Shhh! Cemetery celebrates its silent-film-star residents with spirited screening

Shhh! Cemetery celebrates its silent-film-star residents with spirited screening
Thanhouser Company Film Preservation Inc.

Most of Green-Wood Cemetery’s permanent residents do not have much to say — some never did.

The Greenwood Heights cemetery is celebrating the careers of once-famous silent film actors and actresses currently buried on its grounds in an event called “Silent Night” on Dec. 10, when Brooklyn’s biggest necropolis plans on reintroducing Brooklynites to the blockbusters of yesterday, while their dead stars slumber six-feet below.

“It’s a great event for learning about New York City’s celluloid past,” said Chelsea Dowell, manager of programs and membership at Green-Wood.

There are a lot of interesting people taking the long nap in Green-Wood, but only three of the cemetery’s permanent residents, William Hart, Charles Inslee, and Florence Labadie, ever achieved silent film stardom. Of those three, one — the late Labadie — rests, mysteriously and ignominiously, without headstone or markings.

And it is that fact that incited one man to action, in a series of unlikely events that led to this screening.

Edwin “Ned” Thanhouser had a grandfather of the same name, who owned the Thanhouser Company, one of the country’s first film studios. It was with the Thanhouser Company that Labadie made most of her 185 films and became one of the biggest silent film stars of her time.

But that all ended in October 1917, when Labadie, who was known as “Fearless Flo” for her daring and penchant for riding her motorcycle to work, was killed driving near Ossining, New York, after the brakes on her car failed.

Labadie was thrown from the vehicle during the violent crash, and contracted blood poisoning as a result of hip injury, from which she died a few weeks later.

“I get letters all the time from people who have fallen in love with this sensual, vibrant woman about how tragic it is that Florence, who would be as popular then as any modern day actress, has no tombstone,” said Thanhouser.

To right this wrong, Thanhouser has campaigned to raise the funds needed to provide a headstone for the deceased starlet who has featured so prominently in his family’s history.

Thanhouser has already raised $3,000, and has now made a deal with Green-Wood, which has promised to match his fund-raising efforts dollar for dollar.

It was this deal that led Green-Wood to arrange this screening films starring Inslee, Hart, and, of course, Fearless Flo — including the early feminist film, “Petticoat Camp.”

“It’s really funny actually,” said Dowell. “It chronicles this group of people who do camping, and the women get fed up with the men not helping at all and they stage a little rebellion.”

“Silent Night” at Green-Wood Cemetery [500 25th St. near Fifth Avenue in Greenwood Heights, (718) 768–7300, www.green-wood.com]. Dec. 10 at 7:30 pm, $25 for Green-Wood members, $30 for non-members.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4514.