"Two projecting machines"
“Two projecting machines," the Gazette article about the Beverly continues, "will eliminate any pause between reels; the Beverly will be the only picture theater in Janesville with two machines and also the only one with a direct electric light converting system...” 76
Clear, except the “direct electric light converting system.” This made no sense to me, so I researched projectors and projectionists and wound up joining a Web group called “Film-Tech Forums.”
State-of-the-artI posted the line to the forum and asked what it might have meant. Konrad Schiecke, a retired electronics engineer responded: “[It] Refers to a direct current arc lamp system. Others of that era used AC arcs.”
Leo Enticknap, whose website describes him as “an independent historical researcher, educator, and archivist specializing in audiovisual media with a Ph.D from the UK’s University of Exerter" posted the following explanation:
“High intensity carbon arc lamps need a low voltage, high current DC power source to work at all. The essential point this story is trying to make is that the projectors are equipped with high intensity carbon arc lamps (the technology was essentially invented by Elmer Sperry in the early nineteen teens and started to be used in movie projector lamp houses at around the time your theatre opened), not gas/chemical illumination (e.g. limelight) or lower intensity, AC-powered arcs…”
Enticknap also said the Beverly’s projectors were the era’s “state-of-the-art in imaging technology.”
"Almost fireproof playhouse"Articles about the Beverly’s opening declare it “an almost fireproof playhouse” and the “most modern, safest, and beautiful” theater.77
Earlier stories about the Apollo also stress measures designed to prevent fires.
Some of the reason for this is alluded to in the first article about the Apollo: “Within it (the operator’s booth) has been placed a Powers No. 6A motion picture machine 78 of the latest model. It is provided with an automatic shutter which falls into place whenever the machine is stopped, preventing the film from being ignited by the heat of the arc light.” 79
Projector arc lights of that era were similar in brightness to a welding torch, temperatures reached thousands of degrees Fahrenheit. A few inches away from what amounted to a blazingly hot open flame, film was pulled over an opening, each frame pausing for an instant. The brilliant beam produced by the arc cast images hundreds of feet across the auditorium to a silver screen. Persistence of vision gave the illusion of motion as it does to this day.
A Web article titled “Inside a Projectionist’s Booth” published by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers describes the danger: “The first available film used in commercial movie projection was nitrate, a transparent, plasticized film base. It produced a vivid, high contrast black and white image on the screen. The quality of the image was rich and precise. With precision came a drawback, however, because nitrate film is incredibly flammable, and, because nitrocellulose is composed of oxygen, it’s very difficult to extinguish once ignited.” 80
Theater firesThe Iroquois Theater fire that occurred on December 30, 1903, in Chicago and killed 605 people81 probably was still on the minds of the public in Janesville just 110 miles to the north. That deadly blaze was caused by an “arc light that shorted out.” 82
Also on the minds of some might have been the fire that destroyed the original Myers in 1889. Though it occurred during the day when the building was empty, and no one was killed or injured, it was a horrendous blaze that quickly destroyed the massive structure.
Projector similar to the one used by the Apollo Theater in 1916.
Courtesy of Hoboken Museum82.1