Showing posts with label Harry Kellar. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Harry Kellar. Show all posts

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Maid of the Moon Addition

I wrote an article on an intriguing levitation illusion that had been presented by both Harry Kellar and Alexander Herrmann. It was called Astarte or the Maid of the Moon. I had also posted a video of Doug Henning recreating the illusion for one of his TV specials. Well, at the Los Angeles Conference on Magic History 2013 this illusion was recreated by John Gaughan. And in the January 2014 Digital version of Genii Magazine you can watch a video of the illusion. It is beyond incredible. You  have to check it out! It is a real thing of beauty!

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Man Who Fooled The Best Minds In Magic

It all began in this carriage house in NYC. An amateur magician fooled the best minds in magic. The performances were held on the second floor right near the windows on the left. A small stage was erected and there were chairs available for twenty people. The performances were invitation only. Those who attended were a virtual who's who in the world of magic. They all walked away puzzled and amazed.

The man who put on these shows was Dr. Samuel Cox Hooker and his show was legendary. Years ago, I remember reading through a copy of GREATER MAGIC and coming upon a description of his show and wondering what all the fuss was about. Then in 1993 the Los Angeles Conference on Magic History recreated the show using the original apparatus. In 2007, the conference brought the show back for a repeat performance. I spoke to a few people who attended and the word I heard the most was "I have no idea". Obviously, whatever Dr. Hooker had created was a timeless mystery just as remarkable today as it was nearly 100 years ago.

Both Genii and MAGIC Magazine did extensive articles on Hooker and I've pulled some of my information from those sources as well as a few other places. This great mystery that Dr. Hooker created was not a single trick nor was it a single method. It was numerous puzzle pieces that came together to create what has been called 'The Hooker Rising Cards'. But Dr. Hooker preferred to call his show 'Impossibilities'.

Dr. Samuel Hooker
The show first began in 1915 in the carriage house behind his home on Remsen St. in Brooklyn. I believe the initial show was just a demonstration of his Rising Cards. But Dr. Hooker's Rising Cards were unlike anything anyone had ever seen. The show would begin by handing out a houlette for examination. A houlette is a small holder for playing cards, and according to the book Greater Magic, the Hooker houlette was made of glass. Next, a new pack of cards was borrowed from a member of the audience. The cards were shuffled and then placed into the houlette. Then, any card called for would rise out from the pack! But that was just the beginning. Next, cards were selected, signed and put back in the pack and it then put back into the houlette. The selected signed cards would rise. The houlette was moved to different part of the table to disprove any connection to the table. In fact, the houlette could be handed out for examination again and again. Finally, a large glass dome was placed over the houlette and the cards not only rose up like before, but now they floated higher and higher within the glass enclosure. Eventually, all the cards flew from the houlette and that was the conclusion of the original show.

Harry Kellar was witness to the show in 1914 when it was in it's early stages. It was clear to Kellar even then that this was a remarkable feat. Kellar would attend again a couple years later and by this time Dr. Hooker had added another feature, a bear head he called
Militiades III in action
Militiades III. When the show began the Doctor would speak to the bear and it's eyes would open and it's head would move. He could ask the bear questions and the mouth would move in response. According to an article in the San Diego Union from May 26, 1918, the magicians in the audience seemed fairly unfazed with those antics. But then the bear head levitated in the air and moved about. Dr. Hooker passed his hands around the floating bear head and then passed a hoop around it. All the while the bear head, which he called Militiades after an Athenian chieftan, continued it's facial animations. The newspaper article said the magicians were completely dumbfounded by this. The name Militiades, according to the article by Jim Steinmeyer in Genii Magazine April 2008, was inspired by the Athenian General and a children's book from Hooker's youth called 'The Adventures of Militiades Peterkin Paul'. So his bear head became Militiades III.

When Kellar saw the performance he related to Dr. Hooker just how amazed he was and that he had no idea how the mystery was accomplished. Dr. Hooker then invited Kellar to peer behind the curtain, so to speak, and revealed the workings of this marvel. Kellar was so taken with the wonderful illusion that he eventually asked Dr. Hooker if he could have it for his own home. According to the book, Kellars Wonders by Mike Caveney and Bill Miesel, Dr. Hooker agreed to allow Kellar to build the illusion for demonstrations at his home but swore him to complete secrecy.  There was a catch however. Hooker would not build the effect for Kellar. He told Kellar that he would have to create it on his own and not use a magic builder in the process. This meant that Harry Kellar had to go off his memory of what he saw and experiment with various things in order to build it for himself. He did begin work on it and hired another mechanic to help, but never completed the work.

