DETROIT LAKES – A stranger from Florida is behind this
recent publication of local video footage from the 1920s.
The identity of this stranger may never be known, but Becky Mitchell, the museum’s executive director, estimates they received the call from this generous man about 16 years ago. He was shopping at thrift stores in the Sunshine State when he came across a box of 16mm film – a type of film introduced in 1923 and widely used for home video and low-budget films.
The man offered to donate it to the museum in hopes the footage could be preserved and become part of the local historical record.
More than a decade and a half later, that hope is becoming a reality.
Thanks to another donation – a recent donation of a projector – the museum now has the opportunity to view the centuries-old footage. Kevin Mitchell and Jack Davis, the museum’s archivist and volunteer film expert, respectively, walk through the long, meticulous process of preserving the film by converting it into digital format.
There are 24 films in all, Becky Mitchell said, and not all are related to Becker County — some are from the World’s Fair, moose hunting, Yellowstone — but the county runs like a thread through the collection.
On Monday, April 4, Mitchell posted a video that included clips from the footage
along with the disclaimer that “some images may be disturbing”.
“One is the beginning of a parade, and there are Native Americans in the video,” Mitchell said. “We are not sure if these are actual Native Americans or individuals dressed as such. We want to be sensitive that it is not appropriate if they are not local and we had no ill intent on our part.”
The museum has learned that the man behind the camera is Dr. LH Flancher who is believed to have worked at a sanatorium called Shady Beach in Lake Park (where the Sunnyside Care Center is now located). Flancher died in 2020, but Mitchell noted that the museum has reached out to his family in hopes of sharing the digitized footage directly with them.
Davis readily accepted the task of digitizing the film, which Kevin Mitchell says is a delicate process. The film is so fragile, he said, that the museum may only get one chance to relive the captured memories of the past.
The process starts with setting up the 16mm projector and a screen. Once the film canisters are properly loaded, a modern camera is placed on a tripod and the film is captured. Sounds easy enough, but when the film breaks, Davis has to stop the reels and manually stitch the film together with a very gentle touch.
There is also an element of danger as the film is considered volatile and highly flammable.
The digitization process of the films began “about a month ago,” said Becky Mitchell, and is still ongoing.
When the museum reopens in its new location in the fall, the films will be on view in the public archive room.