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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Magic Lantern Creates Magic Moments

Image courtesy of photobucket.

Years ago my husband and I decided to drive from Southern California to Georgia to spend the holidays with my sister-in-law and her family.  (I LOVE my sister-in-law.  In fact, the family joke is that if my husband and I ever part, I get his sister.) I hadn't been to most of the southern states, so we planned to take a week or so and mosey on over to her house.

The Crossroads, in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where Robert Johnson sold his soul
to the devil in exchange for mastery of the blues.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

One place we both wanted to spend a couple of days was in the Mississippi delta to get a blues fix.  Clarksdale is the site of the Delta Blues Museum and Ground Zero Blues Club, and where countless blues musicians lived or played, including Muddy Waters, Son House, John Lee Hooker, and Robert Johnson.  We chose to stay in Clarksdale at the Shack Up Inn.

The Shack Up Inn is a complex of buildings on part of the old Hopkins Plantation. The guys involved in creating the Inn moved some old shotgun houses that had belonged to sharecroppers, or that were tenant houses, onto the property.  In the folklore of the South, ghosts and spirits were said to be attracted to shotgun houses because there are no hallways, just one room after the next, and the front and back doors are aligned.  They were called "shotgun" because rumor had it if you fired a shotgun through one door, the pellets would come out the other door.  Therefore, some of these shacks were built with the doors misaligned to deter any ghosts or spirits from entering.

Kitchen (above) and bedroom (below) of the "Legends" shack
that we stayed in for two nights.

Once the shacks were positioned, the owners sought to decorate them with authentic articles, and combed garage sales and thrift stores all over the area.  One thing that they had found that once belonged to a local library was a magic lantern. Magic lanterns are image projectors.  Originating in the 17th century, they became quite popular in the first half of the 20th century.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

There is much debate about who invented it, and even Athanasius Kircher, the German Priest, is given credit since he wrote about a device that sounds like one in his book Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae in 1646.  But most scholars and historians give credit to Christiaan Huygens, the Dutch mathematician, astronomer, and horologist, and the man who first came up with the theory that light consists of waves.  The first ones were used mainly by magicians for visual illusions.  They eventually became the instrument of religious charlatans and quack séances.  In the end they were used as a form of entertainment, soon to be replaced by cinematography.

Magic lantern image of the Lahore railway station from 1895 by
William Henry Jackson.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The magic lantern that was at the Shack Up Inn was in the living room of the "Legends" shack that we lived in for two days.  The second night we were there we went into the lobby to ask a question, and ended up staying for a couple of hours and chatting with one of the proprietors and his friends (including a woman who had been an archivist at Graceland and had known Elvis pretty well).  The proprietor asked us how we liked the "Legends" shack and told us a story about some women who had once rented it.

The living room of the "Legends" shack where the magic lantern was kept.

It seems two older women, sisters, stayed there with their daughters, who had brought them back to visit the area where the sisters had grown up.  One of the sisters picked up the magic lantern, saw the old library's "property of" stamp on it, and recognized it as the one she had continually viewed as a young girl and frequent patron of the library.  This apparently caused a stampede of memories, which influenced a similar flood in her sister, and their daughters heard things from their mothers that they never knew, and probably never would have heard, if not for that magic lantern.  In the morning, when checking out, the daughter told the proprietor that they had been up all night, talking, reminiscing, and sharing, and there were tears in her eyes as she thanked him for a unique and treasured experience.  He gave them the magic lantern.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

There were tears in his eyes as he told us the story, and tears in mine as well.  I have always remembered it, never having had any similar experiences with any of my family before they died.  Old, used, discarded, the magic lantern still had some magic left in it.

Website for the Shack Up Inn.
All images of the Shack Up Inn courtesy of their site.

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