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The Smith Blog

SMITH HISTORY BLOG: The Marvelous Kinnematographa

By Brandon Moblo, Archives Technician, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

On March 4, 1897, the movies came to Geneva.

Advertisements sprinkled throughout the local newspapers heralded the arrival of the “Marvelous Kinnematographa.” The Geneva Advertiser proclaimed it “The Reigning Sensation of the World,” (“Smith Opera House” 2) and the Geneva Daily Times called it a “wonderful instrument with its animated pictures” (“The Kinnematograph” 2). Positive reviews from its appearance at Ward’s Opera House in Brockport were reprinted repeatedly, and readers were informed that this would be “its first exhibition in Geneva, throwing moving figures on the screen” (“Kinematographa” 2).

Shows were scheduled at Smith’s Opera House for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening. Tickets were 10¢ for the gallery, 20¢ for the balcony, and 30¢ for the first floor (“Smith Opera House” 2). A matinee on Saturday cost 10¢ for children and 20¢ for adults. (“The Kinnematograph” Geneva Daily Gazette 2).

Geneva Advertiser March 2, 1897

The Kinnematographa appeared as part of “E. O. Rogers Grand Entertainment” (“Smith Opera House” 2). In the early years of motion pictures, traveling showmen would often combine films with vaudeville, music, and other forms of entertainment. Sharing the bill on this occasion was “The War For The Union,” an illustrated lecture delivered by Rogers using slides of Alexander Gardner’s Civil War photographs (“Smith Opera House” Geneva Daily Times 1).

The films shown at the Smith in March 1897 included Clark’s Thread Mill, which showed workers leaving a factory, and Going to the Fire, which showed firemen riding past the camera in horse-drawn engines. Other unidentified films included “Garden scene” and “Surf scene,” which Bert P. Ward called “one of the best water scenes ever shown” (“Kinematographa” 2). The highlight was Black Diamond Express. The Geneva Daily Times wrote, “The ‘Black Diamond’ express train was produced just as it appears on the Lehigh and ran across the stage at the rate of 60 miles a minute. This is worth the cost of admission” (“It is Wonderful” 4).

The show “delighted the audience” (“The Kinnematograph” 2). According to the Geneva Daily Times, the Civil War lecture “was very interesting,” and “The war scenes aroused a patriotic feeling and elicited round after round of applause” (“It is Wonderful” 4). However, it was the novelty of the moving pictures that garnered the most praise. The Times wrote, “The Kinnematographa entertainers at the Smith Opera house last evening gave good satisfaction. The scenes were unique and animated and something new in Geneva. The show was well worth the price of admission” (“Show Last Night” 4).

The Geneva Advertiser did have one criticism. They noted, “The machine works in about half the time of nature’s work, so that each scene is enjoyed only about twenty to thirty seconds” (“Home Matters” 3). This was most likely due to the projector being powered by hand. Nevertheless, “The animated pictures were so entirely new that comparative terms to describe them are useless and no one can afford to miss the opportunity of seeing them in Geneva” (“It is Wonderful” 4).

Despite the positive reviews and the newspapers’ assurances that the show was worth the money, most Genevans did miss the opportunity. Though the audience was “largely increased” (“It is Wonderful” 4) from Thursday to Friday, overall, the performances only “drew fair houses” (“Home Matters” 3). It would take some time for Geneva to warm up to the silver screen.

Works Cited

“Smith Opera House.” Geneva Advertiser, 2 March 1897, pg. 2.

“The Kinnematograph.” Geneva Daily Times, 2 March 1897, pg. 2.

“Kinematographa.” Geneva Advertiser, 2 March 1897, pg. 2.

“The Kinnematograph.” Geneva Daily Gazette, 5 March 1897, pg. 2.

“Smith Opera House.” Geneva Daily Times, 2 March 1897, pg. 1.

“It Is Wonderful.” Geneva Daily Times, 6 March 1897, pg. 4.

“Show Last Night.” Geneva Daily Times, 5 March 1897, pg. 4.

“Home Matters,” Geneva Advertiser, March 9, 1897, p. 3.