Showing posts with label Fakir of Ava. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fakir of Ava. Show all posts

Monday, November 19, 2018

Episode 8 Magic Detective Podcast Additional Notes

Episode 8 of The Magic Detective Podcast is about the Life of Harry Kellar. As I was recording the episode today I quickly realized that this would be a multi-part episode. So this first part only cover 1849-1875. I've covered this period of time on this blog before, so I'm going to give you links that you can check out about the various topics.

2. The Davenport Brothers & The Spirit Cabinet

4. The Shipwreck
Please note there is a small error on the podcast. I mentioned that following the shipwreck, Kellar wired for money from his father. In truth, Harry Kellar borrowed money, approx $1000 from Junius Spenser Morgan, a banker, and the father to J.P. Morgan. 

And if you'd like to listen to the podcast before you check out the above links. Here you go!!!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Oz, The Great & Powerful...Magician

A new movie debuts today called 'OZ, The Great and Powerful' and is a prequel to the popular movie The Wizard of Oz.  The story began as a book, The Wonderful Wizard of OZ (1900) by Lyman Frank Baum.

L.Frank Baum was born May 15, 1856 in Chittenango NY. He had been a life long lover of theatre and tried unsuccessfully to have a career in theatre. His writings did much better for him, though he did take his story The Wonderful Wizard of OZ and turn it into a theatrical play called The Wizard of OZ.

In the original story, the Wizard is a traveling magician who works for a circus. Through a freak accident on a balloon ride, the wizard finds himself in the land of Oz. His full name was Oscar Zoroaster  Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmanuel Ambroise Diggs which abbreviated spells out
"O.Z.P.I.N.H.E.A.D", he shortened it further to simply OZ.  He becomes the ruler of OZ probably because of his magical abilities and his name OZ written across his hot air balloon.

During the same period of time, the preeminent magician in the United States was a fellow named Harry Kellar. He had been a world traveling magician, but after the deaths of the English magician Robert Heller and the European magician Herrmann the Great, Kellar had the title all to his own.

Heinrich Keller (Harry Kellar) however was born here in America, in Erie PA on July 11, 1849. He was not a circus magician, but he certainly was a traveling magician. He apprenticed under the Fakir of Ava, then went out to manage the famous Davenport Brothers. He left the Davenports and took William Fay with him and they started their own act, traveling through Mexico, South America and beyond. However, on their way to Europe, the ship they were on hit rocks and sunk, taking all the money Kellar and Fay had made on their trip, as well as their costumes and props for their show and leaving them at the bottom of the sea.

Bad luck would not plague Kellar forever and he eventually came into his own. In 1900, the year the Wonderful Wizard of OZ was published, Kellar was the #1 magician in the country.

I've heard it said that Kellar was the inspiration for the character of the Wizard of OZ. Mike Caveney, the well known magician and magic historian has said this in interviews. But I checked his book called "KELLARS WONDERS" and I didn't see any reference to it (though it's possible I missed it).

The connection is mentioned in the Gail Jarrow book on Harry Kellar called "Harry Kellar Great American Magician", although she says that readers of the book 'The Wonderful Wizard of OZ' will recognize the wizard as being like Harry Kellar.

I recall watching the movie 'The Wizard of OZ' as a kid and remembering fondly the character played by Frank Morgan, the Professor Marvel character and later the Wizard. The movie character always stuck with me and when I later got interested in magic and came upon Harry Kellar, I wondered if Kellar was like the Professor Marvel/Wizard character that I had seen in the movie. But honestly, Frank Morgan while in the character of Professor Marvel in the movie looks more like the magician Dante (and Dante was a very popular magician at the time the movie was made).

I am not sure where this idea that Kellar inspired the WIZARD character came from. Though I vaguely recall the idea of the connection was attributed to Martin Gardner. I think it's highly likely that Kellar could have been in the inspiration based on the fact that Baum was a huge theatre buff, Kellar was the big name at the time and the illustrations by William Wallace Denslow are a dead ringer for Kellar. If nothing else, perhaps the illustrator Denslow was inspired by Kellar and that is why the pictures look so much like him. I even have a photo somewhere of Kellar wearing a white jacket like the one on the Wizard illustration, but I can't seem to find it right now. I do believe that Kellar figured in there somewhere during the creation of the original book.

