Kennett Square, PA - Some of my earliest
memories are of the magic-lantern shows put on during the 1940s
by my father, using a smoking kerosene 1869 Marcy Sciopticon. And
some of his earliest memories are of magic-lantern shows put on
at the turn of the century by my great-grandfather, using that same
My father, now in his nineties, lives in a Quaker
retirement community here at Kennett Square; we've come to do a
little "pro bono" show for the residents, and for him. The wheel
Great Grandfather Carter's
I start with a little introduction in which I trace the
history of our show from those given by my great grandfather. I pay tribute
to my father, who passed on great-grandfather Carter's boisterous lanternist
style to me. I explain that some of great-grandfather Carter's original
slides and bits of stage business will be in the performance tonight.
Then we start the show, our "Victorian Extravaganza." We pull out the
stops. A few of Beale's illustrated stories. Some joyful sing-alongs.
And some of great grandfather Carter's wonderful animated slip slides:
The roaring tiger. The man with the growing nose. And, of course, the
The audience is very appreciative. Afterwards there is
a knot of people around us, many reminiscing. Philadelphia was the center
of American magic-lantern manufacture and Quakers were prominent in the
industry. Many of our audience are old enough to remember something about
the lantern or know of someone involved in the business.
One tiny little lady hangs back until the others have
dispersed. Then she comes up, addressing me in the Quaker "plain talk."
"I'm so glad to have seen thy show. I feel as though
I've finally redeemed myself."
"Redeemed thyself?" I ask, falling into her idiom, one
we sometimes used in my childhood. "How can that be?"
"When I was a little girl we lived near thy great-grandfather.
My parents took me to see one of his shows when I was about three. I remember
the big room; all the strange people. Then everything went dark. A huge
tiger leaped on the wall and roared.
"I was terrified. I started to scream. Then the tiger
looked right at me. His eyes moved! I screamed and screamed. Finally I
had to be taken home. I was in disgrace."
She looked at me with a twinkle in her eye. "That tiger
you showed tonight was the same one wasn't it? I saw him look right at
me. It's taken me ninety years, but thee'll notice, I didn't scream this
"It's taken ninety years, but I've redeemed myself."