Mary Cappello Article

The introduction of the ABEA Council members

A Brief, Informal History of the Re-discovery of the Chevaliers Jackson Home Movie Collection: Professor Mary Cappello

As I was coming to the end of my work on Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them(The New Press, 2011), I decided to undertake a more assiduous search for descendants of Chevalier Jackson. I had complex reasons for not wanting to find descendants in the course of writing the book, but when I did learn, through the help of a friend and fellow writer, Professor Russell Potter, who is a better WEB-sleuth than I, the name and phone number of one of Chevalier Jackson’s great-grandchildren, Frank Bugbee, Jr., I was more than eager to put in a phone call to him. Getting to know Frank, his partner, Jennifer Peters, and Frank’s sister, Susan Bugbee Ruby, is a long (and wonderful) story that I won’t recount here, but it was through their generous invitation to have my partner, Jean Walton and me, to dinner at their home in Schwenksville that what I have come to call “The Chevaliers Jackson Home Movie Collection” came to light.

Frank and Jennifer's House
Frank and Jennifer's House

Frank and Jennifer live in one of the many houses that Chevalier Jackson designed by cutting off the tops of old barns in a resplendently tranquil and verdant tract of land in Schwenksville, PA, just about 7 miles from the famous workshop mill and home where Jackson lived (currently in the possession of the Montgomery County Parks Department but not open to the general public), “Old Sunrise Mills.” My and Jean’s visits to Frank and Jennifer’s home were quite extraordinary as Frank shared bits and pieces of Jacksoniana still in his possession, a sense of what he knew about his great grandfather and a sense of all that had been lost, indeed, forgotten over the decades. On one visit, Frank showed Jean and me a beautiful cabinet made expressly for the individual stowage of 16 mm films.

Jackson's 16mm Films
Jackson's 16mm Films

Jean is a literary theorist who also works in Film Studies, and I maintain an abiding interest in film studies generally, experimental film and history of home movies in particular. Even if I were not devoted to work on Chevalier Jackson, I would have been intensely interested to see what was stowed in this very special cabinet, a relative, to be sure, of the Foreign Body Cabinet that inaugurated my work on and interest in Jackson.

Frank recalled having seen some of the films as a boy when his mother, Joan, would project them for the family, but he did not recall a whole lot about what was on the films and he had not watched them in, perhaps, 40 years. (His mother died in the early 1990s an untimely death to breast cancer. His father is still alive, by the way, and lives in North Carolina. His mother was a visual artist who met their father at Moore College of Art where they both studied. Joan appears as a girl in many of the home movies. She was clearly doted on by her grandfather, Chevalier Q. Jackson, and enjoyed a special relationship to him. She was his only grandchild, the only child of his only son, Chevalier L. Jackson and Hilda Cowling).

Frank and Jennifer invited Jean and me to make another visit to their home expressly to explore the home movies together. Over a casual meal of pizza and wine, the films began to come to light with Frank at the projector’s helm. The same screen that his grandfather, CL Jackson had used was still available (a beautifully designed screen that hides inside of a long box to which it is also attached from the inside).

Jackson's Screen
Jackson's Screen
Frank was also in possession of the now defunct original projector, and he had a newer projector with which we screened the films.
Jackson's Projector
Jackson's Projector

Both Jean and Frank had projecting skills, and both knew the dangers of projecting very old film; consequently, we only screened films that appeared in good enough shape to watch without damage, and we treated our meetings as exploratory openings. (That’s Frank at the projector in the next photo).

It was clear that Chevalier Jackson’s son, known as “CL,” was the filmmaker, truly the film enthusiast, and that this was his body of work. One senses from personal accounts of people who knew or worked with Chevalier L. Jackson that he walked reluctantly in his father’s laryngological footsteps; he appears to have had other interests and desires never fully pursued—architecture; opera. He did pursue a love of travel as documented by the films. His sixty plus films were made between 1929 and 1959, just a few years before his untimely death (he was born in 1900). Though, as noted above, I’ve only seen a fraction of the films, it is apparent from a log that Chevalier L. kept of them that they mostly represent his trips to medical meetings across the globe, while, every now and then, in a film labeled, “odds and ends,” we discover rare live footage of his father, Chevalier Jackson Sr., writing, sketching, or rowing on the mill pond property, Old Sunrise Mills, 32 miles outside of Philadelphia where he established his world-renowned clinics.

