Professor examines Tacoma Narrows wreckage in UW 'orphaned film'

Hannah Palin never quite knows what she'll do at work.

She may observe a pair of men spray painting fish green, or relive a time when boys and girls used separate lines in a college cafeteria.

She might even watch an engineering professor observe the freshly collapsed wreckage of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

Palin is a film archivist at the University of Washington Audio Visual Services Materials Library, who from time to time plays detective with old films published in the UW Today segment "Lost and Found Films."

The Narrows Bridge clip appeared in the column on March 4th.

It is from a selection of "Governor's Day," a Campus Studios silent film from the early 1940s found among more than 600 reels of mystery film Palin is gradually working her way through.

"They were just kind of orphaned and abandoned on our shelves," Palin said.

Little is known about them, except that the films were shot by and for the University of Washington from the late 1940s to the early 1970s.

Aside from that, the only clues she has about the films come from what might have been written on the cans they came in.

"You never know what you're going to find," Palin said.

Releasing them into the world often helps her identify who is in the films and sometimes what is happening at all.

(In the case of the spray painted fish, biologists were marking them to study their spawning habits.)

The "Governor's Day" film shows a mystery man watching a film titled "A Kaleidoscope of Campus Life" which shows a hodgepodge of scenes including a campus football game, boats on Lake Washington and men skiing.

Also among the inexplicable mix are segments of UW engineering professor F.B. Farquharson reviewing rubble after the Narrows Bridge collapsed in November of 1940.

Farquharson had actually been brought on to determine what was causing the bridge's famous shaking several months before the disaster. He was even among those filming it on the day of the collapse.

"At the time having that captured on film was really unusual," Palin said, speaking of a time before everyone had a cell phone camera in their pocket.

While plenty is known about the Narrows Bridge collapse, Palin is always interested in hearing new details about the films in the Campus Studios collection.

"It's all about getting the films out and having them used," she said.

Know something about this clip? You can share it in the comments below or on the UW site.