The waterfront village of Queenstown, Maryland, established in 1707 and originally called Queen Anne’s Towne, is located off the Chester River, about 10 miles from the eastern terminus of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. In the 1800s, Queenstown was an important steamboat and railroad hub, transporting both goods and passengers to and from the area. In the first decades of the 20th Century, the population of Queenstown proper remained consistently around 275. Even now, with the ever-encroaching sprawl of the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area, today there are still fewer than 700 in-town residents.
In 1917, thanks to a colorful character named William A. Brady, big time movie-making first came to both this “Little Town on the Water” and the Chesapeake Bay’s Eastern Shore.
The Centreville Observer, January 6, 1917:
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.
William Aloysius Brady (1863-1950) was a charismatic showman with an only-in-America backstory and a reputation for flashy promotional skills. Brady owned the rights to The Whip, a standard-issue melodrama that featured the era’s stereotypical firm-jawed hero, damsel in distress, and mustache-twirling bad guys. Originating in London as an elaborate and successful stage play, The Whip’s story centers on the villains’ efforts to keep the racehorse title character out of an important competition. In a last ditch effort they sabotage a locomotive, causing it to smash into a boxcar they believe is transporting the horse.
To get the sequence on film, Brady arranged for the use of an abandoned section of track that ran from the Queen Anne’s County seat of Centreville to the Queenstown pier. He then purchased an out-of-commission steam engine and some other cars, including a couple passenger coaches. More than 500 spectators showed up “under the dreary gloom of a leaden sky” to watch the filming of the sequence that started with the engine puffing down the track and ended in a spectacular collision never before seen on film.
The Whip premiered at the Centreville Opera House in September 1917. Its initial run was extended when hundreds of curious hometown moviegoers showed up to see the Eastern Shore’s inaugural onscreen appearance.
And this was just the beginning of filmdom’s love affair with the Chesapeake Bay’s Eastern Shore.
Read more about The Whip and other Eastern Shore-based productions like 1928’s The First Kiss and 1999’s Runaway Bride in my upcoming book STARDUST BY THE BUSHEL: HOLLYWOOD ON THE CHESAPEAKE BAY’S EASTERN SHORE.
Please join me at Kent Island’s awesome Cult Classic Brewery from 6-8 pm on Thursday, December 2nd to celebrate the publication of STARDUST BY THE BUSHEL: HOLLYWOOD ON THE CHESAPEAKE BAY’S EASTERN SHORE. There will be smiling familiar faces to say hi to, copies of STARDUST available for sale and signing, plus great food and special theme drinks available for purchase too! Also beer. Wonderful, wonderful beer.
STARDUST BY THE BUSHEL: HOLLYWOOD ON THE EASTERN SHORE is currently available online at: https://secantpublishing.com/products/stardust-by-the-bushel
Photographs courtesy of Yvonne Quimby