Category Archives: Ancient Inventions

A Slideshow of Magic Lantern Slides

magiclanternToday I spent my time going through the slides which came with my new Magic Lantern.

By cataloging them I hope to be able to do some image searches and maybe find the stories that are being told or even find replacements for the slides which are missing.

Many people came by my table where I had the lantern disassembled and the slides set out to see what it was I was playing with.  It was fun to share the wonders of what I had in front of me with an appreciative group of people.  And at least one was inspired to spend time researching and developing their own photography skills further in the hopes being able to produce slides for my use.

All I did was place the slides on white paper and yet that was enough to bring the images out in brilliant colors.  It is amazing to see how well these slides have lasted considering how old they are.  I am looking forward to when I can actually fire up the lantern itself and test it out.  I won’t be doing that for a bit as the oil lamp which is the source of light for the lantern needs some care before I risk putting any fuel in it.  Either that or I will need to simply replace it.

Below is a slideshow of the images I took.  There are a few missing slides from the sets which are clearly sequenced stories but otherwise everything I have is present.  If you get any ideas about what the stories might be I’d appreciate a comment letting me know.

Enjoy!

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What do Aladdin and I have in common?

One of the coolest things in magic history is the magic lantern. A device which is essentially a medieval version of a modern slide projector. Although the history is a bit difficult to pin down, the magic lantern is generally thought to have been invented in the late 1650’s by Christiaan Huygens. However there is evidence that a similar device existed in the early 15th Century created by Giovanni Fontana.

Giovanni’s device projected an image of a demon and in fact this seems to have set the trend in how the devices were used for at least a couple of centuries as they were taken up by magicians and conjurers to project images of ghosts, devils, demons, animate inanimate objects or convince people that their loved ones could be spoken to from beyond the grave or even brought back to life.

By the 18th century they devices were being used in seances and eventually a Belgian inventor named Etienne-Gaspard Robert eventually created a theatrical show called “Phantasmagoria” using the devices to create a whole variety of images for entertainment.

As you might well imagine this is a real amazing kind of thing. A really cool bit of history for magic, theater and the movies.

So imagine how utterly floored, completely dumbfounded and increadibly stunned I am to now have in my possesion an actual antique Magic Lantern, complete with intact glass slides for the device. I am floored.

My birthday is coming up in a few weeks. My apprentice happened to find one at an estate sale yesterday and gave me an early birthday present.  I am so moved words can not describe it.

It needs a little TLC but it is already actually functional. I need to sort through the glass slides and see what is there. Some are numbered so there may actually be a set telling a story. If so, I’ll need to find the story.  When I’m ready I think I will try and add this to my Carnival.

But I have a real Magic Lantern.  Just like Aladdin.

To give you an idea of the kinds of things that were accomplished with Magic Lanterns take a look at this video.  The lantern I have isn’t as sophisticated as the one used to create these images, but the tech is very similar.

“What did you say?” – A Quick Dip Into Carny Lingo

One of the things I love about carny culture is the language. There are terms that are used “backstage” by carnies which are colorful and amusing. As you might imagine it’s not exactly easy to ferret them out, though thanks to the internet they are surfacing more and more.

I happened to listen to a podcast yesterday from a show called Conjurors, Carnies and Collectors which featured one of my magic mentors, Jeff McBride, and discovered something I didn’t know; he’s an ex-carny. He worked two seasons of a carnival as a “concessionaire” taking money from the “marks” playing various “Flat Store” games. And he had quite the “ballyhoo.”

Okay, yeah, so I’m playing with words I know, but you can probably figure most of them out. The only ones you might not be completely clear on are:

  • Flat Store – Games you really can’t win.
  • Ballyhoo – the carny fast talk, usually associated with the pitch given in front of any particular show. In the case of a game designed to tell you what you need to know but generally so fast you miss it anyway. And, of course, how the “concessionaire” manages to effectively change the rules of the game on you as you are playing so that you’ll pay more to keep going.

Oh, and by the way, that guy out front isn’t a “barker.” “Barker” is a term used by “rubes.” He’s a “talker.” The “talker” gives the “ballyhoo” when he’s doing an “outside opening.” When he’s inside the tent narrating the show he’s the “lecturer.”

Cool huh?

But the term I’m caught up with at the moment is “Gadget Show” or “Mechanical Show.”

Turns out that a somewhat infrequent attraction to some traveling carnivals was this “gadget show” which featured mechanical devices on display such as tiny villages, where the figures and structures operated and moved. This falls nicely in line with my interest in the various Ancient Inventions that I started looking at a while ago.

One of the people interested in helping with my Carnival Project suggested a display of a reproduction perpetual motion machine from our SCA period (one he can make work *nudge* *nudge* *wink* *wink*) and I would like to try and create one or two of the devices described by Hero of Alexander.

Is there a reference for such a “Gadget Show” to go along with the sort of carnival/festival entity in our SCA period? This I do not know yet. It’s hard enough to find a good list of all the things one might find at a carnval/festival in the first place. But given the interest in automata and such that I can find, I suspect that it’s not outside the realm of possibility at least.

So there you have it. A little stroll through the land of Carny Lingo and I end up with more inspiration for a sideshow.

So many toys. So little time.

Do you believe me?

I’m going to Disneyland tomorrow so I can study modern automata.  You believe me, right? 🙂

The Biological Advantage of Being Awestruck

There are times when things just line up nicely.   How you can be so involved in some particular something and in the process other doors all over the place seem to open up.

Yesterday, as I was researching things for my Ancient Inventions notes I found myself confronted with a variety of references from completely different sources pointing back to the very things I had been reading earlier that day.  Last night I gazed at the moon and, in my fumbling sort of way, tried to convey how amazing it is and must have been for Galileo to do the same thing but without the kind of scientific experience and knowledge I have available to me today.

Then, this morning I see this:

I love it when that kind of thing happens.

Project Frustrations

It’s frustrating to be extremely excited about a project but be unable to progress on it.

The Carnival Project is something I am highly excited about but because there are other people involved I can only progress as fast as they are able to get back to me. I knew that was going to be the case of course. I’ve been in the theater for a very long time, so I know all about herding cats.

The Telescope Project is something I am highly excited about but I need to get:

  • a tripod
  • a sketch book and sketching tools
  • a way to speed up time so I don’t have to wait for various stellar configurations

Yeah, that last one probably not going to happen any time soon.

A new project is raising it’s head which I think I’m going to be playing with as well – Ancient Inventions. In particular I want to build a model of the Heron Temple Doors device because it ties so well into the research I’ve done on magic and theater in history.  And it looks like I can actually build it pretty easily.  At least my brain is already turning over a number of ideas on how to do it.

But it’s another project and I’m frustrated because I have this thing I have to do every day called work, which lately largely involves waiting for other people to do their jobs so I have what I need to be able to do mine. Remember that herding cats thing? Yeah, these are government cats. They move even slower and more aimlessly.

Ah well. That’s what happens when you are interested in to many things all at the same time and not rolling in money.

At least I updated this site and the menu structure a bit more.  Yay!  Progress!

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