The Belmont Park Crowd, 1905

Sep 11th 2010 10:19 am |

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The only good thing about the end of Saratoga is the start of the Belmont fall meet. Those who follow Colin’s Ghost know I hold Belmont in high esteem. I have been making an annual trip there for Jockey Club Gold Cup day for a few years now and look forward to doing it again this year.

In the real world, I work in a research library and am always coming across new databases with historical content. This week someone passed me a link to a site called Critical Past that sells copies of motion picture film and images from government agencies (mostly the National Archives). The films are being sold “royalty-free.” In other words, when you buy a copy, you are free to use it as you wish. Best of all, this is the first time most of this content has been made so easily accessible.

Of course, on my first visit to Critical Past, I began by searching “horse racing.” I found a few thousand clips, but one in particular has been on my mind since I watched it early this week. It’s a five-minute film credited to Thomas Edison from opening day at Belmont Park in 1905.

Much of the film contains nothing you haven’t seen before: horses racing around a track (the look and feel of this has changed little over the years). What makes the film unique is the decision by the camera man to turn the camera on the crowd (as seen above); a long sweeping pan shot that captures the hustle and bustle of the crowd on the first ever opening day at Belmont Park.

You can watch the full film here, but I clipped the section with the pan shot. I slowed it down and put it on a loop and encourage you to watch it more than once. I am and will always be captivated by historic images of people — you can’t help but feel humbled. All of the anonymous faces at Belmont over one-hundred years ago, so alive then, but long dead now, enjoying an afternoon at the races just as we do today.

Life is short, get out to the track this weekend.


Filed in Belmont Park,thoroughbred racing history

7 Responses to “The Belmont Park Crowd, 1905”

  1. Teresa says:

    Awesome. What a find. Imagine what it must have been like to walk into this place 105 years ago.

  2. Jim says:

    Helluva find Kevin. Pretty cool.

  3. Susan Kayne says:

    Fantastic! Thank you for sharing your gifts — you are a refreshing inspiration.

  4. TJC says:

    Great find, Kevin. The full film is just as interesting as the clip you loop, for a couple of details:

    1) No trace horses in the post parade.

    2) The chaos of lining up all those horses (that was a big field!) for a flag start.

    3) The dirt track really was dirt; that was a serious cloud they kicked up.

    4) The wooden rail

    5) The two knuckleheads crossing the track from the infield ahead of the horses. Yes, they were far away enough, but it evokes shades of Emily Davidson at Epsom in 1913.

    4) Unless the film was printed flip-sided, I’m surprised that they were running left-handed. For its first twenty years Belmont Park made a public point of running right-handed.

  5. Kevin says:

    Hi TJC:

    Thanks for the comment. Agreed on the full clip — definitely worth taking a look.

    Yes, the chaos of the flag start is interesting. Especially considering how the horses were aligned when the flag finally dropped.

    I had that same thought about them running left-handed. I wondered if the second half of the clip was another track? Hard to make out any details that would clue you either way. The possibility of a flipped negative also occurred to me and is a possibility. A mystery indeed…

    Thanks again,

  6. Linda says:

    Thanks so much for posting this clip, Kevin! I thought the same thing you did when I watched this … probably all of these people are dead, and it is so interesting to look into their faces as they not only watch the action on the track, but the novelty of Edison’s camera.

  7. ljk says:

    What a great website. I immediately looked up Saratoga and found a 1933 clip of Equipoise winning at Saratoga. What I found interesting was they started in “the Wilson Chute”; a chute for one mile races that joined the main track at the clubhouse turn (where they now put the tacky portable suites). I had read about the chute but couldn’t find any pictures. To see it on video was neat.