Magic Lantern Shows in Newfoundland and Labrador


January 14, 1888

Photo Caption: Advertisement for "Electro Radiant Magic Lanterns"

Photo Caption: Advertisement for “Electro Radiant Magic Lanterns”

There was a time in Newfoundland and Labrador, before film and television, when the most popular community entertainment was the “magic lantern” show.

In January 1888 the residents of Twillingate were most excited about a magic lantern show at the “Town Hall.” The local paper (Twillingate Sun) reported on January 14:

 “We are requested to say that on Tuesday evening next, 17th inst., in the Town Hall, the scenery of “Ten Nights in the Bar-room,” “Rip Van Winkle” and other views (comic) will be shown by an Electro Radiant Magic Lantern. Doors open at 7 o’clock. Exhibition to commence at 7:30. Admission 10 cents, Nfld. currency.”

Magic lantern shows were a popular form of entertainment in the 1880’s and 1890’s. Magic lanterns were a predecessor of the slide projector and projected images from glass slides. The slides, which were frequently hand-tinted, created vivid “magical” images.

Invented in the middle of the 17 century, the magic lantern provided the first opportunities for projected storytelling and projected visual entertainment.  In the 1840s, William and Frederick Langenheim of Philadelphia began experimenting with The Magic Lantern as an apparatus for displaying their photographic images. The brothers patented their invention in 1850 and called it a Hyalotype (hyalo is the Greek word for glass). The following year they received a medal at the Crystal Palace Exposition in London.

Those gathering at the Town Hall in Twillingate in January 1888 were being treated to two lantern shows.

“Ten Nights in a Bar-Room” originally published in 1854 was turned into a lantern show in 1880. The  show was a ”temperance” show  the story of a small-town miller who gives up his trade to open a tavern, the lantern slides trace the physical and moral decline of the proprietor, his family, and the town’s citizenry due to alcohol. It satisfied the appetite for the sensational and the lurid, yet at the same time was endorsed by all the clergy.

The second show was Washington Irving’s ‘‘Rip Van Winkle’’ one of the best-known short stories in American literature. The character of Rip Van Winkle, the man who sleeps for twenty years and awakens to a greatly changed world and a long beard, is one of the best-known characters in popular culture.  Rip Van Winkle continues to be widely recognized through his many appearances and references in books, movies, cartoons, and advertisements.

In Newfoundland and Labrador magic lantern slides were commonly used by lecturers to illustrate talks and to raise monies for their causes.  The best known collection in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador would be the International Grenfell Association (IGA) magic lantern slides. Apart from their aesthetic beauty, they represent two important functions of the IGA: they formed a visual record of the IGA work and activity on the coast of Northern Newfoundland and Labrador and they were a very important tool used to advocate and fundraise for IGA mission work.

Recommended Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives take some time to go on line to  look at  IGA Magic Lantern Shows:

Recommended Website: History of the Magic Lantern.

Recommended Action: Take some time to look at archival material that you may have in your home. Perhaps you have some glass plate negatives that you might want to consider donating to an established archives.