The fifth and final season of Sandwich Town Hall Preservation Trust’s silent film series has concluded. Silent Movie Night recreated the original silent film atmosphere: live piano accompaniment by John Read on the historic 1894 silent film piano; pre-movie introduction by Liisa Niemi dressed as a flapper; and the original restored Sandwich Town Hall second floor where silent films were shown beginning in 1915.
Sandwich Town Hall is at 130 Main Street, Sandwich, MA 02563
Classic Silent Films with Live Piano Accompaniment:
The Sandwich Town Hall transformed back into its origins as an early 1900s film auditorium (see articles, below) with special screenings of classic silent films, complete with John Read of Yarmouth playing piano accompaniment and Liisa Niemi of Mansfield offering pre-movie narration dressed as a flapper. John and Lisa are enthusiastic supporters of this unique art style.
Continuing its celebration of the oldest running Town Hall in Massachusetts the volunteer group Sandwich Town Hall Preservation Trust (the recent winners of the 2011 Massachusetts Historical Commission Award) presented this acclaimed film series to support the stewardship of this historical 1834 building.
The Sandwich Town Hall Silent Film Series
By Anthony Basile, WickedLocal.com & Jonathan Shaw (edited)
In 1915 or a little later silent movies began to be shown in the Town Hall and a piano, an upright in the Mission style made by Jacob Doll & Sons for the Frederick Piano Company, was acquired by the town. It was played by local residents, Minne Bunker Wimmer, Eva May Harlow, and Mary Haines Morrow, to accompany the silent movies.
The hall’s past as a silent movie venue lives on as the original piano is still in use. The accompaniment is by Yarmouth resident John Read, an experienced pianist and organist who plays without sheet music.
“I grew up when soap operas had live organ music and memorized the theme songs and styles of the various organists on the shows,” Read said. “At the same time I learned thousands of popular songs. This combination comes in handy when I accompany silent movies in that I can draw upon songs that fit the action, as well as appropriate mood music.”
The shows begin with an introduction to place the classic films in their historical context. Liisa Niemi is an IBM manager by day but in her free time she collects antiques and curios from the 1920s. Drawing on her knowledge of the period, Niemi regularly introduces silent films soundtracked by Read. To add authenticity to her presentation, Niemi wears the clothes of a Twenties flapper.
The plan to bring the town hall back to its movie house past began with Town Hall Preservation Trust member Jonathan Shaw. Upon seeing Read and Niemi’s silent movie showcase, Shaw brought the idea back to the organization, who selected it as a companion to the restored building’s annual event, an old time radio radio-styled variety show.
Between the variety show and the silent film, the town hall has played host to vintage entertainment since its re-opening. The shows’ tickets serve as a source of funds for the continued upkeep of the space. The focus on old-fashioned events draws attention to the building’s history, which stretches back to 1834. The latest renovations brought the building up to date as a community venue while keeping its interior consistent with its original design.
(The Silent Film Series has concluded.)
The Piano, the Projectionist and the Preservation
In 1915 or a little later silent movies began to be shown in the Town Hall and a piano, an upright in the Mission style made by Jacob Doll & Sons for the Frederick Piano Company, was acquired. It was played by local residents, Minne Bunker Wimmer, Eva May Harlow, and Mary Haines Morrow, to accompany the silent movies.
The projectionist turned the film by a hand-crank illuminated by a carbon-arc. A primitive generator located in a garage across the street from the Town Hall provided the electricity. Nonetheless using a carbon-arc projector was dangerous business and likely to set a building on fire. To protect the Town Hall from fire, the projectionist was provided with a urinal and required to remain continuously on duty when the carbon-arc was running. It is said that occasionally the engine of the generator would fail, the screen would dim, and boos and hisses would arise from the audience who had paid a nickel to attend.
The Sandwich Town Hall reflects over 175 years of Sandwich’s history, government and culture as well as the larger issues of State and National life that have had an impact on the Sandwich community. The Town Hall has been in active use as the seat of Town government for every one of those 175 years. There are few towns that can make this claim.
In 2009 the entire building was restored to its former glory. The second floor ballroom is particularly beautiful with its historically accurate stenciling of tan and brown paint and gold leaf, theatrical stage, balcony seating and fully restored historic shuttered windows. Once again, the second floor is used for movies and theatrical productions.
The Sandwich Town Hall, within the newly designated Glass Town Cultural District, was granted a Preservation Award for Rehabilitation & Restoration by the Massachusetts Historical Commission in 2011.
A great time was had by all! The feature film was “Safety Last” with Harold Lloyd’s famous clock routine.
The short “Coney Island” with Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton was also shown.
Piano-player extraordinaire John Read and “Flapper” Lisa Niemi were terrific!
This comedy classic was highly successful and critically hailed, and it cemented Lloyd’s status as a major figure in early motion pictures. It is still popular at revivals, and it is viewed today as one of the great film comedies.
The film’s title is a play on the common expression, “safety first,” which places safety as the primary priority to avoid accidents. Lloyd performed some of his climbing stunts despite losing a thumb and forefinger in an accident while making a film four years earlier.