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Home 2017-06-15T16:41:11+00:00

The Museum of American Magic Lantern Shows

FlowerEdgeFlowerEdgeThis virtual museum brings to life the way American magic lantern shows influenced every facet of the nation’s culture-from the 1850s to the 1930s.  The magic lantern, or “stereopticon,” was the first projector, and a forerunner of the movies and cinema. Millions of people a year saw magic lantern shows and illustrated lectures in theaters, Lyceum halls, Chautauqua tents, fraternal societies, churches, and their own homes. In this museum you’ll see lantern broadsides, ads, and slides like those in the theater above, plus 20+ related videos—all from the shows that helped mold a nation. To enter the museum, click a ticket below.

Intro to Magic Lantern Shows

Here’s a brief background—how the lantern works, its history, types of lanterns and slides, plus two short videos of re-created magic lantern shows—one an Entertainment Show, and one an Illustrated Lecture by Jacob Riis.

10 Min Intro to Magic Lantern Shows

After the Intro, get an overview of the earliest American magic lantern shows (1815–1850), and some of the shows in the lantern’s heyday (1850–1930).  A little travel, a little religion, a little science, a little art, a little fun, and something a little weird.

30 Min Tour of Magic Lantern Shows

After the 10-Minute Tour, learn much more about amateur and professional performers, women performers, and Black performers.  Explore lantern shows on travel, religion, the arts, science, social justice, and war.  See how the movies evolved from magic lantern shows.

Intro to Magic Lantern Shows

Kids!  Learn how to make your own magic lantern with materials you can find around home.  It really works.  Make some animated slides! Give a magic lantern show!