Home-movie footage of FDR’s 1940 Kingston visit found, put on DVD

A frame from William O’Reilly’s footage.

A frame from William O’Reilly’s footage.

On the afternoon of Nov. 4, 1940, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s motorcade swept into Kingston, after traveling north over the Wurts Street Bridge on Route 9W. It stopped in front of the Gov. Clinton Hotel before the president, on the eve of his re-election, gave a brief speech at Academy Green, across the street. Local businessman William O’Reilly was there and stepped right up out of the crowd to the president’s car to film the scene. “People have said, ‘I can’t think of your father without that black movie camera in front of his face,’” recalled his daughter Patricia Murphy, former president of Friends of Historic Kingston (FHK).

Murphy estimates she has 100 reels of her father’s 16mm films, made between 1928 and the 1980s, when he stopped shooting because “film became so expensive. It was now $75 a reel to buy, and he simply couldn’t afford it anymore,” she said. (Her father, who for years ran a stationery store that also sold cameras, died at age 94 in 1996.)

Now, 76 years after he shot FDR in front of the Clinton Hotel before adoring crowds, the film snippet has caught the attention of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park. Included in a 17-minute video about Kingston during World War II that was made by Murphy and now-deceased ex IBMer Raymond Caddy, the FDR footage was unknown to FDR Library archivist Matt Hanson when he was shown the video by volunteer docent Nancy Chando earlier this summer. Chando, who serves on FHK’s board, also showed Hanson the article about FDR’s speech that appeared in the Daily Freeman the next day.

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“Matt made a copy of the video,” said Chando. “The Presidential Library wants every video [related to FDR] in their collection” so the Kingston video is now an official part of the archives. (The World War II Museum in New Orleans, which Murphy recently visited, also has a copy of the video in its archives.)

The FDR snippet certainly is the most important footage in the video from a historical perspective, but other footage contained in the DVD that was taken by O’Reilly is equally fascinating. There are shots of young men who’ve signed up to fight hugging their family members, sweethearts, and friends on the platform of the long-gone West Shore Railroad station, which was located on Railroad Avenue, before boarding the train and waving out the windows as the cars pull away. There is similar footage of leave takings by U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force recruits in front of the columned, Beaux Art Post Office, which stood midway down Broadway where Planet Wings is now, where they would board buses. The trains and buses would take the men to Weehawken, from where they would depart to various military bases around the nation.

“If he knew someone was leaving for the Army, for example when my Uncle John left, he’d go and photograph them,” recalled Murphy. The films were in color and have darkened somewhat, she said. There’s also footage of a train coming through Kingston with a load of tanks on the rail cars, a parade coming up Broadway, of her Uncle John standing on the family’s front lawn on West Chestnut Street during a furlough, of a man who worked at O’Reilly’s stationery store kissing his wife goodbye, and of a bunch of children, one of whom was Murphy, waving American flags on a neighbors lawn on V Day.

However, the genesis of the video was not O’Reilly’s films but a set of extraordinary scrapbooks compiled by Kingston resident Anna Norton Dederick. Nearly every day from 1940 to 1945, Dederick clipped news articles and photos from the Daily Freeman about local World War II servicemen and women. By the end of the war on Aug. 15, 1945, her efforts had resulted in three 11 by 14-inch scrapbooks, a total of 660 pages containing more than 5,000 clippings. “She felt it was the least she could do to help the war effort,” said Murphy.

After Dederick died in 1972, the scrapbooks went to her daughter, who in turn passed them on to another relative, James Norton, who was president of Rondout Savings Bank. In 1985, Norton, who lived on Pearl Street around the corner from Kingston historian Edwin Ford, gave them to Ford, who stored them in his basement with his other city-related archival materials. In 2004, concerned about the deteriorating state of the scrapbooks’ soft pulp pages, Ford took them to FHK, which promptly micro-filmed each page, transferred onto three DVDs, and made a reproduction paper copy of the books.

The video was made for FHK’s 2006 World War II-themed exhibit entitled “Kingston’s Greatest Generation.” Also on display at that 2006 FHK show were the original scrapbooks. Visitors could also search a database for 3,000 names taken from the clippings to learn more about their relatives who had served in World War II.

The DVD also is being shown at FHK’s current exhibit, which celebrates the nonprofit’s 50th anniversary; the gallery is open Friday and Saturday and closes for the season at the end of this month. A copy of the DVD is available for $15 plus tax from the organization.

The DVD culls numerous eye-catching headlines from the scrapbook, of which the most moving are reports of Kingston men who were injured or killed in the war. The clips are interspersed with O’Reilly’s footage and period photos from the collection of Robert Haines; a lively big-band sound track effectively re-creates the mood of the period.

Like Murphy, Chando has personal ties to the footage: her mother was in the crowd in front of the Hotel Clinton greeting FDR, a girl hoisted on her father’s shoulders. The DVD also contains images of her mother’s uncle boarding a bus in front of the post office as he went off to war.

Chando said her mom told her that when she was in high school, she and other girls would stand by the train tracks after school and wave to the troops passing by in the cars. “The guys would throw pieces of paper with their name and address to the girls,” Chando said. “My mom’s best friend picked up a paper, became pen pals with the guy, and ended up marrying him after the war and moving with him to California.”

Chando said the video was an exciting find for the FDR Presidential Library, given that “they had never seen the footage before.” Murphy said her father, who was a “big family man who liked to record everything” — including her mother on the morning of the couple’s wedding — “never thought of himself as being a local historian.” She acknowledged, however, that he would be “pleased” to know a snippet of his work was preserved for all time.

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