Monday, September 01, 2008

PBS WETA airs "history detectives" in lieu of Republican Convention; a Colonial pastor-warrior; a rogue filmmaker of Mexican war

Because the more gaudy part of the Republican convention for Sept. 1 was postponed out of deference to the problems associated with Hurricane Gustav, PBS Station WETA 26 tonight in Washington aired a couple of interesting segments of “History Detectives”, link here.

One interesting segment was the history of Continental Army general Peter Muehlenberg who eventually wound up with a church in Woodstock, VA and who reported took off a ministerial cloak during a sermon to reveal army dress, and organized a militia to fight in the American revolution in 1776. He is said to have quoted Ecclesiastes, a verse that reads “..a time of war, and a time of peace,... and this is the time of war.” Researchers both in Colonial Williamsburg and in Lutheran communities in Pennsylvania and New York State researched this incident, and found a remaining “robe” to be authentic because it has wool fibers. But the story of his taking the robe off could not be confirmed. It had been invented in relation to immigration from Germany. Yet the story causes one to ponder how religious people in colonial times viewed “freedom” compared to today. The show mentioned the first Lutheran church in the Americas, at Wilmington.

An earlier segment told the story of an early legendary “movie” made by rogue doctor and sometimes flim-flam man Charles A. Pryor before 1920. Auctioneer and appraiser Wes Cowan is asked to examine an enormous color lithograph poster for the movie “The Great Mexican War.” The Library of Congress, as well as a museum in El Paso, TX were consulted, and eventually newsreels of the Mexican “civil war” (actual live combat) in the 1910’s were located. It’s possible to view them with a machine that shows old news reels the way microfilm is viewed. At least four reels were filmed by Pryor. It was possible for voyeuristic spectators to watch the battles from the roof of a hotel in downtown El Paso. Pancho Villa was seen as a Robin Hood (sort of like Che Guevara) , trying to free and redistribute wealth to Mexican farmers and workers. Perhaps the American Film Institute will buy the film and show it in film-history festivals – it would make for a good event at the AFI Silver in Silver Spring MD.

Picture: Landmark Bethesda Row Theater in MD, a popular venue for independent films

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