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The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898-1906

May 30, 2014 • Deirdre Black

Recently posted at the Library of Congress website is a collection of rare films of New York City . The collection is called The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898-1906 and contains forty-five films of New York dating from 1898 to 1906. Twenty-five of these films were made by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company and the remaining twenty by Edison Company productions.

The films are silent and most last no longer than a few minutes.  Regardless, each provides a wonderful glimpse of  New York’s bygone days.  You can see see immigrants landing, people shopping at street markets, and fire brigades on the move. There are buildings being torn down, skyscrapers going up, and men generally working in dangerous situations. There are pirates scuffling with police, newspaper boys brawling over news bundles, and what happened on 23rd Street is simply hilarious (and predates a similar scene with Marilyn Monroe by about 50 years).

Above all, the films provide a richness and authenticity of life as it was lived in that City… from the views and the articles of clothing to the hustle and bustle of activities and horse drawn carts.

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