by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster
If you ever watched, entranced, as a flower opened before your eyes on film, this year marks the centennial of the first showing of such an image. The 'premier' took place in Yosemite during a meeting of the Superintendents of the National Parks October 14-16, 1912, not in one of the burgeoning movie theaters then taking hold across the country.
The reason for the showing was not entertainment, but a man's determination to illustrate the need to preserve the multitude of species then yearly decreasing in the meadows of Yosemite.
In 1912 the oversight of Yosemite was still in the hands of the Cavalry and horses need fodder, so the meadows were routinely mowed, the flowering plants gathered and dried to nourish the hoofed transportation of the soldiers who carried out the duties mandated by the Park Service.
On that day in October, the Superintendents and other onlookers were stunned by the sight of flowers arching their faces toward the sun as they unfolded into light, performing what seemed to be a dance, before their astonished eyes.
The first nature movie had been shown in Yosemite three years previously, drawing fascinated crowds which overflowed the porch of the Studio of the Three Arrows, located in what is now the empty area between the Yosemite Chapel and the road into the Valley.
The camera used was designed and built on a shelf in the Three Arrows Studio by its owner, Arthur C. Pillsbury. Pillsbury recalled in his book, “Picturing Miracles of Plant and Animal Life,” published in 1937 by Lippincott,
In his book, Pillsbury recalled the 1912 conference writing, “I showed my pictures, talked conservation and the necessity of all parks to protect them as a very valuable asset.” Pillsbury also showed his photos of the meadows from 1895, showing the same meadows covered with flowers, waist high and the meadows as they were then, in 1912, devoid of life.
Pillsbury goes on to say, “As a result, the next day all flowers and all living things were protected in every National Park, and the mowing machine, as the people in Yosemite expressed it, “was put on the blink.”
1912 was also the year Pillsbury's images were chosen by John Muir to illustrate his newest, and last book, “The Yosemite.” Check out the First Edition.
History always holds more to be found, if we look. Arthur C. Pillsbury Foundation