When documentary filmmaker Michael Crisp began researching the worst school bus crash in the nation’s history for his film “The Very Worst Thing,” he hoped the search would unearth forgotten film and photos.
That hope has been fulfilled a few times since the film debuted in Floyd County in 2010, and the film will again be updated with newly discovered film footage when it is shown at Paintsville’s historic SIPP Theater a few days before Christmas.
“About a month ago I was at the Jenny Wiley Festival in Prestonsburg and a man came up to me and said, ‘I have something you may be interested in seeing.’ In 1958 he and his dad owned an 8mm film camera so they went to the riverbank and shot footage,” the film director said. “They captured footage of the school bus resting on the river bank after they pulled it out. And, there were 10 to 12 additional scenes from the rescue and recovery, including victims being taken to the armory in downtown Prestonsburg and scenes from the West Prestonsburg bridge as they were dragging for bodies with nets.”
Crisp said the home movie also offered scenes of boats on the Big Sandy River and “simple things like people just walking around.”
Practically everything seen in the 8mm film scenes was relevant to the story told by “The Very Worst Thing,” Crisp said and the images were previously unseen images were quickly edited into the picture.
“When it plays in Paintsville, that will be the debut of the new footage,” Crisp said, explaining the documentary about the worst school bus accident in American history, in Floyd County on the final day of February, 1958 has already been updated a couple times to include new interviews with survivors of the tragedy which claimed the lives of 26 children and the bus driver. The film now includes the recollections of four of the 48 people aboard the bus when it hit the river, as well as a student who made a last-minute decision to stay home that morning and ended up watching the bus veer across the road before plunging down the river bank and entering the frigid river.
“The Very Worst Thing” is scheduled for viewing at the SIPP Theater starting at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 21. Crisp said a second showing may be scheduled if the Dec. 21 showing sells out.
The tragic story “transcends generations,” Crisp said, explaining he does not intend to continually add new things to the film and DVD, although he does hope the latest discovery will prompt others in the area to comb through their home movies and photo albums for relevant materials.
“A lot of times people may not realize what they are holding in their hands,” he said.
TIM PRESTON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2651.