Bangor at War: The Movie

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Welcome to Bangor at War: The Movie. In this presentation I am going to discuss how I first learned of the movie, my preliminary search for the film, what I learned of the producer, what footage was shot, and what I think happened to the movie, which remains lost to this day.

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I first stumbled across the information about the movie, Bangor at War, while doing research about another project, which was the history of the Jewish Community Center, in Bangor, Pennsylvania, where my wife, Anna Maria and I, Brian Carroll, live. Since the Jewish Community Center was founded on May 30th, 1945, I began reading the Bangor Daily News archives in microfilm at the Bangor Library from that day forward in an attempt to learn as much as possible about the Center.

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After going to the library for a couple of weeks, I came across the June 13th article that said "Bangor movie 'Bangor at War' is completed", which really grabbed my attention. I thought, 'Wow, a movie was made here in Bangor, what's it about, did anybody know it?

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In the article it said that a copy of the movie was supposed to have been stored at the Chamber of Commerce for public viewing. Another copy was to be stored at the old Strand Theater on Broadway, which was owned by Ralph Sobelson. The Strand Theater was were the movie was initially shown.

My first call was to Laura McClain at the Chamber of Commerce. She didn't know anything about the movie. She had packed everything herself when the Chamber of Commerce moved to its present location, so she know the movie wasn't there.

I then began talking to people, such as Donald Jones, Angelo Polo and Chip Turtzo. Angelo and Chip told me they had done some initial research, as the movie had been mentioned in Homefront magazine, which was published in Bangor from 1942 to 1946. They came up with a few leads, but nothing came of them. Having come to a dead-end in my search, I decided to go back to the first of the year (1945) in the microfilm and go day-by-day to see what I could find.

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I came upon this article which is the announcement when Mr. Graham, who was the producer of the movie, presented the idea to the Chamber of Commerce. Ralph Sobelson introduced him as a film maker from New York. Two interesting things about this article are that the original name of the movie was "My Home Town"and that the total length of the movie was to be 2000 feet, which is approximately one hour. I became very excited now, as I had the name of the man who made the movie. I thought, "OK, I can find out something now."

So, I began a search on the Internet for Mr. Graham. I found two references to Shad E. Graham. Both references were from the University of Texas at Austin. Shad E. Graham had moved to Texas after World War II. When he died, a film library was established in his name, as well as a scholarship. The article said that all of his documentary films were donated to the University of Texas. "Now I'm hot on the heels of this movie", I thought. I called the library and after many talks with the archivist, they told me they didn't have any movie by this name in the collection. They said all of their movies came to the the library after 1954.

The only other reference I could find was that Shad E. Graham wrote a book about his mother. I ordered a copy of the book and the first thing I found was this picture of Shad E. Graham.

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He was born on April 24, 1896, in New York City and named Shadrack Edmond Graham

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He was the son of Broadway actor Charles Graham.

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His mother was a world-famous ballerina named Edith Craske.

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He was the nephew of the more-famous Broadway actor, Robert Graham.

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Shad came from a theatrical family and was immersed in show business from the day he was born.

He started his career as a child actor and had a bit part in Thomas Edison's movie, The Great Train Robbery. Later he was employed as a prop boy on D. W. Griffith's movie, The Birth of a Nation. However, he didn't really like acting and instead was drawn to editing and the technical aspects of film-making.

He started his own production company in New York City called Shad E. Graham Productions. At this time he had an idea to do a series of films called "Our Home Town".

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He made over 250 "Our Home Town" movies, which documented the life of small towns across the United States.

During WWII, he was a special consultant for the Office of Strategic Service.

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On the morning of April 16th, 1947, a French cargo ship called the Grandcamp was stationed at Texas City, Texas. The ship was loaded with 23 hundred tons of Ammonium Nitrate fertilizer. The ship exploded and destoyed the entire town. 600 people died and 2300 people were wounded. Shad E. Graham filmed the aftermath for Fox MovieTone News. He won an award for his film.

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This is a picture from the disaster. It is a 150-foot barge that was washed ashore by a tidal wave that was caused by the explosion.

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This picture was taken from Galveston, Texas showing Texas City in the background.

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This is a picture from the parking lot of a chemical factory that was in Texas City.

On a happier note, the town rapidly rebuilt itself and Shad E. Graham made an "Our Home Town" film of the refurbished town called "The New Texas City".

Shad Graham lived the rest of his life in Texas. In 1969, he died and all of his movies were given to the University. This leads us back to Bangor, as the movie certainly wasn't in Texas.
I felt by this time that the movie probably didn't exist anymore. I reached out to as many people as I could to no avail. I determined if I couldn't find the movie, I would at least learn as much as I could about it. Hopefully, there would be a clue that would uncover the movie's whereabouts. I resumed my review of the microfilm at the Bangor Library.

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This article is the first one announcing that a movie was to be made in Bangor. It is from May 17th, 1945. Again, the movie's name was "My Home Town" at the outset.

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We saw this article already. It was from May 18th, 1945. The interesting thing about this article is that the President of the Chamber made a special point to say that no business person was obligated to be in the film if they didn't want to appear. Also, we learn that Ralph Sobelson was the one who introduced Shad E. Graham to the Chamber.

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On May 19th, 1945, there was a high-school band concert. Pictures of the band and the audience were taken for the film.

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A wedding was also filmed. Miss Antoinette Ruggiero of Bangor and Mr. Frank DeFrank of Roseto were married on May 21st, 1945. Mr. Graham was there with his camera.

