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Celebrating A Cinematic Heritage

Celebrating A Cinematic Heritage

I don’t know of another town in the United States that celebrates its link to movie history quite like Niles, California. Last year I wrote about my long-delayed introductory visit to the Niles Essanay Silent Film History Museum (to read it and see my photos, click HERE). This year I made a return visit with my wife and some friends and enjoyed the experience all over again, thanks to the good folks who run the nickelodeon-turned-museum.

I also saw something that was still in the works last summer, a lovely public park that features six Zoetropes of various sizes! They’re all fun to try, and one pays tribute to Niles’ most famous artist, Charlie Chaplin, who—

—made films there in 1915. You can also admire a vintage train and depot while you’re at it.

Inside the museum, Sprague Anderson, who collects, restores, and actually uses vintage movie cameras, showed me one impressive model that has built-in iris-out capability and a variety of “mattes” to simplify the process of multiple exposure. What they didn’t think of in the silent days!

The next time you visit San Francisco, do yourself a favor and schedule a visit to the Niles Essanay Silent Film History Museum, especially on a weekend when they screen vintage movies for an appreciative audience. And be sure to allow time to browse through the gift shop; I promise you won’t leave empty-handed. (There’s a bumper sticker that reads: “Films have the right to remain Silent!”) For more info, go to

A long-shot of the park and train depot, directly opposite the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.

Here’s a beautiful hand-cranked Mitchell Standard camera from 1928—and it still works!

Look carefully inside the lens: the iris is partly shut, as when a shot would “iris out” in a silent movie.

Look again: the iris is closed even further.

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