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Jim's Attic: The Boardwalk Mutoscopes

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The Boardwalk Mutoscopes by Jim Korkis

Located in the Disney Boardwalk Inn and Villas resort hallway directly across from the restrooms near the Belle Vue Lounge are a green and a red Clamshell Mutoscope. At one time, there was also a mutoscope that was painted white with gold trim.

Mutoscopes were originally manufactured from 1895 to 1909 by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company.

The red and green mutoscopes are authentic operating machines from this time period and you can still clearly see the appropriate markings on the front of the machines.

The cast iron clamshell was one of the most durable styles and is so named because of the clamshell design pattern on both sides.

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Mutoscopes were basically a huge mechanical "flip book" with about 850 sturdy photographic prints on individual cards attached to a central core and flipped by a hand cranked ratchet. Each coin-operated machine only had a single reel, often an excerpt from an existing silent film but sometimes original and lasting about a minute.

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Here's something that I learned about mutoscopes in 1996:

The viewer could control the presentation speed but only to a limited degree. The crank could be turned in both directions, but this did not reverse the playing of the reel. Nor could the patron extend viewing time by stopping the crank because the flexible images were bent into the proper viewing position by tension applied from forward cranking.

Stopping the crank reduced the forward tension on the reels causing the reel to go backwards and the picture to move from the viewing position; a spring in the mechanism turned off the light and in some models brought down a shutter which completely blocked out the picture.

How did I learn all this information about mutoscopes? Because the red and green ones were rescued by me in 1996 which is why they are still around today.

For the opening of Walt Disney World, the Disney Company bought a very large collection of authentic mutoscopes, mechanical games and Orchestrions (music boxes like “Big Bertha” at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa) from Paul Eakin in the 1970s and moved them all from where they were being displayed and stored in Missouri to Florida. (Some machines from the Disneyland collection were also shipped out to Florida.)

Eakin's collection of machines operated for many years at the Million Dollar Museum in Sikeston and The Gay 90s Melody Museum located in St. Louis. Both Missouri museums were closed when Eakin sold the bulk of his collection to Walt Disney World.

These two particular mutoscopes were part of that collection and were enjoyed by Disney guests at the Main Street Penny Arcade until it closed March 19, 1995 to become part of Main Street Athletic Company.

A handful of the machines were eventually moved to the Main Street Train Station while the rest were stored under Cinderella Castle in a small, leaky room in the Utilidoors. Most of the collection is no longer in storage but was sold off to private collectors in 1997.

In the early part of 1996, I was hired as an animation instructor at the Disney Institute. One of the programs I developed and taught was on animation history. I was able to convince my manager Larry Lauria that having a mutoscope or two would add greatly to the guest experience.

I was the representative who was sent to examine the machines in storage and decide which two should be selected since some were in pretty bad shape. I was shown how to open the base and make minor repairs using a large, twisted paperclip since the interior equipment was no longer produced.

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To my surprise, the older cast member, who was the only one to care for the machines and who has long since retired, asked me what reels I wanted for the machines.

He led me to a storage cabinet and on the shelves were unopened boxes of reels. My heart soared when I found a silent Felix the Cat excerpt “Cat in a Bag” where Felix hides from a boxing bear in a bag (probably a selection from the 1921 “Love Punch” short animated by Otto Messmer and now long out of copyright) and then found another still unidentified silent animated film clip.

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When the Disney Institute stopped offering individual programs to guests in 2000 and then later left the physical space in 2002, I feared for the fate of the machines but they found a new home at the Boardwalk where a little tender loving care may help them spring back to life to continue to delight guests.

RELATED INFORMATION AND LINKS
Disney Historian Jim Korkis goes up into his imaginary attic to rummage around his archives and often stumbles across an unusual story about Walt Disney World. Those who have met me know that I take real joy in talking about Walt Disney.

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Check out Jim's other "From the Attic" Blogs

Full features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives: http://allears.net/ae/archives.htm

Jim KorkisABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jim Korkis is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of three new books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com: The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse

Who's Afraid of the Song of the South AND
"The REVISED Vault of Walt":


The previous post in this blog was From the Tickle Trunk – Walt Disney World News October 1982.

The next post in this blog is Mid-Month Mousy Mindboggler - July 2014.

Comments (9)

Jason:

Could you clarify - at the boardwalk, are the machines decorative, or are they functional and usable by guests?

AllEars: Readers report these are no longer functioning :(

Jennifer:

Sadly these guys don't work anymore, at least they haven't in the last two years I've tried. I've lost many a penny to the machines! :) Hopefully someone will feel the urge to fix them up a bit. They're always "plugged in" but nothing happens.

Jim Korkis:

You are right. I should have clarified. The white one with gold trim never worked. I don't think they even put a reel inside it. I don't know where it is today.

The Green and Red did work when they were first installed at the Boardwalk but abuse by people like trying to crank backwards made something slip inside or the coiled spring to the bottom left of the inside of the machine to pop off. That was a common problem.

The people who originally took care of these machines and knew how they operated are long gone from the Disney Company. However, the fact that the machines in the train station continue to run offers me hope that someone is around who could do a simple repair on these machines. I sense it is a simple fix if you know what you are doing because this same thing happened at the Disney Institute.

These authentic machines were moved to the Boardwalk simply to be decorative. I was also given the opportunity to pick a variety of wooden machines but decided these metal ones were older and would last longer.

By the way, the cash box does indeed work and at Disney Institute we used to keep a bowl of pennies between the two machines. One of my jobs was to clean out the pennies from inside once a week and refill the bowl.

I hope this blog post attracts the attention of someone at WDW you may be interested in repairing and saving these genuine antiques for guests to continue to enjoy.

Tricia:

Thank you for the back story on these. I miss the machines that used to be in the Main Street Theater and then in the Train Station.

Steven:

Both machines were functioning during a visit to the Boardwalk in May 2014. I was showing my nephew the resort, and was happy to see them working properly. We spent about 5 min watching the reels - I believe it was Golf and a cartoon.

Frank B:

I'm at the Boardwalk - and as of today, 7/31/14, these Mutoscopes are both functioning just fine!

Caryn:

I was there in May and the Felix the Cat one still worked. They're worth a try. You may be lucky.

Charlie:

As of last week (august 1, 2014) the Cat in the Bag was working. tried it myself. Just FYI. Thanks, Charlie.

Tim:

I love these!

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 16, 2014 11:13 AM.

The previous post in this blog was From the Tickle Trunk – Walt Disney World News October 1982.

The next post in this blog is Mid-Month Mousy Mindboggler - July 2014.

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