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.”