CLASSIC TALE: The Ratcatcher, the most popular of
all mechanical slides, portrays a sleeping man in bed,
with a rat coming from under the covers to see the
source of snoring, then crawling into the mouth. One
piece of glass levers the mouth open and closed, and
the crank rotates a piece of glass to move the rat up
and into the mouth. Note the round brass rack and
pinion operated by the crank.
DD: Let’s talk about the slides. The slides are made
of glass inside a wooden frame.
JJ: Exactly. A lot of them in the early days were
simply freehand paintings on glass. They’re miniature paintings, but, of course, made to blow up to
incredible sizes at times. Some of them would be
3 inches in diameter, some of them even smaller.
It was the earliest AV.
DD: That lanternist was the AV man.
JJ: He was it!
DD: Then the slides begin to change because of
JJ: In the late 1830s to 1840, we got photography
but no one was thinking of projection. They were
making pictures on metal or paper. Fortunately, a
pair of brothers from Germany, William and Frederick Langenheim, figured this out. William fought
in the Texas Revolution, and Frederick started a
photography business in Philadelphia. They are
credited with inventing the first black and white
photographic lantern slide. They didn’t have color
DD: You showed me examples. The process was to
paint a larger picture and take a photograph of it,
and then do this transfer process to create a slide,
which was then handpainted to add color.
JJ: To handpaint all the details required incredible
skill and eyesight, and a lot of technique. They would
take characters out of, say, Tennyson’s poems, or
Les Misérables, and show the characters in great
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detail, because they went with published stories
that were well known. They could then bring a story
DD: A lot of the language of film editing originates
with the magic lantern.
JJ: The first motion of any kind, or any effect, that
we now take for granted — whether it’s electronic,
or on motion picture film, or digital — was done
when they learned that you can move one piece of
glass past another piece of glass, and cause things
to darken out, or to change. It gives the simulation
They also learned that they could dissolve —
a word we use today — from one image to another
by raising the firelight in one lantern, and lowering
it in the other one using a very-nearly identical slide.
A house might be shown in daylight, and dissolve
into an image of the house at night.
DD: Did it require dual projectors?
JJ: You would, generally, have at least two sets
of lenses. That way you could dissolve smoothly
without interruption of the viewing.
DD: What’s your favorite projection?
JJ: The Ratcatcher slide is legendary. Basically,
it was the hit of the show and I use it still. There’s a
man recumbent in a big old bed in the 1800s, and
he’s got a candle burning on his nightstand, and
he’s under the covers. He’s got a long black beard
and wears a nightcap. One of the levers on the side
of the magic lantern moves a piece of glass up and
Photograph by John Jackson