The Burning Stable (1896)

A remarkable short, seemingly of the “actuality” genre, showing a stable on fire with horses being rescued and humans fleeing. Apart from the fact that it comes from the Edison studio, and according to the LOC catalogue is produced by James H. White with William Heise on camera, very little is known about the film. Is it a real fire, as it appears to be? If so, how did the film crew get to the scene so quickly? At this time Edison Studios were in fierce competition with Biograph and were in the habit of ripping off the latter’s films. A few months earlier Biograph released Stable on Fire (1896), supposedly pretty much identical in terms of content. Although fires and fire crews were very popular subjects at that time the coincidence seems strange. This, together with what appears to be a vaguely suspicious jump around the 22 second mark, and the highly suspicious presence of the camera at just the right moment, seems to point to it almost certainly being staged. If any one knows any better please do share your thoughts in the comments.

Library of Congress
Underlying Work: PD U.S. | Digital Copy: No additional rights
Download: see source.



  • Ed Pinsent

    Totally unrelated to your questions, but it looks very much like this short film was used as part of Malcolm Le Grice’s 1970 experimental film, “Berlin Horse”. He reworked the footage using colour stocks, an optical printer, reversals, negatives, double-exposures and other techniques to produce near-painterly effects. I think Berlin Horse includes another piece of found footage, but the above fire footage definitely appears in the second half of the film. I am very glad to see the original source, and to learn about its provenance.