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Maine Historical Society



On-Demand Programs

A Man, A Horse-Drawn Wagon, and a Moving Panorama:
The Travels of L. E. Emerson
A Talk with Peter Morelli

Recorded on November 8, 2021

In the 1850s, long before movies, and just when the magic lantern's popularity was beginning, a night out at the pictures meant a moving panorama performance. The performer, or the "professor," made the giant picture story come alive. The travels of one traveling showman are documented in the MHS collection in the remarkable surviving "exhibitor's diary" of L. Eaton Emerson. It describes his 1855 travels presenting the "Grand Moving Mirror of California," a giant series of 23 paintings on a linen scroll on reels. Emerson's diary includes a daily account of his solo shows, and the obstacles to his shows, as he traveled by horse-drawn wagon to the villages in western Maine, through the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and in remote northern Vermont and southern Quebec. The diary also includes some humorous stories and even barbed comments about hall proprietors and audiences. Together the diary and the handwritten script for the California panorama tell an intriguing story of life on the road with a travel panorama shows. In this illustrated talk, Peter Morelli describes Emerson's travels and explores his diary and work.