There is one other thing to consider and that is the word WIZARD. Magicians of that time were calling themselves: magicians, conjurers, manipulators, illusionists, escape artists, professor, and similar names. The word 'Wizard' was more commonly used in the mid 1800 with folks like John Henry Anderson known as The Great Wizard of the North, and John Wyman Jr. known as Wyman the Wizard. In the 20th Century there was one wizard that I can think of, Germain the Wizard. Perhaps one of these men also played a part in the inspiration of the character!

Finally, look at the poster below, it kind of looks like something out of the Wizard of OZ with flying monkeys and munchkins!

UPDATE: has an article on the Houdini connection to the OZ movie which is excellent as always.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Civil War Era Magicians Part 7

Ira and William Davenport certainly have that 'Civil War Era' look. They were two brothers from upstate New York. Probably influenced by the news of the Fox Sisters and the spirit manifestations they created, the Brothers developed an act of their own. In 1854 they introduced their Spirit Cabinet to America and along with the Fox Sisters, set the world into believing that contact with the spirits of recently departed people could be easily accomplished.

They did not fight in the war, but their direct connection to the Civil War is more than eerie. April 1861 while in Chicago , the brothers were conducting a seance, when a voice was heard coming from a spirit trumpet. This spirit voice declared a military conflict was taking place off the coast of South Carolina at Fort Sumter between the North and the South. This is a time long before mass media and news traveled slow.  Yet somehow this 'spirit' seemed to know what was taking place half way across the country.  The Davenport's spirit guides revealed the start of the Civil War before the actual news of the event arrived by telegraph! Though astonishing, this bit of information did not make them famous, as they already were famous. It caused those who believed in them to become more devout and those that questioned them to stand back and wonder how they were doing this. The Davenport Brothers continued to tour the Northern States during the War but departed for England in 1864.

Samri S. Baldwin
Next we have Samuel S. Baldwin, who went by Samri Baldwin and his stage moniker was 'The White Mahatma'. He was born in Cincinnati Ohio in 1848. Baldwin is credited for taking the question and answer techniques used in seances and turning them into a mentalism feat for the stage. So clever were his techniques that many are still used today.

His interest in the mystery arts came from watching and then following the Davenport Brothers around. Eventually, Baldwin was able to duplicate the feats presented by the brothers.  During the Civil War he joined the Ohio 83rd Infantry Regiment, Company B. He was the drummerboy for the regiment. After the war was over in 1865, Samri Baldwin began his performing career. He would continue to perform until his death on March 10th, 1924.

Next we have Fred Bearns, known as 'Bearns, The Monarch of All Ventriloquists and High Priest of Magic'. Not much is known about Bearns except he joined the 14th New York State Militia during the Civil War. He was captured and held prisoner in Richmond Va. After the war he used the billing, "Returned Prisoner of War from Richmond, with his Most Charming Experiments in Magic and Ventriloquism". No photo or poster remains of Fred Bearns to my knowledge.

Harry Kellar's first boss, The Fakir of Ava, was really Isaiah Harris Hughes and was born in Essex England on December 25, 1810. He moved to America and was quite a successful performer. He did well during the Civil War, though he did not enlist or fight.

Hughes presented a 'Gift Show' similar to what Wyman the Wizard, John Henry Anderson and others were using at the time. This technique seemed to work for him as the NY Times Obituary says he died a wealthy man.

Last on my list of Civil War era magicians is someone I've written about quite extensively, William Henry Palmer, better known as Robert Heller. Mr. Heller worked as a magician and musician prior to the Civil War. In the 1850s he was forced into a sort of early retirement from magic and moved to Washington D.C. and became a Music Professor.

Around 1861, as the Civil War started, Heller began to get back into magic. By 1864 he opened on Broadway with a hit show called "Sallie Diabolpue". Please click the link on his name to read more about the incredible Robert Heller. I have a three part article on Heller and a fourth and possibly fifth part coming later in the year.

