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The Cameraman Was a Real Hero

Grace McHugh is a scene from Across the Border

 Accidents on movie sets are rare, but not unknown. Of course productions have rules and safeguards to make things safer, but that wasn't always the case. In 1914 the movie industry was pretty new. There was already an issue in the filming of Across the Border. A pony had fallen over a cliff to its death. That shot even made it into the movie, allowed by censors because they had been assured the incident was accidental. The movie finished filming without further incident. Until, that is, one scene was ruined while being developed. They had to reshoot a scene of their leading lady, Grace McHugh riding a horse across the Arkansas River. A few accounts say she was in a boat, but the majority of them state she was on a horse. Something happened that caused her to fall off her horse (or out of her boat) and into the strong current.

But cameraman Owen Carter was not going to just stand there and let her get swept away by the river. He jumped in after the drowning actress. Again accounts differ. Most modern accounts state that they both drowned. Apparently her body was found five days later a mile from where she fell in, and his was found 4 days after that 12 miles away. However some of the accounts of the day paint a more horrifying scene. They posit that Carter actually saved McHugh, dragging her to a sandbar. Unfortunately the sandbar was actually quicksand, and the crew watched helplessly as the almost drowned duo sank and died. There were some claims that the whole accident may have been a publicity hoax. But while the tragedy was used to sell the movie in many tasteless ads, it had been all too real. Carter was posthumously honored with a medal by the Carnegie Hero Fund.


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