“Mr. Crane’s Vivid Story” (scenes 1 – 16(of24), Thomas Edison’s outdoor film studio in West Orange, New Jersey, Fall 1898)

“Mr. Crane’s Vivid Story” (scenes 1 – 16(of24), Thomas Edison’s outdoor film studio in West Orange, New Jersey, Fall 1898)



USS Maine Tablet (1912) old Rochester, NY city hall. Fitzhugh Street

Scene 1: Havana, February 1898


from 1896 film, Boxing match or Glove Contest

Scene 2: Pawtucket, Rhode Island, February 1898


The Roosevelt Room in the White House

Scene 3: Washington, February 1898



Buffalo Soldiers in Montana, 1896

Scene 4: Montana, February 1898

Scene 5: New York, February 1898220px-StephenCraneandCora1899

Scene 6: The Cuban Countryside, February 1898



1893 edition

 Scene 7

Scene 8: Havana, May 1898

crank 2Scene 9, Siboney, Cuba June 1898

shafter on cart Scene 10

Scene 11negro troops



Scene 12 cuban flag Scene 13Black_Maria


Scene 1420150312-Petes_Tavern-1_0

Scene 15wash 2


Scene 17

Scene 19

For background, see: (from War, Literature and the Arts)

“Infirm Soldiers in the Cuban War of Theodore Roosevelt and Richard Harding Davis”

“Strains of Failed Populism in Stephen Crane’s Spanish War Stories”

“Imperium in Imperio: Sutton Griggs’s Imagined War of 1898”

“The Spanish-American War as a Bourgeois Testing Ground: Richard Harding Davis, Frank Norris and Stephen Crane”

also On Spanish-American War Monuments and Rochester. And remembering the Buffalo Soldiers on Veteran’s Day

Scene Sixteen: Thomas Edison’s outdoor film studio in West Orange, New Jersey, Fall 1898


Stephen Crane, Greco-Turkish War, Greece, 1897


The Black Maria (/məˈraɪ.ə/ mə-RY-ə) was Thomas Edison’s movie production studio in West Orange, New Jersey. It is widely referred to as America’s First Movie Studio.

An outdoor film set is being constructed at Edison’s facility in West Orange, New Jersey. The scene is somewhat chaotic. Some men are building replica Spanish blockhouses. Extras and some original members of the Rough Riders are milling around.  Film and military equipment is strewn about. Some men are practicing the charge up the hill, cursing the muddy ground.  Crane is moving about, giving orders and taking his own turn behind the camera. He is approached by three men.

Crane: Frank [Norris], Dick [Richard Harding Davis], and Teddy[Roosevelt]!  The Four Musketeers reunited.

(looking at Davis) Dick, you look a little piqued. Partied a bit too much in Havana after the surrender?

Davis: (slightly trembling) Yes, that must be it. You  know how hot blooded those Cuban girls are.


Here the fever stricken Lieutenant hallucinates that his nurse is actually his fiancé. To “cure” him, the nurse plays along, masquerading as the fiancé. In sharper versions, the twisting torso of a nude woman seems to be visible.

[After the war, Davis would write perhaps his most problematic short story “On the Fever Ship,” about a psychologically traumatized and hallucinating Lieutenant. I argue Davis uses “fever” as a thinly veiled mask for “shellshock” or PTSD Davis frequently uses the trope of fever in his Cuban War stories. In “A Man with One Talent,” a fevered soldier has flashbacks to battlefield horrors. In a “Derelict,” fever propels the character modeled after Crane on a manic writing spree. In the same, story, a newspaperman suffering from the strain of war goes on a debilitating drinking binge.]

Crane: Frank, you look a little tired yourself. I thought McClure’s had given you a paid vacation. Expected you to be spending it in a ‘Frisco love nest with Blix.

Scene 11

[Upon his return, Norris was suffering from Cuban malaria. McClure’s, who sent him to Cuba, provided him with free transportation from San Francisco to New York and back, and a paid leave of absence while he recovered.]