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The next article is from May 22nd. This article gives a little more detail about what they were filming in the town. We see that various street scenes were filmed, a panarama shot of the town, shots of all the churches and a performance of Father Young's Drum and Bugle Corp. There were also Boy Scout activities at Weona Park in Pen Argyl, so it really wasn't just Bangor that was filmed. It was Bangor, Pen Argyl, and Roseto.

In this article there is also a plea from Shad E. Graham to the business owners saying that the movie was approved and endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce and that he would appreciate their cooperation. He also said, "Perhaps some day you will feel very happy that you had, since 'Bangor at War' would be held on file at the Strand Theater, were it is to run in a few weeks."

The majority of the filming happened between May 22nd and June 6th.

The other very interesting thing about this article is that the name of the movie has changed. It is now called "Bangor at War". I am not sure why it was changed. My guess is that people wanted a sense that this too was part of the war effort and the film was a recognition of that. It might also have been because of the War Bond Drive that was happening at that time.

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Then we come to June 13th. The filming of the movie was now officially over and the footage was to be taken back to New York City, for processing. At the studio Mr. Graham was going to add narration and do the final editing. You will see later on that he did use the same narration for probably all 250 "Our Home Town" movies. The movies would vary in length, so he would fill in the gaps with music and then introduce each section of the movie with the canned narration track.

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On June 19th, Mr. Sobelson announces the dates when the movie would be shown. The first showing was at the Strand Theater on Wednesday, June 20th, with both an afternoon and evening show. The movie played for 6 days and rotated among Mr. Sobelson's various theaters: the Strand, the Music Hall (a former vaudeville stage), and the Roseto theater.

Normally, movies could not be shown on Sundays due to the Blue Laws in Bangor. However, Roseto had no such laws and Mr. Sobelson was shrewd enough to take advantage of it.

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On June 25th, which was the day after the last showing, the Daily News announced that "Patrons Jam Theaters to See "Bangor at War". Ralph Sobelson reported that he had to turn away about a thousand people from the movie.

Another interesting fact is that the size of the movie had also changed. The original reported size was 2000 feet. The final movie ended up being 3000 feet in length.

A special mention of Bangor Mills was also made here. Footage showing how the famous tricot cloth manufactured for the military was shown.

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This article was the 2nd response to the movie. There was a column in the newspaper called "The Day with Mrs. G. I. Joe". Here is what she wrote:

Bangor at War, I was just thinking what a kick the next generation will get out of seeing the present film entitled "Bangor at War" - the one with all the town's business and organizations. Even now it might seem mighty odd to see yourself in action unless you're used to movies, but picture the grandchildren one of these days – it will be better than looking through the family album. They'll probably be laughing at our very slow and decrepid machinery, and kill themselves over the styles. It's interesting to think about though.

I really like this article because Mrs. G. I. Joe was thinking about posterity.

This was the last article in the newspaper about the movie. At this point I felt I had exhausted all of my leads as to where the movie has gone. I personally believe that the movie doesn't exist any more, here are the reasons why I believe that.

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The first reason is that the Chamber of Commerce, who had a copy, disbanded and moved at least three times since 1945. There were also periods where the Chamber was not active for years at a time. I am sure that over the many incarnations and relocations of the Chamber, the film was probably just thrown away.

The second reason is similar to the first. I think the copy stored at the Strand was discarded after Ralph Sobelson retired and sold the building. I talked with Shirley Rubenstein, who is Ralph's daughter. She never saw the movie and said, "You know, back then they didn't think of it as history. It was just another thing."

Angelo Polo told me a story of when Ralph Sobelson sold the theater. Up in the attic there were many original movie posters that the person who bought the building tossed into a dumpster as he cleaned the attic. What would they have thought of a dusty old movie can in a box in the attic. Just another piece of junk.

The third reason why I don't think it exists anymore is that the film was made from cellulose nitrate. Production of this type of film was stopped in 1951, partially because it deteriorated rapidly if it was humid or hot. The other reason for it being discontinued is that it was extremely flammable.

Brenda Gunn, Assistant Director for Research and Collections for the Barker Texas History Center, said that when Shad E. Graham's films were given to the University in 1969, they were stored off-site. In 1990, the movies had to be removed from the off-site storage. At that time, many of the films were in such bad shape, they had to call in Environmental Services to dispose of the films because of the extreme fire danger.

Judging by the fact that many of the films they had were destroyed, it is reasonable to think that "Bangor at War", stored in the attic of the Strand Theater, or in a file cabinet at the Chamber of Commerce, wouldn't have survived much better.

This is where the my search ends. But I have a surprise for you. Thanks to the Internet, I was able to find the "My Home Town" movie for Doylestown, PA. It is a fifteen-minute movie, which you can watch by clicking the link on the next slide. Think about the fact that the narration and music is the same for all of these movies. Use your imagination and pretend that is what Bangor might have looked like in 1945.

Before watching the movie, I want to relate a story told in Shad E. Graham's obituary. He made a "My Home Town" movie for a city in Texas called Bay City. After everyone watched it, they decided to go on a crusade to make the town actually look like it did in the movie.

That is it for my talk. Click the link on the next slide for the "Our Home Town" of Doylestown. For more information about other points covered in this presentation, see the appendix.

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Credit and Thanks

Click the paper clip icon at the bottom of the screen to access the websites mentioned below.

Special thanks to Brenda Gunn at the University of Texas at Austin and Steve Pandanell for use of the photos of the Texas City Disaster. Be sure to check out Steve’s website.