Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Movies at Dummer Academy

Lantern slide projectors, first lit by oil lamp, and then by limelight, carbon arc lamp, and subsequently, by electric light, allowed for the projection of transparent slides on a wall or other surface. Some historians believe the invention of the first lantern projector occurred as early as the 1600s. The Magic Lantern or Sciopticon was a forerunner to the modern slide projector and an early form of moving picture. (It is said that the earliest shows using lanterns often featured goblins and devils, the rationale for the name “magic lantern.”) Glass plate positives were introduced in the 1850s, but they became widely available as magic lantern slides—many of which were animated—in the 1870s. By the time these “movies” made their way to Dummer Academy in 1914, they had been available for several decades.

A history of the development of lantern movies indicates that while magic lantern shows often featured a live showman and/or musician who provided a soundtrack, the audience would sometimes join in by creating sound effects, playing instruments, clapping, cheering, or booing. The scrapbook entry from a former Dummer Academy graduate, shown below in this blog, notes the accompaniment of a Professor Priest at the earliest one-cent slide shows. By 1919, these presentations had picked up steam with the inauguration of the “Dummer Movie Palace” and its first showing, Charlie Chaplin’s “Shoulder Arms,” a silent comedy released in 1918 and set in France during World War I. Several clips from the movie can be found on YouTube (e.g., at the following link:
The short but telling scrapbook entries in this blog reveal the fascination and appreciation students had for these diversions nearly a century ago.