Stephen Bishop and the Making of a Documentary
Stephen Bishop was a slave who worked as a guide at Mammoth Cave from 1838 until his death in 1857. He was born around 1820. As you might imagine there were very few video cameras present during his lifetime to record his activities. There were no moving pictures. There were no sound recordings. And there were very few photographs of anyone from this time frame. There were none of Stephen Bishop. The first photographs at the cave date from 1865 – eight years after Stephen’s death. What kind of visual documentation was present during his lifetime? There were drawings and paintings of scenery and portraits of a few people available at that time, but none of them depicted Stephen Bishop. There is one drawing of Stephen Bishop – but it was created in 1880 long after his death.
When we think of historical documentaries the first that comes to mind is often those produced by Ken Burns on the Civil War. It includes interviews, scenes from the present day sites, and most prominently lots of photographs. With these historical photos Ken applied slow zooms into the image to highlight specific people or points of interest, slow pans across the image to add motion to the static photograph. These have colloquially even come to be called ken Burns effects. I am certainly going to use these techniques for many of the images collected as part of this project, but problem with Stephen Bishop is that we have no photographs or even drawing of the man from his lifetime. What to do? That is the question.
1) The one thing we are not going to do is to provide a fictionalized recreation of the man and include it as a docudrama segment.
2) I have one drawing made in 1880 of the man that we can use. It is not a life portrait, but people who knew him were still alive when it was created, so it likely is a fair representation. (above)
3) Interviews – I am planning on interviewing Greg Sorvig. He is creating a website which will include every bit of information and records of every account of Stephen Bishop he can locate. He is the expert on Stephen Bishop and the piece will rely on his expert interviews.
4) There are many accounts of interactions with Stephen Bishop with tourist parties that he led. These can be used as voice-overs for still segments. The specific accounts are still to be determined as research continues.
5) I currently have one photograph of a Stephen Bishop signature from the cave, but there are many others. Photos of the signatures can add a graphic element to the mix. Most are dated, and Greg Sorvig says an evolution of signature styles can be observed.
6) Photographs of some of the original documents and newspaper accounts can be included.
7) I have an old photograph of a cabin found on the Bishop property.
8) I have photographs of Stephen’s tombstone in the “Old Guides Cemetery” at Mammoth Cave. (I need to get a better one.)
9) I have a copy of a property transfer from Lowry Bishop to Franklin Gorin from 1837 which probably includes the sale of Stephen to Gorin, as well as that of his mother and brother.
10) I have a nice account talking about Stephen Bishop from a letter sent to Dr. Forwood from Franklin Gorin in 1869.
11) There is mention of Stephen Bishop and his wife Charlotte in the property holdings and will of Dr. John Croghan directing that they be freed seven years after Croghan’s death.
12) It is generally assumed that Lowry Bishop was Stephen’s father although there is not any direct admission of paternity, however I have a copy of the divorce proceedings between Lowry and Catherine Bishop who each make unflattering comments about the other. Edmund G. Hall in an affidavit states that Lourey Bishop frequently claimed to be the father of the two mulatto children he had about the house. “That frequently he, (Bishop) would come into the room where she (Mrs Bishop) was and call the child of the Mulatto that he said was his child to Come to its Grandfather…The eldest of the mulattos that he said were his children is about 17 years old and the other 9 or 10.”
13) I have a land sale document from October 1856 between Martin Shackleford and Stephen Bishop only a few months prior to his death.
14) We are shooting several in cave sequences (pending permits) of areas frequented by the early guides. These will examine some of the places in video of many of the places he gave tours for nineteen years.
15) We will feature the Bottomless pit crossing as told in the old stories, and the alternative route that bypasses the pit as described by Roger Brucker and others.
16) We will spend some time dealing with the discovery of the various rivers in the lower levels of the cave by Bishop, using video, stills, and written accounts.
17) I am trying to find a good scan or photograph of an actual original copy of the cave map published in 1844 drawn by Stephen Bishop.
18) There is an interesting account of a wedding party being a bit rowdy and swamping a boat in the Echo River. In the story Stephen kept them all calm and holding onto the boat in the dark and safe until Mat Bransford came looking for them a few hours later.
19) I have some information on Stephen’s wife Charlotte and his son Thomas.
So I have quite a collection of material to work with, and I am gathering more. I will be using these materials to try to provide an accurate, interesting, and visually interesting account of Stephen Bishop in spite of original contemporaneous images of the man.
Edward Forrest Frank