March 22, 2018

A Visit from Silent Cal

by Kelly Burton, Film Archivist

President Calvin Coolidge and Superintendent Horace Albright at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 1927 (PAc 93-25)

When speaking about photography in the American West, few names are as ubiquitous as Haynes. Frank Jay Haynes made his name by documenting the settlement of the west, ultimately becoming the first official photographer of Yellowstone National Park. Upon his retirement in 1916, his son, Jack Ellis Haynes, inherited his father’s business and continued as the official park photographer until his death in 1962. Jack began shooting motion picture film of Yellowstone shortly after the advent of 16mm film in 1923, and aside from a handful of commercial films for the park and the Northern Pacific Railway, these films can be classified as home movies. The Jack Ellis Haynes collection at the Montana Historical Society (PAc 93-25) documents Yellowstone’s ecology and its employees from the 1920s to the 1950s, as well as Jack’s family life during this time. Footage of his 1930 marriage to Isabel Nauerth is part of the collection, and the couple’s daughter, Lida, grows up in front of her father’s camera lens.

Dr. Hubert Work (center) with Albright (right) in Yellowstone National Park, 1927 (PAc 93-25)

In addition to capturing the daily lives of those who lived and worked within the park, the collection also documents the leisure time of several well-known Yellowstone visitors. One reel in particular highlights the amount of promotion that Superintendent Horace Albright undertook on behalf of the park in the very busy year of 1927. Labeled the “Celebrities Reel” by the Haynes Studio, this film features several notable names from the worlds of politics and finance: Dr. Hubert Work, Secretary of the Interior; Judge John H. Edwards, Assistant Secretary of the Interior; Dr. John Merriam, president of the Carnegie Institution in Washington D.C.; Dr. Harold Bryant, founder of the Yosemite Field School of Natural History; Will H. Hays, former U.S. Postmaster General and first chairman of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA); and Kenneth Chorley from the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Foundation. It is worth noting that Yellowstone’s southern neighbor, Grand Teton National Park, was established in 1929, due in large part to Albright’s promotional efforts in the region.

Grace and Calvin Coolidge at Camp Roosevelt in Yellowstone, 1927 (PAc 93-25)

The most famous visitor on the “Celebrities Reel” is arguably President Calvin Coolidge, who came to Yellowstone with his wife, Grace, and his son, John, in the summer of 1927. After spending several weeks at their vacation lodge in South Dakota’s Black Hills, Interior Secretary Hubert Work urged the family to spend time in nearby Yellowstone before returning to Washington. (1) According to Albright’s memoir, the surprise visit came shortly after Coolidge issued the statement that he would not seek a second full term as president:
“Having made his decision not to run, he had thought he might as well add a few days to his vacation and get in some fishing in the park before returning to the summer heat of Washington. Bill Starling of the Secret Service came to Yellowstone with an advance party to check on security procedures, and wanted special protection measures taken. Starling told me not to announce ahead of time where the President would be going, and to be flexible with the planning because they might change the schedule with no notice. While I wanted to make it possible for the President to get his rest and relaxation fishing, I did not intend to miss the opportunity to push for some of our priorities.” (2)
Superintendent Albright ultimately satisfied Coolidge’s predilection for fishing, (3) and was even witness to the quiet president’s “peculiar style of wry, taciturn wit,”(4) but was somewhat less successful in discussing matters of park promotion with the president at that time. (5)

Albright and Coolidge at Artist Point in Yellowstone, 1927 (PAc 93-25)

The Haynes footage of the visit begins with the presidential motorcade approaching the north entrance to the park in Gardiner, Montana. Mounted park rangers salute from the side of the road as the automobile procession passes through Roosevelt Arch, so named for the president that laid its cornerstone in 1903. The touring group then poses in front of a wooden building at Camp Roosevelt, east of Mammoth Hot Springs on the Wyoming side of Yellowstone. Artist Point overlook on the south rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone provides Haynes with the most significant images from the celebrity visit, and it is from these viewing platforms that we see Superintendent Albright pointing out various features of the landscape to President Coolidge and his family.

Calvin, John, and Grace Coolidge at Artist Point, 1927 (PAc 93-25)

The Jack Ellis Haynes collection consists of 141 reels of 16mm film. Twenty of these films are available for viewing in the Montana Historical Society Research Center, and two of the commercial productions, Magic Yellowstone and Yellowstone Park: Scenic Wonderland of America, can be watched on the MHS Moving Image Archive YouTube playlist.

(1) Richard Bartlett. Yellowstone: A Wilderness Besieged (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1985), 97.
(2) Horace M. Albright. The Birth of the National Park Service: the founding years (Salt Lake City: Howe Bros., 1985), 211-212.
(3) Bartlett, 97-98.
(4) Albright, 212.
(5) Bartlett, 98.