Admittedly, not much is known for certain about our illustrious founder, Maria Theresa Short. It’s amazing that someone could have such a profound and lasting legacy on a city and not have even the basic details of when they were born on record (we believe Maria shares this honour with the similarly named Mariah Carey). Nevertheless, there are some things we know about her.
Firstly, while not much is known about her early life, we know that she arrived from the West Indies in 1827, claiming to be the daughter of Thomas Short- a prominent local optician who owned a number of different optical and scientific equipment and gadgets who had died some years earlier. Maria took the optical devices (including a great reflecting telescope and other scientific oddities) as her inheritance, which she used to open an observatory on Calton Hill. She added a camera obscura and opened the attraction to the public in 1835, with mixed reviews. For many, it charmed and delighted them but a few very vocal objectors thought the whole thing was tasteless- the local council being amongst those who objected. Eventually, despite public outcry against it, the council forcibly evicted Maria and her observatory.
Undaunted, Maria bought a building on Castlehill and moved her attraction there in 1853. She opened a public observatory and museum of scientific curiosities, which would go on to become the Camera Obscura & World of Illusions as it exists today.
Regardless of her origin, her skills as a business woman and entertainer began an enduring legacy of wonder and imagination that has captured the hearts and minds of people all over the world for centuries.