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Long Island history a click away on YouTube, thanks to AP and British Movietone initiative

Rescued from a well

A house in New York's Long Island - and the struggle to save the life of a 7 year old boy who's trapped down a newly dug well. Sandy soil threatened to cave in on top of him as rescue workers followed up their delicate task. He'd been down there for 24 hours but 4 hours later, the vigil was over. He was brought to the top and placed in an ambulance en route to hospital.

Polo matches, a dramatic well rescue, a bunch of beagles on the run -- scenes from Long Island's past are now available to view on YouTube with last week's release of 1 million minutes of newsreel footage from around the world.

The Associated Press in conjunction with newsreel archive British Movietone digitized and released a collection of 550,000 broadcast stories dating back to 1895. The videos are split between two YouTube channels created to host them, British Movietone and AP Archive.

"These represent a significant number of what we have in our collection," said Paul Colford, AP media relations director. "A good number of these videos date to the origins of the moving image."

Newsreels were typically shown before feature films at movie theaters and many of the brief clips feature narration and a musical score to go along with the mood of the story.

Included are some of Long Island's biggest news stories.

One clip tells the story of Benjamin Hooper, a 7-year-old Manorville boy who fell down a 21-foot well in his backyard in 1957. It took rescuers 24 hours to save him.

"The ordeal is too much for his father, and you can imagine how his mother feels," the narrator says as the camera cuts to a tearful woman.

The 1950 Long Island Rail Road crash in Rockville Centre in which two trains collided, killing dozens, also is featured. In the clip a survivor is interviewed from what appears to be his hospital bed.

Not all the newsreels are as somber.

During highlights of the 1936 national polo championship at Long Island's Meadowbrook Polo Club, the narrator says, "For those who can afford it, polo is still the most thrilling sport on Earth."

One silent clip shows beagles hunting a hare at an undisclosed location on Long Island, with packs of the small dogs roaming fields and the woods.

"You can be riding the scent hunt or with the . . . community trying to retrieve the child from the well!" Kathy Curran, executive director of the Suffolk County Historical Society, wrote in an email. "People today crave a connection to their past."

Hofstra University archivist Geri Solomon said she watched a few clips, sampling a range of story topics, and was delighted. While she doesn't see much potential in them for hard research, the entertainment value makes the clips a good access point to historical topics, especially for younger generations.

"It's a place to begin," she said. "It's one of the things you can go back to and say, 'Oh I wonder if [the media] . . . covered that.' "

Colford said he's received interest in videos of all kinds from documentary makers, television producers and individuals around the world. So much so that his phone hasn't stopped ringing in a week.

"There are just so many videos there," Colford said. "It's my hunch that . . . many people will become couch potatoes."

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