This article is about the Spirit Cabinet illusion. However, there would be no spirit cabinet without The Fox Sisters. Margaret and Kate Fox were two young girls living in Hydesville NY with their parents. In 1848, the two sisters demonstrated that they could communicate with ghostly spirits by having strange rapping sounds manifest in their presence. Their abilities gave birth to a phenomenon/movement that would be known as Spiritualism. Later in life the sisters admitted they were frauds (but they even recanted that eventually).
Over the years the brothers faced various challenges. One of challenges involved both of them holding a handful of flour while being tied. The idea was that if they were doing the manifestations, they would have to drop the flour. But the manifestations occurred and the flour was still found in their hands. Another interesting manifestation that would take place is they would be tied tightly, the doors closed, and then the doors reopened to show they were completely free and then the doors closed and reopened and they were tightly bound as before. Clearly the precursor to the escape act.
The Davenport Brothers would face challenges by magicians throughout their career. In England they went up against John Nevil Maskelyne who said he could duplicate the manifestations the brothers made without contacting spirits. In America, many magicians added the 'exposure' of the Davenport Brothers to their acts.
It seems that it was Anna Eva Fay who was the first to use a curtained cabinet rather than the traditional wooden box-like cabinet. Fay's routine began with her being tied with strips of cloth to a chair or wooden bench. After she was tied, the strips would then be nailed to the wood, thus preventing any movement at all. A small table with bells, plates, and tambourines sat next to her and the moment the curtain was drawn noise could be heard coming from within. Whenever the front curtain was opened Ms.Fay would be found still tied and the cloth still nailed to the chair she sat upon.
Willard the Wizard adopted this routine as his own and once Anna Eva Fay stopped performing, he became well known for it. Years later Willard the Wizard would train his daughter to be the medium in the Spirit Cabinet routine and she would continue performing it with mentalist Glenn Falkenstein until they retired. I believe Frances has passed the knowledge of the Spirit Cabinet on to her daughter Hannah who is married to magician Michael Ammar. Watch Falkenstein and Willard and you'll get an idea of Anna Eva Fay's original routine.
Others who have performed the Spirit Cabinet include John Calvert and Andre Kole, both of whom used a much different tying technique and used a large hooped curtain that volunteers would raise or lower as commanded. David Bamberg, who performed as FuManchu used the Spirit Cabinet in his act but he added black art effects so that the manifestations could be seen by the audience. Mark Wilson had a Spirit Cabinet that was created by Alan Wakeling and John Gaughan and combined Black Art with a Shadow Production of a woman. David Copperfield presented an elaborate version of the Spirit Cabinet that he called 'The Barkley House' for a few years. His was complete with ghostly forms that burst forth from the cabinet and circled over the heads of the audience.
Milbourne Christopher and Robert Harbin created much smaller versions of the Spirit Cabinet in which the cabinet itself was quite small. Christopher's and Harbin's small box like structure was held by an assistant yet the manifestations would occur with the box being held by the assistant. Karl Germain took the idea of small in another direction by creating the 'Daylight Seance Screen' which was nothing more than a cloth that was held in front of bells and tambourines and the objects would float behind the cloth or ring and make noise.
|Leon's Haunted House|
The Spirit Cabinet in it's various forms is brilliant magic theatre. It has everything a performer could want, it has comedy, mystery, drama, audience involvement and tons of entertainment value.
The most recent incarnation of the Spirit Cabinet comes from Derren Brown of England. The only likeness to previous routines is in the curtained cabinet. Other than that, the things that happen are really beyond explanation. He has taken a fun routine an injected a moment of horror. I can't help but think the Davenport Brothers would be proud. You can watch that video here.