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Archived film canisters reveal historic scenes of campus life

By ANN WHITCHER GENTZKE

Reprinted from AtBuffalo

Published July 30, 2015

UB Archivist Amy Vilz sniffed the telltale odor of vinegar emanating from hundreds of film canisters stored in the stacks. These records of campus history hadn’t been seen in decades because of concerns over their fragile state; many were undated or labeled with sketchy titles like “Outtakes.” Vilz knew the pungent aroma could mean only one thing: Some films had degraded past redemption, a process that preservationists call the “vinegar syndrome.”

Unwilling to risk rolling the films through a projector, Vilz piloted a restoration program, sending three samples to a Philadelphia firm that digitizes vintage celluloid. When the films, all silent, came back earlier this year, Vilz was treated to a surprise screening of everything from 1930s’ automobiles darting by the downtown med school to a co-ed fashion show from the ’60s.

Vilz hopes these digitized versions will engage those who might recognize moments or people from their past, and also attract donations to fund restoration of more films. Priority titles include “Cops on Campus” and “Frank Lloyd Wright.”

Spring Weekend (Moving Up Day), 1963

This film features various scenes of students celebrating Moving Up Day, when each class moved to the next step of the academic ladder and lowly freshmen were able to burn their “frosh” hats. The event, which became known as Spring Weekend in 1963, included a parade of elaborate floats and a surprisingly sexy fashion show. By 1978, Spring Weekend had become Spring Fest.

Main Street campus and downtown buildings, 1930s

These campus scenes include footage of legendary UB chancellor Samuel P. Capen.

Western New York Nuclear Research Center, c. 1964

Eerie footage of the recently decommissioned nuclear research center on the South Campus.