Norris: Indeed. Those all nighters tire out even the best naturalist. [Norris’s writing style]

Anyway, Crane, we’ve come to help with the film. I have brought some of my Cuban sketches. To give you a flavor with which to work. This is from “Untold Thrilling Account of Santiago’s Surrender” [retitled by his editor as “The Surrender of Santiago”] Scene 13norris

And the great names come to mind again: Lexington, Trenton, Yorktown, 1812, Chapultepec, Mexico, Shiloh, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Appomattox, and now—Guisimas, San Juan, El Caney, Santiago.

Here it gets going:

Santiago was ours—ours, ours by the sword we had acquired, we, Americans, with no one to help—and the Anglo-Saxon blood of us, the blood of the race that fought its way out of a swamp in Friesland, conquering and conquering and conquering, on to the westward, the race whose blood instinct is in the acquiring of land . . . the fine brutal instinct of the Anglo-Saxon. . . triumphant, arrogant, conquerors.

Crane: Bully, as Theodore would say (glancing at Roosevelt).  Can I count on you, Harold Harefoot, [Anglo-Saxon King, 1035 – 1040] to be an extra during our fine brutal ride up San Juan Hill.

Norris: Too bad I told McClure’s I wouldn’t accept any outside employment.

octopus[Interestingly, Norris’s next novel, The Octopus (1899) seems to make an ironic twist of his Spanish War experiences.  I argue one of the central characters, the blustering Annixter, is almost surely modeled after Roosevelt—the Annexor—who Norris had praised in “The Surrender of Santiago.” If so, Annixter’s fate is ironic. In The Octopus, Norris casts Annixter as the doomed leader of a rancher men’s League, killed in a pitched but hopeless battle against agents of a powerful railroad corporation. see “The Spanish-American War as a Bourgeois Testing Ground: Richard Harding Davis, Frank Norris and Stephen Crane” ]

Roosevelt: (to Crane): Stephen, you look positively vital. You’ve been a New Jersey dynamo. Michelangelo on his back in the Sistine Chapel.


US Army poster (1953)

Crane: (bowing) Film will be the cathedral of the 20th century

Roosevelt (taking Crane aside): Now on the movie. Gattlings. Lot of Gattlings. And American flags like the 4th of July. And plenty of dead Spaniards. With all due respect to Davis and his Cuban and Porto Rican Campaign, remember its title. The Rough Riders.

shafter on cart

300-pound General William Shafter riding in a one horse buggy [Painting by Charles Johnson Post]

Crane: (half smiling) And the reconnaissance balloon? And Shafter’s cart? I’ve even got a man to pull it.

(Crane points to one of the huge bronco busters hired as an extra trying to dislodge a huge camera caught in the mud using a lasso).

Scene 10

Roosevelt: C-R-A-N-E! It’s your movie. Do as you please.

Now, I’ve also brought along some reading material for your inspiration. It’s from the first draft of you know what.

It’s the wounding of Tom Bisbell, the half Cherokee who as you recall was hit seven times:

The first wound was received by him two minutes after he had fired his first shot, the bullet going through his neck. The second hit him in the left thumb. The third struck near his right hip, passing entirely through the body. The fourth bullet (which was apparently from a Remington and not from a Mauser) went into his neck and lodged against the bone, being afterward cut out. The fifth bullet again hit the left hand. The sixth scraped his head and the seventh his neck. He did not receive all of the wounds at the same time, over half an hour elapsing between the first and last. Up to receiving the last wound he had declined to leave the firing-line, but by the same he had lost so much blood that he had to be sent to the rear.

How’s that for modern realism?

Crane: Let’s ask the victim of your prose himself.  (Crane calls to Bisbell who has been hired as an extra). Chief Tom, we have a visitor.

(Bisbell joins the men)

Roosevelt. Bisbell! How’s my Archibald Scraper!? [Cherokee Chief during the Trail of Tears]. Good to see in one chunk after the Spanish made Swiss cheese out of you.

