Motion Pictures Make Their Appearance in Patterson


The concept of capturing motion and being able to replay it at will sparked the interest if many inventors in the 19th and 20th centuries. The results of their research would later form the basis for an industry that would entertain, teach, and become regarded as an art form.

The basis for modern motion picture technology may be the work of British scholar Peter Mark Roget, who, in 1824, theorized that the human eye would retain an image for an instant after the image changed. Modern motion pictures are a series of still images that move past a projector lens, forming a seemingly fluid, break-free motion. It is Roget's theory that explains why the human eye does not detect the changing still images, called frames. An early practical application of using still images to simulate motion was a device known as the zoetrope, which uses a spinning drum which had still images lining its interior. The drum had slits in its side, which allowed a viewer to see the interior images, which appeared to be set in motion. Zoetropes became novelty items at carnivals and arcades. Other inventors refined the zoetrope concept, and used photographs rather than drawings, or used mirrors and lamps to crudely project the images on a wall.

Great strides were made in the photographic process and in the development of film technology towards the close of the 19th century. These technologies were eventually adapted for use by inventors who were developing motion picture devices. Much early work was done by American inventor Thomas Edison, whose inventions ranged from work in electricity, sound recording, and motion picture production. Edison Laboratories, located in Orange, New Jersey, became the first motion picture studio. Edison's company produced a device called the Kinetoscope in 1891, which consisted of an endless loop of film that passed over a magnifying screen to allow a single user to view it. Edison exploited the commercial application of the technology, and distributed coin-operated Kinetoscopes as entertainment devices around the world starting in 1894. But it was the Lumière brothers of France who developed a projector that would allow multiple viewers to watch the film simultaneously. Their device was called a Cinématographe, and combined a printer, camera, and projector.

Motion picture presentations were offered in makeshift theaters throughout the Patterson area. The ad for a presentation in neighboring Dykemans, appeared in the Putnam County Courier in December 19, 1913. The Cameo Theater in Brewster was a formal theater, and it also attracted Patterson residents with its programs of vaudeville and motion pictures. The Cameo theater closed in 1997.

With a standardization of equipment, emphasis was placed on producing films that could be used by the equipment. Early films did not have sound and relied on the images and written word narrations to explain the story, and live piano music to set moods ranging from romance, whimsy, and suspense. American D. W. Griffith is given much credit for developing early cinematic techniques, and using film not only to entertain, but also documentaries to educate viewers. Early films often followed standard formulas, and consisted of Westerns, slapstick comedies, and romantic melodramas, and film production took place across Europe as well as the United States.

Films with sound became the standard in 1926, when Warner Brothers Studios introduced the first practical sound process known as Vitaphone. The process recorded sound on phonograph disks that had to be synchronized with the film during playback. By 1931, Vitaphone was replaced by a process know as Movietone, which provided for the recording of sound onto a strip mounted directly on the film. Early sound films were novelty items meant to exploit the new technology, but as the film industry matured, sound became an important part of the story that was portrayed on the movie screen.

Motion Pictures Entertain the Patterson Community

The motion picture made an appearance in Patterson on May 17, 1902. The showing took place in the hall of Jacob Stahl's building in the village of Patterson. The May 16, 1902 edition of the Putnam County Courier announced that the admission fee would be in the range of ten or 20 cents, which was not inexpensive for 1902. The paper noted that the presentation was of interest because it would allow everyone to "see all the newest things in moving pictures".

Early movie presentations were offered in variety of locations, in the absence of actual theaters. Patterson was no exception. Movies and minstrel stage shows were often featured at the Patterson Town Hall, which was conveniently located in the village on Main Street (NYS Route 311) just west of Locust Street. Starting in the 1920s, Patterson Town Hall was located in the old "Stahl's Hall", built by Jacob Stahl, best known as the owner of the Putnam Cigar Factory. The first floor of the building was an auditorium that was used by the town for meetings and shows. The Hall had also been used by the Patterson Grange before its purchase of the Patterson Union School District building on Main Street (NYS Route 311) in 1912. The June 29, 1923 edition of the Putnam County Courier noted that the movie presentation at Town Hall the previous Saturday attracted a crowd of 350 people, "showing the popularity of that amusement". The Town was in the midst of an early summer hot spell, but the paper noted that the temperature in the first floor hall of Town Hall was bearable, and that all windows were opened, allowing a slight breeze to cool the hall. The paper also noted that "the excellence of the pictures shown compensated for any slight discomfort".

This ad from Paramount Pictures applauds motions pictures as the greatest growing art form. This ad appeared in the Putnam County Courier on January 11, 1924. "The Covered Wagon" was quite a spectacle according to this ad appearing in the Putnam County Courier on December 29, 1924.

