icon for Home page
icon for Kid's Home page
icon for Digital Collection
icon for Activities
icon for Turns Exhibit
icon for In the Classroom
icon for Chronologies
icon for My Collection

Online Collection




How 40 Actors Have Prepared New Thrills by Combining Fact and Fiction Where a Real Massacre Once Occurred.

The possibility of weaving a romance out of the thrilling events of Deerfield history, presenting as it does Indian attacks upon stockades and fortified log dwellings, and the famous Bloody Brook massacre, has appealed to the Thomas A. Edison motion picture company of New Jersey, and they began last week to produce films from the old scenes, re-enacted in the historical old town. It has taken three or four days for the series of proposed scenes to be acted and taken upon a film for motion-picture purposes. A company of over 40 people were upon the spot, half of them regular motion picture actors from Bedford park, Bronx, N. Y., where a studio of the Edison company is located, and the other half local recruits, picked up in Deerfield and neighboring Greenfield and pressed into service.

History has a strong appeal to motion picture audiences, provided it is selected carefully with a view to leaving out the dry parts and presents the high colors and hair-raising thrills. Indians with their hatchets, tomahawks, bows and arrows, war paint and feathers are just the people to turn loose upon a picture screen if you would make the audience sit up and give attention. There is for an audience, safe in opera house seats, an excruciatingly pleasant creeping sensation in watching a band of bloodthirsty savages creep warily down the distant hills closer and closer to plunge over the plains to attack the unsuspecting stockade. With no effort at imagination the spectator as he watches the realistic picture can easily suppose himself one of the victims whom the wily Indian, with cruel features and ready tomahawk, is approaching nearer and nearer to scalp. The delight of those cold chills down the back, with the assurance of safety as we grasp the arms of the theater chairs and realize that it isn't true!

The Deerfield massacre of February 29, 1704, during the French and Indian war, when a band of 200 French soldiers and 140 Indians descended upon the little settlement, slaughtered most of its inhabitants, fired its buildings and carried women and children off to Canada, presents the ideal color for a motion picture entertainment.

The real attack on Deerfield was a tragedy, as the massacre which followed the attack wiped out nearly all of the colony's leaders, but tragedy is not what a motion picture audience wants. This audience may take an uncanny pleasure in watching an abstract colonist, to whom its interest has not been particularly drawn, sink with an Indian tomahawk in his skull, or fall in the excitement of the fight as the puffs of smoke spurt out from the muskets, but the chief characters must suffer no injury. The stage director for this moving picture enactment, Frank McGlynn, who, by the way, is a clever fellow, understands this well and has prepared his story accordingly.

The "Plot".

The central figures, those well to the front of the camera at all times, are a young Puritan maiden, her old white-haired father, her soldier lover and three children with their mothers. After the fall of the stockade one particularly malicious-looking Indian shaking his tomahawk in triumph back at the burning settlement carries her off, presumably to Canada. The grief-stricken father attempts to follow, but is held back by a trapper. The children, of course, meet with no harm and the lover sets out in pursuit. He will, of course, eventually regain possession of the heroine, kill the wicked Indian in a satisfying manner, restore the girl to her loving father's arms and receive the usual reward. It is interesting to note in the carrying out of this desire to please an audience that has the two-fold longing for the smoke, action and slaughter of a realistic battle with the safety of the good people toward whom the interest has been drawn, the moving picture director has a far larger number of Indians than whites fall in the conflict. It is hard to see, on careful thought, how the defeat of the settlers would have been possible under these circumstances, but the audience in a moving picture house must be satisfied. In all the detail of movements and struggles the picture must be actual for them, but close adherence to the truth of life and history would take away all the romantic charm and leave the story without interest in their eyes. Two of the children of Rev. John Williams were murdered in this attack and his wife was killed soon after the start of the trip to Canada, but such details were not for the moving picture films.

None of the prominent historical characters stand out in this moving picture story. The real thing was too bitterly tragic for romantic portrayal in a picture theater. Benoni Stebbins, the hero of that fateful day, who with seven companions held an unfortified house for three hours against the assault of 140 Indians and 200 French soldiers, was killed when the enemy finally overcame his stubborn resistance. Because of his unfortunate death, unfortunate for him in the original attack and again unfortunate for the instigators of this second moving picture attack, he could not be taken for the hero, and the love story had to be played by entirely imaginary characters. Possibly if those original colonists and Indians had known that the modern generation would not be satisfied with history as they were making it they would have fixed up the fight differently.

The method of making these moving picture films with a background and scenery as extensive as has been used in these historical portrayals is interesting. It was an extensive task that extended throughout four or five days and cost, it is estimated, at least $2000 to complete. The setting for the approach of the Indians against the fort was upon the wooded Mount Pocumtuck hills to the east of the town. Untrodden snow, in some places four feet deep, lay over the hills and gulleys. History tells us that at the time of the real attack there was four feet of snow upon the ground, but that it had a thick crust which supported the attacking party. The attacking party Friday wallowed through the soft snow up to their knees in a realistic if not historic manner.

How the Pictures Are Taken.

A scope of at least one-half mile back over the hills was covered by the cameras, two of which were in operation. Indians, real in the minutest detail of their costumes, with faces heavily coated with paint, cheekbones made high and noses made crooked by means of a colored putty-like substance, were scattered all over the high hill after they had been given careful instructions by the director. The regular actors occupied the foreground, while the supernummeraries were in the extreme rear. At a signal of the director all started to move as prearranged, and the camera rolls were set in motion. Advancing a short distance and then dropping to the snow, darting from tree to tree they came on, scattered all over the hill from top to bottom. The professionals in front made the greatest speed, and after advancing to within 10 feet of the camera turned to the left and so passed out of the picture. Those at the extreme rear had reached about the middle of the scene of the picture, when the camera machinery was stopped. All during the action, which lasted five minutes but could have been made longer, the director using a megaphone shouted directions to those taking part, telling them to move more rapidly, to spread out more, to close in so as to keep within the lines of the picture, etc.

Almost everyone now understands the principle on which moving picture effects are based. A series of small pictures presenting the various positions assumed by the body in motion are rapidly run over the screen, producing thus the illusion of action. In getting these pictures a long strip of sensitized film a little over an inch in width is rapidly turned on a roll by the photographer, and hundreds of exposures are thus made. In five minutes about 100 feet of these tiny pictures are run past the camera lens. Judgment must be used by the photographer as to the speed with which he must turn the roll, as the effect of quicker action will be made, the slower the roll is turned. This is because by slower motion of the roll more minute details of action of those in front of the camera are obtained, and the later rapid turning of the roll when the picture is run in a theater gives the effect of quick action.

The "Fight" at the Stockade.

With the most simple scenery the stockade scene was run through. The scene called for a few feet of the palings to show above a huge snow bank, which history says drifted against the fort and up which the Indians climbed, and thus jumped down into the inclosure 12 feet below. A steep bank of untrodden snow was found, and some pasteboard palings reinforced with light wooden blocks gave the stockade. The palings were only three feet high, but when placed in the snow appeared to be the tops of stakes 12 feet high sticking above a deep snow drift. Up this the Indians scrambled and jumped over the palings, falling and crawling on their stomachs out of the focus of the camera. It is surprising to see the hard falls which these professional moving picture actors take with little concern. They think nothing of falling into deep water to get an effect. They often hang from a bridge or other elevation as high as 50 feet in the air while they are photographed. It is strenuous work, and calls for fellows who can do all sorts of outdoor stunts from riding horses in Wild West fashion to climbing and jumping trees, fences, bridges and every imaginable structure. There are many old circus hands engaged in this line of work.

In producing such a scene as was made Friday in which the settlers are seized and carried off by the Indians, and the colonial soldiers attack the enemy in a vain hope of saving them, much careful preparation is necessary. With a snow-covered field and the beautiful hills as a background the natural scenery was perfect and needed no additional mechanical devices to help produce an effect. Each of the actors in such a scene, however, must be instructed in what he is to do and at just what spot in front of the camera certain actions are to be carried out. It must be understood just which of the contestants are to fall dead and at the fire of which particular muskets. The spots where they are to fall are also selected with a view to the most picturesque effect. Every move in a struggle between two combatants is carefully prearranged. The principals are kept well to the front where their every move will be particularly emphasized and not lost in the general excitement and activity of those around them. Their actions alone tell the main romance and the interest must be centered on them by putting them to the front and detailing their actions specifically to tell the story.

In the case of a very complicated scene a rehearsal is first run through with to make sure that no mistake will be made when the picture is taken. If an important detail is omitted or a mistake made in carrying it through, it is necessary to make the whole picture over again. When so many characters are acting at once it is impossible for the human eye to follow every move, but the eye of the camera records everything that is done before it. Often some one of the actors will unwittingly make a move that will spoil the effect or make the whole scene absurd, and in the general activity of the moment the director will not note it. In such a case the error is not discovered until the film has been developed, and the picture produced upon a screen. To offset the possibility of a film that may be defective or may become fogged or damaged two cameras are used for each view.

Locomotive Delays the Battle.

Just as the battle scene mentioned was about to be started Friday the shriek of a locomotive warned the director that a delay of a few moments was necessary. The Boston and Maine railroad tracks ran along the side of the hill above, and were included within the range of the camera. It is easy for the reader to imagine the effect that would be produced in a motion picture depicting an Indian attack in the year 1704 if a modern railroad train should be discovered rushing past in the middle of the scene. Liberties enough have been taken with history but a railroad train in the middle of a battle between Indians and colonists was more than even a moving-picture artist could conscientiously depict and so the picture was held up until the scene was clear again.

