Nelson Edwards, Cinematographer: Part 2

001 JakeEd03Serendipity is one of the pleasures that can happen when you blog.

Earlier, I wrote about Nelson Edwards’ cinematography career, but only the first part of it was available to read online.

So what a pleasant surprise when the two authors—Cooper C. Graham and Ron van Dopperen—not only got in touch but also sent me the whole issue.

Fascinating, well researched, and well written, their article summarizes Nelson’s professional career in photography and newsreels.


I finished my earlier post at the year 1912, when Nelson was working in New York City as a still photographer, part of the media empire headed by wealthy William Randolph Hearst.

After experimenting with the newly invented moving picture camera, and undertook his first major assignment in 1914, getting news films of the Mexican revolution, including capturing Pancho Villa–on film, of course.

He filmed Thomas Edison on the inventor’s 68th birthday, sailed to Europe near the start of WW1, on a ship provided by car manufacturer, Henry Ford, and photographed a new building in NYC while hanging 500 feet off the ground.

It wasn’t all pleasant. While covering a strike at Standard Oil in New Jersey, he was shot at and had bricks thrown at him, before escaping a mob of strikers by sheltering in a doorway. In the 1930s, in Maryland, he was in the dangerous situation of photographing a mob after an African-American man had been lynched.

Just before WW1 started, Nelson traveled throughout Europe and to Turkey, and later, he photographed actual trench battles on the Western Front. His material was shown in American theaters.  After the US declared war, Nelson and his four brothers joined the army.  One, Corporal Hobart D. Edwards, was killed in France, in 1918. After the six-day battle at Meuse-Argonne, only 27 survivors remained of Hobart’s 227-man company. Nelson named his son, born in 1920, Robert Hobart Edwards.

Discharged in 1919, Nelson returned home to his old job, and he married Cornelia Fisk.

Nelson pioneered aerial photography, starting in 1911, and this work included footage of the Navy’s 1919 transatlantic flight. He became the New York bureau manager and head cameraman for the new company, Fox News, covering human interest items, disasters, political events, and art. After moving to Baltimore, he joined another photographer, with clients that included businesses and government departments. In 1930, he was a freelancer for Paramount News. In 1935, he covered Lindbergh’s flight from Paris. As one of the White House photographers, he covered inaugurations and the activities of presidents, including Roosevelt and Truman.

Tragedy struck again during WWII. His son Robert had trained as a combat photographer and was supposed to organize the military photographers there. Instead, he volunteered to fly missions and was killed while over the English Channel. The article includes a photo of Robert with his newsreel camera.

Three of Nelson’s brothers also went into the ‘newsreel business’–E.K. ‘Chuck’ Edwards (Denver), Roy Donald Edwards (New York), and Curry Edwards (Denver). The article includes a photo of the four brothers, around 1948. Nelson also helped his son-in-law, David Wiegman, become a professional newsreel photographer.

Nelson died at home, in Maryland, in 1954, aged 66.

Source:  Cooper C. Graham and Ron van Dopperen . Nelson Edwards and the Newsreels:  An American life.  Film History: An international journal. vol. 24, no. 3, 2012, pp 260-280.


Edwards trip to Baltimore 1941

I’m tired of reading old Edwards obituaries. So I was happy that the next item I grabbed from my Edwards genealogy box was my mother’s diary entries about her trip back east, in 1941.

I thought she was about 16 when she went on this trip, but see now that she was 20. I had also thought she was accompanied by her parents, but it was actually Fat and Henrietta who took her along with them. That made me wonder if and when her father, A.E. Edwards, ever visited his huge number of siblings, or if they ever visited him.

I don’t know most of the people mentioned:  James Gaddis, Price, Cora Jane Lamont Bauman, Pups, Nora & Ed Coffey, Irene Castro.  (Wasn’t there a Jane Bauman who wrote a column in the Hutchinson News?)

Thurs July 17.      Up at 4.00 A.M. Drove 640 Miles to Gaddis at Rushville, Illinois.

Fri July 18.      To McComb to see James Gaddis. Ate dinner at restaurant where he was eating. Stayed in cabin near Ohio Line.

Sat July 19.     Drove through Ohio, corners of Virginia, Penn., Maryland. Ate dinner in Wheeling West Va. Arrived at Nelsons at 9.00 P.M.


English: Baltimore Harbor as seen from World T...

English: Baltimore Harbor as seen from World Trade Center. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sun July 20.     Took drive through woods west of Nelsons house. Tony’s friend, Linsey, here for lunch. Rained p.m.

