Manfred McDowell

Ireland to California, 1880s

These images are from a collection of magic lantern slides uncovered in auction lot in Belfast some fifty years ago. They depict a journey to United States by a group of ladies—in the sun of the American south-west the women ride side-saddle in black crinoline dresses—and their escorts in the 1880s.

Taken before the age of the liner, passengers stand on the decks of a steamship still carrying auxiliary sails. In New York City horses stand in their traces before the first prototypes of twentieth-century high-rise construction. Washington is seen in panorama and there is a view of the White House.

The scene shifts southwest on what would have been the Southern Pacific Railroad (completed 1881) though the territories of New Mexico and Arizona. Mexican children hawk food and drink on a railroad platform. Early tourists, the travellers visit California's new state park, Yosemite, viewing the falls and passing through the still-standing “Dead Giant” Redwood.

Among the slides were plates of hymnal verse. These suggest the lantern show may have been prepared in Belfast for a Methodist congregation. It could also be that the journey connected a Belfast church to a church—the church pictured in the United States. For all the dissenting churches in Ireland transatlantic evangelism was a continuing and transformative influence.

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