Watch CBS News

Peggy Notebaert Museum Restoring Nearly Century-Old Films By Ornithologist Benjamin Gault, Showing Rare Scenes Of 1920s Ireland

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Benjamin Gault was known for researching birds, and there is now even a bird sanctuary named after him in his hometown of Glen Ellyn.

But as CBS 2's Charlie De Mar reported Tuesday, films that he recorded some 100 years ago are getting a new life and providing a history lesson on much more than just birds.

Gault (1858-1942), an ornithologist - or birder - from Glen Ellyn, kept meticulous field observations and notes of the birds he came across.

"He was fascinated by birds, and he was highly organized and methodical in his study," said Dawn Roberts, senior director of collections for the Chicago Academy of Sciences' Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

Gault also collected bird specimens. His expansive collection is now in the hands of Roberts and the Notebaert Museum – as is his collection of silent films, which will soon have an encore.

"I am so excited about this project," Roberts said. "We are having these digitally copied and then fully digitally restored."

Most of the silent films are from Gault's travels to Ireland from 1925 to 1927. Along with birds, he also filmed everyday life - giving a rare glimpse of Ireland at the time through the lens of an American.

It shows everything from dancing to farming, and even a dog with a pipe in its mouth.

"All of that has been trapped in these films for so long, and now we're finally being able to tap into it and see things almost from a hundred years ago," Roberts said.

With help from the Irish Film Institute and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival to fund the project, Roberts hopes once fully restored, people will watch the 35 minutes of film and help write the story lines by identifying places, events, and even family members.

"Sharing that history as well as preserving - those are some strong mandates," Roberts said.

Roberts says the museum is are still working out the details on how the films will be distributed and made available. She hopes that the films are fully restored by the spring.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.