Films (Probably) Show Louisville Circa 1940, but Filson Needs Donations to See

There’s a dearth of video footage of pre-World War II Louisville, but the Filson Historical Society has recently re-discovered three 16-millimeter reels presumably shot in the city in the late 1930s or early 1940s.

The Filson staff can’t say for certain what’s on the reels—the films are too deteriorated for a projector.

Hoping to at least salvage the reels’ contents, the Filson Historical Society has is trying to raise $2,369 to have the footage digitized and put in their archives.

The fundraising is being done through Power2Give, a website run by Fund for the Arts. It’s raised about $1,800 and has 62 days before the effort expires.

“Motion picture gives you a much better understanding of what was happening at the time,” says Heather Stone, the Filson assistant curator who recently found the reels.

“You know, you can read in documents and see in photographs, but to see something in real life move along the screen, I just think it would have a significant impact.”

The footage was shot by Arthur Hopkins, a Jeffersonville native who’d become a Louisville attorney, judge and mayoral candidate. He was president of the Louisville Board of Aldermen when he died in 1944.

The reels were among dozens shot by Hopkins that given to the Filson Historical Society—most of them contain footage of his travels. But three were labeled “Louisville.”

Heather Stone found the reels in the Filson’s stacks soon after becoming an assistant curator. 

The films suffer from “vinegar syndrome”—a form of decay that gives off a vinegar-like odor. Stone had worked with film before and immediately recognized what the smell meant.

“From there you kind of know they’re on the way out and need some immediate attention,” Stone said.

If the fundraising goal is met, the Louisville reels’ contents will be transferred to a digital format and also archived with the Filson Historical Society.

In other reels, Hopkins shot historical sites—but Stone could only speculate on what he filmed in Louisville.

Perhaps downtown? Or Old Louisville?

“We really aren’t 100 percent sure what is on the films, which makes it more exciting and more intriguing in wanting to save them,” she said.

Joseph Lord

Joseph Lord is the online managing editor for WFPL.

@joseph_Lord

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