Thursday, June 6, 2019

Daisy White Photos

Podcast Episode 24 is about the life of Daisy White and it's an eye opening episode. I found some facts that have never been revealed to the magic community, as far as I can tell. Along the way I found two images of her that are quite amazing. The photo at the top of the page actually has two pictures of her. The larger one shows her at age 25, the smaller one on the right surrounded by dolls is her at age 5.

Here is an amazing photo of Daisy, again as Gertrude Nickerson, in the year 1903. She would have been 22 years old in this photo. It's a much clearer image than the one above. I wish I had found this before I posted the picture on the podcast, but oh well.

It appears much of her music career took place in and around the Boston area. This worked out well for her because her birthmother lived in the Boston area, even though they did not know each other at the time. If you listen to the podcast you can hear how they eventually discovered each other.

Just for some perspective, this photo to the right is a more well known photo of her and possibly one of the last surviving images of Daisy. She was 46 when this photo was taken and she is actually surrounded by a group of magicians and their wives. Frank Ducrot is standing behind her in the larger image. This was during the time that she had been working at Hornmann's Magic Shop and just shortly before all the Bess Houdini/Arthur Ford nonsense.

I felt so fortunate to find the three photos (top, bottom and upper left), that I'm hoping somewhere along the way to uncover more photos of Daisy. My guess is that theatrical magazines of the early 1900s may have better images of her in her 20s when she was working in musical theatre as Gertrude Nickerson.

Then the lower photo is her around 22 years of age. She was into musical theatre and performing under the name Gertrude Nickerson. Listen to the podcast for even more information about the life of Daisy White. There is an article on this blog about Daisy White, but much of that information has changed, and it's all updated in the podcast.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The King of Koins & The King of Escape

My most recent podcast (#23) was on T. Nelson Downs. I had never heard much of his life story so I was amazed at what I uncovered. Did you know he was a twin? Sadly, his brother did not survive. Did you know he did other kinds of magic besides coin magic? Did you know he retired at a time when most performers were just making it really big?

His friends called him Tommy. He created a sensation in the entertainment world by doing an act
with only coin manipulation. After consulting with some of the great minds of magic and having them all tell him it was a terrible idea to do 'a coin only act' he decided to do it anyway. He was right and everyone else was wrong. His speciality act soon gave way to other specialty performers. He was known as the King of Koins and In 1899 he was making a huge splash in London with what would become one of the first specialty acts in the nation.

The story if often told that Martin Beck told Houdini to drop the magic, keep the escapes and the trunk trick and he would book him. Well, Houdini's career started to really gain steam after that.
Martin Beck made arrangements for Houdini to go to England in the fall of 1899. However, he didn't actually arrive until Spring 1900. Still, Houdini too was about to take England and all of Europe by storm. These American performers, Downs and Houdini, were about to be the toast of the town in London and beyond!

Here is an amazing fact about Houdini and Downs. They apparently met each other at the Chicago Worlds Fair in 1893. Houdini was working the Fair. I can only assume Downs was visiting as he was employed by the Chicago & Northern Railroad Station. In the July 1901 Mahatma Magazine, this appears, “Travelers returning from Europe report the existence of a powerful mutual admiration society composed entirely of magicians, whose acts are features. The passwords are, “HOUDINI, I’ve seen all kinds of magical acts, but without exception, your is really the acme of perfection.” OR DOWNS, I don’t often praise a man, but whenever I see your act I can’t help thinking that there can never be another act conceived that will be so really marvelous” It is rumored that there are only two members of this society. 

As I mentioned earlier, Downs was already in London when Houdini arrived. But they spent many hours together talking magic. As you've read above they became good friends during this time and socialized often. But as close as they were, when Downs finally left Europe it would be many years before he would see Houdini in person again. This is the unfortunate side of being a traveling performer.

One great story from the life of Tommy Downs takes place in London, while both he and Houdini were appearing. In the November 1930 issue of The Sphinx, T. Nelson Downs relates a story of meeting up with Houdini at their hotel. Downs took from his trunk a ring of 52 keys and said to Houdini, "Here are the tools you do your act with." Houdini replied, "Tom, I don't use keys. You know I did not have the money to buy the keys" etc. Then Downs said, "Well you can't open them with hot air!" (Hilarious!!!)

There is a handwritten quote to Downs from Houdini which reads, "To: T. Nelson Downs, One of the old guards, and one of the Historical Lights of magic. Best Wishes from always the same, HOUDINI, April 1921"

In a Feb 1923 issue of MUM, Downs is sharing a story about what it takes to succeed in magic. He makes a point that a magician is an actor-hundreds of people can do tricks but they cannot all CONVINCE. And he stresses this word CONVINCE. It is the quality that makes one person a true magician/artist in the eyes of the public and another one just a mere trickster. He goes on to point out that people didnt go to see Kellar and Herrmann because of tricks, rather it was their personalities that audiences wanted to see, the tricks were incidental. 

