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Edward Warren Clark was Magic Lantern Man


Although he was born in Portsmouth in 1849, Edward Warren Clark was a thoroughly modern man. He was an entrepreneur, a photographer, and a globetrotter with a taste for high-tech equipment and media attention. “Professor Clark,” as he liked to be called, held a lifelong passion for the people and culture of Japan. He became well known for his illustrated lectures on Asian culture using a “magic lantern,” the Victorian equivalent of a slide or video projector.(Full feature below)


In our age of giant 3D-Imax screens and films wirelessly downloaded to portable  phones, the magic lantern seems clunky and tame. But think of Warren as a speaker on, the hi-tech educational channel on the Internet today. The TED slogan is “riveting talks by remarkable people.”

Using electric arc lights and glass “lantern slides” these machines could produce large colorful images and even animated effects. Invented as early as 1650, powered at first by candles, whale oil, or kerosene, the magic lantern had evolved to a sophisticated and compact machine by the era of E. Warren Clark. That technology allowed him to introduce audiences to the very different world of the Japanese at the dawn of the 20th century when Asia was largely unknown to most Americans.

Resurrecting Portsmouth heroes

E-Warren_Clark courtesy Richard CandeeE. Warren Clark is back, plucked from obscurity by New England historian Richard Candee of York, Maine. You can read all about Clark and his illustrated lectures in the latest issue of The Magic Lantern Gazette (Spring 2012) a publication for collectors obsessed by this extinct technology. In case your subscription has lapsed, read on.

Why bother to unearth the life of a largely forgotten Episcopal minister, teacher, tour guide, real estate speculator, and philanthropist?

“Why not?” says Candee. “I am a material culture historian. It’s what I'm trained to do.”

In recent years Candee has resurrected other Portsmouth artists including Thomas P. Moses, Harry Harlow, and Russell Cheney. He has written books on photographer Wallace Nutting, the Joseph Sawtelle maritime art collection, and the city’s Atlantic Heights neighborhood. Candee’s guidebook Building Portsmouth, now in its second edition, has become the bible of historic city architecture.

Recently retired as Professor Emeritus of American and New England Studies at Boston University, Candee is currently founder of Discover Portsmouth and president of the Portsmouth Historical Society. But he has left his mark on Strawbery Banke Museum, the Portsmouth Athenaeum, the Black Heritage Trail, Warner House, The Pearl, Memorial Bridge, Rock Rest, The Hill, Wentworth by the Sea, and a dozen more local and New England preservation projects. He is perpetually juggling new Portsmouth topics that strike his fancy.

So for much of last year Candee plumbed online newspaper databases, dug into manuscript archives, and poured over old scrapbooks, photographs, and letters loaned from a descendant of E. Warren Clark. Candee is drawn, he says, by the creative “characters” who leave behind a great deal of material that he can assemble like pieces from a jigsaw puzzle. He collected a foot-high stack of research on Clark before he began writing about him. That’s not so much. His research on painter Russell Cheney alone now fills 20-feet of shelf space in more than 22 binders in his home library.


Clark's home in Tokyo from engraving in his history of Japan


Eyewitness to the world

Candee’s portrait of Clark shows a man born into a deeply religious family. His father was the anti-slavery Congregational minister at North Church and all four of his surviving brothers were involved with the church. Clark was handicapped by a childhood eye injury and his family moved from Portsmouth to New York when he was six. He majored in chemistry and biology at what became Rutgers University.

And here the story really begins. Fresh out of college Clark was hired by the Japanese government in 1871 to teach science to thousands of students. This made him, Candee writes, “one of the first Americans to introduce western science and technology to the Japanese classroom.” Among his students was a young Jutaro Komura who would later negotiate the Treaty of Portsmouth that ended the Russo Japanese War in 1905.
Teaching in Tokyo, Clark wrote for the American press about life in Japan, a nation just emerging from its long feudal period into the modern industrial world. He also taught the Japanese about Western culture. As early as 1874 Clark presented photographs of Europe and America to the Mikado using his magic lantern or “magnesium stereopticon.” This was 10 years before playwrights Gilbert & Sullivan set their comic opera “The Mikado” in the exotic and mysterious Japanese setting.

Clark also took photographs of Japan and presented them for the next 25 years in a variety of magic lantern talks shown in the West. His repertoire also included illustrated lectures on the Holy Land, India, and the Tropics. Clark offered a presentation (borrowed from a science fiction novel by Jules Verne) that he entitled ‘Around the World in 80 Minutes.” Audiences were impressed as Clark, an eyewitness to foreign lands, became their own personal tour guide to the wonders of the world.  After the lecture audiences were treated to an exhibition of a new device called the Bell Telephone.

Dark days ahead

At 30 Clark married Louise McCullough and settled into the life of an Episcopal priest serving churches in Philadelphia, Rhode Island, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, and Texas. He continued to give travel shows on a “colossal” screen measuring 30-feet square. He sometimes mixed Christian teaching into his shows with painted slides depicting biblical themes. A newspaper ad billed the “world famous” Prof. Clark as more entertaining than any concert, play, or opera.

