Film’s focus: County pioneer of preservation

Nancy Hannum documentary one of many gift ideas from Chester County Historical Society

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times

Nancy Penn Smith Hannum, a pioneer in farmland preservationist, presided over the Cheshire Hunt for decades.

A colorful, influential Chester Countian credited with helping to preserve as many as 20,000 acres of the area’s scenic vistas continues her lasting impact as the subject of a film available at the Chester County Historical Society.

“Goodnight Ladies,” a 35-minute documentary about the late Nancy Penn Smith Hannum, was edited from a longer 1998 feature, “Keeping Sound,” as a way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Fox Hounds. Hannum served as master of the hunt for more than half a century; her love for fox-hunting is said to have fueled her many open-space initiatives.

According to a news release from the Historical Society, the film, directed by Christianna Hannum Miller, Hannum’s granddaughter, includes footage from the Chester County Historical Society’s film archives, as well as still photographs. The title comes from the famous “Cheshire Beauties,” the pack of foxhounds bred by Hannum, and from a song featured in the film.

“Goodnight Ladies” pays tribute to the late Nancy Penn Smith Hannum, a master of the hunt and pioneer of Chester County conservation.

“With ‘Goodnight Ladies,’ I was able to condense and shape a very personal film into a more traditional picture of my grandmother,” said Miller.  “This shorter film is about the joy of the human spirit and a woman who never stopped believing in what she stood for.  In ‘Goodnight Ladies,’ I show the grandmother I remember, speeding down country roads in her battered Jeep.  Gran was passionate about her grandchildren, and this film is for them, and for their children.”

The film, shot on 16 mmm film by award-winning cinematographer David W. Leitner begins with Hannum’s reading of her own prematurely published obituary – “Wasn’t that worth for not dying for to be able to read that,” she says with a chuckle. Leitner’s credits include his 1990 Oscar-nominated “For All Mankind,” which also won the 1989 Sundance Jury & Audience Awards.

The documentary continues Hannum’s enduring legacy. In 2011, she received the Fifth Annual Rebecca Lukens Award from the Graystone Society for her tireless conservation efforts. The 100th anniversary of Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds has included a series of lectures and a recent gala at Longwood Gardens. Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds was founded in 1912 by Nancy Hannum’s step-father, Plunket Stewart, who married Hannum’s mother, Carol Harriman, after Hannum’s father died of pneumonia at 35.

The original project, “Keeping Sound,” was awarded a grant from the Eastman Kodak Company in order to shoot the project on 16 mm film.  “Goodnight Ladies” is intended for film festivals, public television and classrooms nationwide. “Goodnight Ladies” was made through the support of individual donors and the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Just in time for the holidays, the film is available at the Chester County Historical Society gift shop for $28. In fact, the museum is offering an incentive on Black Friday for visitors who choose to avoid the shopping chaos of the malls. Patrons who spend at least $50 on the museum’s vast selection of local history books, local authors, genealogy,  vintage photographs and assorted exhibit-related gift items will receive a complimentary Chester County cookbook with special recipes.




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