Coming Attraction: Birth of a Nation, 1915
|Why It's Interesting|
D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915) was the first great feature film shot in America and remains immensely powerful and controversial. [It stimulated the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan.] I first saw it in the auditorium of the Museum of Modern Art during the late ’70s, and its imagery was so powerful that it made you overlook its ferocious and disgusting racism in the heat of the moment. The ride of the Ku Klux Klan “to the rescue” was the antecedent for every cavalry charge, etc. seen later.
This page appear in the October 22, 1915 program of the Brattleboro VT Opera House [part of the Fox-Eaton Vaudeville Circuit.] That theater was still a live-show forum; its current play was the musical High Jinks, by Friml and Hauerbach. Birth of a Nation would probably be that theater’s first motion picture, as it was for many “legitimate” houses. In fact, Birth of a Nation was the film that first broke into the vast middle-class market. Previously movies served poor, urban audiences, in many cases immigrants whose lack of English was no handicap with silent film.
Brattleboro VT was as far removed from the South [and African-American populations] as a city could be, but its staff saw no problem with the film’s racism–even though this was already a subject of national debate. Or was this page simply written by the film distributor for use by every theater that booked it. I WOULD LIKE TO HEAR FROM ANYONE WHO HAS SEEN THIS TEXT/AD IN ANOTHER PUBLICATION.
This website seeks to encourage researchers and collectors to discover and study obscure ephemera that document American culture and life. Worldcat reveals that most of the items that I post cannot be found in more than a few research libraries–often none at all. Alternately, research libraries do not bother to catalog ephemeral publications like these. I believe, however, that because these were distributed free, or at nominal cost, to consumers, they were the publications most likely to make their way into homes and be read by large numbers of Americans.
I acquire pre-1960 examples of the kinds of publications that prove so useful when scholars study 19th-Century America. The limited competition that I encounter for them suggests that libraries, which could easily outbid me, have little interest in post-Civil War and 20th-century ephemeral publications in general.
I try to anticipate what materials future historians will find useful. Being an historian first and a collector second, I organized this website to encourage others to do this too—even if this means new competition for me. I am aware that I could be wrong in prizing particular ephemera or even whole classes of ephemera. I may even be wrong to encourage scholars to study obscure ephemeral publications; these may be obscure for good reason.
Ephemerastudies.org will permit me to share with others the information and imagery that I am acquiring, and to benefit from the knowledge, intelligence and experience of other scholars and collectors. Please contact me with your impressions of the site.