Magic Lantern Slides

Ragan Magic Lantern Show

1885 program for the magic lantern show

“The delights of travel without its discomforts” — On a cold night in March, 1885 the students of Alfred University and the local community residents gathered in the auditorium in Alumni Hall (then called Chapel Hall) and were treated to a magic lantern show by Ragan Illuminated Tours. These shows were the 19th-century version of today’s PowerPoint presentations. Ragan lectured on “Paris, the Magnificent” while projecting images he had photographed. Paris – a place those in attendance would have been aware of but few could hope to ever visit themselves.

The University Archives has a collection of lantern slides that represent various scenes and people from Alfred. Presumably many of them were made 100 years ago as a January 18, 1916 Fiat

Lantern slide

Lantern slide showing the Fiat Lux newspaper staff in the University library in Kenyon Hall

Lux headline suggests: “Lantern Slides of Alfred to be Made.” The article says they would be for exhibition purposes, chiefly to loan out to high schools, an early Admissions marketing campaign. The Archives also owns a lantern slide projector!

For more information on magic lantern shows, read a nice write up from Victoriana Magazine. An excerpt: “Imagine yourself back in the Victorian period, say in 1895, just before the birth of the movies. Suppose you wanted to go out for an impromptu evening’s entertainment. What would you do? The chances are you’d go to a magic-lantern show, a combination of projected images, live narration, and live music that the movies came from. They were incredibly popular 100 years ago. In 1895 there were between 30,000 and 60,000 lantern showmen in the United States, giving between 75,000 and 150,000 performances a year. What were these shows like? Most were the equivalent of our modern “Nova” or the “Discovery Channel” – illustrated lectures on subjects of popular interest like Travel, Science, and Art, using photographic lantern slides to create interest and excitement. In addition to this “moral entertainment” as the Victorians called it, there were shows that emphasized stories, songs, and comedy — the kind of shows that would soon lead to the movies.”

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