Magician's who saw Hooker's incredible miracle included: Harry Kellar, Houdini, Charles Carter, Adelaide Herrmann, W. J. Hilliar,  Dr. James Elliott, Guy Jarrett, Theo Bamberg and many others. In 1929, Dr. Hooker decided to revive the show but felt he was too old at this point to perform. So he taught the routine to John Mullholland and Dr. Shirley Quimby who presented it for another round of performances. According to Ted Annemann in the Jinx #87, 1938, the effect was bequeathed to Mullholland and Quimby. Annemann quotes The Sphinx of Sept 1936, "for performance from time to time as opportunities occur." However, I don't think the apparatus for the illusion was actually given to Mullholland, rather the opportunity to present the effect. It doesn't appear that Mullholland ever presented the effect after the run in 1929.  The apparatus for the Hooker Rising Card Illusion remained in the Hooker family and eventually with Hooker's grandson who sold it to John Gaughan.

The Hooker Rising Card was presented at two different Los Angeles Conference on Magic History. John Gaughan restored the original apparatus and together with Jim Steinmeyer, they did their best to recreate a routine based on Hooker's work. The original routine as presented by Dr. Hooker was somewhere between an hour and 90 minutes. The version presented at the magic history conference was twenty minutes. But according to all accounts, the magic of Dr. Samuel Hooker continued to bewilder the best minds in magic of today just as it had done during magic's Golden Age.

One additional note that I found interesting. It turns out that Dr. Hooker, who was a chemist by trade, and a very dedicated amatuer magician, is related to a modern day magician, Paul Romhany.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Piece of Kellar & Houdini History

Norm Nielsen and Harry Kellar
The image above is a wonderful 8 sheet Kellar poster, now in the collection of Norm Nielsen. According to Lupe Nielsen, it may be the only 8 sheet Kellar poster of this image known to have survived. The incredible poster has quiet a story.

Apparently, this poster was a gift from Harry Kellar to Harry Houdini. The poster hung in the home of Houdini, 278 W 113th St NYC. The poster was originally mounted on linen and actually stayed in the house longer than Houdini.  In the 1980s, Dixie Dooley was in NYC and stopped by the old Houdini House. Unlike most visitors, he actually got permission to enter the home and was able to tour Houdini's old home. While on the tour, the owner showed Dixie a table full of posters and gave them to him as a gift. The above poster was among those he acquired and remained in his possession until he sold the large Kellar poster to Norm Nielsen in the 1990s.

According to Lupe, "no restorers wanted to touch it." So they placed it into a giant frame protected by a piece of Plexiglas in the front. It is now in the Nielsen Magic Poster Collection.  The poster was printed by Strobridge Litho, Cincinnati 1894.

*The photo credit belongs to Lee Alex ( who graciously gave me permission to reproduce it here. I also received permission from Lupe Nielsen to include it, as it is part of the private Nielsen Magic Poster Collection ( By the way, Dixie Dooley talks about this poster in his book Exploits and also in Houdini Question Reality, two books he wrote available on

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Mattmuellar the Wizard

As far as posters go, the above image is one of the most striking magic posters ever created. I still recall the first time I saw this poster in real life. It was at the American Museum of Magic many years ago and I was dumbstruck by it's beauty. It was at this point that my fascination with Charles Mattmuellar began.

He was born Feb 12, 1878 in Cleveland Ohio. His first magic show was a bit of an impromptu thing where he presented a 'spirit cabinet' like effect for some friends. He was eight years old at the time. His mother forbid him to pursue the magical arts, but he did anyway. Eventually, his father recognized the talent that the young boy had and Mattmuellar the Magician was born!

