A 95-year-old film just discovered in a junk shop shows glimpse of life in 1920s Wichita

A rare — and remarkably clear — piece of footage that was recorded at a parade on Wichita’s Douglas Avenue on May 1, 1924, was recently discovered in an Arkansas City junk shop and shared with the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum under one condition:

Make sure everyone can see it.

The five-minute clip, now posted on the museum’s YouTube Channel, shows a snapshot of life in Wichita 95 years ago. In it, hundreds of people in dresses, suits and hats fashionable in the day are lined up along the 100 block and 200 blocks of East Douglas watching as men and boys in suit jacks, ties and page boy caps proceed down the street representing various groups, including schools like Hamilton, Allison and Horace Mann and groups like the Lions Club and Boy Scouts.

Some parade participants ride on bicycles that now populate antique stores. There are a few floats and a few marching bands, and as the parade proceeds, Wichita’s street cars move along beside it. The Broadview is visible in the background, and at a various points, viewers can catch glimpses of long-gone businesses like the Kansas Theatre and Taylor’s Cafeteria.

It was called the Boys Loyalty Parade, and it was put on by the Wichita Rotary Club. Similar parades happened in 48 states across the country on that day, which was a Thursday, with the stated purpose of turning “May Day into a loyalty demonstration of youth.”

The 35 millimeter reel-to-reel film was provided by Matt Carson, an Arkansas City resident who brought the film to the museum in December, said Jami Frazier Tracy, the museum’s curator of collections.

He came across it one day at a book and antique store on Arkansas City’s main drag, he said. He was just wasting time one day and poking around when he came across the film and thought it might be of value. He paid $10 for it, he said.

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He called the museum and offered to let them have the film as long as they promised not to let it languish in a storage locker. If there was something to see on the film, he wanted people to see it.

“I’m really surprised that something like that even made it to an antique shop, that somebody wouldn’t have picked up on that or caught that sooner,” he said.

Tracy said the staff wasn’t sure at first what to do with the find. It was taken on nitrate film, and for it to be appreciated, it would need to be digitized, they realized. But very few places will digitize nitrate film. After reaching out to the Kansas Historical Society in Topeka, the museum was able to find a business in Denver that was able transfer the film, but it wasn’t cheap.

It took more than six months to research where to send the film and to get it back, but two weeks ago, the museum received the finished product.

They couldn’t believe what they saw. The footage wasn’t perfect, but it was so clear, and they could pick out landmarks that are still there and those that are long gone.

Footage from this era is rare, Tracy said. The museum has some old shots of the Wichita Airport from the 1930s, and a few things shot at children’s birthday parties, but none of it has been digitized.

“It’s only been recently that you could safely make copies of this kind of material,” she said.

As Tracy watched the film, she found herself most fascinated with the spectators. She noticed naughty young boys and a girl who looked embarrassed when she realized she was being filmed. She noticed people acting much like they act today.

“It’s hard to believe that it was all almost 100 years ago,” she said. “That’s what I can’t wrap my mind around.”

The museum has added the film to its permanent collection and will leave it up for public viewing on its YouTube channel, called “wichitahistory.”

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