Marvel at Victorian-era cinema during Tacoma Magic Lantern screening

Fans of visual arts in the years before cinema may want to mark their calendars for the the 15th international convention of the Magic Lantern Society of the United States and Canada, which will be held June 21-24 in Tacoma.

According to the organization’s Web site, the Magic Lantern Society is a group that collects, preserves and shares information on the many devices that were used to entertain and educate audiences before the beginning of cinema. Introduced in the 1600s, the magic lantern was the earliest form of slide projector and has a long and fascinating history. The first magic lanterns were illuminated by candles, but as technology evolved they were lit by kerosene, limelight, carbon arc, and electric light.

Often called a “stereopticon show,” Magic Lantern shows were the combination of projected images, live narration, and live music that preceded the movies. They were incredibly popular 100 years ago. By the 19th Century, the magic lantern was used in theaters, churches, fraternal lodges, and at home by adults and children. 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.

The public is invited to attend the Victorian Magic Lantern Show, an authentic 1890s visual extravaganza, on Sat., June 23, at 7:30 p.m. in the Washington State History Museum Auditorium, located at 1911 Pacific Avenue. The show incorporates live drama and music led by Terry Borton of The American Magic-lantern Theater, the nation’s only theater company specializing in this popular form of Gay Nineties entertainment. Tickets are $12. For information and reservations, contact Larry Cederblom at (253) 952-9370 or e-mail or click here and click on the “Convention 2012” link.