Through The Magic Lantern

Have you ever seen a magic lantern show? The predecessor to the 35mm slideshow and PowerPoint presentation, magic lantern shows were once very popular events. They were education and entertainment all rolled into one and some even featured an early form of animation. The magic lantern projected a painted or printed glass slide onto a screen, often accompanied with commentary and music. The public could watch a professional show at the theater or do their own show with family and friends at home.

Through The Magic Lantern: Illuminated Images of Onondaga County, open September 2023 to April 2024, explores the magic lantern show through OHA’s largest lantern slide collection, the Will H. Olmsted Lantern Slide Collection. In 1937, Olmsted, an avid amateur photographer with a heart for preserving local Syracuse history, decided to put together a pictorial history of Syracuse for future generations. He not only collected or created over 1200 glass lantern slides, he also wrote commentary to go along with the slides and told the story of Syracuse.

You will see an assortment of magic lanterns and lantern slides from Olmsted’s collection which display Onondaga County’s history between the 1850s and 1930s. There is even a modern “magic lantern” show using select images and commentary from Olmsted’s collection.