OLD TIMERS’ MOVING PICTURES!
By Norris Chambers
When I was very small we went to see a movie occasionally. When I think of those first movies I think of the cops chasing some guy or some western bad men battling with a sheriff and his posse. There was no sound and when the guns fired you looked for the smoke. Sometimes you saw two fellows courting the same lady and that always led to trouble. There was sometimes a bold robbery and the problem of catching and punishing the crooks. There was writing on the screen to let the observers know what was being said, especially if the dialogue was pertinent to the story. Since I couldn’t read at that time I had to do some guessing!
By today’s standards these movies were rather crude. My mother told of her first encounter with screen entertainment. Instead of movies there were slides and the projection establishments were known as magic lanterns. They probably called the show buildings that because the projectors that were used to project the pictures on the screen were called magic lanterns. The pictures shown on the screen did not move but usually had text explaining what was being shown. The program consisted of travel photographs, national or world news items or
anything of interest that could be photographed and projected on the screen. I was told that the shows were interesting and that my mother looked forward to seeing a magic lantern when they made occasional trips to town. When the rare trip to town was made it was a two day affair and they spent a night in the wagon yard.
When we made a trip to town it was not necessary to spend the night in the wagon yard.
In this period of time it would have been called a “tourist court”. Our old Model T made the twenty-five mile trip in about an hour. I was usually treated to a movie while my parents did their shopping. There still was no sound but I was able to follow the stories pretty well, especially if it were a western movie. Some movie theaters featured a piano or organ player who applied the proper type of music at the appropriate period in the show. Eventually sound was introduced and there were big signs in front of the theaters advertising “talkies”. When water evaporator air conditioning was introduced there were big signs with icicles and snow pictures informing folks that it was cool inside!
Clifton and I first thought about projecting pictures when we were in the smokehouse with the door closed. There were no windows; therefore the little building was very dark. But there was a small hole in the wall (maybe made by a bullet when some would-be marksman was trying to “hit the side of a wall!” This little hole allowed a strong beam of sunlight to enter and light up a small portion of the opposite wall. While we were watching the light spot a bug, blowing leaf or other obstacle fluttered across the hole and we saw a nice display on the wall. That movement was enough to start us to thinking about some sort of projector.
Our first action was to find a piece of two inch pipe about four or five inches long and tie a piece of celluloid across one end. We took a little red paint and drew a picture of a funny face on the transparent plastic and held the other end of the pipe over the hole in the wall. We expected to see the face projected on the opposite wall. The picture was recognizable but was badly out of focus. We made a hasty trip back to the drawing board!
In those days flashlights had magnifying lenses for better beams of light. We took one of these lenses and held it in front of the image at the celluloid slide and moved it back and forth. The position of the lens did change the picture on the wall but didn’t bring it in focus. The next step was to move a white board in front of the lens and see what happened at different distances.
This experiment was successful and we found a spot where we got a clear picture of an ugly face in perfect focus. The image was not very large, but it was large enough to convince us that we had to build a magic lantern and attach to the hole in the wall. The finished product was a questionable success. Instead of the hole in the wall we used an automobile headlight with a six volt battery for the light source and a larger slide area where we could use a small pane of glass or celluloid for the slide. We didn’t charge admission so we had frequent audiences eager to enjoy our crude artwork!
Was the slide projector a fun thing? It was more fun than a barrel of monkeys! With today’s technology you could build a much better model and have more fun. Or you could just go to the movies and see a good show and forget about having fun!