Historical society screens 1936 film


The Appalachian Online

Sammy Hanf

The Watauga County Historical Society screened a film of Boone shot in 1936 by the late H. Lee Waters to a crowd of about 50 people last Wednesday.

Residents of Boone were invited to share names and other relevant info about those displayed in the film.

Eric Plaag, founder of Carolina Historical Consulting, said that Waters used to travel around the region with a video camera and film the residents of the towns he stopped at.

He would then edit the stock and take it to the local theater where he would show it before the feature for a cut of the ticket sales.

With film being relatively novel at the time, people would be excited to see themselves on the silver screen. Especially in Boone, which Plaag said had very likely never been filmed before.

“To my knowledge this is the earliest motion picture footage of downtown Boone,” Plaag said.

The footage is publicly available as part of the Duke University library and can be viewed on Youtube.

Plaag said he decided to host the event because he often found people coming up to him and saying they recognized people in the video but couldn’t describe them beyond “that guy in the hat.”

Plaag said he sifted through all the footage to get screenshots of as many people displayed in the film as he could. Some had to be omitted because of problems with the footage, which is not quite as pristine as it was in 1936.

Residents enjoyed seeing past acquaintances and chuckled nostalgically at the bemused faces of the black and white townsfolk.

Catherine Bare, secretary of the Watauga Historical Society, said that she was excited when names for people that she had forgotten were called out, jogging her memory and bringing them back for her.

Besides the people shown, citizens recognized old landmarks and childhood haunts.

“That hill looks exactly like the one I romped on,” Libbi Trivett said.

Over the course of the evening, a former mayor, an undertaker, and a future admiral were all discovered by the crowd, which were recorded by the Historical Society along with a credit for the person responsible for the identification.

After spending so much time with the footage, Plaag said he started getting fixated on certain faces that he really wanted to fill in a story for. Particularly a character with a cigar cocked in his smile, walking down the courthouse steps, and a man with a conspicuous bandage.

The Watauga County Historical Society is also working with the library to digitize any records that could be of historical significance to the area and encourages locals to donate anything that could be relevant.

Plaag said anything collected in this way will only be available for viewing and reproducing anything provided requires the permission of the owner.

Plaag said that projects like this are important in preserving local histories that might otherwise go unremembered.

“I’ve watched communities lose their history because they don’t do something like this,” Plaag said.