There is no doubt I will have missed a number of magicians who also had some part to play during the Civil War. I'm actually amazed that I found as many as I did and it seems like more information on others pop up daily. This however will be the final blog on the magicians of the Civil War.  I hope you have enjoyed this historical journey. For those of you who would like a little more, there will be one more Civil War related article about the MAGIC of the Civil War magicians.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Fakir of Ava

Ever wonder how some of the greats in magic got their start? We know Houdini was inspired by both Dr. Lynn and the book The Memoirs of Robert-Houdin. And Robert Houdin had seen street conjurers in his youth which began his fascination with magic. What about Harry Kellar? Well, it seems young Harry Kellar could have gone a number of directions. As a  boy he was apprenticed to a druggist, but that didn't work out and Harry went to NY. In New York, he met a Reverend who wanted to adopt Harry and put him to school to become a minister. This seems like the course his life would take until one day the Reverend took Harry to see a magician named The Fakir of Ava. Well, after that singular performance Harry decided he too wanted to become a magician. A short while later he moved not far from where the Fakir lived and one day answered an ad in the newspaper for an assistant for  the Fakir of Ava. The Fakir told young Harry that many boys had been by to apply for the job but none was selected. He said he let his dog do the choosing. Well it turns out the dog took an immediate liking to Harry and he got the job!

The Fakir of Ava was really Isaiah Harris Hughes and was born in Essex England on December 25, 1810. He moved to America and took the name of a previous employer and became The Fakir of Ava. Hughes traveled across the US during the Civil War and did quite well. He developed a type of show called 'The Gift Show' where he would give out basically inexpensive door prizes to audience members. This scheme really helped his business and he was able to retire with a good deal of money.

During his time as a traveling magician he performed many standard tricks of the time. A playbill from his show lists the following tricks as part of his evening of entertainment:
  • The Enchanted Canopy
  • The Aeriel Bank or Mysterious Treasury in the Air
  • Hindoo Cup Trick
  • The Mephistophole’s Hat
  • The Card Printer
  • The Fairy Star
  • The Great Orange Trick
  • The Chinese Plate Illusion
  • How to Cook an Omelet, and Produce Game and Ring
  • The Bank Note and Enchanted Candle
  • The Flying Watches
  • The Enchanted Fishery
  • The Express Laundry
  • The Wonderful Hat
  • The Witches Pole or the obedient Mysterious Blood Writing on the Arm
  • Vanishing Cage, Balls and Game
  • Laughable Ribbon and Paper Trick
  • The Great African Box and Sack Feat (Mysterious Appearance and Disappearance)
  • The Sealed Packet Or Wonders of Supernatural Vision
  • Angel’s Flight through Mid-Air!

As an avid fan of magic history I can decipher some of the routines from the show. The Aeriel Bank would have been a production of money from the air, like a Misers Dream or perhaps a version of Houdin's Crystal Casket. The Mephistopholes Hat OR The Wonderful Hat was probably some sort of Hat production, where items would appear from a hat. The Witches Pole is interesting as this effect is done today, but not with blood, instead a word appears on the arm from burnt ashes. Vanishing Cage is likely the vanishing birdcage created by DeKolta and copied and performed by most magicians of the time. I can't help but think the Great African Box and Sack Feat is probably some version of the Maskelyne Trunk trick.

Harry Kellar stayed with the Fakir of Ava and worked has his assistant for a number of years. When The Fakir felt that Harry was ready to go out on his own as a magician, he gave his blessing and off Harry went.

The Fakir of Ava died on May 24th, 1891 and was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo New York. Along with the Fakir of Ava, President Millard Filmore is also buried in Forest Lawn. Here is the New York Times Obituary for the Fakir of Ava.

The website for the cemetery is
By the way, the first time I saw a picture of this grave was a photo that Houdini took of it (at least I'm pretty sure of that). I can't for the life of me track down where that photo is located. I checked a bunch of the biographies and other magic history books but I can't seem to locate it anywhere. Any suggestions?
photo by Dave Pape