Let me entertain you, or what we did before television

Sandy Vasko

    Actually, it's more than television, isn't it? So, let us say that our entertainment comes from a screen, whether it's hand held or a giant one sitting in our living room.
    Time was, when folks had to go somewhere to see images on a screen. Today we look at the world of images for entertainment.
    Braidwood had its first taste of images on a “screen” in 1871, and it was called a panorama.
    Panoramas were a large circular painting that aimed to give the viewer the experience of being physically present in the scene being depicted, whether that was a landscape, a city, a battle or other historical event.
    We read on June 17, 1871 in the Wilmington People's Advocate, “Bullard's Panorama of the Empire City was voted a success on last evening. We thought of stepping into Stewart's on Broadway, but concluded we could buy goods as well at home at J. J. White's.
    “The Panorama exhibits this (Saturday) at 3 and 8 o'clock p.m. at the school house in Braidwood. We recommend “the show” by all means.”
    This panorama would be a view of Broadway in New York City painted on large thin sheets of fabric, mounted on a wooden frame, and placed in a circle. The viewer paid a quarter and went into this circle, usually standing on a raised platform. The effect was surprisingly real.
    As late as 1879 we read, “Messrs. Pettigrew and Keir exhibit their panorama again at the Grove School house tonight. It is well spoken of.”
    In 1878 another type of reality entertainment appeared on the scene. Although Braidwood residents would have to travel to Wilmington, it was worth the trip to hear people's voices coming out of this air.
    We read, “A phonograph entertainment will be given at the school house this evening under the auspices of the High School Library Association. This meeting will be the first regular one of the season. Go and hear the phonograph by all means. It discounts a first-class echo, or a mocking bird just 200 per cent. Fact!”
    Perhaps the reason this amazing machine never made it to Braidwood is given in the next week's Wilmington paper, “Quite a number of our citizens visited the phonograph, at Empire Hall, on Saturday, and were much interested. Still the venture of getting it here was a failure, financially.”
    Interestingly enough, it was a man from Braidwood who was involved in this next great step in the viewing of pictures on a screen in this area, but not in Braidwood, however.
    He found his start in Wilmington. We read on November 1, 1907 in the Wilmington Advocate, “Ben Lypsitz, of Braidwood, will, on Nov. 9th, at 5 o'clock, open in the John Campbell building, a moving picture show.  Admission 5 cents.”
    The following year we read in the Wilmington paper, “A. Culver who conducts the Bijou moving picture theatre in this city was in Braidwood Monday for the purpose of making arrangements for starting a branch theatre in that place.”
    I can find no evidence that Mr. Culver ever opened in Braidwood. But I do have evidence about his theater, again involving a Braidwood resident.
    We read on, May 12, 1916, “The Bijou has quit business and the outfit has been stored in the Campbell building. It is said that one of Braidwood's Italians will open up a meat market in the building formerly occupied by the Bijou.”
    So as far as entertaining pictures go, all that was left to the citizens of Braidwood was the old-fashioned stereopticon. We do have some evidence that someone from Braidwood was projecting stereopticon slidess.
    A projector used for that purpose was spotted in an old building in Braidwood by a visiting worker. I wish it could speak.