Second viewing of Sewickley film from 1940 scheduled

Wednesday, September 4, 2019 | 6:01 AM

Over the past month, the Sewickley Valley Historical Society (SVHS) has been overwhelmed with calls concerning the Sept. 18 screening of a vintage film depicting the 1940 Sewickley Centennial celebration.

John Poister, who has spent much of the past year restoring the film, said strangers have even stopped him on the street to inquire about the event.

Due to anticipated demand, SVHS has added a free public screening on Sept. 23. The initial Sept. 18 showing at Old Sewickley Post Office will be for SVHS members only.

The SVHS board “made the move to decide to rent the Tull Theater for that day on the 23rd,” said Poister, who resigned from his position as SVHS executive director earlier this year to devote more time to film restoration.

According to Dr. Karen Ferrick-Roman, director of communications at The Tull Family Theater, the Sept. 23 viewing will take place in the nonprofit venue’s large screening room, which accommodates 169, with seating for those in wheelchairs. Poister said the Old Sewickley Post Office holds a maximum of 100 people.

Given the Tull Theater’s contracts with film distributors, renting rooms can be challenging, and organizations looking to do so must be flexible in terms of dates, said Carolina Thor, executive director of The Tull Family Theater, in an email.

“To be able to partner with the Sewickley Valley Historical Society on this event is like coming full circle for us: One of the newest cultural assets in Sewickley working with a long-established group to share a piece of the town’s history — becoming a part of it,” she said.

In addition to the film documenting the June 15-19 centennial celebration, SVHS will show two other films at the Tull, shot in 1938. These films depict historic, recognizable Sewickley homes and borough employees at work. Coraopolis-based Debenham Media Group aided Poister with film restoration.

Poister described what viewers will see in the centennial film. The 1940 celebration included boat races, athletic competitions and a parade. The film also shows slice-of-life scenes from around Sewickley, as well as four commercials for Sewickley businesses, he said.

“There is a sequence that they’ve shot outside the old Sewickley elementary school, which was located on Broad Street at the time. It’s the last day of school, and people will see all the students marching out of school for recess,” said Poister. “They may recognize some faces, some relatives, maybe people that they’d forgotten about.”

One attraction during the centennial celebration was a regatta on the Ohio River, which featured speed-boat races. There was also a track and field competition and a baseball game, where Sewickley players faced off against a team from Washington County.

A 300-voice choir made up of participants from every church in Sewickley sang during a memorial service on the Sewickley YMCA field.

There was also a two-hour-long parade, and the Pittsburgh Sun Telegram estimated that 10,000 people gathered to watch it, Poister said. The five-day celebration concluded with a fireworks show.

While residents likely viewed the centennial film several days after the celebration concluded, it more than likely has not been seen since then.

“We’re going to show the centennial film pretty much, I think, as it was shown to the public,” said Poister. “We’re very, very excited about this, because it will really offer people an opportunity to connect with the way things were in 1940.”

The Sept. 18 and Sept. 23 showings are planned for 7:30 p.m. No RSVP is required to attend the public viewing at The Tull Family Theater. For more information on the showings, visit