To support his family Clark briefly ran a resort and a game preserve, dabbled in real estate, attempted dairy farming, and wrote travel books, but most of his funds apparently came from his wife’s wealthy family. He conducted tours to Worlds Fairs, the Holy Land, and to Japan. By acting as guide to “rich widows,” as Clark wrote to a friend, he could earn his passage and take more photographs for more lantern shows. Clark made three world tours and was gone for up to six months at a stint before his family life began to unwind.

Richard Candee follows Clark’s life through its darker moments too. One of his four children drowned while skating in 1898. In 1902 he was divorced from Louise who claimed “non-support.” Still traveling, often ill, Clark fell under the influence of a shady homeopathic doctor who sold “Dr. Munyon's Paw-Paw Elixir,” a tonic made from fermented papaya juice. In exchange for a free trip to Europe, Clark appeared in newspaper and magazine testimonials hawking Munyon’s magic elixir as a cure for indigestion and nervousness.

E. Warren Clark was captivated by the bloody Russo-Japanese War that eventually left over 600,000 dead. He used his free trip by Dr. Munyon to collect pictures and make lantern slides of the war. As the conflict blazed on, back in the United Sates in 1904, Clark got deeply involved in efforts to raise money for thousands of Japanese war orphans. The appeal reached 33,000 American churches and Sunday schools. But Clark’s philanthropic crusade exploded into a scandal when one of his associates was caught embezzling thousands of dollars from the Japan Orphans Fund. Despite six months of sacrifice and volunteer effort, the stain of the scandal stuck to Clark.


Japanese_Village in 1870s by E. Warren Clark (Courtesy Richard Candee)


Back in Portsmouth

It was while researching the Treaty of Portsmouth for the 2005 centennial celebration and museum exhibit that Richard Candee first encountered E. Warren Clark.

“He [Clark] appeared in all the newspaper research we were doing and I tried to find who he was,” Candee says. Warren’s father, the abolitionist minister, had also come up in Candee’s research on Portsmouth’s role in the Civil War. The trail grew hotter as the Internet continued to expand and deepen.

“What I learned working on Clark is how the Internet saves us all the travel we used to have to do; quickly allowing us to look at a broad cross-section of primary 19th and 20th century materials in depth. To do this even 10 years ago would have been almost impossible.”

In the summer of 1905, drawn to Portsmouth and Kittery by President Theodore Roosevelt, envoys from Japan and Russia brought an end to their bloody war. The touch-and-go peace negotiations lasted a month as the foreign delegates and newspaper correspondents from around the globe mingled with seacoast citizens.

E. Warren Clark was a face in the crowd during the summer of 1905. He learned of the historic negotiations from his old Portsmouth Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Helen C. Knight, who was then 91- years old. Clark arrived in his birthplace just ahead of the delegates and lodged with Mrs. Knight during the month-long media circus. He saw Japanese delegate Jutaro Komura, who had been his student decades earlier, standing on the steps of the Portsmouth Court House. Clark observed the delegates from a distance as they attended services at the city’s Trinity Church.

Clark finally meet face-to-face with his old student at the Wentworth Hotel in the final tense hours of the treaty. Komura remembered him well and, after the peace treaty was signed, Clark introduced Komura to a number of beautiful ladies at a reception at the Wentworth. Clark also took some of the delegates and reporters to Green Acres in Eliot, Maine. The summer spiritual retreat promoted world peace by displaying a large peace flag that, legend says, could be seen from across the river in Portsmouth.

Gone, but not quite forgotten

E. Warren Clark died two summers later in 1907 of tuberculosis. He was 58. None of his glass magic lantern slides have ever been found, although some appeared in his books as prints and engravings. Embittered by scandal and divorce, Candee writes, he deserves to be remembered for bridging the cultures of two very different worlds.

Clark needs to be known by the 1905 Treaty crowd, but he also needs to be recognized by historians of photography, Asian studies specialists, and other groups. Only the internet can do that,”  Candee says.

“It’s such a great story,” says Portsmouth attorney Charles Doleac, the man most responsible for putting the 1905 Treaty of Portsmouth back in the news, and hopefully in the history books.

“This would make the best screenplay I’ve ever seen for a Johnny Depp movie,” Doleac says. Not the Disney Johnny Depp from Pirates of the Caribbean, Doleac explains, but the quirky, artistic, obscure, characters like gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson that Depp likes to play.

“He [Warren Clark] is such a colorful figure,” Doleac says. “This guy is running around the world with his magic lantern and does incredibly crazy stuff. He goes to Japan, really makes a mark there, starts this wonderful thing for Japan orphans, then gets bilked because some guy steals all the money. I mean, it doesn’t get better than that!”

Copyright © 2012 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved. Robinson’s history column appears in the Portsmouth Herald every other Monday and exclusively online at his independent Web site His latest books are America’s Privateer: Lynx and the War of 1812 and Under the Isles of Shoals: Archaeology and Discovery at Smuttynose Island.

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