The Christmas and New Years holiday season of December, 1924, brought special movie presentations to Patterson Town Hall. The movie series at Town Hall was in the charge of managers Segelken and Crosby, and included the films "Lillies of the Field" and "The Fighting Blade", starring Richard Barthelmess. A special 2:30 PM Christmas Day matinee featured "Potash and Perlmutter", with a repeat performance at 8:00 PM. A special presentation of "The Covered Wagon" was set for 2:30 PM New Years Day, running for three days. "The Covered Wagon" was a major film undertaking, featuring 2000 actors, 1000 Indians, 600 oxen, 1000 horses, and 500 mules. The December 19, 1924 edition of the Courier noted that this film was "worth going miles to see".

"Long Live the King", starring Jackie Coogan, made its appearance at Patterson Town Hall in 1925. This ad appeared in the Putnam County Courier on June 26, 1925. Before the invention of television, newsreels provided a visual look at world and national news. Fox newsreels were part of the film presentations at Patterson Town Hall. This ad appeared in the Putnam County Courier on January 22, 1926. Jacob Stahl's Hall became the Patterson Town Hall in 1922. The first floor was a large auditorium with a stage that was used for motion picture presentations. The stage was also used for fundraising minstrel shows during World War II. The building was located on Main Street (NYS Route 311) just west of Locust Street. (The Patterson Historical Society)

Special movie presentations were used to benefit a sidewalk fund in early 1926. The Town of Patterson was planning to extend a concrete sidewalk from the village along Main Street (NYS Route 311) to the corner of the Christ Episcopal Church at Maple Avenue. The Patterson movie managers booked special films for the benefits. The first presentation featured the movie "Broken Laws", shown in February, 1926. The second film, "The Painted Flapper", was shown in March, 1926. This film only netted $12.65 for the sidewalk fund, and left the sidewalk fund far short of the hundreds of dollars needed for the sidewalk project. The film "Easy Money" was set for an April showing. Actual construction of the sidewalk began in December, 1926.

Special movie presentations help fund a Patterson sidewalk project in February, 1926. This ad appeared in the Putnam County Courier on February 5, 1926. Carmel's Memorial Hall competed with the movie presentations at Patterson Town Hall. The film "Firemen, Save My Child" was featured in this ad appearing in the February 3, 1928 edition of the Putnam County Courier.

In March, 1926, the Patterson community was treated to the western, "Riding' the Wind", with Fred Thomson. Thomson's sidekick was his horse, "Silver King", which performed two memorable stunts in the film. In one scene, the horse ran repeatedly into a burning barn to signal to its master that the film's heroine was lying unconscious inside. In another scene, the horse jumped from a moving train with Thomson on its back. A two reel comedy and a newsreel completed the film presentation at the Patterson Town Hall.

Another benefit movie showing was scheduled for March, 1928, to buy stage equipment for Patterson Town Hall. Nearly $300 was raised at the benefit, which was entitled the "Big Three-in-One" because it featured a movie, stage show, and dancing. Almost 350 people attended in a packed, standing room only Town Hall. The Patterson Fire Dept. supplied uniformed firefighters to help keep order in the hall. The advertised movie, "Forlorn River" could not be secured in time for the benefit event, and another Zane Grey story was substituted. A Black Face comedy followed the movie, planned by Mrs. Lewis F. Beers and Mrs. H. E. Hillery. Mrs. Beers also performed in the character of "Aunt Jemima".

Movies were being shown in Patterson's neighboring communities, including the Cameo Theater in Brewster and Memorial Hall in Carmel. In August, 1928, Danbury, Connecticut, announced another movie competitor to Patterson Town Hall. The Palace Theater was nearing completion, and would draw moviegoers away from Patterson. The theater seated 2,600 on two levels, and featured two-tone painted walls, raised-relief decorations, and gold leaf accents. Marble stairs led to the balcony, and the lobby floor was tiled. The walls of the auditorium were decorated with murals. Music was provided by an organ and two Knabe concert grand pianos. Dressing rooms were located on either side of the stage for the benefit of live performers. The theater was thought to be the finest in the region and perhaps the finest in the state of Connecticut.

Movies and stage shows continued to be held at Patterson Town Hall through the World War II years, but the draw from the larger theaters in the outlying communities made the Patterson Town Hall stage obsolete. But movies remain an important part of the Patterson community. The Patterson Recreation Department frequently schedules outdoor movies during the summer months at the Town Park on Maple Avenue or on the Sacred Heart Church grounds in Putnam Lake.