Frank with Jackson's Projector
Frank with Jackson's Projector

Our first perusal was full of surprise and the sort of beauty that home movie footage from the 1920s forward can hold. We screened approximately 8 films of ten minutes or so each, long stretches of which Jean videotaped with Frank’s permission using a small digital camera mounted on a tripod. Frank chose the films randomly, and the evening was one of discovery. I viewed the films from a strange vantage point that night: my father had died in a nursing home in a suburb of Philadelphia just two nights before. He had suffered terribly; he embodied a kind of misery for the decade that he lived with Parkinson’s Disease. For complex reasons (I’ll use that handy phrase again), I felt the need to go ahead with our plans to meet with Frank and Jennifer. Our meeting that night had taken months of correspondence and had been intricate to plan. Home movies almost always, it seems to me, bear traces of the elegiac, and watching Frank’s family’s films didn’t seem all that far afield from entering a space laced both with mourning and celebration (of a life, of lives). The weather had been rough that evening, and we only got to Frank and Jennifer’s thanks to Jean’s driving in near-blinding wind and rain. By the day of my father’s funeral, gale force winds and severe flooding led to roads being blocked and others shut down entirely, nearly preventing us from arriving at the cemetery.

This first perusal of the films had taken place in September of 2010; a second perusal took place in May of 2011 in preparation for a talk that Jean and I would co-curate and that I delivered for the 12th Annual Northeast Historic Film Symposium that was scheduled to take place in July 2011, and whose focus that year was “Cabinets of Curiosity.” (A presentation on Chevalier Jackson and the Home Movies couldn’t find a more perfect venue). We had attended this symposium twice in the past (in part because of our interest in film, and in part because it took place in Bucksport, Maine, just a half hour from our summer cabin). My hope was that, in sharing some of the videotaped footage with the archivists, preservationists, and film scholars who attend this symposium, we might be able to guide Frank in the preservation and dissemination of the films.

On our second home movie get together, Frank shared a little more with me from the home movie archive: namely, some documents that CL had left behind that sketchily described some of what was on the films and that listed them by number.

Jackson's notebook
Jackson's notebook

This time, Frank asked me to pick out films that I might wish to see. By now, I had a sense of three categories or genres that might suitably describe the collection: 1) a physician’s (CL’s) travelogues; 2) rare, intimate footage of a medical pioneer (CQ) in the singular home/work space he created; and, 3) what we’d hoped might also exist among the home movies, footage of actual procedures, ostensibly intended as teaching tools and visual aids.
My sense that medical films could possibly exist alongside the home movies was helped along by references to such films in articles like this précis of a talk that Jackson had given for the Plymouth County Medical Association that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1929:

“He illustrated his talk with the aid of lantern slides, moving pictures[italics mine] and also chalk talks, drawing some very beautiful pictures illustrating the different points that he was discussing…The moving pictures seemed to be the most interesting part of Dr. Jackson’s lecture because he thereby illustrated the use of the bronchoscope in removing foreign bodies and in inducing respiration where the lungs had collapsed and the passages had been clogged. Illustrations of young children were shown on the operating table with the bronchoscopist and his team at work, without the aid of an anesthetic, where the children after the operation would slide from the operating table and walk quickly away. One of the pictures shown was a little colored boy who was suffering from tuberculosis. A large abscess had formed on the left side. Tracing the source of the trouble, it was found that the boy had swallowed a quarter and it had become lodged in the child’s bronchi and it had been there for five years. Aspiration had been performed and the foreign body located.”

That night yielded two, to our minds, amazing discoveries: first of all, a color film shot in 1936 Berlin, the year of the Olympics, complete with inter-titles, that documented that year’s meeting of the Congress of Otolayrngology in what was then Nazi Germany (When Frank asked which films I might want to see, I said, “How about this one? It says, ‘1936, Berlin’”). This is a film that will gain much from a film historian’s contextualizing (we surmised that the inter-titles might suggest that copies of this film were prepared for each of the members of the Congress, but this is just speculation). A little research that I later did yielded the fact that CL attended the 2nd meeting of the Congress of Otolaryngology in 1932 in Madrid; the 3rd in Berlin in 1936; and the fourth, which only met again following the war, in 1949 in London. It’s quite possible that each of these meetings is documented in the home movie collection, not only the 1936 meeting.

