"Now then, look perfectly natural, and remain very quiet for just a
moment" the photographer says in a deliberate voice after posing his
subject and preparing the tripod mounted polished wood camera with
brass lens. In a smooth motion, the bulb is squeezed and both
photographer and subject await the final result.
It's a scene that has replayed itself since the invention of photography.
But if the subject is posing in front of an early 20th century
photographer using a DeMoulin camera, the outcome is always surprising.
Instead of the soft sound of a shutter opening, a strong stream of water
suddenly erupts from the lens showering the formerly smiling and now
Laughter breaks the silence of the once quiet room as the perplexed
poser now realizes that he has completed a Lodge or Fraternal Order rite
The Trick Camera was one of many novelty items, costumes, gag
devices, and furniture sold to Lodge and Fraternal orders by DeMoulin
Bros. & Co. of Greenville, Illinois. (Note: The company is still in business
and celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1992.)
According to DeMoulin collector and historian John Goldsmith, "the
company printed catalogs specific to each organization, as well as
catalogs for burlesque and side show operators."
DeMoulin catalogs suggest that the camera be used after a candidate
has been through several "stunts" and created a scenario to entice
Lodges and Fraternal Orders to buy the camera.
"It is perfectly natural for the Lodge to want the candidate's picture to
keep on file for identification or for advertising he should show up
missing. But if the candidate knows how near he is to his "down-fall," he
might have a suspicion that his picture is intended for the rogues'
The Trick Camera is a clever device, having the appearance of a real camera. The photographer takes focus through a peep hole in the lens and
asks the candidate to sit perfectly quiet, smile, etc. He then presses the bulb, which sends a spray of water with strong force into the candidate's
face. At the same time, if the Surprise Chair is used, the attendant pulls it off, causing it to rock backward and fire a blank cartridge."
The 8 inch x 8 inch camera with folding tripod and focusing cloth sold for $5.75 and was later advertised as a entire outfit with the addition of 12
comic photos (to complete the illusion) for $16.00. For another $33.50, organizations could also buy the Surprise Chair with 50 cartridges.