In grade school Charles became known as Karl because of the number of other students in his class named Charles. The name stuck and he kept it for the rest of his life. As a magician, he would first use his last name Mattmeullar and then for a very short period use the name Alexander, after his idol Alexander Herrmann. However, when Karl had the opportunity to move into the Lyceum circuit, he was encouraged to alter the name again because there were already a multitude of 'Alexanders' in the show business world. Karl chose the name Germain, after the Marquis of St. Germain, a mystery man and mountebank. At first a mistake in spelling in an advertisement caused the name to be  spelled  'Germaine' with an 'e' on the end but eventually he dropped the 'e' and used Germain. He would also eventually drop the term 'magician' in favor of 'the Wizard' to round out the name.

Though in the early days his mother was against her son doing magic, she eventually got involved. It
(Ken Klosterman collection)
was his mother who apparently handled his money, at least in the beginning and did so well investing it that Germain was able to live off it throughout his life. His sister Ida became part of his act, becoming an assistant when he presented his mind reading routines.

Finally, and probably most importantly,  it was his father Charles Mattmuellar Senior who deserves a great deal of credit in the success of his son. His father helped build the famous Germain Flower Growth Illusion, using both carpentry skills and wood carving skills. They would build many versions and adaptations of growing flower tricks over the years. One of their creations was the forerunner of the Square Circle effect and a clever improvement to the Kellar Flower Growth routine which was then adopted by other performers.

I would imagine his father also built the first Wooden Block Thru Board Illusion and many of the other signature effects, possibly even the Germain Spirit Lock. I do know for a fact his father built the Germain Spirit Dial, which was a popular effect with magicians of the time, but Germain's prop was built by his Dad. The Flower Growth and the Spirit Dial can both be seen in the photograph to the right. Ken Klosterman owns a great deal of the Germain props and has a very extensive collection of Germain posters. I believe a second Germain Flower Growth is in the David Copperfield Collection, given to him as a gift from Mr. Klosterman. And recently, I learned the Germain Spirit Lock resides in Tim Moore's Magic Collection.

There is much to share about the life of Karl Germain as he truly was an amazing Wizard. At another time, I'll delve deeper into his effects and in a future article I'll share some stories of his life and the tragic turn near the end of his life.

Friday, May 3, 2013

New Edition of MAGIC 1400s-1950s by Taschen

Remember that GIANT magic book that Taschen printed a couple years ago that cost $200? The book was so large, you had to have a special desk just to hold it. In fact, one enterprising individual, Lupe Nielson, is building the very desk that is on the cover of the magazine! By the way, Lupe also sells these tables on her website. These tables are of the highest quality and will be a piece of furniture you'll cherish for ages. Plus, one of the few tables that can hold that giant book!

Well, Taschen is putting out another edition, a slightly more manageable copy at 9.9 inches by 15 inches, hardcover in a slipcase, 544 pages, for $69.99. The great news is, it's supposed to be available sometime this month (May 2013).

This was a must have in it's giant size, so I would say it's a super must have in it's slightly smaller size. To order a copy direct from Taschen, go to

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.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Robert Heller's Flying Cage

Readers to this blog will be aware of my interest in Robert Heller. I would go so far to say that I am the biggest Robert Heller fan of the 21st Century! I have done quite a bit of research on Heller to date and recently came across a full description of a routine in his show. I'll give you a bit of back story first.

The Flying Cage was the invention of DeKolta and found it's way into the main stream of the magic world through an unscrupulous cousin of DeKoltas. Harry Kellar purchased a cage from this cousin and brought it to America. He sold the secret of the cage in exchange for props to rebuild his show and this then is how the Flying Cage found it's way to America. In Europe, the magic dealer Charles DeVere was building cages as well and probably got the secret from the same source as Keller.

Robert Heller purchased his cage from Charles DeVere only a short time after Harry Keller had brought the trick to America. The Flying Cage, or what we know today as The Vanishing Birdcage, was a controversial trick because magicians were using live canaries and apparently killing them accidently and quite frequently. Kellar was even arrested at one time for the crime of cruelty to animals. But he was able to prove that his birds survived and thrived.

Robert Heller did not go this same route and in fact had a very clever routine. He began by producing feathered bouquets out of a foulard. These bouquets were also darts which he would then toss down and stick into the stage floor. A canary was produced from among the feathers of one of the darts and an assistant held onto it while Heller went to retrieve the cage.

As Heller walked on stage with the cage the assistant who had been holding the bird in their cupped hands, opened their hand to show the bird was gone! Heller then said "Well if there is no bird, we won't need the cage" and in that instant made the metal cage vanish at his finger tips.