Next he goes on to describe a trip he was making that he had to get up at 6 a.m. with 20 degree weather outside and then would have to travel 75 miles to get to the destination to see this mystifier. He says, "Can anyone imagine me going seventy five miles to see a mere magician do tricks??? NOT ON YOUR LIFE" he says. But he wasn't going to see a mere magician, and he knew that..
When he arrived at the theatre it was sold-out. Thankfully he had his seats down front reserved. Here is what Downs wrote, "After witnessing several interesting acts, the 'star' of the program THE ONE AND ONLY HOUDINI himself made his entrance. It was 21 years since I last saw him at Dusseldorf, Germany"

Now listen closely as Downs gives a very solid description of Houdini in action. "Houdini made a few introductory remarks relative to his performance and retired to prepare for the same. The screen was dropped, a movie shown of Houdini being bound and tied; then the curtain went back up and there was Houdini, bound and tied, as shown in the picture. He made a quick release. Then the screen was lowered again and showed Houdini  in action, actually jumping from one airplane to another, in mid-air (scene was from The Grim Game") then suddenly the machine fell 4500 feet, according to the film, and I nearly fainted it was so realistic. Besides, it was the truth, for you know the camera doesn't lie; remember that! Well, then came the crash; the plane fell to the ground, and our hero saved the girl. After that, I could be made to believe anything, and I am convinced that the balance of the audience  were in about the same mood. Next, Houdini called for a committee to come upon the stage and inspect everything. I was commanded to come up. There were doctors, scientists, and children. His first feat  completely mystified and baffled everyone, including the scientific gentlemen and myself. I was positive in my own mind at the time the manifestations took place ----that I was witnessing a purely spiritualistic phenomena, and that this man Houdini was a genuine spirit medium, but did not wish to acknowledge the fact, possibly for business reasons; for didnt I see him actually swallow several packages of needles, and then swallow several years of thread, drinking a glass of water to aid digestion, and then, didn't I see the thread actually pulled out of the medium's mouth by one of the gentlemen----all perfectly and beautifully threaded? I certainly did! And I wish to emphasize the fact that this was a miracle, if there ever was one. I repeat, that this particular miracle was accomplished on a full-lighted stage, under the strictest of test conditions. Surely, there is no chance for fraud or chicanery here! Here was a real medium, if there ever was one---of this I was thoroughly convinced. 

Then came the water tank escape, bordering on the supernatural; in fact, it was supernatural. Here Houdini was locked upside down in a tank of water, to all appearances it was a physical impossibility to escape or breath under the water. Yet, he did escape, after actually being submerged in water for nearly two minutes, by my watch. The suspense was something fierce! That two minutes seemed like two hours to me, and I almost lost control of myself and come very near to grabbing the ax that was to be used by Houdini's trusty assistants in case of some unforeseen accident. It was not until the next day, after I had returned safely to my native town and to my own domicile, that I awakened to the fact that I had been bulled, bunked, bamboozled, misdirected, and grossly deceived but HIGHLY ENTERTAINED by a clever necromancer---a mere magician." That later part, 'a mere magician' clearly said tongue in cheek. Downs had incredible respect for Houdini and vice versa.

love this description of Houdini's act and Down's reactions to same. This was not the handcuff king (who was great by the way) he remembered in Europe, but rather the very seasoned professional mystifier with thousands of performances under his belt. Downs was clearly impressed!

Frank Ducrot, F.E. Powell, HOUDINI, and Tommy Downs In Houdini's backyard
And a letter sent to Downs on Houdini's stationary from 1926 reads, "They are still talking about your wonderful coin work here. They all agree with me that you are the greatest manipulator of coins that ever lived. Your work with the ten dollar sized coins is simply marvelous and shows your incessant and tireless hours of practice. I am attaching the well known Binet "Pyschology of Prestidigitation" and am quoting your work in my article which is the highest compliment I can pay you. YOU have made The Misers Dream a reality, With Kindest regards and best wishes, Sincerely yours HOUDINI"

In the Ken Silverman book on Houdini it states "Downs like several other magicians had matured on the shady side of the law. According to Houdini, 'he ran a fake magic shop, worked for a fake spiritualist and had been wanted by the federal govt. for a swindle'."  Now, I must say, I have done some pretty extensive research on Downs, and I didn't see anything anywhere that suggested he was a dishonest person. Everyone who spoke of him, spoke very highly of his act and of him as a person. I think he had a mail order magic business, nothing wrong with that. As far as working for  fake spiritualist, I didn't find any info there. Nor did I see anything on a supposed 'swindle.' But its possible Downs was the one who got duped in some deal which was why he was involved. 

