Showing posts with label David Abbott. Show all posts
Showing posts with label David Abbott. Show all posts

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Houdini, David Abbott and Omaha

Houdini and David Abbott

The more I research Houdini, the more fascinated I am at all the connections he has to various parts of the country (and even the world). Case in point is Omaha, Nebraska. As it turns out, Omaha is the first city that Houdini performed in after meeting Martin Beck in St. Paul MN. Beck, was a theater owner and booker, and he witnessed Houdini's feats at a Beer Garden in St. Paul. On March 14th, Houdini received a telegram from Martin Beck sent from Chicago. The telegram says, "You can open Omaha, March 26th, at $60, will see act, probably make proposition for all next season." Houdini records in his journal "This wire changed my whole life's journey."

Notice that Beck says, "will see act, probably make proposition for all next season." I wondered about this statement because Beck was supposed to have seen Houdini in St. Paul. Then I remembered that the story is often told that Beck suggested to Houdini to 'drop the magic, keep the escapes and the box trick'. This story first appears in the book HOUDINI His Life Story by Harold Kellock and is repeated in later biographies. It's also pretty accurate as to what happened with Houdini's act. So Omaha, would have been Beck's chance to see the NEW act, and based the potential of a future tour on that. Omaha then begins Houdini's new career and new life.

Here is a glimpse into that 1899 performance in Omaha. Houdini was performing at The Orpheum and on April 8th, a clever situation took place. The manager of the Orpheum had a bet with 5 businessmen in town that they couldn't produce a pair of cuffs that would stop Houdini. One of them came up with something I've not heard of before, a pair of cuffs with a 'time lock' on it. According to the article in the April 8, 1899 edition of Omaha World Herald, it would take no less than 60 minutes to get out of this pair of cuffs due to the time lock. Houdini was free in 4 minutes!

Fast forward one year, April 1900, Houdini was back on Omaha.  Way back in St. Paul a year prior, the act was The Houdinis. But now the act is HOUDINI, with Bess assisting in the Metamorphosis, when it was actually presented. Instead, Houdini, now The Handcuff King, was taking on challengers all over the country. Her role, which was pointed out in The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush and Larry Sloman, had been greatly reduced.

A side note to Houdini's visit in 1900, according to the Omaha World Herald April 20th, 1900 edition, Houdini was taken to a party by his many fans in town. While there he presented numerous magic tricks, card tricks and even his East Indian Needle mystery.

Houdini would return to Omaha numerous times. But during one of those encounters he met David P. Abbott. Mr. Abbott was an amateur magician and popular among professional magicians because of his inventiveness. Mr. Abbott is responsible for teaching the Floating Ball to both OKITO and Thurston. He didn't invent it, but he embellished it and made it the popular trick it became. Abbott also wrote an amazing manuscript called, "David P. Abbott's Book of Mysteries." This was a manuscript almost lost, almost never published. The dramatic story of it's eventual publication is chronichled in Volume 2 of The House of Mystery by Teller and Todd Karr (a must read). By the way, the House of Mystery refers to Abbott's home in Omaha that was totally tricked out in order to perform unbelievable magic. The book shares the various secrets of the home.  Harry Kellar visited the home at one point and was so taken by the magic, that he asked Abbott to help him do the same thing to his Los Angeles home!

One of Abbott's greatest creations was The Talking Tea Kettle. Even Harry Kellar owned one of these and loved it. And it's the Talking Tea Kettle that brings us back to Houdini.


You will notice that the photo at the top of the page is of Houdini and David P. Abbbott. They were friends at one time.  However, that friendship became rather rocky when  an October 1922 article that Houdini wrote for POPUAR RADIO Magazine, included an exposure of Abbott's Famous Talking Tea Kettle Mystery. Abbott was furious with the exposure. Houdini later claimed it was not his doing but an editor for the magazine who included the secrets.

Now before I get too far into things, I've got to back up to explain some facts that aren't well known. First, the Talking Tea Kettle was actually the creation of a man named Phillip Meyers, an inventor who was interested in magic, but later became interested in and started creating effects for fake spirit mediums. This is according to Todd Karr, one of the authors of the book The House of Mystery. The Tea Kettle that Meyers built however, didn't get much use and it was eventually gifted from Meyers to his friend David Abbott. Mr. Abbott recognized the amazing effect but streamlined the methodology, which is why it is now known as David Abbott's Talking Tea Kettle.

Remember, Abbott was furious with Houdini's article. Houdini later made two unusual claims, first he said he purchased the Tea Kettle from an auction of a mediums estate. This statement was false. He actually purchased the Tea Kettle from Clyde Powers the magic dealer who had obtained it from Carl Rosini. This again, is documented on pg 482 of The House of Mystery Volume 2. So Houdini did not buy this from an auction.

Houdini's second statement was, Fraudulent Spirit Mediums were using the Talking Tea Kettle to
swindle and con their clients. This was also false. David Abbott himself stated he never sold a Tea Kettle to any fake medium. I'd like to stop here and offer my opinion. Having seen some of the scrapbooks that Houdini had on mediums and spiritualism, and knowing the volumes of information he collected on the subject, I wouldn't be surprised if he truly thought he picked up this kettle in an auction. Clearly it would be remembering it incorrectly, but it's possible. But the second half of this issue, the claim that mediums had used the Tea Kettle to defraud, is one I'd like to address a bit more. Remember what I said above, Phillip Meyers, the first inventor of a Talking Tea Kettle was making props for Fake Spirit Mediums. Houdini likely was aware of this, and aware of the Tea Kettle's origins. So if you put 2 and 2 together, it is only logical to assume that Tea Kettles were made for fake mediums because Meyers was already in the business of building similar things for that unscrupulous bunch. Of course, the other option is that it's possible Houdini was just using all of this for his own benefit, but I'm actually siding with Houdini on the later point. The first point, of where he got the Tea Kettle, well that could go either way.

The article in Popular Radio titled Ghosts That Talk--By Radio authored by Houdini, really does give an exposure of the Tea Kettle in the body of the article. Actually, the title of the article is exposure enough, lol. But the editor of the magazine spells it out even further. Then the magazine uses photos that they artistically rendered to show the secret workings. I'm sure Houdini merely provided regular untouched photos, it was the magazine that drew in the schematics of the inner workings. Despite the exposure the magazine was actually incorrect in the way they claimed the trick was done. My friend John Cox over at wrote an article on The Tea Kettle Controversy back in 2012, which gives more details on this uncomfortable moment in Houdini's life.


Houdini once again is thrilling audiences at the Orpheum in Omaha. He adds the hanging straitjacket escape this time around. He hangs upside down on September 6th, 1923 from the Omaha World Herald building. The paper gives a great account of his escape and mentions that upon lowering Houdini to the ground he had a 'brief spell of faintness.' The day before the paper was promoting his straitjacket escape and within the small blurb was this little gem, "Houdini is appearing at the Orpheum this week, and announces he may quit the theatrical profession after completing his present tour of the world."


We know Houdini began the new phase of his career in Omaha because of Martin Beck. However, there was another person who was taking credit for this as well.  In the Sept 24th edition of the Omaha World Herald there is an article that says, "Two years ago Harry Houdini, famous the world over as the "handcuff" man, came to Omaha unknown. He became a protege of Dan Baldwin, the strong man and genial police officer, and through his influence was launched upon his present career." Later in the article they reprint, word for word a letter Houdini sent to Baldwin about his tour of Europe. I'm not familiar with Dan Baldwin. A cursory look through the various Houdini bios came up with nothing. Perhaps this will be another case for The Magic Detective, but for now, I hope you enjoyed Houdini's connection to Omaha!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Floating Ball Illusion History

The Floating Ball was the creation of David P. Abbott. Well, actually, the original version was the creation of Harrison Davies and appeared in the September issue of The Sphinx in 1905. This information was uncovered by Teller and written up in his Prologue to The Floating Ball Illusion Chapter in the House of Mystery-Volume 2 by Teller and Todd Karr and David Abbott. This book, House of Mystery is basically an expanded edition of David P. Abbott's Book of Mysteries. It's a MUST READ for anyone interested in magic history. But within it's pages is contained the full explanation and step by step instructions for the Abbott Floating Ball routine. His routine was unique in that it was a one person version that he only performed in his home, so he had control of all conditions.

David P. Abbott taught the routine to Howard Thurston and Theo Bamberg. Thurston included it in his show and Okito would use the Floating Ball in his own show and develop a routine that set a new standard for the time.

The Thurston version of the Abbott routine was part of his Spirit Cabinet routine. Interestingly, the Thurston routine has a slightly different method to the Abbott version. Thurston routine begins with the ball floating forth from the Spirit Cabinet. It moves and floats about the stage and at one point is hovering above the stage. It's at this point that Thurston walks away from the ball while it is hovering in mid-air. The ball eventually floats back to the cabinet.

Theo Bamberg, known as Okito, used the Abbott version as the starting point but worked to develop his own moves and sequences. In his book, OKITO ON MAGIC, there is a 5 page chapter where Okito discusses the history of his routine. Interestingly, he never divulges his routine but he does divulge that his routine was ten minutes long.

Okito passed his routine onto his son, David, known professionally as FuManchu. In the book, ILLUSION BUILDER TO FU-MANCHU by Robert Olsen, a section on the Floating Ball is included. The chapter is mostly written by Edmund Spreer, who learned the Floating Ball from Okito and even hand made the Floating Ball for David Bamberg. The chapter gives a lot of details to the Fu-Manchu routine, which we can assume was identical or at least very close to his father's routine. The photo to the right is yours truly holding the Spreer made Fu-Manchu Floating Ball and below that the plexiglass box that mysteriously opened on it's own to allow the ball to float out or float back in.