Mon July 21.     Tony to Percheon Horse judging at Hagerstown. Nelson took us around city, Ft. McHenry, Green Mountain Cemetery where Wilkes Booth grave is.

Tues July 22.     Lee & Nelson drove us to Washington, Arlington Cemetery, Smithsonian Museum, Parks and White House.

Wed July 23.     Up early to go on boat S.S. Bay Belle to Seaside in Chesapeake Bay. Took 4 hours and was about 50 miles. Had a picnic on deck. Won 14 bingos.

Thurs July 24.     Tony & Fat to college to see livestock. Cornelia, Henrietta & I shopping in Baltimore, ate chow mein for dinner. Seafood for supper. Tony, Price and I looked up Cora Jane (Lamont) Bauman of Turon.

Fri July 25.     Left Baltimore at 5:00 A.M. for New York. 515 Miles. Saw Pups, Nora & Ed Coffey. Was down Broadway in N.Y. about midnight . . . Tony said it would be bright as day. I stayed with Coffeys at New Rochelle.

Sat July 26.     I came to Pups and we went back to Baltimore. Ate at Peter Poppas restaurant in Baltimore.

Sun July 27.     Cornelia to church. Irene Casto here p.m. Nelson drove us through Green Spring Valley tonight–so cool.

Mon July 28.     Left at 5.24 A.M. for home. Ate lunch on road and supper in Uniontown. Stayed at cabin near Springfield, Ohio. 438 miles.

Tues July 29.     6:00–breakfast near Kingdown. Supper at Big Boy Restaurant. Hot.

Wed July 30.     Ate at camp. Dinner at Olathe. Stormy P.M. Ate a bite at Florence. Stopped at Emporia Sale. Home at 6.00 P.M.

Nelson Edwards & the Newsreels: Part 1

After sending my last post, I wondered if there was anything about Nelson Edwards on the Web, given that he was well-known for his film reportage in the 1930s and 1940s.

I found two links to an article about him, published in 2012, by Cooper C. Graham and Ron The new strain of wheat, Turkey Red, brought in by the Russian Mennonites, helped Kansas become famous as the Wheat State. Perhaps Jake Edwards had been persuaded to move to Kansas by reports of the money to be made in wheat.van Dopperen. The article is interesting not only because of the account of Nelson’s career, but also because of details about his younger years, including his family’s decision to travel by covered wagon and settle in Kansas.

Abstract of the article

Nelson Edwards (1887–1954) was among the first newsreel cameramen in American film history. From 1914 he filmed for Hearst International News Service and covered the Mexican Revolution. In 1916 he filmed the Turkish and the German side of the World War. He was also chief cameraman for Fox Newsreel during the year of its birth, and thereafter a longtime stringer for Paramount News. The essay describes Edwards’s life and work, as well as some of the background of Hearst’s first attempts to get into the newsreel business, based on research in Edwards’s personal documents, reports in the press and interviews with his family.

The start of the article, titled ‘Nelson Edwards and the Newsreels: An American life’,  is summarized below. I don’t have a way to get the whole article–my town library doesn’t have access–but thought Edwards family members would be interested in reading a little bit about Nelson.

Nelson’s early years

Edwards was one of the best-known photographers in the early period of newsreels. His career included working for William Randolph Hearst  before and during World War I, being head cameraman for Fox newsreels and later a stringer for Paramount Newsreel. In these roles, he was part of many major historical events.

Nelson Elisha Edwards was born in Point Pleasant, Mason County, West Virginia on 25 November 1887. His parents, Jake C. and Margaret Edwards, farmed in West Virginia. When Nelson was six months old, the family moved, by covered wagon, to Plevna, Reno County, Kansas, a journey that took between two and three and a half months. It is possible that the family was convinced to move because of he success of the new strain of wheat, Turkey Red, brought in by the Russian Mennonites.

They lived in a sod dugout, what Nelson called “a hole in the ground”. By 1915, photographs show that the family now had a solid house and farm. Jake served twice as a member of the Kansas State House of Representatives, in 1915 and 1917, and was also appointed county chairman. The Edwards had nine sons and one daughter: Preston, Nelson, Cecil, Clarence, Roy, Hobart, E.K., Morry (who died in infancy), Naomi, and Curry. Some of Nelson’s brothers would also become newsreel cameramen.

Nelson was described in the article as “a tall, muscular man with prominent cheekbones, a hawk nose, lighthouse eyes peering out at the world from under heavy eyebrows, and thick, dark hair which photographed jet black”, who was “stocky, but . . . quite large” and was also athletic.