Crane: So, is the Colonel’s poem accurate?

Bisbell: (nodding no) I was hit eight times. Once here. (touching his groin)

Crane: A pity for your squaws!  Shant put that in the film.

Roosevelt: So Crane, how will you treat the death of Bucky O’Neil? That poker playing, six shooting god damned sheriff of Prescott, Arizona Territory. You know, O’Neil reminded me a little of you. Well, not the sheriff part. And not yet the dead part.

Crane: How so?

Roosevelt: In Tampa, Bucky and I got to know each other pretty well. Here’s my “eulogy:”


Statue of O’Neill astride his horse. Prescott, Arizona.

Bucky O’Neil, the iron-nerved, iron-willed fighter from Arizona, the Sheriff whose name was a by-word of terror to every wrong-doer, white or red, the gambler who with unmoved face would stake and lose every dollar he had in the world. He alone among his comrade was a visionary, an articulate emotionalist. At night, when we leaned onthe railing [during the voyage from Tampa to Cuba] to look at the Southern Cross, he was less apt to tell tales of his hard and stormy past than he was to speak of the mysteries which lie behind courage and fear and love, behind animal hatred, and animal lust for the pleasures that have tangible shape. He had keenly enjoyed his life. But down deep what seemed to interest him was the philosophy of life itself, of our understanding of it, and of the limitations set to that understanding. He had taken so many chances when death lay on the hazard, that he felt, “Who would not risk his life for a star?” [medal earned in battle] Had he lived, and had the war lasted, he would have surely won the eagle, if not the star.

That’s how I saw you when you charged up that hill alone–and dammit–wig-wagged us to bring up the Gattlings. Charging into the mysteries behind courage and fear and love.

What were you looking for? Not a gold medal. Though Crane would risk his life for a star. Maybe another novel. Maybe another Red Badge of Courage. Only you know.

Crane: (pensive) And O’Neil’s death?


As O’Neil moved to and fro, his men begged him to lie down, and one of the sergeants said, “Captain, a bullet is sure to hit you.” O’Neil took his cigarette out of his mouth, and blowing out a cloud of smoke laughed and said, “Sergeant, the Spanish bullet isn’t made that will kill me.” A little later he discussed for a moment with one of the regular officers the direction from which the Spanish fire was coming. As he turned on hisheel a bullet struck him in the mouth and came out the back of his head; so that even before he fell his wild and gallant soul had gone into the darkness.

So how will you tell his story. A hero or a reckless fool.

Crane: (quietly) I don’t know.

Roosevelt: If a fool, have one Spanish bullet knock the cigarette out of his mouth. Then when he turns–splat–another one straight in the face. If a hero, maybe he had moved forward to help a man down. You decide.

Anyway, Crane, before we leave, let me try out that camera.

(Roosevelt gets behind the camera, looks across the panorama, then at Crane)

Smile, Crane!crank 2

(Crane picks up the original Vitagraph camera lying near him. He wobbles about, making facetious grins. He takes the camera in his arms and kisses it.)

Roosevelt: (laughing) You damn fool!

Crane: (quietly) Film is my mistress.

Roosevelt (more seriously): The power of this new medium is profound. Film will change everything. The way people imagine the world. They will see themselves in it as they do in novels and plays. Only much more so. Film will make Presidents win and lose. Empires rise and fall. The revolution will be filmed. Crane, are you listening?

Crane: (distracted) Um, Gattlings, presidents, empires, Gattlings.

Roosevelt: God help us Stephen. I hope mankind uses this (pointing to the camera) not for evil but for good.

Anyway, Crane we are off. Keep up the good work

(Several hours later, the filming is winding down and the crew is beginning to pack up for the day.  Crane is approached by two black men, Frank Pullen and Major Charles Young)


Charles Young, a West Point graduate, was the only African-American commissioned officer in the U.S. armed forces. Young was a friend of W.E.B. DuBois and had taught with him at Wilberforce University. A Lieutenant when the war began, he was promoted to the rank of major. In 1916 he became a Colonel.