All details, such as modern buildings, telegraph and telephone poles and railroad tracks, had to be taken into account and the cameras so focused that they would not present these things. The Boston and Maine tracks were not visible and the telegraph poles were hidden by trees, but the train would have been seen if the picture had been taken while it was passing. Excitement ran riot for a few moments when a well-meaning but excited recruit from Greenfield started a picture before the signal and shot his blank cartridge at a professional Indian, the wadding flying uncomfortably close to his ear. The action was immediately stopped until the necessity for shooting well over the heads of the actors had been carefully impressed upon the minds of the assistant actors from Greenfield.

Before the series of pictures being made around Deerfield has been completed there will have been some 9 or 10 scenes prepared, telling a connected story. They will require about 1000 feet of film, the average length of the film for each scene being about 100 feet. Parts of the story which are supposed to have taken place in Canada will be made with local background, as it is felt that the scenery in Canada would not differ materially from that in Massachusetts, at least not enough to make a noticeable effect in a moving picture.

Actors Are Interested.

These moving picture actors take as much pride in their creation of a big scene as the actors who carry through their parts to win the applause of an audience that is seated in front of them. They enter enthusiastically into all that they do and run through every part in a most serious, business-like fashion. So strong is their emotion at times that they will give vocal expression to the part they play, even though they know that it will not add to the effect they wish to produce. The Indians whooped aloud in triumph. In motioning their comrades to advance they shouted “Come on,” and similar expressions. When seized by the big chief the heroine screamed and begged aloud for mercy. A wounded man groaned.

Three children of the director, Frank McGlynn, the oldest five and four years respectively, were in the scene when the settlers were seized by Indians. Their father instructed them to make believe frightened, and as they were hurried by Indians before the camera lens, on their baby faces most skilful portrayal of fright was given. Every moment when the action is being run through for the camera the director is busy with his megaphone shouting directions. There is one advantage which these actors have over ordinary player folks and that is they can go to the real exhibit in the theater and see themselves act for the entertainment of the audience. They take great pleasure in sitting with the audience and watching scenes in which they have taken part reproduced.

Bloody Brook Romance to Be Acted.

Another romance of much this same character will be made later upon the Bloody Brook massacre of September 18, 1675. As this event happened in the early fall it will be necessary to wait until an exterior scene which will present leaves upon the trees and the open water of the brook can be secured. Along in the last of August or September the Edison company will go to South Deerfield and prepare a film presenting as nearly as possible the massacre of those early days, supplementing the story with imaginary characters and scenes that might have happened at that time.

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
Contact us for information about using this image.

label levels:

There is currently no available "Beginner" label. The following is the default level label: The motion picture camera, invented in 1895, was still a phenomenon when Thomas A. Edison's motion picture company came to Deerfield, Massachusetts, in March of 1910. The company used motion picture actors from New York as well as local recruits to film a reenactment of the legendary 1704 raid on the English settlement of Deerfield during Queen Anne?s War. The rapid changes in technology and population at the turn of the 20th century had led many New Englanders to a heightened interest in their Colonial history, and this "Springfield Republican" article nicely portrays how the new moving picture technology was used to retell one of Colonial Deerfield?s most dramatic events. "History has a strong appeal to motion picture audiences," the article noted, "provided it is selected carefully with a view to leaving out the dry parts and presents the high colors and hair-raising thrills." The article also illustrates the changed landscape of rural Deerfield. It notes that the cameras had to avoid details such as modern buildings and telegraph and telephone poles, and that "the shriek of a locomotive" briefly delayed filming of a battle scene to avoid catching the train that would soon appear on the Baltimore and Maine railroad tracks along a side hill. The interior scenes were filmed at the New York studio of the Edison company, and the total cost of the production, called "Ononko's Vow," was estimated by the press to exceed $2000.


top of page

"New Attack on Deerfield. By Moving Picture Red Skins."

publisher   Springfield Republican
date   Mar 13, 1910
location   Springfield, Massachusetts
height   20.5"
width   17.0"
process/materials   printed paper, ink
item type   Periodicals/Newspaper
accession #   #L98.019

Look Closer icon My Collection icon Document Image icon Detailed info icon

ecard icon Send an e-Postcard of this object

See Also...

"Pageant of Old Deerfield on the Grounds of the Allen Homestead"

"Ononko's Vow"

Edge of Settlement

button for Side by Side Viewingbutton for Glossarybutton for Printing Helpbutton for How to Read Old Documents


Home | Online Collection | Things To Do | Turns Exhibit | Classroom | Chronologies | My Collection
About This Site | Site Index | Site Search | Feedback