Old 1917 World Series Footage Found

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A bizarre story about film maker Bill Morrison finding old Chicago Black Sox footage of the 1917 World Series. Its a great read. Written by Richard Sandomir of The New York Times.

The filmmaker Bill Morrison is making a habit of locating nearly century-old baseball footage.

Last January, he found newsreels from the 1919 World Series, which is known mainly for the banishment of eight Chicago White Sox players for conspiring to fix it.

Five months after that discovery — and the publicity that came after it was publicly screened — Morrison was back at the Library and Archives Canada in Gatineau, Quebec, where he learned that its archive held newsreels from the 1917 World Series, won by the White Sox in six games over the New York Giants.

“It seemed almost karmic that I should find the winners after publicizing the cheaters,” Morrison said Tuesday during a telephone interview.

Morrison, a White Sox fan, hoped his team would meet the Giants in this year’s World Series. With a 73-89 record, it finished far out of the running. But the Giants, who long ago moved from the Polo Grounds to San Francisco, made it as a wild card and were leading the Kansas City Royals by three games to two entering Tuesday night’s Game 6.

The original archive that both World Series newsreels came from is a unique source, even by the standards of long-lost sports film found in canisters hidden in boxes in attics, wine cellars and garages.

They came from Dawson City, a small town in Canada’s Yukon Territory, south of the Arctic Circle. “Films would come up there and it was too expensive to send them back,” Morrison said. “Everyone understood they were nitrate and were dangerous; some got thrown in the river, some got burned, and some ended up in the local library.”

The hundreds of features, newsreels and short subjects that survived were buried in a local pool in 1929 as part of the landfill for a hockey rink. The Yukon News reported in 2013 that in subsequent years, bits of film would rise up through the ice. Finally, in 1978, the trove of films from the time before talkies was unearthed when the land was needed to build a recreation center.

Thanks to the permafrost in Dawson City, the films were preserved in conditions far better than, say, a dank basement.

The films were subsequently moved to the Gatineau archive and restored — and Morrison seems to have been lucky or diligent enough to notice that the World Series newsreels were part of the archive.

“Anyone could have found it,” said Morrison. “Why it sat there for so long, I don’t know.”

Morrison is working on a documentary about the Yukon film story that he expects to release next year. He is previewing some of what he has discovered in the Dawson City archives as part of a program Saturday called “Visions of New York,” which is being presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the Academy Theater at Lighthouse Guild on East 59th Street.

The world was at war during the 1917 World Series, and one of the title cards from the Universal Animated Weekly newsreel suggested that the White Sox and the Giants were struggling for something more meaningful than a baseball championship. “In death grapple for world supremacy,” it said, “Giants and White Sox make baseball history in desperate battles of World Series.”

The footage is in two segments. The first includes snippets from Games 1 and 2 at Comiskey Park, which was draped in postseason bunting. Players milled outside their dugouts. Giants Manager John McGraw and White Sox Manager Pants Rowland met with the umpires. Some of the action — shot from faraway angles long before Fox’s cameras could show lint on a pitcher’s nose — showed moments like the Giants’ Walter Holke being picked off first base and the White Sox’ Happy Felsch rounding the bases after a home run.

The second segment is a series of “close-ups” of Giants filmed at the Polo Grounds. McGraw looked grimly at the camera and doffed his cap. Pitcher Ferdie Schupp was described on-screen as “the best twirler in the game;” right fielder Dave Robertson was said to “cover as much territory as a three-ring circus;” and the multisport star Jim Thorpe was introduced as the “Indian all-’round world champ.”

Thorpe was in the starting lineup in right field for Game 5, but McGraw removed him in the first inning for a pinch-hitter.

Tom Shieber, senior curator of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, who watched one of the newsreels, said by email: “It’s really cool. And thank goodness Dawson City was even cooler.”

Although the unearthed newsreels do not uncover anything unknown to baseball historians, they show the White Sox before the Black Sox scandal erupted after the 1919 Series.

All eight of the players barred by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis played in the 1917 Series, and three are clearly seen in one of the newsreels. Besides showing Felsch’s home run (called “fatal” in the film), the newsreel introduced pitcher Eddie Cicotte as “Chicago’s pitching idol” and noted that Shoeless Joe Jackson’s defensive skills were such that “no catch seems hard or impossible to him.”

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