The second amazing discovery that came to light on our second perusal of the films was a film that Frank announced as being labeled, “Pop Pop and Rag Doll.” It was stowed in a separate desk (not in the cabinet), and it appeared to be a very short film. At this moment, I suggested to Frank that the title might only seem to refer to something playful—that this might be a medical film since I had seen photos of Jackson in a textbook or two in which he appeared with a “rag doll” as demonstrative subject. Indeed, the film turned out to be a gorgeously pristine two-take series of shots of Chevalier Jackson, Sr., performing an emergency tracheotomy on a rag doll while seated in the backseat of his car. His dress and demeanor suggest the film was made in the late 1920s. A preservationist no doubt will be able more accurately to date the film.

In a recent Keynote talk hosted by Doctors Karen Zur, Ian Jacobs, and Ellen Deutsch at CHOP (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) for the 6th Annual Foreign Body Pediatric Airway Endoscopy Course, I looped this footage in triplicate (again, the video version made by Jean) and accompanied it with the following narration: [LCJ=Life of Chevalier Jackson]

One of Jackson’s first cases involving a child is described this way: “One cold, dark, blackish-snowy morning in Pittsburgh,” Jackson is assailed by a woman who tells him her husband is beating her child to death. When Jackson arrives on the scene, he realizes the girl is asphyxiated because of a “laryngeal obstruction” (LCJ, 98). He performs an emergency tracheotomy consisting of “two cuts in the front of the neck” (LCJ, 98), but before he can make the second cut, he is attacked by the girl’s drunken father. After the father is taken away, Jackson finishes his work, and after administering artificial respiration to the girl, observes that she begins to breathe again: “her lips moved, and she began to cry. Tears rolled down her cheeks” (LCJ, 98). The story the girl tells when she can speak is that she hid the family’s last remaining dime in her mouth! She needed to buy bread with it so that her brother wouldn’t starve, but she knew her father wanted it for liquor. Seeing her secrete the dime inside of her mouth, the father attempted extraction by choking. Jackson arrives to rescue the girl from choking by cutting.

As Dr. Paul Castellanos (University of Alabama) reminds us, Jackson is “the father of modern tracheotomy technique. Without his contribution to this arguably tiny sphere of care, millions would be dead and countless others would never have come to be.” Jackson was one of the first to describe tracheotomic technique in the medical literature (dating to 1909), and his method is still the standard bearer to this day. In Jackson’s Peroral Endoscopy and Laryngeal Surgery, he suggests that one only need a “knife and pair of hands” to perform the surgery, and that “even eyesight is not essential [since] the author twice has been quite successful in a dark room with nothing but a knife.” In the late 1920s, Jackson and his Pittsburgh colleague, Ellen Patterson (about whom, by the way, another book is waiting to be written—Jackson said of her, anything he could do, she could do as well), reported a one percent mortality rate out of 472 tracheotomies they performed.
…this silent film titled, “Pop Pop and Rag Doll,” is an invaluable documentary of Jackson demonstrating what he called “the two-stage finger guided method” over and against the “stab,” and then “feeling for the corrugated wash-board like trachea in the wound.” [end of narration]

Numerous of the film experts at the Bucksport Symposium showed interest in the The Chevaliers Jackson Home Movie Collection, and Dwight Swanson in particular offered to help Frank to find the right and best preservationists for the films. Dwight also offered to visit Frank and to help assess various aspects of the collection—e.g., to help to date the footage, examine the film stock, etc. Frank was keen to begin to try to preserve the collection (via digitization) but we all knew of course that this could be a tremendously time and labor-intensive to say nothing of costly under-taking. It was my hope that an archive might wish to take the films on, an archive equipped properly to stow, preserve, and make available to future scholars in History of Medicine and in Film Studies the entire collection. It also seemed to me that the collection and future researchers could benefit greatly if, during or following preservation, people who knew the Jacksons and their milieu intimately could be brought together to screen the films and record a voice-over of their responses. People who could be called upon at the time of this writing and who might be able, for example, to identify people and places in the films include Dr. John Tucker; Arlene Maloney (who will turn 90 this June); and Sallie Harwood Norris. (I should add that I’ve recently learned of a woman named Georgiana Peacher—the friend of a friend’s mother-in-law (!) who lives in a retirement community in Brunswick, ME. Peacher was a pre-eminent Speech Pathologist who worked closely with CL Jackson at Temple. She is in her early 90s, and I will be meeting her soon).

