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Let the Light Shine Through

June 7, 2018

Every summer I can’t help but pour over every image from the William F. Gingrich Lantern Slide collection. These 1920s images in the Dunes area of northern Indiana scream lakeside vacation and look idyllic, even magical. It turns out that lantern slides were popular ways to teach and were a form of entertainment called Magic Lantern slideshows.

What draws me to the Gingrich lantern slides are the colors. These photos can often look like paintings. And with good reason – they’re hand painted. It isn’t clear if Gingrich painted the slides himself or if he had someone else do the painting. The task was often performed by women for the fine detail work.

As someone who spends her days thinking of things to share from the IHS collections on Twitter and Instagram, these slides are images I have a hard time not posting over and over again. You can see what I mean by visiting the William F. Gingrich Lantern Slide digital collection.

When I asked our Library staff if I could come down and view the slides, they promptly said yes. I thought the digital images were amazing but nothing beats getting to hold the slide and looking at just how small these items actually are.

Holding up a glass lantern slide in IHS Library to give idea of size of glass lantern slide.

When you were a kid, did you love getting to look at the transparencies your teacher was using? This was better. Look how small this is!

Gingrich was also a life-long educator, which shows in his lantern slides of the Dunes and Lake Michigan area as well as in an article he wrote for Photo-Era: The American Journal of Photography titled “Experiences with the Gum-Bichromate Process,” in which he not only shows his sense of humor but seeks to instruct others.

“During one of the periodic epidemics of photographic fervor, several years ago,” he writes, “the writer contracted a malignant form of gum-bichromate fever.” He goes on to give his readers step-by-step instructions “that any beginner might follow … with a reasonable assurance of success.” Oh, and if you, too, contract the gum-bichromate fever, Gingrich says, “If it is necessary for you to do your gum-work in the kitchen, and the wife is inclined to be unreasonable or unsympathetic, let the gum-bichromate process alone.

Glass lantern slide with loop - a type of magnifier.

As with other photographic processes, there are several ways of coloring photographs. The loop magnifies the image, so you can tell whether or not the slide (in this case) was hand painted.

To find more lantern slides in this and other collections, search “lantern slides” at

Chelsea Sutton Blogger Headshot

Chelsea Sutton is communications coordinator at the Indiana Historical Society. She started drinking coffee at age 3 with her dad and always stays up too late reading.

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