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John Wilbur Ripley

Photograph of John W. Ripley, 1963Born: February 8, 1895, Potwin Place, Shawnee County, Kansas. Married: Dorothy Wahle, 1920, topeka, Kansas. Died: December 1, 1996,Topeka, Kansas.

Topeka businessman John W. Ripley was well known not only for the prosperous laundry business, but also for his hobbies. John's interests included photography and early 20th century music, but his favorite pastime was collecting lantern slides.

The lantern slides are a colorful remnant from the end of the 19th century. A unique type of entertainment, also called illustrated song slides, were shown daily in the nation's 10,000 five-cent theatres or nickelodeons. It was a vocal act aided by a collection of hand-colored glass lantern slides, custom designed to illustrate the song's story line. Normally the slides were shown between films while the projectionist was changing the reels.

Of the comparatively few accumulations of song slides that escaped destruction, the largest collection once belonged to John Ripley. In addition to his slide illustrations for approximately 1,000 popular songs, he had several hundred hand-colored advertising slides of the horse and buggy and a group of slides which warned theatre patrons to mind their manners: "No Smoking, No Spitting, No Swearing," etc. Although the collection was disbanded, Ripley kept Ektachrome slides of the originals.

Ripley's life is as colorful as his lantern slides. After his formal education, he pursued his interest in journalism and became a contributor to Business Week. In 1942, he accepted a two-week assignment as a news editor at the famous magazine. His temporary employment lasted more than a year, until pressing business matters forced him to return to Topeka.

Combining his interest in lantern slides and a flare for writing, John published several articles in American Heritage, Smithsonian, and a number of local publications. Ripley frequently combined his slides with the music of ragtime pianist Max Morath to produce his famous nickelodeon shows. Many of John's slides have been used by network television shows and featured by Morath in his touring show, "An Evening at the Turn of the Century." The John W. Ripley Award fund, established in 1999 at the Kansas Historical Society, offers grants to local organizations for producing historical publications.

Entry: Ripley, John Wilbur

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 2004

Date Modified: May 2019

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.