Correspondence continued to unfold between Frank and me as I tried to determine if he might be able to move ahead with the project of preserving the films or if he might have sought the guidance of Dwight Swanson. Dr. Mike Rothschild, whom I met by way of his invitation to me to give a Presidential Lecture at the Chicago meeting of the ABEA (American BronchoEsophagological Association) in April 2011, also generously offered to help guide Frank in the films’ preservation. One day Frank wrote to tell me that he had been searching inside the collection to see if there might be any more medical films. He told me he had discovered a film containing a sound track. I suggested that this film could possibly contain—dream of dreams—footage of Chevalier Jackson delivering one of his famous “chalk talk” lectures, and I asked Frank that if he were to proceed with preserving the films, he consider starting with this film. (By now, we’d collectively decided that it was best not to try to screen any more of the films without the guidance of a preservationist). Since I was already scheduled to deliver a talk at CHOP in February (which was at the time four months away), I thought it would be quite wondrous to debut such footage, if such footage it was to be, to this group of physicians who were most poised to appreciate it.

In December, Jennifer Peters wrote to tell me that Frank “had a surprise for me,” and that I would be receiving it in the mail around the holidays (I was living in Vancouver, BC, at the time, and Jennifer wanted to know whether to send it to me in Providence or if I would be visiting my mother in Philadelphia during the holidays). The film that Frank discovered consists of a series of outtakes (four in total) of an aged Chevalier Jackson (we estimate his being around 80 years old in this film) demonstrating safe techniques for grasping and removing safety pins and collar buttons from the airways and esophagi of children and adults. Jackson, indeed, is pictured not only demonstrating the proper grasp of forceps and scope on a mannequin board but drawing in chalk (via the creation of one of his typically perfect circles) the parts of the anatomy under discussion as they might be glimpsed through a scope, as well as the “anatomy” of the safety pin. In a particularly poignant moment, Jackson appears to lose his place in his nearly rote narration, a moment that seems indicative of his advanced age even as it represents an image of him that goes against the grain of his fastidiously perfectionist self.

Frank paid to have the sound-tracked films digitized by a preservationist of his choice, and gifted to me a DVD on which they appear, which he has since granted me permission to share with select others. In a meeting to peruse the films with F. Michael Angelo, Jefferson University Archivist, Michael suggested that the footage of Jackson with cinder block background is most likely a lecture room at Jefferson University. Frank and I surmise that the footage crowded with bric-a-brac is set perhaps on some part of the Sunrise Mills property, possibly even in the barn. F. Michael Angelo noted that the peculiar “podium” in these shots is a Borax Soap box turned upside down.

Following numerous discussions, and finally under the expert guidance of the generous Laura Lindgren, book designer, Blast Books publisher, and learned advocate of histories of medicine and so much more, and, following correspondence with the outstanding medical historian, Michael Sappol of the National Library of Medicine, plans are underway for the possible acquisition of the Chevaliers Jackson Home Movie Collection by the National Library of Medicine, repository of at least 40 boxes of materials relative to Jackson’s life and work, including (but not limited to) the most replete collection of foreign body case histories drawn from the Jackson clinics.

Thus the first major step is underway toward preservation, historicization, and analysis of these films. I hope that this compressed narration of the provenance of the films’ re-discovery serves as an aid to future and current researchers in the several inter-secting fields to which these films stand to offer a major contribution.

I close my acknowledgments to Swallow with the following paragraph, and it seems germane here as well:

“Last but not least, I am immensely grateful to Dr. Chevalier Quixote Jackson for living a life that could inspire my best poetic efforts and analyses. I have tried neither to get him right nor to offer a definitive account of his life and times, but only to open the cabinet of curiosity he made, to read his books and the countless case histories of his patients with care, and with the hope that more books, poems, films, and other forms of attention will emerge from the inexhaustible treasure trove that is the Chevalier Jackson Foreign Body Collection of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.”
It is my hope that this first re-discovery of sound-tracked films and silent films, rare documents of Chevalier Jackson’s medical legacy, will lead to the discovery in medical archives and elsewhere of the very films—full-fledged, complete, intact?—he used as teaching tools and that are described in the 1929 article cited earlier. My own writing on Jackson is not finished; of that, I am sure.

Mary Cappello
2011 Guggenheim Fellow in Creative Arts/Nonfiction
Professor of English and Creative Writing
University of Rhode Island
February 15, 2012

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