Friday, December 28, 2007

Galveston: Treasure Island of the Gulf

Galveston: Treasure Island of the Gulf, an exhibition featuring hundreds of artifacts, photographs, and other memorabilia from our city’s past, is now on display at the Rosenberg Library. This exhibit explores the unique history of Galveston Island from the time of its founding through the present day.

Visitors can view Karankawa Indian artifacts and learn about some of the early European explorers who navigated the waters along the Gulf coast. One of the most significant items on display is the surveyor’s equipment used by John D. Groesbeck in the original platting of the city in 1838.

The exhibit also examines Galveston during the Republic of Texas era (1836-1845) and during the Civil War (1861-1865). Items of interest from this period include a sword, telescope, and compass that belonged to Captain Norman Hurd of the Texas Navy. Historic munitions from the Civil War, including two cannon balls and a shell fragment from the Battle of Galveston, are displayed. Visitors will especially appreciate an ornate steel and brass officer’s sword that belonged to a Civil War colonel. Artifacts related to the cotton industry, tourism, and immigration are also included in Galveston: Treasure Island of the Gulf.

A silver presentation cup that was awarded to Samuel May Williams for his outstanding cotton crop in 1832 is one the oldest artifacts in the exhibit. Vintage postcards and other memorabilia from the island’s days as an entertainment mecca show images of some of the most famous nightclubs once located on the island. The Hollywood Dinner Club, the Sui Jen CafĂ©, and the Balinese Room once hosted world-class performers like Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, and Bob Hope. In addition to dozens of artifacts, more than 130 historic photographs and documents are on display as part of the exhibition. Photos of the Strand and Harborside from the early 1860s through the 1920s can be seen along with artifacts from some of the city’s early businesses. An 1899 Rosenberg Bank deposit book, a 19th century tea box from Focke, Wilkens, and Lange, and antique milk bottles from Star Dairy are featured in the show.

Images from the 1900 Storm as well as photographs of the grade raising and construction of the seawall document the overwhelming challenges faced by Galvestonians after the one of the greatest natural disasters in U.S. history. Artifacts related to this era in Galveston’s past include the gold and ivory pen used to sign the grade raising bill in 1901. Visitors of all ages will enjoy taking a step back into the past and examining relics from some of the most significant events in the history of the island.

Galveston: Treasure Island of the Southwest is located in the James M. Lykes Maritime Gallery on the third floor of Rosenberg Library. It is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm. Admission is free of charge.

December Treasure of the Month

Photo Caption: 1898 magic lantern slide projector. Manufactured by Ernst Plank, Nuremberg, Germany. Gift of Marjorie Runge Kelso, 1995.
Magic Lanterns

During the month of December, the Rosenberg Library will display an antique magic lantern with thirteen original glass slides. This magic lantern, an early type of slide projector, was made in Nuremberg, Germany in 1898 by the Plank Company. The slides depict various scenes, from daily life in a European village, to fairy tale characters, to biblical tableaus.

Magic lanterns are the ancestors to modern slide projectors. Athanasius Kirchner, a Jesuit priest, is credited with inventing the first magic lantern in 1671. The device consisted of a box containing an oil lamp which illuminated painted glass slides through a lens. The images on the slides were projected onto a screen or a wall and were magnified to appear much larger.

By the 1800s, magic lantern slide shows had become wildly popular forms of entertainment. Projectionists would travel from town to town, hosting shows for eager audiences. Themes of the shows varied widely, but military feats, cartoons, fairy tales, and bible stories were among the most common.

While early slides were hand-painted by skilled artists, the invention of photography allowed for the inexpensive creation and mass production of slides for magic lantern projectors. Photographic slides of famous landmarks, foreign lands, and important people were readily available for viewing. Many of these slides were sold in series, and were used to convey uplifting stories or to teach moral lessons.

After the invention of moving pictures in the late nineteenth century, the market for magic lanterns began to dwindle, and production of the projectors and slides finally ceased in the 1940s. Today, surviving magic lanterns and slides are highly sought after by collectors.

The Rosenberg Library Treasure of the Month can be viewed Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The artifacts will be on display in the main lobby, located on the library’s first floor. For more information, please contact Eleanor Clark at 409-763-8854, ext. 125 or at