my Ralston Family story


Harry H. Caldwell [1873 – 1839]      The Captain and Kit




Harry Caldwell was born in St. Louis. When he was three , his mother, Emilie Ralston Caldwell, daughter of J. N. Ralston, moved her four boys back to Quincy, leaving her alcohol Caldwell Harry Haddicted husband behind. In 1887, Harry was accepted to the naval academy in Annapolis, MD. Six years later he was commissioned an Ensign. He served in the Bering Sea patrolling for seal poachers and at the Far China Station during the first Sino-Japanese war.


In 1897, he became the flag secretary for Admiral George Dewey and was by his side at the naval victory in Manila Bay, Philippines, May 1, 1898. Lt. Caldwell became  the  captain  of  the  first  navy submarine, USS Holland, SS-1, in  1900. Lt. Cmdr. Caldwell resigned his commission in 1908 and worked 7 years for the Electric Boat Co. [EB], the manufacturer of the navy’s submarines. Before re-entering the navy during WWI as the captain of the USS Amphitrite, he worked in a silent film company owned by a friend he made at EB.


After the war he met and married Katherine Hilliker, Kit, in NY, and they became a team editing and titling silent films. They worked on over 100 films including Ben Hur, and the two films honored at the first academy award ceremony in 1929, Seventh Heaven,  and  Sunrise.  The  Captain and Kit  worked with early movie moguls Louie B. Mayer, Samuel GoldwynThe Captain and Kit, William Fox and directors Frank Borzage, Raoul Walsh, and their friend for life, John “Jack” Ford. The storm that hit the industry with the advent of talkies became a perfect storm with the stock market crash in October of 1929. The Captain and Kit were out of work.


The team tried their hand at writing plays and dialogue scripts   for  talkies   with  very little success. The great depression of the 1930’s were threadbare years for the Caldwells though they found jobs with the WPA and the NRA at salaries far below their boom years. Harry and Kit had a son. Harry H., Jr., who was the light of their life from his birth in 1922. Harry died in 1939 of heart failure. A year later Harry, Jr., was admitted to the naval academy and had a long career serving most notably on submarines. Kit died in 1965 and was buried next to the Captain in Arlington National Cemetery.

Harry H. Caldwell, USN, Letters Home, 1887 – 1908, Barbara Caldwell thesis., 2000.

The Hilliker-Caldwell  collection, the Museum of Modern Art, NY, NY.

See Books for the complete story of the Captain and Kit.