The Vault

In This Strange 1950 Newsreel Footage, Watch a Texas Mom Throw Knives at Her Daughters

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In this 1950 newsreel, mom Louella Gallagher throws knives at her 5-year-old and 2½-year-old in an Austin, Texas, backyard, as a crowd of children looks on. There’s a stark contrast between the suburban setting (mom in a dress, cropped grass, girls in playsuits) and the dangerous display.

The Texas Archive of the Moving Image comments that the movie “represents well the tone of most national newsreel stories about Texas—a little nonsense, a little awe, and more than a little disbelief!” Film studies scholar Melinda Barlow, in her meditation on the clip, connects the newsreel to other instances of traumatic mother-daughter relationships in film and literature, including several postwar examples. (See: “Mildred Pierce.”) But neither source has more information on the Gallaghers and their story, and I was unable to glean background from newspaper databases or Google Books.

Knife-throwing, known to connoisseurs as one of the “impalement arts,” has been a sideshow staple since the late 19th century. Usually, however, the thrower is a man, and the target a woman. (Often, the two are married.) This gender dynamic is so encoded that “target girl” is abbreviated as “TG” on the credits of YouTube clips of acts like the Great Throwdini. The Gallaghers’ act, with child TGs and a parent thrower, was highly unusual.

I first saw this clip on the Public Domain Review. It’s from the Prelinger Archives, and is housed by the Internet Archive.