Man's videos capture Mercersburg for posterity

February 22, 2000

Video historyBy DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

photo: DON AINES

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Shortly after dawn on Jan. 1, Ken and Jane Tyson drove slowly up and down the streets of Mercersburg, preserving for future generations images of what the borough looked like at the beginning of the new millennium.

The "Hi-8," or high-resolution 8mm video provides peaceful images of the sleeping town. Homes and businesses dating back to the ante-bellum period pass by gracefully in wide angle shots. Ken Tyson said the town is not without potholes, but there's barely a rattle in the camera work.

"The camera has an image stabilizer and it was sitting on a pillow" in the vehicle's window, Tyson said.

The result of that morning drive was "Mercersburg on Jan. 1, 2000," one of several videos Ken Tyson has taped and edited in recent years.


The video is in the Fendrick Library along with documentaries on the community of Little Cove, Pa., James Buchanan's 200th birthday celebration in 1991 and a 1999 reunion of the last class to graduate from the former Mercersburg High School.

Much of the Little Cove video was taken by Norma Barnhart of Mercersburg, Tyson said. He said she captured the everyday activities of farmers harvesting crops, milking cows, raising goats and butchering animals.

Speakers, a parade and a 19th century period ball are among the highlights on the Buchanan bicentennial, Tyson said.

Mercersburg High School was torn down in the 1950s, but Tyson captured memories of its last graduates last year. "We got around to all the people at the tables and got them involved," he said.

"Mercersburg: A Franklin County Jewel," is the working title of a video the Tysons have been taping since last summer. "We're making videos of images that reflect the beauty of the area," he said.

In the can are bucolic scenes of old barns and farm houses, some fog-shrouded with the steeple of the Mercersburg Academy chapel rising above the background mist. Tyson, 66, a retired administrator with the Washington County, Md., Board of Education, said he and Jane like to go out at dawn or sundown, or during stormy weather, to get dramatic footage.

The sights are taped from different angles in color, black and white, and sepia. They have documented images of summer, fall and winter and are waiting for spring to complete the video in time for release in June, when the town celebrates its 250th anniversary.

The hardest part of the process is editing. Ken Tyson said five or six hours of raw footage is edited down to an hour or two of video.

The June celebration, including dedication of a life-size statue of Mercersburg native James Buchanan, the only president born in Pennsylvania, will provide ample opportunity for another video.

"Another thing we're doing is getting old prints and photographs and inserting them in appropriate places" in the videos, Ken Tyson said.

Tyson said he will make an archival copy of the videos for the library and one it can loan out to patrons. Because of changing technology, he wants to transfer them from VHS videocassette to DVD format.

He said there's a wealth of local history recorded by residents on 8mm home movies that could be transferred to tape if he can find a working projector, which is as outdated as the 8-track tape.

The Fendrick Library also has reel-to-reel video from the 1970s, but recovering that requires a working reel-to-reel video deck.

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