Object of the Month

Lantern Slide Depicting Adams Square, Boston

`Adams Sq. looking up Cornhill & Brattle St.` Lantern slide

"Adams Sq. looking up Cornhill & Brattle St."

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[ This description is from the project: Object of the Month ]

This lantern slide, taken about 1900 by an unidentified photographer, depicts Adams Square in Boston, looking up Cornhill and Brattle Streets.

Lantern Slides of Boston Streets and Buildings

The Massachusetts Historical Society has recently digitized a collection of 320 glass lantern slides depicting buildings and street scenes of Boston including the slide shown above. Although predominantly focused on the downtown area and the Back Bay, other neighborhoods in Boston from the Reservoir at Chestnut Hill to Lower Roxbury are represented. The slides are divided into two series that show, or attempt to show, the same location several decades apart. It is possible to gain historical perspective on parts of the city that are now lost, although some streets and buildings and views seem rather miraculously to have remained unchanged.

One of the sections of Boston most decimated through time was the quintuple-square area: Dock Square, Faneuil Hall Square, Adams Square, Brattle Square, and Scollay Square. A number of photographs capture the vicinity in its confusion of streets and intersections, such as the one featured here depicting Adams Square around 1900. A similar view from 1934 shows several changes that had taken place including the elimination of tracks for the horse-drawn trolleys and the relocation of the statue of Samuel Adams.

Lantern Slides

Lantern slide photography was in use from the 1840s into the twentieth century. Philadelphia-based daguerreotypists William and Frederick Langenheim used "a glass plate negative to print onto another sheet of glass, thus creating a transparent positive image." The slides were not expensive to produce and were used for both education and entertainment. Production of the lantern slide, which could be hand colored, involved "placing a dry plate negative directly on light-sensitive glass, which, after it dried, was fitted with a cover glass and mat and sealed with tape." The slides could then be projected to an audience.

For Further Reading

Kruh, David. Always Something Doing: Boston's Infamous Scollay Square. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1999.

mapjuction.com is a website that allows one to compare various maps of Boston and its vicinity over time.

Whitehill, Walter Muir. Boston: A Topographical History. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1968.

For more about the history, production and use of lantern slides, Syracuse University Archives and the University of South Florida have good information.