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THE MAKING OF POWER FOR THE PARKINSONS
by Dr. Ephraim K. Smith

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It has been sixty-five years since the premiere of Joris Ivens’ Power and the Land. Although one occasionally catches glimpses of brief segments taken from that 1940 film in various television documentaries (typically, a few-second shot of Hazel cooking at her wood stove or Bill and his son Bip listening to the radio), that classic film has never been the subject of its own documentary - until now!

By the time that Dr. Smith visited the farm site in 2000, all of the Parkinson family members shown in that film were deceased. Hazel Neff Parkinson, born in 1890, the kindly mother whose dignified appearance influenced Ivens’ decision to choose this family for his film, died in 1950. William Brown Parkinson, born in 1889, the quiet, serious patriarch of the family who Ivens selected to represent a typical mid-western American farmer, died in 1957. Daniel N. Parkinson, born on October 7, 1917, the oldest son who turned 22 while the production crew was on site, died in an automobile accident in 1971. Thomas Russell Parkinson, born in 1919, and the second oldest son at the time of the filming – in which he plays a major part, died on July 16, 1997. Jacob M. (Jake) Parkinson, born in 1922, who played an equal if not more prominent role in the film than Tom, died on April 26, 1996. Ruth Parkinson Brannan, born in 1927, the only daughter of Bill and Hazel and who is featured in scenes cleaning kerosene lamps and learning how to use the new electric iron, died in 1995. Frank M. Parkinson (Bip), born on March 14, 1930, the nine year-old whose lively personality made him the favorite of the film crew, died on November 11, 1996. In a two-year period between 1995 and 1997, all four of the surviving Parkinson children had died.

When Smith showed up in 2000 to investigate what had happened to the farm and the family, he was, at the very least, three years too late! Not only were Bill and Hazel and their five children all deceased, but the farm residence, barn and out buildings, located south of St. Clairsville, Ohio, had disappeared decades before. Even without the farm buildings, what remained of the farm acreage was almost unrecognizable. Jake had been the only son to remain on the farm. When he retired, he sold the property to a nearby dairy farmer. Jake, however, retained a small corner of the original farm where he built a small residence – still there today. Subsequently, the new purchaser of the Parkinson farm sold (according to oral history) the property to a coal company. A large part of what had been the original Parkinson farm then became the site for material from a nearby coal processing operation. Today, the original location of the farmhouse compound, according to John W. Parkinson who visited the site with Smith, is a large hill that has been contoured and seeded to fit in with the adjoining terrain. And there have been other changes since 1940. If the Parkinson farm at that time was well out into the country, this area has seen increasing suburbanization. There are new residential homes just a quarter-mile down the road.

Were Bill and Hazel to return today, one imagines that they would be startled at the changes over the past half-century. The old railroad tracks, just across the road, are gone. To the east, Warnock, once a bustling center for coal miners, is now just a quiet residential village. To the west, the little country store at Lamira (where Bip and his cousin, John William Parkinson III, would buy ice cream and eat it while walking back to the farm) has been converted to a residence. Yet some sixty-years ago, this peaceful locale buzzed with excitement over the filming of a government documentary on the Parkinson farmstead. Neighbors even occasionally caught a glimpse of the film crew, led by a Dutchman with a thick head of black hair, roaring by, sometimes with the camera on a tripod balanced in the backseat of a 1929 Packard convertible. On one occasion, according to Ivens’ memoirs, the local sheriff, a cousin of Bill Parkinson’s, stopped to check out the reports of what appeared to be suspicious activities by foreigners. At the time, Ivens and his crew were filming in the farm’s cornfields. When the sheriff offered his protection, Bill replied “I know who I take in my house; you better get off fast.” (Ivens, The Camera and I, p. 194)


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