A Trip Down Market Street (1906)

In The Vault: Volume 3 I recommended a short film from 1906 called “A Trip Down Market Street”, and I decided to go more in detail about why someone should see this film, even if only once. The video below is truly silent as there isn’t even a musical soundtrack, so I suggest putting on some classical music in the background before you press play.

There are some versions online that add music, and some that add sound effects, but I can never find one that has the right score, and sound effects just seem so out of place in a film made before the late 1920’s, so that is why I chose the one above. That being said, the content is still the same content. It’s still the same visuals which I believe are very powerful. I understand that some minor parts of the film were staged; some of the people and cars reenter the framae multiple times throughout the film. However, for the most part, this is a candid film. Most of the people in it are not actors at all, and it offers a beautiful glimpse into the past. The film itself was filmed at the front of a trolley car as it travelled down Market Street, and you can even see people look directly into the camera at several points throughout its duration.

This little movie from 1906 was filmed within weeks of the devastating San Francisco earthquake of 1906 where most of the city was leveled into a pile of smoldering debris. This is a rare glimpse into what San Francisco looked like before the earthquake. It is also an amazing glimpse into life before traffic lights. As I watched the film something stood out immediately: the systematic chaos of Market Street. People, cars, horses, carriages, and trolleys shared the road together. There were no stop lights, and there were no sidewalks or crosswalks. It was essentially a free for all. How different from today where it is a crime to walk into the street outside a designated crosswalk.

I love history, as I have mentioned in previous posts, so this film is like a portal into the past for me. When I watch it I am transported into a time in which I never lived. How I would love to travel back in time, even if just briefly. There is something magical about old films such as this one; they have the ability, as does any film, to thrust us into the past and let us forget that we live in a completely different world.

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