Xavier Magazine

Saving History

Former professor of communication arts Denis Clark is now in a different field—history. For nearly 40 years, Clark has been collecting and distributing historic movie memorabilia from his own “museum” in Riley Township, Ohio, just north of Cincinnati. The two-story, climate-controlled facility houses thousands of film reels, movie stills, lobby cards, posters and more. And during one of his many searches for rare cinematic memorabilia, he stumbled across a find worthy of “Antiques Roadshow”: two posters from 1898 and 1905 promoting one of Europe’s most famous and elaborate stage productions, the Oberammergau Passion Play.

The play dates back to 1633, when the village was devastated by the Thirty Years’ War and the plague. In hopes of saving their village from extinction, the residents vowed to perform “the play of the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ” once every 10 years. Each performance lasts seven hours, involves more than 2,000 participants and requires 10 full months of rehearsal and preparation.

“I just happened to see one on auction, bid on it and discovered it was from Oberammergau,” says Clark. “In the 1930s, when Hitler was burning books and posters, most of the advertising for it was destroyed. These posters are the only ones known to exist in the world, and I picked them up for about $20.”

In May, Clark is traveling to Oberammergau and presenting the artifacts to the Oberammergau Museum. In exchange,  he receives tickets to the 2010 production of the passion play, which he plans to give to fellow Xavier professor Helmut Roehrig who has always wanted to go but has never been able to do so.

“The value is in the history of these pieces,” Clark says. “I’ve been blessed to find items such as this and take part in preserving history. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.“

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