Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Go To Hellers Part 3

In September 1878, Heller opens at the Broad Street Theatre in Philadelphia. He is there for four weeks and then he moves to Baltimore for the month of October.

On November 4, 1878 Heller opens at the National Theatre in Washington D.C.. He plays to packed houses because the newspapers are announcing this as Heller's final appearance in Washington.

One of the things Heller does in this final tour is change the show often. It's as if he is giving the American people one last chance to see all his offerings before he moves back to England. 

Heller had a huge fan base in Washington. He had been a resident there for ten years and mingled in high society social circles. He also had a habit following his performances to accept invitations to various friends homes and continue impromptu entertainment into the early hours of the morning. When Heller finishes his run in Washington D.C. at the National Theatre he heads to New York to rest for a week.

An article appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer a few days before Heller arrived in D.C.. The article mentioned an unnamed person from D.C. who made the claim that Heller had abandoned his wife and children and she died of a broken heart. Other papers across the nation picked up the article and it found it's way to Washington.

The National Republican Newspaper held an interview with Heller's father in law, Mr. Kieckhoefer.  He is glad to have a chance to speak out. Mr. Kieckhoefer is outraged that his son-in-law and daughters personal life is slandered by an anonymous person in the press. He says that Heller's wife is not dead but in fact living quite well in Paris supported by her husband.

Mr. Kieckhoefer relates how he did not initially understand Heller's desire to go back to magic, but he eventually came to see the light. He says that a man with Heller's passion had to follow his heart. To further prove that he had no hard feelings with his son in law, he points out that he and Heller were having dinner that very day in Washington D.C.. The controversy dies a quick death following this and Heller plays to huge crowds as mentioned above.

The Continental Hotel Where Robert Heller Died
Heller arrived in Philadelphia on Saturday
Nov 24th. While walking with his business manager to the theatre, Heller felt a twitching in his arm. Several times on the short journey from the hotel to the theatre Heller had to stop due to illness. He is suffering from a cold he picked up in Washington and it is showing signs of being serious.

On November 26th, 1878 Robert Heller along with Haidee Heller open at Concert Hall in Philadelphia. His cold is worse now and it is noticeable to the audience. He presents the first part of the show, the section with varied magic effects with no problems. But he is so ill now that he lays down for thirty minutes before continuing.  He mentions to the audience that both he and Ms. Heller are both sick with colds. I found two differing accounts of how the show ended. One newspaper account says Heller wraps up the show early with a piano performance of "The Last Rose of Summer". He played the piece with such passion it was as if he had never played it before.  The other account comes from a gentlemen named Kit Clark who saw Heller hours before he died. He said that Heller and Haidee finished the show with the Second Sight routine. Either way, it would be Robert Heller's final performance number. When Heller finished playing he dismissed the audience and both he and Haidee Heller went straight to the Continental Hotel.

He finally agreed to see a Doctor on Tuesday morning. The doctor said he had a slight congestion of the lungs but the truth was much worse. Heller actually intended to perform on Tuesday evening but as the day progressed he admitted he was in no condition to do so. Heller's illness got worse as the evening dragged on. A quote from Kit Clarke says "Just after twelve o'clock, midnight. he had a severe attack of vomiting lasting but a few moments and when it ceased he raised himself up, gave one gasp, and falling back upon the pillow Robert Heller was dead."

On November 28th the Public Ledger newspaper made the announcement that Robert Heller had died. There would be no return engagement. At the time Doctors said he died from "organic exhaustion". We now believe Heller had died from a case of double pneumonia. Heller's death was such a shock to Washington D.C. that his obituary appeared on the front page of the Nov. 30, 1878 edition of the National Republican

Worse yet, across the Atlantic Ocean his wife and three children were making preparations for him to return so that they could all be together once again as a family. He was buried by the time the news of his death reached them.

Houdini at Heller's Grave
The funeral for William Henry Palmer/Robert Heller took place at St. Stephen's Protestant Episcopal Church in Philadelphia on November 29, 1878. It was a small affair, a few show business people attended, along with his brother in law, Haidee and Heller's electrician and secret confederate who had been with him for years E.J. Dale.

William Henry Palmer/Robert Heller was buried in Mt. Moriah Cemetery in Philadelphia. He is in plot 189 section 135. Even on Heller's grave there is no date given for the actual year of his birth.

It's said that Robert Heller's estate was worth over $350,000. This is the value of his estate in 1878, the price today would have to be in the millions.

