EDMOND, OKLAHOMA — From film to tape to disk to laptop computer, fitting a piece of half-century old film into the modern puzzle of technology is difficult, which is part of what makes Bob Mathew’s film reel so rare and interesting.
“I had lots of film and lots of batteries for my lights,” he recalls of his ‘Opening Night’ of 1960-1961.
Bob was a photo-journalist on assignment in Oklahoma CIty on December 31st, 1960.
Sitting in his Edmond study over an un-finished jig-saw puzzle Mathews says, “I wasn’t a party guy. I didn’t go out on New Year’s Eve and get drunk. So I figured I could cover the city by myself.”
His 4 and a half-minute film reel from that night starts with a scene from Main Street in downtown Oklahoma City between John A. Brown’s department Store and the old Woolworth’s.
It’s a downtown that’s changed a lot.
“Urban renewal did away with that Main Street,” he says. “It’s gone.”
Bob went to a church service at St. Luke’s Methodist early in the evening.
Then things go livelier.
Liquor stores were still a new thing that year thanks to a law passed that year allowing them for the first time.
Mathews shot film in on just before closing.
“One of my scenes shows a man rushing up to the store and rattling the door,” describes Mathews.
The proprietor comes and says, ‘closed’, and he goes away unhappy.”
He went to a party at the Zebra Room at the old Municipal Auditorium for a little while.
Then he checked in at another party upstairs in the Hall of Mirrors.
“The Hispanics were having their New Year’s Eve dance,” recalls Mathews.
Bob dropped in on a shift change at the police department.
It was a busy night for them.
The police switchboard jammed up right away with public intoxication calls.
A ‘paddy wagon’ made regular trips to the city jail.
Mathews had a contact who let him into what they called the Sobriety Test Room.
“The Sobriety Room was just a mark on the tile floor,” says Bob. “And you’d heel and toe, heel and toe, to see if you could walk that line.”
He shot film of a mattress fire at a house that night.
Mathews shot a couple of car wrecks.
Finally, he ended up at the old Wesley Hospital in time to see the first baby of 1961.
He recalls, “It was about 5AM by the time I got around to see the New Year’s baby.”
His unique film shows a different time, a different year, but the same place, Oklahoma City on the crest of a new year.
“It’s one thing to talk about it, another to have done it,” says Mathews.