Devotees of network television may be found watching "must-see TV" nightly, sweating out the upcoming departure of Jerry Seinfeld. At the turn of the century, though, home life did not revolve passively around such electronic proxies. A home entertainment system was whatever the family came up with to keep themselves amused.

A hundred years ago, photography was in its infancy and the chance to see one a treat. A very popular device at family gatherings was the "magic lantern," a primitive projector by which an entire party could view prepared transparencies depicting works of art, famous places around the world and so forth. Less expensive and, consequently, more well distributed, was the "stereoscope." It consisted of a simple wooden viewer by which a pair of 3-inch by 3-inch photographs could be viewed, producing a three-dimensional effect, the way a "ViewMaster" does. The Museum has a very nice table-top stereoscope, along with a large selection of photographic cards. The stereoscope paired two 90%-identical pictures of the same subject on a card. Viewing them through the lenses produced a slight three-dimensional effect.

This simple, antique method of viewing images is still used to interpret images taken by military reconnaissance aircraft. The RAF Canberra PR.Mk 9 aircraft takes 9-inch by 9-inch pictures of ground targets using a Zeiss RMK camera. Several pictures are taken in rapid succession, with each frame overlapping the next by 60 percent. When consecutive frames are viewed simultaneously through the military stereoscope, a false three-dimensional image is produced. In this fashion, the photographs may produce more useful information about the target.

Come and see this bit of history in "Granny's Attic," the Belhaven Memorial Museum.

Belhaven Treasure #36

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Diane K. Mason, HTML Editor 1998