The Magic Lantern was invented in the 1600s and is the oldest form of slide projector. At the front of the box, a lens focuses the rays of light in a specific direction. There is a slide with a picture on it and the second lens is set in front of the slide and makes sure that a sharp version of the slide image appears on the screen.

The Magic Lantern was a popular tool for travelling showmen during the eighteenth century; they would walk from village to village, telling stories and bringing news about the wider world.

The oldest lantern slides were painted by hand onto pieces of glass set into a wooden frame, like the one in this picture which we have at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum. At first, they were simply black images, but soon colour was added to make them more interesting.

                                                                                                                                                                                        We have these Magic Lantern slides displayed at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum.

Can you tell which famous story these slides are telling?




By the end of the 1700s a special form of lantern show had developed. It was known as the 'phantasmagoria' (meaning collection of phantoms) and was made up of stories of ghosts, skeletons, and goblins.

The images were combined with sound effects like thunderclaps and explosions, and dry ice was used to create a spooky atmosphere. The ghost show that was produced thrilled or terrified audiences, similar to today's horror films.

Can you think of a scary ghost story you think would be fun to tell using Magic Lanterns?

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