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Explore history for free through the Library of Congress

Ned Jilton • Oct 20, 2018 at 8:30 AM

From presidents to the Civil War, many of the historical photos you have seen in the Times News came from the Library of Congress website, LOC.gov, a great source of information about this nation’s history and government.

If you are doing research, the library has collections of documents dating back to the nation’s beginning that can be viewed online and downloaded as PDF files.

If you are a teacher trying to create visual aids for a class project, you can download photographs and artwork that cover everything from presidents to everyday people, places and events. You can even download detailed maps. And, best of all, it’s free.

I did a quick search for fun and turned up old photos of the Netherland Inn and the Deery Inn from the 1930s or ’40s just by typing “Kingsport” in the search line.

But the Library of Congress is not just about documents. A few years ago, it began to add audio files from the recordings archives to its website.

If you search “Franklin Roosevelt,” you can hear some of his speeches, including his Pearl Harbor speech, in their entirety and not just the short clips you get in the World War II documentaries.

But wait, there’s more. In that same search you will find a recording by blues artist Huddie Ledbetter, better known as “Leadbelly,” called “Please, President Roosevelt” as well as man in the street interviews made on Dec. 8, 1941, seeking reactions to Japan’s attack.

However, the library is not resting on its laurels and has now begun posting streaming videos of movies and newsreels from its film archives to the website as well.

The first movie I watched was a silent film from 1903 created by Thomas A. Edison called “The Great Train Robbery.”

The title triggered something in my memory. I had heard about this movie somewhere and there was something about it that caused an uproar in theaters.

The description that the movie provided to the theaters at the time read, “This sensational and highly tragic subject will certainly make a decided ‘hit’ whenever shown. In every respect we consider it absolutely the superior of any moving picture ever made. It has been posed and acted in faithful duplication of the genuine ‘hold ups’ made famous by various outlaw bands in the far West, and only recently the East has been shocked by several crimes of the frontier order, which in fact will increase the popular interest in this great headline attraction.”

I watched as the bandits boarded the train as it started to pull out from the station.

Then in a scene that would equal the violence of today, one of the bandits jumped one of the men operating the train, knocked him down and beat him mercilessly before throwing him off the train.

Except when the “victim” was thrown from the train, you could see it was a dummy.

Then there was a scene where one of the passengers was shot. They did the silent film death, throwing both arms over the head before spinning around and falling down.

All-in-all, though, it wasn’t a bad little movie, but I didn’t see much that would shock an audience. Until the end.

In the very last scene, Barns, the leader of the bandits, stands in front of a plain background facing the people in the theater. He then draws his pistol and begins firing at the audience.

Remember, this movie came out in 1903. Very few people had ever seen a “moving picture” and didn’t know what to expect. It was said that members of the audience screamed, women fainted and men threw themselves in front of their wives and children to protect them from the bullets when Barns opened fire.

The scene created such an uproar that theaters were given a option. To put it at the beginning or the end.

This was just a tiny slice of American history courtesy of the Library of Congress and I am looking forward to future additions to its online streaming.

Ned Jilton II is a page designer and photographer for the Times News as well as the writer of the “Marching with the 19th” Civil War series. You can contact him at njilton@ timesnews.net .

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