Taking a shot to reinvent history

Havre de Grace is scene of History Channel documentary on Thomas Edison

July 09, 2006|By CASSANDRA A. FORTIN | CASSANDRA A. FORTIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The actors got into position, their period attire was accurate down to the smallest detail.

The producer finished the preparations to shoot a scene for a documentary about Thomas Edison.

But when filming on the upper deck of the Lantern Queen in the Chesapeake Bay was done, an actor pointed out that the American flag hanging from the back of the boat had 50 stars, too many for the late 19th century.

"I went through and checked all the costumes and shoes for authenticity, but I can only catch so much," said Tucker Bowen, a freelance producer.

The flag was adjusted, and the scene re-shot.

Bowen came to Havre de Grace recently to film the documentary on Edison and his invention of the motion picture camera. And one of the fringe benefits of Bowen's location is that the locals who participate in the production know their history.

"These people catch it all," he said.

Bowen is working on the first of two one-hour documentaries he's producing for an invention series scheduled to start airing later this summer on the History Channel.

"This show is based on rumors that Edison may not have invented some of the inventions he patented," said Bowen, who wrote the script.

The opening scene depicts the cast standing along the banks of the "Hudson River" - in this case the Chesapeake Bay - chatting as they waited to board the boat.

The group of actors included history buffs, students, re-enactors and museum curators who traveled from Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland to appear in the documentary.

Actor Richard Cutting, a Kent Island resident who has appeared on the soap opera All My Children, portrayed Edison.

Bowen is producing the documentary for Story House Productions, an international film and television production company based in Washington.

His search for a prime location led to Havre de Grace, with its picturesque setting by the bay and history-savvy population.

Bowen found an ample number of actors who were comfortable wearing clothes from another era.

"They know what is `period correct' and what isn't, so they're confident," said Bowen while watching cast members board the boat.

"The historical re-enactors know immediately when something doesn't fit," he said. "They know the mannerisms and the culture of the 19th-century people they portray."

Several women walked in a line to the upper deck, with taffeta petticoats swooshing beneath long skirts. Some accessorized their attire with feather-adorned hats, while others fluttered hand-held fans.

The men donned tailored jackets, bowties and vests. Many wore top hats, and some walked with ornate canes.

Participating in the documentary is a family affair for some actors, such as the Keithley family of Aberdeen.

Betsy Keithley and her daughter, Elaine, have participated for four years in living-history demonstrations at Jerusalem Mill, cooking on a hearth and gardening, said Keithley, 41.

"My dad was a history teacher at Aberdeen High School, and he loved me getting involved with history re-enactments," she said. "So now I'm getting my daughter inoculated."

Keithley said her 7-year-old daughter already could tell what items are "period correct."

"It feels fun to dress up and do a lot of stuff that helps me learn about history," Elaine said.

Another family that has jumped into the fray is the Millers of Havre de Grace.

Though Jeff Miller is a veteran re-enactor, his wife, Kelly, grew up hating history.

"I wanted nothing to do with history," said Kelly Miller, 39. "That was until Jeff introduced me to this."

Even 2-year-old Caitlin Miller is participating in the production and demonstrating some of the unique challenges young actors present.

During one scene, Bowen coached Caitlin to run to her father when he said, "Action!" But when the time came, she didn't budge.

"Caitlin, run to your daddy," Bowen said in a loud whisper.

She stayed put.

"Caitlin! Run to your daddy!" the producer repeated a little louder.

The third time worked as the toddler ran to her father a few yards away.

Being a history enthusiast wasn't a prerequisite for appearing in the documentary.

Eve Young of Alexandria, Va., who appeared in a District of Columbia lottery commercial and played a corpse in a Court TV show, said she decided to take the job to see Havre de Grace.

"Havre de Grace is a beautiful place, and when I heard it was being filmed on a paddleboat, I thought, `What a nice way to spend the day,'" said the 58-year-old.

On board the Lantern Queen, Kayla Layton said her love of history and costumes attracted her to the project.

"I'm interested in historical fiction and old theatrical costumes," said the 15-year-old who will be a sophomore at Havre de Grace High School next year. "This is a great chance to wear old costumes."

Wendy Osborne of Havre de Grace said she is participating because she's a big fan of the History Channel.

"This project is for the cause of history," said Osborne, 52, of Havre de Grace. "I'm a shy person, but it's a joy to talk to people and watch how things are done even in the short scenes. I just try to look away when I see the camera coming."

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