COBWEB CORNERS: The early days of moving pictures

By Mel McFarland

       Our entertainment systems change almost daily. Barely 100 years ago, movies were just making audiences gasp. It is hard to imagine the difference between what amuses us today with 1905. Movies were big news then, and believe it or not, Colorado was an early hot spot in the film business. A number of photographers followed the development of early cameras, but few had any great ideas about what to do with them. Up in Denver, a photographer by the name of Harry Buckwalter was doing a pretty good business selling pictures of our scenery to the tourists. He did photography for most of the major tourist businesses in the state. The railroads were about the largest customers. Kodak was still working on making cameras for the average person. A moving picture, even without color, was real enchantment.
       Occasionally a traveling entertainer might put on a slide show. These were big glass sheets, often shown in churches; many places did not have anything like an opera house. Buckwalter bought one of the area's first movie cameras and projectors. He went out and tried it out on things in the area that moved. He had short films of animals grazing, streams, even clouds moving across the sky. He shot films of cowboys, Indians and trains.
       In the south end of Colorado Springs, near Cheyenne Canyon, there was a big amusement park. They had an area where lecturers often spoke. He convinced the owners of the park to let him install a big screen where he would show his films in the evening. The first couple of nights, only a few showed up. However, once the word got around, the space was packed with people. It became a problem for Mr. Buckwalter, as people came night after night and they wanted to see different things. He took suggestions from the audience, and sent out crews to photograph more things. Examples were the Pike's Peak train, mines in Cripple Creek, farms near Fountain, the Garden of the Gods and Seven Falls. Soon he was showing these all over the state and, later, all over the country.
       Unfortunately, the film back then did not last. It got dry and brittle, breaking up into dust. Hardly anything survives today of those first films. There are rumors of a few that were saved, but you could not get them on video or DVD, even today.