A hundred and one years ago, Travelers Rest experienced one of its biggest event in its history to that point. Over 2,000 gathered, arriving by foot, car, wagon and rail, to the center of town. On October 7, 1917, this community experienced the thrill of a little magic from the early cinema industry.
Hollywood had come to film a movie.
But first, some background.
In 1914, Ohio novelist Charles Neville Buck published Battle Cry. It met with wild success. While not great literature, readers could not put it down. Film rights soon followed, and by 1917 a silent movie was in the works. The plot features a wealthy young woman, Juanita Holland, who travels to start a school for underprivileged children in a rural Appalachian hamlet. She arrives to find the area is in the midst of vicious blood feuds and retributive violence. For context, think Hatfield and McCoy type rivalry. Juanita then falls in love with a simple guy with a good heart, Bad Ance Havey, and after some tumultuous events they live happily ever after.
The film was retitled “Her Man” to really emphasize the heroine, who was the star, the young beauty Elaine Hammerstein, a relative of the famed theatre producer Oscar Hammerstein.
Advanced Motion Picture from New York first went to Asheville to film the movie. The producers found that area just did not work. Greenville’s Chamber of Commerce, sensing an opportunity, invited the producers to come down the mountain. They were quite taken with Travelers Rest, then a village of just a few hundred people, and found that the Swamp Rabbit railroad was just perfect for one of the dramatic scenes of the film. They decided that they did not even need to build sets, as the local buildings fit the movies location just right.
According to local historian, Richard Sawyer, Travelers Rest was the site of the court scene, where a battle took place. Travelers Rest was renamed to the fictitious town of Pearl for one day.
The scenes were shot, and lunch was provided for all the extras, Sawyer said. Â And connecting this to local lore, the lunch involved sandwiches, with a special spread, provided by Mrs. Eugenia Duke. The woman who provided the sandwiches was Mrs. Duke of Duke’s Mayonnaise. This was the beginning of Duke’s, said Sawyer. That is Duke of Duke’s Sandwiches and now largely known region wide as Duke’s Mayonnaise.
The extras all received a gift valued at $5, Sawyer continued. The battle scene was centered near First Baptist of Travelers Rest, which was in a slightly different location than now.
Of course this was the autumn of 1917, and Camp Sevier was in full action, preparing soldiers to serve in combat in World War I. And while the novel said a battle involved a Gatling gun, the film producers decided to involve the local army base and have film shot of soldiers firing their machine guns.
“Her Man” was the first motion picture to be filmed in the area around Travelers Rest. Other films have included “A Day of Judgement”, where Campbell’s Covered Bridge was featured in a B movie horror film where an avenging angel galloped across the bridge.
The latest production in the area was the 2008 romantic comedy “Leatherheads”, about the early days of professional football in the 1920’s, starring George Clooney, Rene Zellweger and John Krasinski. This movie included scenes filmed at the old Travelers Rest High School football field.
“Her Man” premiered in March of 1918. The last known copy of “Her Man” is in a film vault at UCLA.