Everybody has their favorite movie.
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 onscreen, so did Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
The Whip originated in 1909 London as an elaborate and highly successful stage play about horse-racing that featured the era’s standard-issue firm-jawed hero, damsel in distress, and ruthless, underhanded bad guys. William A. Brady, a charismatic New York showman and boxing promoter with a colorful personal history and a reputation for flashy promotional skills, bought the rights to adapt the play to film. Brady was a mogul in early silent “photo-plays,” and the Centreville Observer called him “one of the leading theatrical producers in the country.”
Brady also knew how to use his clout to get what he wanted.
In January 1916, what he wanted was a train wreck.
The story of The Whip 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. The train wreck had been a sensational and central part of The Whip’s original stage production. It’s a huge and expensive scene to manufacture, and though Brady had the vision, even movie-makers as trailblazing as Maurice Tourneur, The Whip’s 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 to use in his filming of The Whip’s climactic train wreck.
Excitement among locals was significant. In his book, Queenstown – The Social History of a Small American Town, Dr. Harry Rhodes included an article from the 12/30/1916 issue of the Centreville Observer reporting that “Rapid fire photography” would be used and the producers planned to make the upcoming crash sequence so realistic “that future movie audiences will be imbued with the belief that they are witnessing pictures of an actual running together of powerful trains.”
1/6/1916 – the Centreville Observer:
CAMERA BATTERY FILMS REALISTIC RAILROAD WRECK NEAR QUEENSTOWN
SPEEDING EXPRESS TRAINS CRASH INTO BOX CAR
William A. Brady, Millionaire Theatrical Magnate, Directs Collision Scene for “The Whip,” Racing Melodrama to be Shown on Moving Picture Screens.
Large Crowd Sees First Filmdom Views Ever Taken on Eastern Shore.
“Under the personal direction of Wm. A Brady, a New York millionaire theatrical magnate and producer of photo-plays, the famous railroad wreck scene in The Whip, a racing melodrama filmed by the Paragon Film Co. was taken Thursday afternoon at Queenstown.”
The newspaper reported that “Under the dreary gloom of a leaden sky, the midnight scene of a thrilling incident,” was filmed “by a battery of eight cameras.” The sequence began when G.E. Eckstrom, a “well-known engineer” of the M.D. & V. Railroad, leapt from the train after sounding “a long drawn whistle blast as the swan song of locomotive engine No.4.”
Upon collision with the obsolete rolling stock purchased for the scene, “The freight carrier reared high in air, seemed almost to turn a somersault and then crumpled into a pile of splintered, shattered timbers. The rails were twisted up almost into knots and the ties were scattered to the four winds.
“Fully 500 persons saw the express train crash into a box-car…and smash it to flinders. The engine left the rails, plunged down an embankment and buried its nose in the bank beside a marshy ravine…A few minutes later after it had come puffing down the track at a speed of about 35 miles an hour, the engine lay on its side, a battered, torn and twisted heap of scrap metal from which the steam escaped in clouds with a loud hissing.”
Print advertising for The Whip promised film-goers: “Big race scenes, wonderful hunting scenes, the best train wreck and most thrilling automobile accident ever seen in pictures, startling scenes in the old Eden Musee (amusement park), filled with wax figures- all these combined with a powerful and attention-riveting story, make this the world’s biggest screen play.”
The Whip opened 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.
Dr. Harry Rhodes (1914-2014) was born at his family’s farm in Queenstown on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. A lifelong educator, Dr. Rhodes was named Queen Anne’s County’s Superintendent of Schools in 1952, the same year the Bay Bridge was completed.
Dr. Rhodes authored two books, Queenstown: The Social History of a Small American Town and the memoir Country Boy Grows Up – Harry in the Nineteen Hundreds.
An Eastern Shore bookshelf without them is incomplete.
“Parvus Urbs Ad Is Aqua”
(Little Town on the Water)
Originally known as Queen Anne’s Towne, the small waterfront village now called Queenstown was established in 1707. The British attacked here during the War of 1812, and in the early to mid-1850s, Queenstown was a Chesapeake Bay region steamboat hub, transporting both goods and passengers. Today, agriculture, seafood harvesting, and tourism are the area’s dominant economic factors.
Books by Brent Lewis are available on Amazon.com
Remembering Kent Island: Stories from the Chesapeake and A History of the Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department published by Arcadia Publishing & The History Press: