Throwback Thursday: This Film Transports You to Boston in 1903
One of the earliest moving pictures of Boston has been collecting virtual dust in the Boston Public Library’s online archives for years—that is, until it was picked up and brushed off this week by the New England Historical Society in a blog post.
The film, called Seeing Boston by Streetcar, is a captivating look at Boston’s bustling avenues and boulevards in the early 1900s. It employs a Go Pro-esque style, meandering up and down city streets and panning back and forth to capture horses and buggies, storefronts, and hordes of pedestrians.
The silent eight-minute clip begins downtown, making its way past the Jordan Marsh department store. It goes on to show scenes of North Station, South Station, and the elevated rail line before traversing down Boylston Street to Copley Square. (Watch a row of brownstones on Boylston lead to the Boston Public Library at 5:26.)
According to the historical society, the film was created in 1903 by cinematographer and Roxbury native G.W. “Billy” Bitzer, who invented film techniques like the soft focus and the close-up. He hopped aboard one of Boston’s relatively new electric streetcars (they were only about 14 years old at the time) and started rolling, making sure to get panoramic shots of streets and landmarks. Three years later, the film debuted at Boston’s first-ever movie theater, the Theatre Comique in Scollay Square.
See if you can identify the neighborhoods in the video, and don’t miss the fist fight at 2:26.