Last fall on a late September morning, I set out bright and early for an estate sale with one particular item in mind. Browsing through the listing on estatesales.net earlier that week, I'd spotted them sitting on a shelf.
It was 3 boxes of vintage home movies (on the middle shelf next to the projector). Most people think I'm crazy when I tell them I collect other people's home movies, but I see them as glimpses into the past and even go as far as to call them history that hasn't been preserved anywhere else.
The sale was in St. Louis Hills and numbers were available at 8 am. It promised to be a very good sale with a lot of good items, so I set out at 6:30 a.m. knowing crowds tended to gather early at these. Expecting to be the first in line for the number handout, I was met with this:
Instead, I was about twentieth in line. After waiting almost an hour for the line number (23), I had another hour to wait until the sale began.
My favorite donut shop in St. Louis, Donut Drive-in, just happened to be down the block, so I wandered over there for a cup of coffee. There's nowhere to sit there, so I walked over to the St. Louis Bread Company which is next door and found most of the crowd had also gathered there.
After finishing my coffee, I headed back to the sale where the crowd had grown even bigger. As 9 o'clock neared, one of the workers announced they would only be letting in the first 20 people inside. Argh!
I just knew one of those first 20 in would grab those movies as I waited impatiently. The other problem was I had no idea where the movies were. It was a two-story house with a basement. And, though I might be a little paranoid, I didn't want to walk in and ask out loud, "Where are the movies", afraid I might tip someone off. After about 5 minutes, they let a few more people inside including myself and my search began. The house was small and there were lots of tables set up, making it a tight squeeze through a maze of people. Based on a few of the pictures showing sloped ceilings, it appeared the films might be in an attic room, so I thought my best bet was heading upstairs.
It was even tighter (and hotter!) upstairs than downstairs and I basically had to follow a line of people winding slowly through the rooms. I watched as items I would have grabbed (including that plastic blow-mold Jack-O-Lantern seen in the first picture above) were snatched right before me. By that point, I could see the movies. One man lingered there for quite a while and I couldn't move into the corner. He looked over the movies and didn't seem interested and as soon as he moved aside, I pounced. They were finally in my hands. Priced at $15 per case, it wasn't a steal, but I decided to grab all of them. Each of the cases contained about 10 6" reels and together weighed around 10 lbs and were extremely bulky. After dragging them around that hot attic, I was drenched in sweat and my arm was getting sore. But I stuck it out and searched the rest of the house for about 45 minutes picking up quite a few other items.
Outside in the fresh air, a friend who had met me there and I took a quick look through the titles on the 8mm films. Most of the film reel cases were unmarked, but I saw a few with such things as "Florida Vacation", "Circus", and "Baseball" written on them.
At home, I began going through the films with my manual Baia film editor (also found at an estate sale). The films were done very well, with title cards in the films and with clear, focused, steady shots. Picking the "Circus" labeled movie and threading into my viewer, I was excited from the opened shot. It was the old St. Louis Arena (torn down in 1999) with a marquee boasting "Police Circus". The St. Louis Police Circus was an annual event that began in the early 1900's and was to "provide benefits to the sick and disabled members of the police force and assist widows and orphans of deceased officers."
The film features acts you would expect in a circus such as a bear taming act, highwire acts, and acrobats. But several minutes into the film, I saw 3 recognizable characters come out: Moe, Larry and (by this time) Curly Joe Derita. Possibly promoting their latest movie "Snow White and the 3 Stooges" or just trying to make any buck they could, the boys stand around (silently, unfortunately, as the films have no sound) and perform a few antics. From April of 1961, here's The Police Circus in St. Louis, Missouri (if below doesn't work, click on the YouTube logo to watch from there or follow this link.
I'm still working on my transfer technique. I don't have anything fancy, just a simply transfer box, a dual 8 projector with adjustable shutter speed and a video camera. If I had the money, I'd buy this.
You might be wondering what was on the other films. All I'll say are there are a few more treasures in there. Those will have to wait for a future post.