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Old silent films speak for Milton College

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
August 21, 2010
— Young men clad in 1930s-era day dresses, dancing with British naval admirals in a behind-the-scenes mockup of Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera “H.M.S. Pinafore.”

A bored student carving his initials on a desktop.


Coeds in pajamas, playing leapfrog outside of Old Main.


These are not outtakes from the FOX teen TV series “Glee.”


They’re snippets from silent films shot at the former Milton College in the 1930s and 1950s, pulled together into a digitally remastered DVD that took five years of film repair, reproduction and research.


The Milton College Preservation Society recently released the DVD, titled “Vintage Silent Films of Milton College: 1930s and 1950s.” The society, which operates out of Main Hall at Milton College, is hosting a free public screening of the film Saturday, Sept. 18, at the college’s annual homecoming.


Society curator Judy Scheehle said the film project started several years ago, when she found a trove of silent 8 mm and 16 mm films in their original canisters in a building on campus.


The films contain hundreds of hours of footage of sporting events, activities and campus life shot at Milton College between 1935 and 1965. The college has been closed since 1982.


“They were just sitting in desk drawers,” Scheehle said.


In 2005, Janesville film buff Ken Regez repaired the films but warned Scheehle that the aging film stock was at risk of deterioration and urged the society to get the footage transferred to digital format before it became useless.


With grant money from the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin, Scheehle last year hired a New York company to transfer the old films to DVD.


Earlier this year, Scheehle had her son Peter Scheehle, a Boston-based film producer, condense the footage into a 40-minute film organized into segments.


The society has reproduced the DVD for sale.


Some scenes making the jump from Kodachrome to DVD include:


n Late 1930s footage of students in the Milton College Civilian Flight Program, a government subsidized pilot training course. The clip shows students training at the former Janesville City Airport on Kennedy Road. Some of the program’s graduates later served as pilots in World War II.


n Footage of a parade along Milton’s Parkview Drive that was part of a 1939 music festival and competition sponsored by Milton College. Students from 26 area high schools were at the festival.


n A shot of students kissing near Merchant’s Row on Milton’s west side, with the former Dickoff Chevrolet dealership in the background. The footage is an excerpt from a 1957 film titled “The Milton Story,” which Scheehle said was used to promote Milton College to incoming freshmen.


The DVD includes an insert that identifies activities and many of the people in each scene, a listing Scheehle researched by plowing through news clips and student records on file at the college.


“It’s a case where being a historian is kind of like playing detective,” Scheehle said.


Scheehle said Milton College alumni and anyone interested in local history will find the film fascinating. She said she gets more excited each time she watches it.


“It’s been amazing to see faces I recognize in the old annuals and news articles. They’re moving and talking now. It’s like I’ve gotten to know them,” Scheehle said.


“I got to bring them back to life.”



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