A mystery of sorts surrounds the July 20, 1914, groundbreaking ceremonies for the Oklahoma state Capitol building. What happened to the documentary film footage of the event?
An article in The Daily Oklahoman on the day of the groundbreaking said two sets of films would be made, “one to show in the 194 picture theaters of Oklahoma and the other to go in the ‘Animated Weekly’ features to be shown wherever the ‘movie’ is known.”
The next day’s story of the actual event also mentioned film cameras present at the groundbreaking ceremony:
“Amid the whir of moving picture cameras and the hum of thousands of voices, coupled with the shrill screams of the sirens of many motor cars, Governor Lee Cruce Monday morning stepped from his automobile and with a mighty swing, drove a silver pick into the ground at the very spot where the cornerstone of Oklahoma’s new capitol will be laid.”
Oklahoma Historical Society Executive Director Bob Blackburn said newsreel cameraman Benny Kent, of Chandler, was involved in documenting the groundbreaking.
Some of his other work can be seen at the Lincoln County Museum of Pioneer History, but there’s nothing showing the groundbreaking.
Other films shot in Oklahoma in that era have survived, including a 1904 short about cowboys and Indians made by the Edison Co.
Blackburn said one reason film of that time may not have survived is that it was made of a nitrate substance that decomposed and was very flammable.
“If you had the wrong conditions, it would self-combust,” he said. “It would just go up in smoke. That’s the reason the old projector booths in the old movie theaters were insulated. They had to have it fireproof because that stuff would blow up.
“If we found it, it would be rare.”
There are still photographs from the groundbreaking.
One shows Gov. Lee Cruce swinging a pickaxe and breaking ground for the Capitol. The shot was taken at the moment the pick hits the ground, raising a little cloud of dirt as men in straw hats and people carrying parasols watched him.
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