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Thursday, 15 September 2005


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Silent Movies, Kinescope Part Of Fall Festival

Times-Herald City Editor

ALLIANCE - Dobby Lee's Fall Festival last weekend at Frontier Town on 25th Street, once again featured Greg Nelson's silent movies.

Saturday night after the day's activities were over and the sun had set, Nelson fired up the 1903 Edison projector, the Kinescope projector that his grandfather, Enon Nelson, had used to show silent movies throughout the midwest almost 100 years ago.

Last year he showed the movie "The Lonely Villa"; this year it was the eight-minute feature length movie "The Great Train Robbery," the 1904 Lubin version. Nelson said it was a remake of the Ed Porter original movie the year before that Porter had filmed for Edison in New Jersey. He noted that back then all westerns were filmed in New Jersey.

He encouraged the audi

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Photo by Rachel Gonzalez Times-Herald [ caption for photo ]

THREE-MAN OPERATION - It took all three of these men to keep Greg Nelson's, 1903 Edison Projector (Kinescope) running during the eight-minute Great Train Robbery - Lubin version at Dobby Lee's Fall Festival last Saturday night. Lower left Edward Eastman, a friend of Nelson's and a computer specialist at UNL, has the task of "framing" to keep each picture in line so that the sprocket holes do not show. He uses a screwdriver and also tries to keep the frames centered up and down as well. In the center is Nelson, who is cranking the mechanism so the film will feed from one reel to another. At the rear of the machine is Dennis Lee of Alliance, who is working to keep the carbon rods functioning correctly. When they arc it creates a bright light that then shines through the film and throws the movie onto the screen.

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ence to research the movie on the Library of Congress Web site.

Enon Nelson lived in Deuel County Nebraska near Valley and Fremont. He had worked in South America as a farm implement dealer and upon returning to the United States had used his $200 he had earned that year to buy the Kinescope. He then began his career of traveling from town to town showing his silent movies. He traveled even into Wisconsin visiting small towns and villages- People paid five cents to watch these flickering shows.

Nelson said that as a young man his grandfather told him to go up in his attic and see what he could see that was interesting. He found some old peach baskets full of mechanical equipment and, not knowing what they were, took a piece to his grandfather to identify.

They spent a quality time with each other as they pieced the projector together, all the while Enon Nelson told his grandson stories about his and his brother's travels and adventures in the movie business.

This kinescope and other early project[or]s were not very safe and many projectionists were killed or at least badly injured during the showing of silent movies. Theaters were burned during this experimental try at "moving pictures."

Simply put and probably not as accurately as Nelson described it - inside of the b[l]ack box where the light comes from are two carbon rods or sticks that are covered with copper. A spark jumps between the rods by voltage and the current makes it very bright. "It is very hot and can be dangerous," he said. "Don't try this at home, in other words," Nelson chided the audience with a laugh. "The fumes from this type of Kinescope and others that were used back then can also be dangerous."

The film is threaded through a mechanism in from of the light box and is handturned with a crank. Before the invention of this machine somehow glass slides were hand-fed through a similar machine to make pictures appear to move.

Movie pictures were invented to answer the question of whether all four feet on a horse left the ground at the same time when they were galloping. A series of cameras were set up every ten feet and as the horse and jockey passed each camera a picture was taken. In that series of pictures it showed that "yes, all feet are off the ground at the same time." Thus began moving pictures, he explained

Nelson, a native of Alliance and a 1967 graduate of Alliance High School, is the son of Marie Nelson and the late Byron Nelson. He and his wife Linda live in Lincoln and are schoolteachers.

Among his many interests are the silent movies that he shows on his kinescope, news from his hometown of Alliance, geography, history, good food, and jazz, to name only a few.

He also gathers stories about old theaters and the silent movies and music that was used in them and who the people were that played the music. He said that often there would be music scores especially written with a certain beat so the projectionist could time the cranking of the machine to the rhythm orchestra, piano or organ that was used in the theater. Two such theaters that he is attempting to gather information were the one in Alliance and the Roxie in Hemingford.

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