In his will, he makes arrangements for his wife to receive money for the rest of her life. He leaves money for his children's education, support and maintenance. He leaves money and some jewelry and property for Haidee Heller, who was his assistant during the longest stretch of success in his career. He leaves his brother a trustfund and his gold watch. To Fannie, his sister, who he names the executrix of the will, he leaves 'one clock of her choosing'. That struck me as odd.

Originally his will stipulated that ALL his props and magic equipment be destroyed upon his death. However, he had a death-bed change of heart on that one, and decided to have it sent to Hartz The Magic Dealer for him to sell. Are we to assume that was the 49 TONS of paraphernalia that  he had just brought over from England in 1877? I'm thinking there might not have been quite 49 tons worth.

What affect did Heller have on the world? For one, according to drama and theatrical people of the time, it was Heller that put conjuring in a new light for American audiences. In the way that Robert Houdin modernized magic for his period by changing his costume and bringing magic indoors, Heller did a similar thing in America by adding other elements such as comedy and music. I'm sure his affect was felt all over the globe when he performed.

Heller was hardly gone before others would rush to fill his spot. Frederick Eugene Powell, known professionally as The Great Powell began a series of performances along with his brother Edwin in which they perform the 'Second Sight' routine. Powell is apparently the only performer presenting the routine at this point, but that would change soon enough.

Harry Kellar too capitalizes on Heller's name. In the early days, Kellar chose to change the spelling of his name from Keller to Kellar so he wouldn't be confused with Robert Heller. Now he turns the tables on the spelling thing and adds a twist of his own.
"For many a day,
We have heard people say
That a wondrous magician was Heller;
Change the H into K
And the E into A
And you have his superior in Kellar!"

Finally, in 1878 the year that Robert Heller leaves this world, a young man named Erich Weiss and his family are moving to Appleton Wisconsin to begin life in America. One can only guess where that might lead...

William Henry Palmer/Robert Heller Died Nov 28, 1878

I want to thank Joseph Pecore for his incredible help with the research and for working tirelessly on the music so that we could share some of Heller's music with the readers. I also want to thank the folks at Ask Alexander and The Conjuring Arts Research Center for their invaluable database and records. Thank you to all those magic writers and newspaper writers from the 1850's to today who wrote about Heller. Thanks also to the Library of Congress for putting up newspaper archives online! Finally, I have to say that I'm very grateful for the INTERNET.  You just would not believe what tiny little detail you might find out there floating around that will bring everything together. Most of my blogs are not as hard as this one, but it was really a lot of fun. 
OH, AND there is one more Heller Blog to go, but that one I'm holding for later in the year!


  1. Loved this Dean ... thank you for an interesting read. Another magician who sought medical help too late! More's the pity.

  2. According to the Observer, Volume 4, Issue 91, 10 June 1882, Page 197, Haidee Heller, "sister" who assisted her brother, the celebrated Eobert Heller in his second-sight performances, is now keeping a small restaurant in London"

  3. Also: in 1880 " Haidee Heller is assisting the celebrated conjuror, Dr. Lynn, at the Piccadilly Hall, in London Sketch. ' in a local, says " This lady possesses the gift of a second sight to a remarkable degree. Close blind-folded, she can describe every article that the audience chooses to hand to Dr. Lynn. Not long ago, when she was entertaining at the Brighton Aquarium I endeavoured to mistify her on three successive days with a pocket aneroid, a copy of the " San Francisco News Letter," and a photograph of a professional beauty, but it was of no use. Each was accurately described to me, and I gave it up in despair."

  4. According to Willie Chapman, Heller's right hand man and a card magician (William Henry Adams) Haidee Heller was then named Rosa Kitt's and Heller met her in London at the Haymarket in 1863. (New York times, Dec 22 1878)

  5. See also NY times of December 23 1878 p.3 in which Haidee Heller wrote "As you have copied the article entitled 'second sight' from the San Francisco Call, will you kindly publish a word from me? There is not one particle of truth in that communication from beginning to end. Mr Heller never played at the Haymarket Theatre. Never, in conjunction with anyone, invented his system of second sight. Never 'met me first in 1863', as he had generously provided for myself and mother for the 10 years previous. I don't believe he ever heard of any Rosa Kitts. as for myself, I never saw the name before this morning. The whole statement is a tissue of falsehood, invented by a disgraced employee of my late half-brother, Robert Heller. As you have given place to this Chapman's story, please allow me publicly to deny it in every particular. Yours &c. Haidee Heller New-York Sunday Dec.22 1878."
    This was in relation to an interview given by ex-assistant William Chapman, about whom more can be read at http://sydneymagic.net/chapman.html