Everybody has their favorite movies. Some people love lowbrow slapstick comedies, while others prefer exquisitely presented Oscar-bait tearjerkers. Action flicks might be their cup of high-octane tea, or maybe they prefer to shiver through horror movies, sing along with musicals, or swoon over iconic romances from yesterday and today. No matter what kind of movie fan a person might be, there’s one kind of movie almost everybody enjoys.
The kind filmed in their backyard.
1917 was a banner year for the movie business. Not only did Buster Keaton, Technicolor, and full-length animated features debut, but so did Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Headlines in the January 6 Centreville Observer read: “William A. Brady, Millionaire Theatrical Magnate Directs Collision Scene for “The Whip”… Large Crowd Sees First Filmdom Views Ever Taken on the Eastern Shore.”
William A. Brady was a charismatic showman with a colorful personal history and a reputation for flashy promotional skills. The Observer called him “one of the leading theatrical producers in the country” and he managed talent that included heavyweight boxing champions. Brady was a mogul in early silent “photo-plays” and knew how to used his clout to get whatever he wanted.
What he wanted was a train wreck. Brady owned the rights to The Whip, a horse-racing melodrama that featured that era’s standard-issue firm-jawed hero, damsel in distress, and ruthless, underhanded bad guys.
The story centers on the villains’ efforts to keep the equine title character off the racetrack. In a last ditch effort they sabotage an express train, causing it to smash into a boxcar they believe is transporting the horse. It’s a huge and expensive scene to manufacture, and though Brady had the vision, even moviemakers as trailblazing as Maurice Tourneur, The Whip’s true director, hadn’t yet figured out how to fake all of life, all of imagination.
Brady flexed his considerable capital, influence, and charm to arrange the use of an old Maryland, Delaware and Virginia Railroad spur track that ran from the Centreville Junction to the Queenstown Pier. Then he purchased a relic steam engine and some other obsolete rolling stock, including a couple passenger coaches.
More than 500 spectators showed up to watch the filming of the spectacular action sequence that started with the unmanned train “puffing down the track at about 35 miles an hour” and ended shortly thereafter with “a battered, torn and twisted heap of scrap metal from which steam escaped in clouds with a loud hissing.”
The Whip premiered at the Centreville Opera House in September, 1917. Its run was extended when hundreds of curious hometown moviegoers showed up to see the Eastern Shore’s inaugural onscreen appearance.
Turns out we’re big fans of us.