Children's Museum of Maine, Portland
September 18, 1999
On July 4th, 1998 during a visit to John Serkin on Long Island we saw a drawing of an elaborate roof mounted camera obscura at the Children's Museum of Maine. We were surprised to see such a full-function camera obscura that we had never learned about, although it has been in operation for several years. In the next year we found a few mentions in publications and began an e-mail correspondence with John McNeil, a volunteer at the museum and camera obscura enthusiast. We made contact with the museum and in September 1999 drove from Baltimore to Portland, Maine.

Lucky us! We picked the week and route that hurricane Floyd also chose. We drove up Highway 95 in a blinding rain storm just hours ahead of the unwelcome visitor. We grumbled all the way, "We should have canceled the trip. We will drive over 500 miles and see nothing."

The first day in Portland was rainy and dark but we visited the museum, met the friendly and helpful staff and looked around the facility. Jack even got to see the lens assembly in the cupola on top of the building. We were impressed with the image. Even on a wet and gloomy day it was very clear and well defined. This is very serious optical equipment!

With more luck than we had any right to hope for Floyd made a right turn before it got to Portland and Saturday was clear and sunny.

We returned to the museum and were able to attend a presentation to a group of children. It was delightful to watch the contemporary children greet the camera images with wonder and enthusiasm. One young person kept shouting "cool!" every time a new view appeared.

We were told that Fred Thompson, a board member, visited the camera obscura in Edinburgh and became enthusiastic about bringing one to the museum. He convinced Eastman Kodak to donate the optical elements. Richard Albretch of Eastman Kodak engineered the optics and mechanism. The camera obscura opened in 1993.

Visit the Children's Museum of Maine web site for hours and directions or call the museum at (207) 828-1234.

The very elaborate lens, mirror, turret system is housed in the cupola shown above.


The 12 inch diameter lens has been fitted with a 7 inch diameter stop. It has a 15 foot focal length. The front surface mirror has a diameter of 20 inches.

Jack studies the view on the 42 inch table while a museum employee manipulates the controls to rotate and focus the lens assembly.



Next to the camera obscura is a gallery showing exhibits related to optics. This cut-away drawing of the camera obscura is shown there.

Magic Mirror of Life Home Page and Site Map

What is a camera obscura?

Why we created this site

Frequently Asked Questions about the Camera Obscura (please check this page before sending email questions)

Links and a Bibliography about the camera obscura

Map and illustrated diary of
our visits to
US camera obscuras

Map and illustrated diary of
our 1996 trip to
Great Britain camera obscuras

Images of camera obscuras from our collection.

Some Images from our collection
Trade Cards with Camera Obscuras
Lost UK Seaside Camera Obscuras
Other Lost UK Camera Obscuras
Lost US Seaside Camera Obscura
Lost US Park Camera Obscuras
Other Lost US Camera Obscuras
No, it's not a camera obscura

Portable and box camera obscuras from our collection.
Wooden Camera Obscuras
Metal Camera Obscuras
Camera Obscuras with the Lens at the Top
Cardboard Camera Obscuras
A French Artist's Camera with supplies
Vermeer's Camera, a 1934 teaching camera
Camera Obscura Publications

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Modified 8/2004