Friday, December 21, 2012

Harry Kellar's Spirit Cabinet Pt1

Harry Kellar, the Dean of Magicians was well known for his Spirit Cabinet trick. In fact, Kellar worked for a time for the Davenport Brothers, the creators of the very first Spirit Cabinet illusion. When Kellar went off with William Fay to perform on their own, they kept the effect in their show. When they traveled throughout Mexico, rather than carry that bulky and heavy piece of equipment with them, they left the Cabinet behind at each location and had a new one built for each new town they played. So there should be Kellar Spirit Cabinet's all over Mexico!

Houdini coaxed Kellar into coming out of retirement for one more Farewell Show at the New York Hippodrome in 1917.  Kellar gave his Spirit Cabinet to Houdini at the conclusion of that event. This Spirit Cabinet was a 'new' cabinet and not the one he toured with years before. The Kellar Book by Mike Caveney and Bill Miesel says so on page 498. Later, in the New Conjurer's Magazine Vol 1, in 1945, Hardeen ran an ad selling off a number of the Houdini/Hardeen equipment, at the top of the list was the Kellar Spirit Cabinet. The ad even says it had been used by Frederick Eugene Powell and also by Hardeen.

Patrick Culliton mentions this ad in his Nov 1993 Genii article called "Where The Magic Went". He states that no one knows what has happened to The Vanishing Donkey and the Black and White Illusion that were also listed in that advertisement. However, there is no mention of the Kellar Spirit Cabinets whereabouts.

I have found a record of the Hardeen/Kellar Spirit Cabinet, I'm calling it that to differentiate between it and others. It was sold to Dr. Carl S.Frischkorn of Norfolk, Virginia, known as Karland the magician. This appeared in the April 1945 edition of the New Conjurers Magazine. I also found out that Dr. Frischkorn was a member of SAM Assembly #32 in Lynchburg. Norfolk and Lynchburg are NOT close to each other by any stretch. There is also an IBM Ring in Norfolk that at one time was named after Dr. Frischkorn, but apparently they have since renamed it. OK, big question, where is THAT cabinet today??? I'm still hunting and perhaps it resides somewhere between Norfolk and Lynchburg, or perhaps it was sold to a collector? Don't know yet, but I'm searching.

Kellar's 'Original' Spirit Cabinet that he used in the U.S.  would have been sold to Howard Thurston in the big sale. And Thurston only kept a couple of the Kellar pieces in his show, one was the Floating Lady and the other was The Spirit Cabinet.

Here is an interesting twist to the story. In the Sept 1923 issue of The Sphinx on page 195 a magician by the name of Walter Ross, professionally known as Nazami the Mentalist claims to have had in his possession the ORIGINAL Kellar Spirit Cabinet. According to the little blurb it says the cabinet weighed over 600 lbs and Ross intended to start a tour of Vaudeville with the prop. Hmm, did Thurston sell the cabinet or is this another 'original'?

Now I vaguely recall reading that Joseph Dunninger owned a Spirit Cabinet belonging to someone famous, but I want to say it was the Davenport Spirit Cabinet, though I could be wrong, it very well might be where the Kellar cabinet wound up.

But my big question is, does anyone know where Kellar's Spirit Cabinet resides today? Have any of the Mexican Spirit Cabinets ever showed up? I think I might know...stay tuned for part 2.


  1. Really interesting Dean! That poster is fabulous too.

  2. These old time magicians were something. I think I know where one of the Kellar Cabinets is, so I'm working on tracking it down.