Crane: Hello, there. Why its Pullen and Major Young from Cuba! Where have you been and what brings you to the wilds of West Orange, good sirs?

booker t 1

Washington giving his October 16th, 1898 Peace Jubilee Speech at the Chicago Auditorium

Scene 4: Montana, February 1898

Young: We are just back from Booker T. Washington’s Peace Jubilee Speech in Chicago. And we heard you were making a moving picture. Scene 15

Crane: My my, word gets out even to Harlem. Yes, yes. Washington, good man I’ve heard. Not like that fire brand DuBois.

(Young smirks)

Pullen: Mr. Crane, we come to talk about Colonel Roosevelt and some of dem things he’s been saying. Some things about the Negro troopers in Cuba.

Crane: Why, gentleman. Roosevelt was only recently at a rally in Harlem praising the black troopers [Roosevelt had made a campaign stop in Harlem when running for New York Governor].

Young: He just wanted our votes. He knows no black man would vote for a Democrat. [Roosevelt was a Republican.]

Crane: True enough. Only for the party of Lincoln. Not even for William Jennings Bryan himself.

Young:  But we know what Roosevelt said. He said under the strain the colored infantrymen began to get a little uneasy and to drift to the rear. He said we retreated and that he threatened us with his revolver if we kept retreating. He called us “smoked Yankees” — just like the Spaniards did.  Like it was a minstrel show, he said we flashed our white teeth at each other and broke into broad grins. He said after that we caused him no more trouble

Scene 11

Crane: What would you have me do about it?

Young: We want you to make a movie about what really happened.

Scene 11

Crane: A movie featuring the black soldiers? Why I might as well make a movie about Imperium in Imperio.

Pullen: Now dat would be a mo-ving pee-icture show every Negro in America would pay his last cent to watch.

[Written in the aftermath of the betrayal of the black Cuban War soldier and the upsurge of Negrophobia in the wake of the Spanish-American War, in 1899 Sutton Griggs, a Nashville Baptist minister originally from Texas, published his first novel, Imperium in Imperio: A Study of the Negro Problem. The novel tells the story of the Imperium, an underground government founded in Waco, Texas to protect and enfranchise black Americans and to “unite all Negroes in a body.”Griggs

The Imperium, numbering several million members, has established its own Army and a Congress that gathers in a hidden compound in Waco. After the Imperium learns of the destruction of the USS Maine in Havana Bay, it seizes the moment and declares war–not against Spain–but against the United States.  In the end, the Imperium’s government collapses and the war never materializes. see “Imperium in Imperio: Sutton Griggs’s Imagined War of 1898”]

Young: Mr. Crane, you were there. You saw it was us who really took the hill. We didn’t help Roosevelt take the hill. We took the hill. You saw how disorganized the Rough Rides had become. You even saw Roosevelt shot off his horse. The Spaniards were beginning a counterattack. They would have cut the Rough Riders to bits. We swooped in and demolished them.

Scene 11

(Pullen takes out of his pocket a light blue Spanish cap, red-stained with two bullet holes)

Pullen: My sou-ven-eer.

Crane: (hesitating) Look, if its a movie you want to be in, I’m happy to hire you as extras. I pay better than in Harlem.

Young: That’s not want we. We want you to tell the truth.

Pullen: Dat’s the trut, the whole trut and aint notin’ but de trut.

Young: (groaning) You can see Frank has spent some time in front of judges.

Mr. Crane, you will make history. You will make artistic history. You will be the first to make cinematic history. Tell your vivid story.

Crane: (stands silently for a moment)  Gentlemen, thank you for coming. I heard what you say. I’ll think about it. Now I must help the crew finish packing.


Buffalo Soldiers in Cuba, 1898

About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


Like what you see on our site? We’d appreciate your support. Please donate today.

Featured Posts


%d bloggers like this: