The individual in question is Horatio Green Cooke, born 1844 in Norwich Connecticut. As a youth his family moved around a bit finally settling in Iowa. In 1861, Horatio was working as a teacher. In 1862, Horatio, who would go by the name Harry, enlisted in the Union Army. He had excellent penmanship and was also a fine marksman. Before long he was writing correspondence for various Generals in the Union Army, among them General U.S. Grant.
Due to Cooke's ability as a penman, he soon came to the notice of various people in Washington DC. His ability as a marksman, also played a part in his change in career and in rank.
He went from being a private in the Union Army to being selected to be as a Captain of Lincoln's Federal Scouts. He always carried with him a letter autographed by the President Lincoln informing him that he had been selected to be one of his special scouts. In 1863, he fell under the command of Major General Ulysses S. Grant during the Siege of Vicksburg. The surrender of Vicksburg by the Confederate Army gave control of the Mississippi River to the Union Army, and basically split the Confederacy in half. This event, along with the Battle of Gettysburg, were the turning points in the war for the Union.
|R. Ingersoll, Gen Hancock, E. Stanton, Gen Sherman, A. Lincoln
|John Singleton Mosby - The Grey Ghost
|Fords Theatre /Library of Congress photo
It's hard to say when Harry Cooke got his interest in magic or where he developed the ability to escape from ropes. One thing is certain, he had an ability to escape like no one before him, and few since. After the Civil War ended Horatio Green Cooke became "Professor Harry Cooke" and worked as a professional magician and 'Celebrated King of the Spirit Exposers". Years later he would become President of the Los Angeles Society of Magicians and would obtain the new moniker 'The Oldest Living Magician'. His favorite trick throughout his life was the Linking Rings and apparently his routine was one to wonder over.
On May 1st 1924, at the young age of 80, Harry Cooke duplicated his feat of escaping from 50 feet of rope for the Los Angeles area magicians. During this exhibition, Harry Cooke wore his blue Union Army uniform, the same one he wore during the Civil War. The result was exactly as it had been 60 years earlier when he presented the stunt before President Lincoln and his cabinet, HE ESCAPED! A a little over a month later Horatio Green Cooke passed away on June 17, 1924.
I must make note of the fact that though Harry Cooke was well known during his day, and appeared often in magic periodicals of his time period, and was even one of the pallbearers at Harry Kellar's funeral, he had largely been forgotten in recent years. It was Mark Cannon, escape artist and magician who brought the wonderful stories of Harry Cooke back to life through a fantastic article he wrote for MUM Magazine in April 2006. Mark had actually been fortunate enough to meet one of Harry Cooke's daughters at one of his shows and was given Cooke's personal scrap book. And it was because of Mark's wonderful article and my interest in magic history that I first started to delve into the world of Harry Cooke. Eventually, I too got to meet one of Cooke's descendants. You gotta love magic history, you never know where it will take you or who you might encounter!