Thursday, September 21, 2006

Spring 2006 Volume 2 Number 1

In this issue: Converting disaster to environmental progress

The First Nature Movies: Studio of the Three Arrows

Things that will be happening

Acquire a piece of history

You can purchase a remastered copy of the original of this picture. For information contact us at:

The Centennial of the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire

Converting disaster to environmental progress

That anniversary of the Quake and Fire that completely changed San Francisco passed last April 18th with parties and commemorations. Ancient survivors of the event, delighted to be lifted from lives of obscurity, waxed eloquent in the spotlight. However, although the reasons that the Quake and subsequent Fire are now well known and documented very little was said about those root causes.

For Arthur C. Pillsbury the Earthquake and its aftermath was life changing.

The morning of April 18th was a memorable one. The earth quake shook me out of bed. It did some light damage to the house. I grabbed my cameras and started for San Francisco. Fortunately I had saved my press badge when I left the Examiner and knowing all the police in the city I could go everywhere. That Wednesday I covered the entire city, making 5 X 7 Graflex views and panoramas of the burning city. ”

On that first day Pillsbury shot over 70 snap shots and two panoramas, one from the top of the Merchants Exchange Building covering the wholesale section just at noon, and one from the top of the St. Francis Hotel showing almost the entire city in flames.

It was these photos that went out to newspapers all over the world because the destructive might of the Earthquake and Fire had shattered the other facilities that photographers used to develop their film. At the Pillsbury home in Oakland there was running water. Faced with the problem of continuing supplies, Pillsbury sent buyers out to towns as far as 500 miles away to meet the demand for the images. Over the next weeks prints from a single negative of one of the panoramas taken that first day would bring in from $500.00 to $700.00 a day. The photos would also appear in the new San Francisco Magazine, the lay out of images catching the despair and desolation coming on the heels of the erupting inferno.

The panorama negatives measured 44 inches in length and could be blown up to lengths greater than nine feet, showing incredible detail.

At the end of the first day, Pillsbury left his panorama camera, a large and unwieldy mechanism, in the cloak room of the St. Francis Hotel and that night and it was consumed along with the hotel. The film had gone with him, tucked in the pocket of his jacket. The shots taken with the Graflax camera included a shot of the Palace and Grand Hotels coming down, drenched in flame, caught as it seemed to dissolve before your eyes. He reported in his autobiography that the heat was so intense that while taking the picture it scorched the lens making the balsum run and so spoiling the photo. The bellows soon dropped to pieces, he said.

Included in the hundreds of images made by Pillsbury over the next few weeks were scenes filled with destruction, shock, and courage, showing the City as it continued to burn and the people as they struggled to survive and then began the long, slow, painful process of rebuilding. While taking photos and following the course of the struggle to stop the fire Pillsbury also found time to ensure that friends and acquaintances were safe. Some he sent on to his home in Oakland, where many camped out for weeks afterwards. Among these was the woman he would marry. Dragging the single trunk they had been able to save from her home in San Francisco to the ferry proved to be a one way trip for the lady. The two were married six weeks later in a small ceremony attended by both families from several parts of California.

While San Francisco survived many residents did not; some families were never reunited and never learned the fate of their loved ones. Ranging all over the City, and never far from the most intense action, Pillsbury saw acts of violence perpetrated by the military brought in to provide security. He was the incompetence of those entrusted to use dynamite to create fire breaks, instead spreading the conflagration. Those hours impacted everyone who lived through them; each carried away with them into the remainder of their lives lessons learned about human nature and the nature of the universe.

Life had taught a lesson; what we believe is solid and to be relied on can change in the blink of a moment. For Arthur C. Pillsbury it had been a real learning experience.

The First Nature Movies: Studio of the Three Arrows

Arthur C. Pillsbury had begun showing nature films, the first ever made, in 1909, advertising them on post cards then given away at such locations as El Portal. Those first films showed the wonders of Yosemite, and the wind moving through the seas of grasses that filled the meadows with Half Dome and Yosemite's other wonders in the background.

The films serves as the visual aids for the narrative Pillsbury provided. He had long been fascinated by the whole of nature. As a young boy growing up in Auburn, California, he had raised exotic chickens, cross breeding them and keeping charts on the resulting off spring while selling eggs and breeding stock to friends and neighbors. The family had come to Auburn from Brooklyn, New York, where they had lived while Arthur's mother, Harriet Foster Pillsbury, completed her education as a physician at the Women's Infirmary in what is not the Village.

Before that they had lived first in Medford, MA where Arthur was born, the last of four children, and second son. It was in the fields around Medford and during the family's trips to the Old Homestead in Sandown, New Hampshire, that Arthur first began studying botany when he was very young.

The Old Homestead had stood at the edge of Sandown since the towns inception in 1756. Benjamin Pillsbury had been born in Amesbury, MA, eldest son to Caleb Pillsbury and chosen to set off for what was then the wilderness. The Pillsbury Homestead included a lake, known now as Angle Pond but then as the Angly to the family. Here, in the old white house raised by Benjamin, Arthur ranged over the Angly and studied the plants native to the area. The old house was full of books by early naturalists that had been used by generations of the family. So the wild flowers of Yosemite became another page in his life long love of nature, so sharing that knowledge with others came naturally to him.

He understood that most people were not blessed with a family who took such knowledge for granted extended and so the lectures on the world of nature found in Yosemite combined his own interests; nature and making a living in a place that had fascinated him since his first trip there in 1895.

Each year more films were added to his library so that the same films need not be shown but could be varied.

Soon after his purchase of the Studio of the Three Arrows Pillsbury noticed something. The meadows were changing. At that point in time the meadows were being mowed to provide fodder for the horses oforthe Cavalry, who were still in Yosemite as its caretakers and stewards.

Each year Pillsbury noticed that the number of species of flowers in those meadows was diminishing. If Muir had been focusing on the issue of the preservation of these fragile life forms he would have begun a petition campaign to Congress. But Muir was then completely focused on stopping the building of a dam in the Hetch Hetchy. The wild flowers had no protector. So Pillsbury undertook to let the wild flowers speak for themselves.

In 1912 he invented the first lapse-time motion picture camera calibrated to show the dance of a wild flower as it raises its head to the sun. He first showed this to those in charge of the cutting. The cutting stopped without a single petition being signed. Then the Studio of the Three Arrows airy porch became the first theater in the world where the public would see wild flowers in their own time and at their own speed.

The Studio of the Three Arrows was located in front of the Yosemite Chapel and slightly towards Sentinel Bridge until 1924 when Pillsbury moved to the new location now known as Yosemite Village.

Upcoming Events:

Thanks to Marilynn Guske for her sharing of Pillsbury postcards!

Thanks to The summer newsletter will include the article on Florance, the great-aunt of Kathy Stewart. Florance taught in Alhambra, CA and knew the Pillsburys at Berkeley where she went to school in the 19teens.

Thanks to Jeanette Hyden for the story of "THE ROAD WINDS OUT INTO THE SUNSHINE" photograph that has been in her family for so long and to her daughter for photographing it so that we could see the jpeg.

Please continue to send in your stories about your Pillsbury Photo Experiences!

Melinda Pillsbury-Foster

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