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Home » » Filmed Locally - Waterfall in the Catskills

Filmed Locally - Waterfall in the Catskills

Written By The Mountain Eagle on 7/3/24 | 7/3/24

By Bradley Towle

CATSKILLS REGION — “Waterfall in the Catskills” is a short, silent actuality capturing Haines Falls sometime in June 1897. The Library of Congress preserved the film, one of many of Thomas Edison’s productions from the first decade of film experimentation and advancement, in 1985 and is available to view through their website. Edison’s film catalog summary for “Waterfall in The Catskills” reads: “Beautiful water effects at Haines’ Falls, a most picturesque and charming mountain cataract. The wild and rugged surroundings are very impressive.” At roughly 25 seconds, there is not much more to describe about the footage. The camera remains in one position (as was standard at the time), but there is no point in fussing about that. “Waterfall in The Catskills” is the earliest moving footage of Haines Falls in existence and, with the Library of Congress’s preservation of the film, will remain as a brief and novel glimpse into the fading 19th century at Haines Falls. 

However, one might easily miss another view of Haines Falls circa June 1897 due to some confusion surrounding the title. “Falls of Minnehaha” clocks in at 31 seconds and shows us a group of people on an observation deck at the lower end of the falls. Kemp Niver, whose work to preserve American silent films began in the 1950s, mistakenly identified Minnesota (where the actual Minnehaha Falls are located) as the location, an error that was subsequently published in 1985’s “Early Motion Pictures: the Paper Print Collection in the Library of Congress.” The confusion is understandable, given the title (even the current IMDB listing for the film includes it as the location). 

However, in his 1998 annotated filmography “Edison Motion Pictures: 1890-1900,” Charles Musser identifies Haines Falls as the location for “Falls of Minnehaha. The Catskill Mountain setting is now considered the actual location by the Library of Congress for the film.   Edison’s employee, William Heise, operated the camera in both instances. Prolific throughout the final decade of the 19th century, Heise’s earliest film credit goes back to 1890, a technical experiment called “Monkey Shines, No. 1.”  Both silent short actualities are available to view on The Library of Congress’s website. 

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