A couple of years ago, a local contractor was demolishing a barn in Nelson, N.H., when he came across a 35mm Monarch projector and seven reels of film. He donated his find to the Keene State College Film Society, which has determined that at least three of the films appear to be the only surviving copies of long-lost movies, including When Lincoln Paid, a film on an incident in Abraham Lincoln’s life, starring and directed by movie pioneer Francis Ford, the older brother of and greatest influence on famed director John Ford.
This brittle and damaged 30-minute two-reeler is of such historical significance that it easily won support from Tag Gallagher (author of John Ford), the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY, and the National Film Preservation Foundation, who rallied to restore the film. After being lost for 97 years, When Lincoln Paid will premiere in the Mabel Brown Room in the Student Center on Tuesday, April 20, at 4 p.m. and again in the Putnam Theater in the Redfern Arts Center, thanks to the sponsorship of the KSC Film Archives, Special Collections/Mason Library, the Film Studies Dept., and the KSC Film Society. The film is important for its historical theme, its place in film history, and for what it has to show about the techniques that influenced John Ford. The screening is free and open to the public.
Both Ford brothers were fascinated with Abraham Lincoln and made him the subject of many of their films. “There is nothing I like better than to play Lincoln. I have a big library devoted to this great man, and I have studied every phase of his remarkable character, and when I am acting the part, I can feel the man as I judge him,” Francis Ford is quoted as saying in an article by Ford scholar Tag Gallagher.
“Francis Ford is one of the most fascinating persons in film history…And he is known as the man who taught John Ford.” Gallagher said in a letter he sent in support of restoring When Lincoln Paid. Francis Ford made the first spectacular westerns in 1912, some of the first detective movies, and one of the first serials.
“Between 1912 and 1915 he played Abraham Lincoln in at least seven pictures. Alas, all of these pictures are lost. For nearly a century no one has been able to see Francis Ford as Lincoln,” Gallagher explained. “So now…to be told that I may get to see Francis Ford as Lincoln is thrilling news indeed.”
Check out these film clips from When Lincoln Paid. The first shows Confederate soldiers ambushing and pursuing John Wade, one of the film’s principal characters. The second shows Mrs. Wade pleading with Abraham Lincoln (played by Francis Ford) for the life of a young Confederate soldier.