years.  Then it was put aside until 2015 when it was handed to Kiwanis member Alaina Shonkwiler who donated it to Hamilton County Historical Society.  In 2017, the HCHS sent the film to the Library of Congress to be copied and preserved as a digital transfer in their collection of general Americana.  The film is a fascinating documentation of Depression-era Noblesville.

The film starts with shots of members of the charity committee.  Then the Christmas section begins with fireman repairing toys – the Noblesville Ledger for December 13, 1935 said, “The boys at the fire department are about the busiest set of individuals in the city for just the moment”.  Mrs. Paul Michaels is shown dressing dolls – the December 19 Ledger said that the Girl Scouts helped with this – which is followed by footage of Ora L. Johnson sorting shoes.  When the toys were finished, they were put on display at the Wild Opera House for a short time.  Then the film shows Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus collecting the toys at the Wild and distributing them to poorer homes in different parts of the city.  The clip was shown at the December 31st, 1935, Kiwanis meeting.

The film continues through a variety of scenes.  It shows the Noblesville High School domestic sciences class preparing food that was delivered to pupils at Third Ward School.  This is followed by physical exams at Third Ward.  Then there are scenes of Forest Park playground equipment and the Kiwanis welcome sign.  Scenes filmed outside the Second Ward School lead to an 8th grade field trip to Indianapolis with shots from the top of Monument Circle and a visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  After that is a scene of a tonsillectomy at the Hamilton County Hospital.  Finally, there are shots of various Kiwanis members and it finishes with Bert Cresson himself.  The whole film is around 20 minutes long and has no sound.

The Library of Congress gave a copy of the digital transfer to the HCHS when they returned the original print.  It’s of high quality, but doesn’t correct problems that were in the original.  There are spots where the image is very dark.  The original camera was hand-cranked, so the speed of the film varies, but is usually too fast.  Now, using the transfer, the Hamilton County Historical Society would like to create a new version of the film that corrects those problems and makes this available to the public.

They have been working with Indianapolis film historian and collector Eric Grayson.  He recently finished a restoration of the 1918 film “Little Orphan Annie” which was featured in an article in the Huffington Post. Eric has made a sample video of how the film might look when it’s finished.  It’s definitely worth watching.