Moving to the later part of the 20th Century we have Doug Henning's Floating Ball routine. The Doug Henning version came from Charles Reynolds who got the routine from a source I won't reveal. Well, it's not that I can't, it's that I have no idea what Gaeton Bloom said on the Luis Dematos Floating Ball DVD! And frankly, I so enjoyed the talk that Luis and Gaeton had about the ball, that I don't wish to spoil it. (You can read more about the DeMatos Floating Ball and DVD below.)  I can say that the Henning version always thrilled me but it seems the actually working of the routine was very different from what I thought it was. Let's just say the routine was 'All Doug'. Now, you take a moment to watch the following video of the The Henning Floating Ball.

That was part 1 of the Henning Floating Ball. Part 2 was something he only included on his TV Special. He would walk over to a large empty box and place the ball inside. Suddenly, the ball would emerge from the top of the box, but this time it was enormous. As it began to float up and down, it would begin to illuminate and the figure of a person could be seen inside. As the ball lowered it split in half revealing actress/dancer Joey Heatherton. This was really two different Floating Balls combined into one routine.

After Doug Henning, the next person to really bring the Floating Ball to the forefront was David Copperfield and Don Wayne, his magic consultant. The Copperfield version of the Floating Ball appeared on one of his early specials and featured the floating of a large disco mirror ball. The method for the Copperfield routine was the idea of Don Wayne. Following the TV special, Don Wayne sold a smaller version of the ball to magicians, along with a booklet on this Don Wayne method. His method, a two person version, opened the door to some amazing moves and sequences with the ball that were previously more difficult to do. The Copperfield routine was probably the most theatrical routine of all the versions combined. Like the Henning routine, Copperfield cleverly mixed different methods into a longer sequence. The Copperfield ball was covered at the end, floated upwards and then vanished as in an asrah levitation. You can enjoy that video now.

Peter Loughran put out a version not that long ago that was the creation of Steven and Michael Pignataro, it was called Voyager and was the first Floating Ball to include a lot of the 'hidden stuff' needed to create the full illusion.  

Next we have the TELLER Floating Ball. I have sadly, never seen the routine in person. I believe he calls his version 'The Red Ball'. The Teller inspiration came from the Abbott routine. Whether or not he uses the Abbott method or has developed something of his own, I really don't know. I'm not even sure the ball floats! From what I've read, it's more along the illusion of it 'coming to life'. But I do know that the 'secret' is told to the audience just before the routine is done and it still retains a very magical quality. Though with Penn and Teller, can you really be sure they've told you the secret????

The last Floating Ball belongs to Luis DeMatos.  The performance of the Floating Ball by Luis DeMatos is as close to real magic as you're likely to ever get. Having worked with the Floating Ball before, I was stunned at what he was able to achieve. I really was not sure what method he was using to accomplish his feat.

Luis has put out a DVD on the Floating Ball and his method as well as a history of the ball. He covers a number of historical things that I do not mention here.   As far as the Luis DeMatos Floating Ball DVD is concerned, I absolutely loved it. I've actually gone back and watched the performance part about a dozen times.

Luis DeMatos is not only selling a DVD but he is also selling his Mirror Ball, complete with DVD and all the necessary items needed to do his routine. I think that the Luis DeMatos version is not only the best routine of it's kind I've ever seen, it is also the biggest advancement in Floating Ball technology since the Don Wayne version. His routine might not be as theatrical as the Copperfield version, but it has a purity and elegance all it's own. For those interested, below is a somewhat edited version of his routine and you can start to get an idea that this is not your father's Floating Ball!
THE FLOATING BALL by Luis de Matos from Essential Magic Collection on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Homes of Mystery 1

Please keep in mind that all of these homes are private residences today. They were ONCE owned by famous magicians, but no longer. Enjoy them here, but don't go knocking on doors!


First up, Carter Manor. This was the home of illusionist Charles Carter. It's located in San Francisco and at one time overlooked San Fransisco Bay. There are lots of other homes in the area now. Though I don't know for sure if you can see the Bay or the Ocean from the house itself, possibly you still can. The property was purchased in 1929 and the house was built the following year. Not long after, Carter tried to sell it for $90,000, but had no takers. According to the Carter Book by Mike Caveney, the house contained: "A Magic Theatre w 150 seats, vanishing bars, moving pictures (on the wall), hidden chambers, closets, passages, and the dinning room table came up from the floor below via a trap door". What it's like now on the inside is anyone's guess. This might be the most amazing house owned by a magician.