Relics of the past

Milton-Madison Bridge project to save,
restore historic 1929 film

Superstructure replacement slated to begin in fall

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(April 2010) – A government project involving potentially explosive film carefully transported to a special lab in Maryland doesn’t sound like something involving the Milton-Madison Bridge Replacement Project. But it is.

Bridge Construction

Photo courtesy of Heritage Research Library of Jefferson County

This 1929 photo shows the
Milton-Madison Bridge under
construction. The bridge opened
to traffic in Dec. 1929.

Although the reality is not as mysterious as it sounds, the 20-minute film involved is an important part of the historic legacy of the 80-year-old Milton-Madison Bridge. The bridge is scheduled to be rehabilitated with a new steel superstructure by 2012.
On Dec. 20, 1929, despite bitter cold weather, dignitaries, townsfolk and even the governors of Kentucky and Indiana gathered for a grand ceremony to open the new Milton-Madison Bridge.
Festivities included the crowning of a queen, a parade through downtown Madison, Ind., and speeches by local and state leaders. Madison-based Lorenz Film Productions recorded the christening ceremony for future generations.
As a stipulation of the Memorandum of Agreement in the current project’s National Environmental Policy Act document, the original 1929 film is to be restored, and copies in a stable film medium will be produced and distributed to various local, state and federal agencies. The cost of the process is expected to be about $5,100, although officials said the final cost depends on the condition of the film once it is inspected by experts.
“I have been involved with transportation projects for almost 40 years,” said John Carr, project manager for lead consultant Wilbur Smith Associates. “This is a first. Converting the original 1929 film of the bridge opening ceremony preserves part of Madison’s and Milton’s history that could be lost forever. I think that all of us on the project team saw this as a ‘win-win’ for the project and communities. We were proud to make this happen.”
Historic Madison Inc. acquired the original 35mm film in 1993 from the Lorenz family. It has been kept in safe storage since then.
“We knew it was costly to process and preserve the piece, but we didn’t have the funds” said John Staicer, executive director of HMI. “I mentioned the film as a potential item for the MOA during a Section 106 meeting last fall. We are thrilled the project is going to restore this important piece of our community’s history.”
The process is expected to take approximately six weeks to complete, and when the film arrives back in Madison, a community screening at a local theater is being planned for later in the year, said Staicer.
Like most films of its era, the opening ceremony film was made using a material called cellulose nitrate, which was transparent, light, flexible and easy to handle. Unfortunately, however, unless stored at a very low temperature, cellulose nitrate motion picture and still photographic film self-destructs at an unpredictable rate over time. Deteriorated nitrate film is highly flammable and can even burn under water; once ignited, nitrate fires are almost impossible to put out. Most photographers and filmmakers of the early 20th century had no knowledge of the volatility and problems with nitrate film.
Staicer hand delivered the film to A Package Deal, a custom crate and box company ,in Louisville, Ky. The firm is one of a handful of companies in the region certified to package hazardous materials.

Madison Mayor Sulzer

Photo courtesy of Heritage Research Library of Jefferson County

Then-Madison Mayor Sulzer
helps celebrate the opening of
the Milton-Madison Bridge in 1929.

“We packed the film in cold packs and Styrofoam,” said company representative Shirley Champion. “As long as the film is kept cool, it is fine.” Her company has a special hazmat account with Federal Express, which shipped the package to ColorLab in Rockville, Md.
In the early 1970s, ColorLab was started primarily as a motion picture laboratory doing film to tape transfers. Through the years, its expertise and reputation grew. The lab now works with the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the Holocaust Museum, and many state historical societies on film preservation and duplication.
“We just received the Milton-Madison Bridge film,” said ColorLab’s Kevin Fallis. “There are several stages in the process of conserving and reproducing this type of film, but we first have to evaluate it to get a better idea of its physical condition.”
At some point, the film’s images will be transferred from the fragile original base and transferred to a film base that will last. A telecine machine is used to scan and record the images onto contemporary material, said Fallis. “The original will then be packed and sent to HMI, where it should be put into cold storage.”
As part of the MOA, the original film will be preserved and a high quality master negative film will be created. The master negative will be given to HMI. Twenty-four DVD copies of the film will also be created and distributed to HMI, the state libraries in Indiana and Kentucky, local public libraries in Madison and Bedford, Ky., the Indiana and Kentucky State Historic Preservation Offices, the City of Madison, City of Milton, Jefferson County Historical Society, Trimble County Historical Society, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, Indiana Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration and other local and state agencies.
In other Milton-Madison Bridge news, the KYTC and INDOT announced federal environmental approval of the NEPA document, which will allow the states to move toward the design and construction phase of the project.
Once a funding agreement is reached, INDOT will advertise a construction contract for a period of 11-12 weeks, during which time bids will be accepted through a competitive letting process.
The contract is expected to be awarded in late summer with construction efforts beginning this fall. Construction should take approximately 24 months with the bridge expected to close to traffic in early fall 2011. Contractors will be permitted to close the bridge for a maximum of 12 months, and a free ferry service across the Ohio River will be offered.

• For more information on the project, visit: www.MadisonMiltonBridge.com.

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