Rich Szalma, left, and Todd Belaire of Cote Crane and Rigging prepare part of a rare camera obscura to be lifted onto the roof of the new Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine at Thompson’s Point in Portland on Thursday. The camera obscura, which projects images of the outside world into a darkened room, was part of the museum’s Free Street location for 27 years, where it projected images of downtown Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

A giant one-of-a-kind periscopic camera obscura owned by the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine was carefully raised onto the roof of the museum’s new building last week, where it will offer visitors a unique view of Portland when the museum reopens this spring.

The camera’s high-end optics, including a special aluminum-coated mirror used in large telescopes and two precision lenses fabricated by Kodak Inc.’s military division, will project the panoramic views visible from the rooftop down onto an exhibit table on the third floor, just as it did previously at the Free Street location.

There is a new feature at the new location, however, where visitors to the museum will now have the ability to manipulate the camera themselves to change the vantage point. The camera is among only a small number of publicly viewable cameras obscura in the country, and one of even fewer that allow visitors such control.

The original installation dates back to 1993, when the Children’s Museum of Maine collaborated with Kodak to install the camera on the roof of the Free Street building. For nearly 30 years the camera created a picture of the surrounding neighborhood from the cupola on the roof.

A crane lifts parts of a rare camera obscura onto the roof of the new Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine at Thompson’s Point on Thursday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The camera was taken down in May this year and went into storage as part of the museum’s plan to move to a new facility at Thompson’s Point. The museum is currently temporarily closed due to COVID-19 but is planning to reopen in the spring at its new location, which will include a 100-seat state-of-the-art theater; a 10,000-square-foot science center; an entire floor devoted to arts, culture and community; and an outdoor play area of over half an acre.

An exact date for the reopening hasn’t been set yet, but the museum and theater are prepared to open under the current restrictions in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus, said Executive Director Julie Butcher Pezzino.

“The opening of this museum and theater comes at a time for Mainers when we really need something fun and exciting and hopeful for our state and for the children and families who visit us from all over Maine and across the country and the world,” Butcher Pezzino said. “It’s been a tough time for everyone, and children’s museums and theaters are designed to be places for fun and learning. We feel we are going to be prepared to open at a time when everybody needs a bit more of that.”

As part of an “Illuminate” exhibit set to open this spring, visitors will be able to position the periscopic camera obscura to look out over the Fore River and the city of Portland skyline, as well as watch the Amtrak Downeaster, Portland International Jetport, Concord Bus Lines and the Interstate 295 traffic. It will cast its projection onto the third floor of the museum, which will be dedicated to science, engineering, math and technology.

“It’s a pretty robust floor and certainly the obscura will be a critical part of it,” Butcher Pezzino said. “It is a permanent exhibit and really one of the only items from Free Street moving over to Thompson’s Point. Everything else is basically brand new with the exception of a few things. The obscura is the most significant piece we are transferring from Free Street to Thompson’s Point.”

Comments are not available on this story.