Local filmmaker exposes the elephant in the room
Island resident Patti Cassidy released her latest work during a screening on Feb. 21 at the Museum of Natural History at Roger Williams Zoo. The documentary, titled “The Ballad Of Baby Roger,” is a 12-minute film that highlights a Rhode Island elephant in 1893 and the children who helped saved it.
Roger was a 4-year-old elephant originally loaned to the Providence zoo by an exotic animal dealer. After three weeks, the dealer threatened to have the elephant removed unless the city paid him $1,500, which was considered a large sum of money in the late 1800s. The children of Rhode Island banded together and raised the money to save the elephant.
One local paper offered to publish any poem a child had written regarding Baby Roger for a donation as a way of helping the kids raise money to keep the elephant. Cassidy had several child actors read these poems in her documentary film.
Cassidy came across the story of Baby Roger in 2007 when she was doing research on another elephant, Betty, the learned elephant from Chepachet.
Betty was the second elephant to ever walk on the North American continent. It was shot and killed on May 25, 1826, and since then, Chepachet holds annual commemorative ceremonies every anniversary in remembrance of Betty’s short and tragic life.
Cassidy, who describes herself as a freelance writer, filmmaker and photographer, came up with the concept of doing a four-part series titled, “Elephants in Rhode Island,” which documents the stories of four elephants and their interaction with the people of Rhode Island.
She was given a research grant from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities. Cassidy used the money to make copies of her research findings and compensate her time and effort. Cassidy’s research discovered that the Library of Congress had original archival photos, as well as a rare film recording, of Baby Roger. A Long Island filmmaker, dating back to the 1900s, took the footage.
The copy, however, was on paper, not film. The paper had to be digitized, scanned, put onto film and copied onto a DVD. An anonymous donor from Jamestown paid for the copy. The film was 90 seconds long and is included in the documentary.
“The Ballad Of Baby Roger” has several Jamestown residents who appear in the documentary. Ken Newman is the film’s main narrator. Jillian Barber is also involved, as is Anza DiGaster, who plays one of the children who recites one of the original poems during the film.
Attendance was so successful at the premier that the museum had to show the film a second time in order to accommodate the crowds. The documentary will be aired on Rhode Island’s PBS stations for the month of April and is also available on DVD on Amazon.com. Cassidy has submitted the film in the Rhode Island Film Festival, as well as other film shows. More information on her film is available on her web site, www.elephantsinri.blogspot.com.
Cassidy’s next project in the series takes place in 1993, a full 100 years after Baby Roger. The Pawtucket Zoo was in an uproar over its prized elephant, Fanny. The city had fallen on hard times and the zoo had to be closed. The city needed to dispose of the zoo’s exotic animals. Fanny was beloved so much that the residents sought a way to find the elephant a better home. Celebrities such as television star Loretta Swit from M.A.S.H. and Tippi Hedren from the movie “The Birds” helped the townspeople rescue Fanny.
Cassidy came to live in Jamestown 10 years ago. She was born and raised in Albany, N.Y., and later moved to Boston. She met her husband David Kaiser there. Kaiser owned a home in Jamestown and the couple later made the island their permanent residence. Cassidy retired two years ago. She was employed at Newport Hospital.
Cassidy’s favorite thing to do is take photographs. She has a keen eye for offbeat subjects. She has a fascination with statues and takes pictures of them wherever her travels take her.
In her spare time, Cassidy volunteers at the Jamestown Historical Society. One of her favorite places on the island is the library.
“It’s just great there,” she said. Cassidy works a lot at her home, editing film or doing research on the web. When she is out in the town, Cassidy enjoys sitting by East Ferry, watching the birds and taking pictures.
Cassidy also organized the Rhode Island Photo Safari, a group that travels around the state taking photographs.
“Somehow,” Cassidy said, “we always wind up in Jamestown.”