Uncovering the real filmmaker behind the Abbott Collection

Sometimes when we dig deeply into a collection we find out that the information that we had was not correct.  For this project NHF had to identify which of our collections had been filmed by women, which was more difficult than it seemed.  I learned this the hard way with one of the first collections that I started to process.

The Philip J. Abbott Collection was donated to NHF in 1987 and is one of the first collections that we received.  Philip said that the films were made by Charles and Lena Cushman, who were not directly related to him, but had helped raise his grandfather.

Going into the project I knew that the whole collection had not been filmed by Lena.  It was noted that she died in 1929 but the Collection spanned from 1927- 1941.  Among the early films are four reels titled “the Ladies travel South” documenting Lena and two other women’s vacation through the southern US in 1928.  I figured that if nothing else she had at least filmed these reels and that they would be an excellent addition to the grant.

Lena Cushman and her friends from “The Ladies Travel South.” Philip Abbot Collection, 1928

These films had been mostly described so I didn’t plan to do much beyond try to identify which films Lena had shot.  As I started to do my research, however, I discovered a problem.  Charles Cushman died in 1914, so the Cushmans did not create these films as the donor had said.  I needed to figure out first, who filmed them, and second who was Philip Abbott’s grandfather.  Also some of the film labels referred to Charlie Cushman, since Charles Cushman was dead who was pictured in these reels and who in the family started the Charles Cushman Company in 1932?

The obvious place to go to for answers was the donor himself, but a quick search revealed that Philip Abbott had died in 2008.  I pulled out my historian background and went to work.  After an afternoon of research I had found my answers.

Lena Cushman’s sister was married to James J. Abbott and they had seven children.  The Abbotts lived in Colorado, but their children went back to Maine to attend university.  While in Maine Lena and Charles Cushman took care of their nephews and two of them, Charles Cushman Abbott and Edward Farrington Abbott, went to work at the Cushman Hollis shoe Company after graduating.   Charles Cushman and Edward Farrington took over the Cushman Hollis Company after Charles Cushman’s death in 1914.  When the Company collapsed in 1932, weakened by the stock market crash and worker strikes, Edward Farrington Abbott started the Charles Cushman Company, which remained in business under his children’s management until the 1960’s.

Edward Farrington Abbott Sr. had several children, including Edward Farrington Abbott Jr., who was Philip Abbott’s father.  So now the timeline and cast of characters was complete, and I knew how the films had come to be in Philip Abbot’s possession.   I was still left with the important question of who filmed the movies?  After re-watching the films with this new knowledge I came to the conclusion that the films were made by Edward Farrington Abbott, Sr..

While this excludes the collection from the project I am still happy to have identified its true origins.  And I am happy to say that Lena Cushman still appears in many of the early films.  The four-reel travelogue “The Ladies Travel South” is a wonderful documentation of Lena and three of her friends’ road trip from Georgia to Florida, even if it wasn’t filmed by her.  It can’t be included in the grant, but it is available on the NHF website, and thanks to this CLIR grant we have a better picture of this collection.

Click to see “The Ladies Travel South”