Walter Mencken 2:37 p.m., March 1
Enjoy the limelight—but what is the limelight?
We use this phrase from time to time, sometimes earnestly, most times sarcastically. Where does it come from?
It comes from the theater, the 19th Century theater.
The limelight was a mechanism that highlighted the stars of a show in much the same way modern spot lights do.
What’s interesting about the limelight is that was a chemical reaction.
The reaction occurs when oxygen and hydrogen are ignited together and the flame is aimed at a cylinder of quicklime. The technical name for quicklime is calcium oxide.
Calcium oxide can be heated to over two thousand degrees centigrade before it stars to melt. When heated, it gives of an intense luminescent.
The limelight was first used at Covent Garden Theatre in London in 1837.
By the 1890's, electric lighting was taking over theater and the limelight shone, no more. Pathos.
I’ve not tried it, but if you can get your hands on some calcium oxide, you can put it on a gas burner and get an example of what the limelight looked like.