Projector Memories


a trip down memory lane…

A few months ago I mentioned in the comments of this blog that my parents would regularly borrow a projector from the local library (they had 16 and 8mm if I recall) along with some kiddie-friendly reels they had for lending, and set it up for a birthday party or a special movie weekend. The more I thought about it I got a bit obsessed with trying to remember which movies we watched this way. I was also curious if there was any retro fun to be had posting brochures or lists of movies if the library still had any to look at, so I contacted them to ask (I was also hoping they could confirm this was a real memory and not just some childhood imagining). They didn’t have any documents to share but I got something even better; within days they sent me a detailed response from a former staff member who remembered working with the projectors. The reason it took ME so long to post this is that the whole time I was searching family albums for some photo evidence of me enjoying the projector and movies, and I found them in this one photo of a birthday party (I cropped and blotted out faces to protect these innocents from the revelation that they attended such wild events–they might never live it down).


I don’t know a thing about the make of that projector, except that there’s clearly a For Better or For Worse book propping it up. Google image search helped identify one of the film boxes shown on the table– must be this movie, Battle of the Giants, better known as One Million B.C.


The bigger box underneath it has a yellow cover/ blue spine and I can’t make out anything on that. After browsing what other reels were out there, I’m pretty sure I saw many Disney super 8, Woody Woodpecker, Abbott & Costello, Alice in Wonderland, Mary’s Little Lamb, Chilly Willy. I doubt there were monster movies at the library, and if there were I clearly remember watching those on tv courtesy of Elwy Yost. It was a mention of The Reluctant Dragon that got me thinking about this in the first place but I wasn’t able to find if it was out for this format.

Now here’s the nice letter I got back from Karen, a long-time Children’s staff person and still a volunteer at the library:

“So you asked about our 16 mm projectors. Oddly, as soon as you mentioned them, the sounds all came back to me; the slapping of the film as it came off the bottom reel when we rewound them, the whir of the gears while it was operating and, even the clicks and sounds of the film sliding into place when it was being set up. I guess that tells you how much time I – all of the children’s staff, actually – spent with those old machines.

They predated my arrival (in 1971) by quite a few years, I imagine. Waterloo Library didn’t throw money away on replacing anything that still had a working life. The projectors were grey metal and weighed a ton. Eventually we did get one with a plastic case and that was a blessing because they lived up in Adults’ and were sent down to us on the dumb waiter so we had to hoist them off the cart and up onto our projection table.

We showed movies on Saturday afternoons and several times per week, during school holidays. Each area library had a film collection and we all borrowed from each other. As with any collection that we shared with the public, the actual film was often damaged so, there would be mended spots and sometimes wrinkles to catch in the track so that the picture would flutter up and down, or part of the scene would have disappeared, or the sound would woggle. We kept a tape dispenser with us and, if the film broke, we just taped it up and went on with the show.

I think the Library owned three projectors of which, two were available to the public and the other was supposed to be for in-Library use. I don’t remember what the cost was but it was nominal. Several times, the Chief mistakenly booked out the program projector and we would be on pins and needles hoping that one of the public ones would be back in time for our program. We would occasionally get frantic phone calls from people who’d rented a projector and only discovered when their audience arrived, that they didn’t know how to load the film. If Clarke wasn’t available, the calls would come down to Children’s and I would shut my eyes and visualize the process so that I could walk them through it. Twice I had people offer to take me out to lunch as a thank you for helping them.

Does it surprise you to know how happy we all were when videos came along?”

Many thanks to the WPL for being so nice and thorough for a curious patron 🙂 I really appreciate it!

Thought you’d enjoy this fun little archaeological dig and personal look back at early movie watching memories in what was then the height of “home theater.”


6 thoughts on “Projector Memories”

  1. What a lovely post! Our public library didn’t lend out projectors, but there were definitely 8mm films to borrow. I acquired a terrific 8mm “field projector” (not as heavy as other “portables” of its time — late ’30s) along with some old library films from a flea market in New Orleans when I lived there in the mid-80s. My two faves were “Fatty and Mabel Viewing the World’s Fair in San Francisco” and “Tillie’s Punctured Romance.” Sadly, the projector and movies are long gone. Thanks for the memories!

    1. Thanks, and thanks for sharing your own memories– isn’t that something, I’m fascinated by how clearly we remember exactly which movies we saw this way, the acquiring and the experience of handling the film just burns it into your memory (in a way the streaming generation will never have). Must’ve been fun to have a projector of your own and still seems like a fun thing for movie buffs to collect.

  2. Wow. Great post and a nice letter to boot. Reminds me of grade school when the teacher would wheel in a projector and set up an educational film and we would beg to watch it backwards while it was rewound to the start. I to remember those noises of when things would go awry. Nice looking young lady in the background of the movie going group. 🙂

    1. Ha, you mean the one with the bowl cut? I love that they went to the trouble, and loved the personal details 🙂 yup I too grew up with science class reels too. I wonder if I’ll ever figure out what that other box/movie was. I love a mystery

  3. This is a lovely post – that ‘wild’ party looks like a lot of fun 😉
    Sadly I never experienced the joys of a projector as a child, but my boyfriend recently bought be a super 8 camera so I’m looking forward to experimenting with that and seeing the results on a projector….

    1. Thanks. That sounds like fun, as much as You have to love the convenience and affordability of movie tech now, there’s a romance to the sound and the feel of real film that you can’t beat, so you’ll have fun working with that camera. You’ll have to throw a “wild” party for the screening!

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