Subsistence farming apparently did not suit Nelson. In 1908, he went to New Orleans to learn photography. By 191o, he was in New Jersey, working for a ‘celebrated photographer’, whose sister-in-law, Cornelia Fisk, eventually married Nelson. In 1912, he was working as a still photographer in New York for the chief of photo syndication, the International News Service.

Source:  Cooper C. Graham and Ron van Dopperen (2012). “Nelson Edwards and the Newsreels:  An American Life. Film History (vol. 24), pp. 260-280. ISSN:  0892-2160.

Ron van Dopperen studied history at the University of Utrecht, Holland, where he wrote his Master of Arts thesis on the American World War I documentary films (1988). He now works as a communication advisor for the Dutch government. Correspondence to
Cooper C. Graham is retired from the Library of Congress where he was a curator in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. He is the author of numerous articles, as well as Leni Riefenstahl’s “Olympia” and (in collaboration) D.W. Griffith and the Biograph Company. He is presently working on a series of World War I film subjects.  Corespondence to



Final Christmas Cards

I think this is the last set of Christmas cards I have in my Edwards box of stuff.

The first one has a drawing of a girl in a blizzard, a photograph of what looks like a farm house, and a couple in silhouette, the man behind and slightly left of the woman. The inscription:  Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a year of happy days.  Mr. and Mrs. Jake Edwards.

QUERY: Does anyone know where they lived, and if this photograph was their home?


img446 last 3 Xmas cards034

The other black-and-white card shows a snow scene, and is signed, Nelson & family. I wonder if Nelson was the one who took that photo, similar to the other photo-cards of his that I’ve provided in other posts. There’s no year given. It’s a change from the humorous ones in the early ’30s.

The  red-and-black card postcard is difficult to see, even in the original, so I’ve worked on it a bit.

Img446 redblack edwards card

What a lovely card!  On the back is this inscription: Nelson Edwards family Baltimore

3 More Christmas cards

Three more old Christmas cards from the Edwards.

  1. Greetings The Edwards, with silhouette profiles of the family. On the back, my mother wrote: Edwards  Baltimore  Nelson, Cornelia, Tony, Patty 
  2. Season’s Greetings, with a snow scene and a farm. My mother added, 1938 Nelson & family. Interestingly, the scene itself has in the lower left-hand corner ‘By Patty Edwards’.
  3. Nelson Edwards and family sends Christmas Greetings and Best Wishes for a Happy New Year. 

    I assume that the photos are Nelson with the camera he used for his profesional work, Cornelia with a gun (very ‘Bonnie’ in terms of Bonnie & Clyde!), the baby Patty, and son Tony with a sled.


Edwards 3 Christmas cards.jpg

1930s Christmas Greetings: east coast Edwards family

It was good timing to discover—a few days before Christmas—some 1930s Christmas cards from an Edwards family living back East.

They were created by Nelson Edwards, who I think was my mother’s uncle. I believe he and his brothers were at one time news photographers connected with the White House. The family lived in Baltimore and Washington DC.

1930. Top right

Season’s Greetings from Nelson Edwards and Family

 The mother and children are writing to Santa. The father is kicking Santa Claus.

Mother:  My goodness–my Christmas list is getting longer each year. I want you children to write to Santa Claus and he will bring anything you want.

Presents: To my Dear Mother with Love. To Brother John.  To my friend, Maree (?).

Girl:  Dear Santie, I want a big  doll . . . a carriage . . . a lot of pretty dresses . . . a set of dishes . . . dollhouse . . .a hat with ribbons . . . a sweeper(?) . . . a little stove . . . another big doll.

Boy:  Mother–how do you spell bicycle?

Father, holding a paper titled Business Depression,  is kicking Santa. From the telephone is the word Margin or Morgin.
Messages on the desk: Bills. Food Riots in Europe. Bread Lines in NY. Number of Unemployed to Increase.  5 Baltimore Banks Fail. You Have Overdrawn Your Account. When May We Expect Your Check? 2000 Out of Work. Stocks Hit New Low. 

No message on back.

1932. Bottom right

 The Home of Edwards, 1932. Photo of house with snow and wolves apparently superimposed. On the back, my mother has written: Nelson Edwards, Baltimore.

1933. Top left

No message on back. Greetings from Edwards

Santa Claus:  I will bring everything you want. Just write a Letter to me and give it to Daddy and you will get anything you want. 

Daddy:  Y-e-s! that’s what you say.

1937. Bottom left

Photograph of car in snowstorm, with Nelson Edwards (I presume) and three others. The Edwards Greet You – 1937.
Girl:  Well–there is a Santa Claus!
Man:  I’m glad you like it, dear.

Stick figure in hat:  There is no way to tell how many payments are still due