Abraham Lincoln stood on the steps of the White House. On his head was a shiny black top hat. He scratched at the dark beard on his face. A group of us stood by watching him. He nodded and waved to us.
Next, a horse-drawn carriage drove up. It stopped and waited. Mr. Lincoln climbed inside. Then the carriage drove away down the dirt road.
Of course, it wasn't really Abraham Lincoln. And it wasn't really the White House. It was all make-believe. A movie was being filmed in our city's park, and it would be shown on television. The whole neighborhood was excited.
An actor was dressed to look like Abraham Lincoln, and a movie set was constructed to look like the White House in the 1860s. This White House wasn't even a real house but a facade. It had only a front, which was held in place by long poles and wires.
The camera could not take a picture inside the house because there was no inside: When Mr. Lincoln walked through the door, he was still in the park! All of the inside scenes would be shot in a movie studio.
Our city park was chosen because of its tall trees and rolling green lawns. Asphalt paths in the park were covered with dirt and bark to give the appearance of old streets. Small gaslights were placed along the road. And while we all knew it was make-believe, we were impressed and whispered, "Look how real it all looks!"
Actors and actresses - dressed in the clothing styles of Lincoln's day - came by the busload. Dressing rooms were set up in long vans and parked near the movie set.
Schoolchildren riding by on their bicycles stopped and talked with the actors. It was funny to see old-time clothes next to modern jeans and T-shirts. And it was funny to see 10-speed bicycles standing next to horse-drawn carriages.
Besides the actors, directors, and producers, there were dozens of crew workers and equipment. Big lights on poles surrounded the set and shone down on the actors, making it look like a bright, sunny day. Two large cameras followed around the actor playing Abraham Lincoln, filming him from every angle.
Often the actors performed the same scene many times. Out of hundreds of pictures taken, maybe one sequence would be just right. This kind of action takes a lot of time. But we were told it is easier and less expensive to do it this way than to bring the actors and equipment back later for retakes.
I asked someone how the people with the movie company got permission to film in our city park. First, they had to get permission from officials at City Hall. After filling out papers and explaining exactly what they wanted to do and why, they were given a permit. Then they had to pay a fee. Each day the movie company used the park, it cost them hundreds of dollars.
Sometimes people complain when movies are being made on their city streets. But others don't mind at all. They find it interesting and fun, as we did.
In fact, ordinary people are asked sometimes to be "extras" in the film. That is, they stand in the background and fill in space. However, the people filming the Lincoln movie did not ask local residents to be extras because there were not enough costumes.
In the filming of this Abraham Lincoln movie, one scene called for a hundred men to storm the White House at night. All were to carry torches and yell for Lincoln to come out. They were going to film this scene late at night. The producers worried about disturbing the neighbors, so they invited everyone whose house was next to the park to have dinner with the actors and to watch the filming.
Picnic tables were set up in one corner of the park. A catering service brought in the food. Actors and neighbors talked and ate together. Because the movie people were so thoughtful and nice, no one complained about the noise.
When the filming was finished, the last ones to leave were the cleanup crew. Away went the actors, the horses and carriages, the gas lamps, and the dirt streets. The facade of the White House was disassembled in minutes and stacked onto a truck. Soon, the place was back to being our park again.
Months later, the movie was shown on television. The people in our town watched with interest, especially the scenes filmed in our park. It gave us a strange feeling to know that we were standing right there, only a few feet away from Abraham Lincoln. It was like a step back into history!