Finally there is this short piece which appeared in an old MUM, "Should I live to be a thousand years I'll never forget the wonderful time I had East. Everyone, everywhere, Houdini in particular, seemed to go out of their way to show me a big time and I don't think it will be my last trip. On reflection I can't imagine how I managed to stay away from little old New York for fourteen years." T. Nelson Downs. 

It appears that the two men were very close friends and stayed in touch by corresponding. Houdini as you know died in 1926. Downs, who was older, lived till 1938. Both of them, in their own way, changed the face of magic, forever. Long Live the Kings!

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Amazing Zancigs First Couple of Telepathy

The Zancigs were probably the first mind reading couple to make a name for themselves internationally. Granted, Robert Heller and Haidee Heller did raise a few eyebrows in their day, but they didn't have the impact of the Zancigs, nor did they tour as much. 

Their Real names were Julius Jorgensen, born in Copenhagen, Denmark March 7th, 1857
His partner was born Agnes Clausen, also in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1849.
Julius moved to the US in 1882 and a short time after he arrived, he met up with Agnes at a social gathering of Danish people who had immigrated to the US. They had known each other in Denmark and here upon meeting, they struck up a new relationship which eventually led to marriage. 

When he was living in Denmark his father had him apprenticed in the iron smelting industry. So when he came to America, this was one of his first jobs. While still employed in the iron plant,  an unusual request came to the young couple to perform at a church function. Because they didnt play any sort of instrument, they decided to try their hand at telepathy. Yeah, that makes sense. I can’t play an insturment, so I’ll read minds instead, lol. I’m going to guess that at some point Julius may have had an interest in this subject or picked up some of the expose pamphlets on how this was done. They began with the work that Robert Heller had done with his Second Site Act and expanded upon it. At any rate, they gave their crude demonstration and were surprised at how well it went over. 

According to Will Goldston’s book, Sensational Tales of Mystery Men, Zancig had an accident at the smelting plant, he badly burned his hand and was out of work for a long while. During his recovery, he decided that he would leave the iron works plant and try his fate in the world of mind reading. 

According to numerous sources, Their career began in 1899, when they start to present their telepathy act at San Souci Amusement Park in Chicago IL. This is even confirmed by a short article about them in a Mahatma Magazine in 1902.  Sensational Tales of Mystery Men, has them at Coney Island and claims that Horace Goldin discovered them there and later introduced them to Oscar Hammerstein.  I have a feeling Coney Island is incorrect, but it’s possible Goldin saw them at San Souci Park. And the Oscar Hammerstein connection is correct. He brought them to NYC to play his Roof Garden at $400 a week. The couple also performed at countless private functions for the high society of NYC. LONG before Steve Cohen took up residency at The Waldorf Astoria, The Zancigs performed there for 12 weeks.

In 1903 they met H.B. Leavitt, a theatrical producer who organized a Globe trotting tour for them.  And indeed they did travel the Globe. Arriving in London at one point they soon became a sensation. 

In 1906, The Zancigs gave a command performance before King Edward VII at Buckingham Palace. After this they toured across England as they had done before and again, the sensation continued. In the book, Illusion Show by David Bamberg, he talks about his family running into the Zancigs on a train in Norway. Agnes asked Okito if the young son, David, was going to follow in his footsteps. Because if he wasn’t she could make a ‘mind reader’ out of him. Remember that anecdote…

Here is a write-up from The Sphinx Magazine in 1906 of their act. “The Mysterious Zancigs were a strong feature of the Orpheum the week of Nov 6th. Their act is certainly a great one in every sense. They work rapidly and accurately in all their tests and are never baffled by any of the attempts made by the audience to fool them. Their exhibition may be termed telepathy, mind-reading, second sight, or by any other name. It goes just the same. Mr. & Mrs. Zancig honored the Sphinx with their presence, and during their call favored us with a private exhibition of their extraordinary powers. While this gifted couple were visiting Mammoth Cave recently, they had one pleasure of giving an entertainment in the bridal chamber of that wonderful cave”

Mammoth Cave is a National Park and Cave in Kentucky. One of the areas is called the Bridal Alter or Bridal Chamber and it was here in 1906 that the Zancigs gave an impromptu performance. 

In a 1906 issue of The Conjurers Monthly magazine, Houdini writes about the Zancigs, “Their act is about the best of it’s kind that we have ever seen, and we have seen almost all!”

In 1907 they were hired to work at the Victoria Roof Garden. They had an extended run that went into 1908 with the amazing salary of $1500 per week, the most ever paid to a mind reading act at the time.  From there they went to the Alhambra for a seven month run, then off to the Wintergarten in Germany.  Then back to America before the year was up.

IN 1910, they were requested to return to England and Buckingham Palace to perform again, this time during the coronation of King George V. They remained in England until 1913, when they finally returned to the US. 

This is just the early part of their career. On The Magic Detective podcast Ep 21, I go over the entire life story of the couple and those performers who joined the show later. Here is the link to episode 21