UW News

June 3, 2010

Bits of history: Lost & Found Film series a success, thanks to readers, colleagues

Did you know:

  • That UW scientists once sprayed young salmon with fluorescent dye particles to track them as they made their way from a creek to a larger body of water.
  • That researchers from the Psychology Department once undertook an experiment on trash at Woodland Park Zoo.
  • That an obstetrician and professor at the University made instructional films, but also once did photography for a short film of the Opening Day Regatta.

That’s just a little bit of what Film Archivist Hannah Palin has learned from the Lost & Found Film Series on University Week over the last year. Lost & Found Films are “orphan films” from the UW Libraries collection — films that were made between the late 1940s and the early 1970s and have some connection to the University, but no one really knows why they were made or how they were used. So, Palin figured, why not put them out there and see what she could find out? She supplied the film clips and what little information the libraries’ had about them, and University Week staff posted them to our site.

The results have been gratifying. Consider those salmon, for example. Palin had long joked about the film in which fish appeared to be spray painted green. She knew that some scientific experiment must be going on, but didn’t know what it might be. When the film, Big Beef Creek, showed up on UWeek, she got explanatory information from Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.

Readers also identified the location of the trash experiment, though not its purpose. And as for the obstetrician, he’s Charles Stipp and he was identified as a photographer in the Opening Day Regatta film.

When the film appeared, Stipp called Palin. “He told me he’d made hundreds of instructional films,” Palin said “He said the regatta film was just a sideline. When funding starts flowing again I want to go and search for his films to see if we can bring them to the forefront. If there’s a Charles Stipp collection, we need to get it out there.”

Stipp isn’t the only one who went beyond our comments field and called Palin. Art Professor Edward Praczukowski, who was featured in one of the films talking about his art, also talked to her.

“We had a really nice conversation and I found out that he’s retired but is still painting, and also that he had worked with another professor at the time — Bill Ritchie — who is into video art and printmaking. So I had conversations with Bill as well,” Palin said. “Then I went down to our storage area in Special Collections and was looking at this range of videotapes that I really hadn’t had time to look at and I realized that there was all of Bill Ritchie’s work.

“There was this film that they both had worked on that they considered lost, although Bill had a copy in a format that’s really hard to access. We had it, so I was able to make a copy of ours and give it to them and also put it up online in the libraries’ Digital Media Collection.”

That’s where all the information Palin gathers will eventually go. What that means is that library patrons will be able to call up each film online, view a clip and read the information the libraries have about it.

Which, in the end, is what it’s all about for Palin. “These films and videotapes contain American history and regional history and local history in a way that’s so different from a piece of paper or a photograph,” she said. “It’s part of the way that, in the last century, we’ve started to tell our story. And it’s just as vital and just as important as any other documentation of our history.”

The UWeek project has been so helpful to Palin’s efforts that she presented it to a regional gathering of archivists to show them a new way to “engage the community in film collections.” And she hopes to show the films to other groups, such as UW alumni. She already plans to include some of them in the annual Home Movie Day, slated for Oct. 16.

All the films in the UWeek series are still available online, and Palin welcomes further information about any of them:

Penguin features that rare sight, a penguin on a treadmill.

Mission Impractical is, of course, a takeoff on the old TV show Mission Impossible.

House My People is all about the construction of a home.

Big Beef Creek features the famous salmon getting sprayed with fluorescent dye particles.

Public Opinion Laboratory offers a kaleidoscope of images, from glass blowing to a home economics demonstration of how to cook pork roast to a cat sitting in a glass box.

Trash is that psychology experiment at Woodland Park Zoo.

Salmon Research features men on a boat with sound recording equipment.

A Place in Space is the film that featured Art Professor Edward Praczukowski talking about his work.

Recliner on Wheels is not about a convenience for couch potatoes, but a wheelchair that reclines.

Fern Lake has to with a study of mineral cycling throughout an entire watershed.

Arson features men at the scene of a fire looking at a doorway and a burnt handkerchief on the living room rug.

Noise Pollution shows a study that has to do with trucks on the highway.

Chapple is a series of still photos showing an orchestra conductor at work.

Neah Bay shows students at work in a classroom at Neah Bay.

Moon Mapping is about selenography, the study of the surface and physical features of the moon.

Duwamish takes us back to salmon research, this time a look at the fish’s physiology.

Ceramic features a man in a lab coat, a skeleton and a kiln.

Cedar Rivershows researchers taking samples from the river and operating various measuring systems.

Prisoner Release centers around a particular student — going to class, speaking in a class and jogging.

Planting Ivy features David Thomson, the University president for whom Thomson Hall is named, in a convertible.

Moire Pattern has a shirtless man seated in a chair while his chest is covered with several substances.

Union Bay Village shows us life in a student residential area in the late 1940s or early 1950s.

Pack Forest gives us a depiction of activities at the UW’s research forest in 1949.

Homecoming takes us back to 1957, and the decorations on Greek houses for homecoming.

Computer Center features a computer that fills a room and shows a man loading magnetic tape.

This Is Your Life isn’t about the old TV show, but it does contain some ads — including one for Pfffft


Opening Day Regatta is all about the Seattle Yacht Club and its opening day activities.

ASUW Elections shows us that elections were considerably livelier in 1951, involving marching in kilts and floating on the pond.

Sieg Hall shows some men touring the construction site when the hall was being built.

Crew Practices depicts activities of the 1948 crew team, some of whom went on to win Olympic gold.

Blue Glacier shows a research site on Mount Olympus in 1967 that is still in operation today

Malburg exposes corruption in the fictional Malburg, home of “big churches and easy virtue.”

Octopus shows the eight-legged creature being captured at Friday Harbor circa 1949.

New Ivy for Denny features many shots of a diorama at the Museum of History and Industry before we get to Denny Hall.