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The Northern Pacific Railway Presents

by Melody Gilmore Young
Copyright 2003 Melody Gilmore Young
All Rights Reserved
Used with permission.

Jack Ellis Haynes purchased his first motion picture camera in 1917 – just two years after the first automobile passed through the gates of Yellowstone. With this new chronicling instrument and a nostalgic hunger resembling that of his father, official park photographer Frank Jay Haynes, Jack set out to capture the ‘reel’ spirit of this wonderland.

The following decade brought several ‘explosive’ changes to our first national park with new geyser discoveries, enlarged boundary lines and telephone installations. Not long after celebrating Yellowstone’s golden anniversary in 1922, the Northern Pacific Railway began to offer ‘virtual trips’ via the local cinema. These short films appealed to many who soon wished they were there. As a result, attendance boomed dramatically with increased thousands entering the park each year.

Today, we can still cherish this wonderful, early park footage. Thanks to the effort of the Montana Historical Society, a special video has been released allowing us to "see Jack Ellis Haynes’ 1920’s restored motion picture of Yellowstone Park from this bygone era in its glorious black and white splendor." Edited to twenty-seven minutes in length, it contains a satisfying variety of attractions showing everything from flora and fauna to lodging and entertainment.

A model replica of a volcanic eruption introduces the prehistoric and geologic formation of the region. Fast-forward ten million years and we find ourselves in a time when the iron-horse was a very popular mode of transportation to and from the park. As described by the distributor, the viewer can "revel with the first tourists riding the Northern Pacific train into Gardiner Depot (and) pass through the Roosevelt Arch in an open-air bus." Once inside, the real vacation begins.

Along with the familiar scenes of geysers, falls and buffalo, one can also see for the first time attractions no longer available to the modern-day tourist. The defunct Grand Canyon Lodge was once a spectacular overnight stay providing all the necessary amenities. This silent video, accompanied by music of the time, shows visitors enjoying the indoor pool and dancing to a four-piece orchestra. Appolinaris Spring offers a natural and refreshing drink. Garbage dumpsites allure grizzly bears as well as a very close and captive audience. And a young man is caught on film as he amusingly tosses debris into a hot spring – not something we can legally see or do now.

I especially enjoy "Magic Yellowstone." For those who love Haynes’ scenic views, this video is like a postcard flipbook bringing his classic images to life. Like the national park itself, this video is definitely "for the benefit and enjoyment of the people."

As an Ohio visitor noted on an Old Faithful postcard sent home 9-7-38, "Took motion pictures of this geyser a short time ago." In a short time, you can obtain a copy of "Magic Yellowstone" (www.his.state.mt.us/department/store/videos) and share in the thrill of it all just as Jack Haynes, and countless others, did over seventy years ago.

[The author, Melody Gilmore Young, welcomes contacts from other Yellowstone Park postcard collectors.]

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