Ithaca's Trolleys used in moviemaking Nov 11, 2005 10:34:35 GMT -5
Post by Terry Harbin on Nov 11, 2005 10:34:35 GMT -5
by Anne Hodder
Ithaca's trolley days will come alive one last time at the Tompkins County Public Library (TCPL) on Nov. 12 from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. In the Borg Warner Community Room, two local trolley enthusiasts will present a slideshow of the trolley system, a documentary called Tracking the Memories, and a short video of the last surviving trolley car. TCPL staff member Terry Harbin and lifelong Ithacan John "Dawk" Stillwell are working together to tell of the public transportation system that thrived before Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit came on the scene.
Stillwell will begin the presentation with a slideshow he created with his uncle, after being inspired by Richard Kerr's 1972 book, Ithaca Street Railway Co. The two put the slide show together after researching the trolley system at the DeWitt Historical Society (now the History Center in Tompkins County) and Cornell University's Olin Library, using various archived pictures. Stillwell's interest in trolleys was sparked by stories told by his father and uncle who used to wait at the Fall Creek stop as young boys, anxious to ride and play.
Following the slideshow will be an hour-long documentary called "Tracking the Memories" that Harbin and colleague Mark Adams produced for Ithaca's centennial in 1988. Harbin's interest in trolleys grew when he met Stillwell during the production process for his extensive set of Ithaca trolley photographs. The Olin Library's collection of manuscripts and archives provided trolley footage from 1934 and, with Stillwell's pictures, Harbin put together a documentary chronicling the history.
During the presentation, Stillwell tells of the trolleys that glided on 10 miles of tracks throughout Ithaca's streets from 1887 to 1935. At 3:30 p.m., the TCAT trolley bus will be parked at the library's bus stop, and, for $2, passengers can take a half-hour tour along Ithaca's original trolley route. When the trolleys stopped running in 1935, the railway company collected the valuable engines and working parts and then sold the frames at auction. The wooden frames had tops made of sheet metal and were used as houses, storage and even chicken coops.
Trolley #56 was the last remaining intact and, in 1990, Harbin, Stillwell and a small group attempted to save it from deteriorating in the woods off of Coddington Road. This is chronicled in a 10-minute segment called "Save the Trolley," which will be shown after Harbin's documentary. The group mounted the 1924 Deluxe Birney car onto a mobile home frame to transport it to a place where it could be renovated. Before they were able to move it, however, someone dismantled the wood frame.
Through film, Harbin and Stillwell hope to bring awareness to a generation of Ithacans who might not know that such a trolley system existed. "We're saving pieces of the past for our future," Harbin said. Stillwell and Harbin will also talk about the silent movies once produced in what is now Stewart Park. The Wharton brothers created Wharton Studios and, from 1910 to the 1920s, made movies featuring Hollywood actors as well as local Ithacans as extras. Harbin has stills from one of their most famous scenes.
In 1914, Wharton Studios produced A Prince of India, which featured a trolley falling off of the Stewart Avenue Bridge. A crowd gathered to watch as the large trolley hurtled off of its tracks and smashed on the ground below. Some were alarmed, not realizing that it was faked for the movie screen. Harbin said he wants to teach the town's history to younger generations of Ithacans, as well bring the past to those who still remember.
Harbin recently met Charlotte Stahl, a 96-year-old Ithaca woman who recalls watching the trolley fall off of the Stewart Avenue Bridge at the age of 6. She provided Harbin with a photograph taken of her with her boyfriend, who later became her husband, aboard one of Ithaca's trolleys.Of all the pictures Harbin has collected since 1988, Stahl's is one of the few that features a trolley's interior. "If anyone has footage or pictures of Ithaca trolleys, I would love to see them," Harbin said.
Ithaca Times November 2005