DETROIT LAKES – A Florida stranger is behind the Becker County Historical Society and Museum’s
recent release of local 1920s video footage.
The identity of this stranger may never be known, but Becky Mitchell, the museum’s executive director, believes they got the call from this generous man some 16 years ago. He was shopping at a thrift store in the Sunshine State when he came across a can of 16 millimeter film – a type of film introduced in 1923 that was commonly used for home movies and low-budget films.
The man offered to donate it to the museum, in the hope that the images could be preserved and become part of the local historical archive.
More than a decade and a half later, that hope is coming true.
Thanks to another donation – a recent donation of a projector – the museum now has a way to view the century-old images. Kevin Mitchell and Jack Davis, the museum’s archivist and volunteer film expert, respectively follow the long and precise process of preserving the film by transferring it to digital format.
There are a total of 24 movies in all, Becky Mitchell said, and not all of them are about Becker County — some are about the World’s Fair, moose hunting, Yellowstone — but the county is a common thread throughout. throughout the collection.
On Monday, April 4, Mitchell posted a video containing clips of the footage to the museum’s Facebook page, along with the disclaimer that “some images may be disturbing.”
“One is the start of a parade, and in the video, Native Americans are depicted,” Mitchell said. “We don’t know if these are real Native Americans or individuals dressed that way. We want to be sensitive to the fact that it is inappropriate that they are not native, and we had no bad intentions on our part.
The museum learned that the man behind the camera was Dr. LH Flancher, who allegedly worked at a Lake Park sanitarium called Shady Beach (where Sunnyside Care Center is now located). Flanker died in 2020, but Mitchell noted that the museum reached out to his family in hopes of sharing the scanned images directly with them.
Davis voluntarily accepted the task of digitizing the film, which Kevin Mitchell says is a tricky process. The film is so fragile, he said, that the museum may only have one chance to let captured memories of the past come alive once again.
The process begins with the installation of the 16 millimeter projector and a screen. After the film cartridges are properly loaded, a modern camera is placed on a tripod and the film is recorded. It sounds simple enough, but if the film breaks, Davis has to stop the reels and put the film together manually, using a very gentle touch.
There is also an element of danger, as the film is considered volatile and highly flammable.
The film digitization process began “about a month ago,” Becky Mitchell said, and is currently ongoing.
When the museum reopens in its new location this fall, the films will be available for viewing in the public records room.