A very different presentation than what most of the other magicians had been using, and a great way to avoid the controversy over killing a bird. By the way, the illustration at the top is of Heller, but he is NOT presenting the Flying Cage in this routine, but rather some sort of automaton which I hope to have more news on at another date.

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.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Maid of the Moon Illusion

I have always been intrigued by the poster above, but was never quite sure what the actual effect of this illusion was. 'Maid of the Moon' was a creation of three people William Robinson,  Benjamin B. Keyes of Boston and Will B. Wood. The original idea belonged to Wood who filed for a patent in 1889, but both Keyes and Robinson added things to the concept to take it from a novelty to an amazing act. The original name for the illusion was 'Astarte'.

The illusion first appeared in Harry Kellar's show, as William Robinson and his wife Dot were both working for Kellar at the time. It was a revolutionary illusion for the time. The effect is a levitation where a woman floats upwards and can move up and down, left or right and even spin her body around and turn somersaults. The method was exposed in an article in the Chicago Herald newspaper, but it didn't stop Kellar from performing it. He would eventually alter the name of the illusion to Astarte-Maid of the Moon.

Astarte. A new aerial illusion... Digital ID: 1697168. New York Public LibraryIn 1892, William Robinson and his wife Dot left the employment of Harry Kellar and went to work for Alexander Herrmann. It's obvious by the poster, that Robinson either built the Astarte illusion for Herrmann or took it with him when he left the employment of Harry Kellar as it was included in Herrmann's touring show under the title 'Maid of the Moon'. I could not find a Kellar poster advertising Astarte, though he did advertise other levitations over the years. The Herrmann poster for the illusion is breathtaking, and honestly, more beautiful than the effect really is, but I'm judging it by modern standards and perhaps for it's time it too was incredible.

In Kellars Wonders by Mike Caveney and Bill Meisel, there is a picture from the original patent papers showing the elaborate mechanics of the trick.

Astarte was dropped from Kellar's show during his never ending quest for the ideal levitation. It was likely dropped from the Herrmann show after Alexander's death. As better and more realistic levitations were created, Astarte was soon forgotten. That is until 1980, when Doug Henning added Astarte to one of his World of Magic TV Specials. In this special he used Loreen Yarnell as his floating subject. The video below shows Doug Henning presenting Astarte. Enjoy!

By the way, the above poster is also on the latest issue of Magicol Magazine.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Rare Houdini Picture

I don't recall seeing these photos before. They are not super rare, as in unseen, but certainly not some of the more popular images. Above is Bess, Houdini and Kellar in California. Below is another image of Houdini outside of Kellar's house in California.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Kellar's Sunken Treasure

I've always been intrigued with the story from Harry Kellar's life where he lost all his props in a shipwreck. It's an exciting story and a tragic one and frankly a turning point for Harry Kellar. I had read the account in KELLARS WONDERS by Mike Caveney and Bill Miesel, and the story is also found in the new book THE AMAZING HARRY KELLAR GREAT AMERICAN MAGICIAN by Gail Jarrow. But upon digging, I've discovered some of the details are incorrect.

The shipwreck happened on the evening of Friday August 13th, 1875, not the 18th as listed in the KELLARS WONDERS book. According to the various magic history accounts I've read the ship hit rocks near the Island of Ushant in the Bay of Biscay. This was the region of the shipwreck, but I've discovered some more specifics which give a better idea of exactly where the ship ran ground. First however, let me share with you a little back story that leads up to the shipwreck.


After leaving the employment of the Davenport Brothers, William Fay and Harry Kellar joined forces in the Spring of 1873 and began to tour the United States. Calling themselves Fay & Kellar, probably because William Fay was older than Harry and it was a case of age before beauty. Harry Kellar would do the act that he learned while working with the Fakir of Ava and then the conclusion of the show would be a recreation of The Davenport Cabinet, or what is known today as The Spirit Cabinet. The act apparently was not an immediate success as lack of money left them occasionally stranded.

Their luck would change however. Kellar secured some dates for them in Cuba. At the Albisu Theatre in Havana it was said they made over $3000 during their first night on stage. Success continued for them on their tour of Cuba. From there the two went to Mexico and again met with great success. To cut down on their travel expenses they hit upon the novel idea of leaving the Spirit Cabinet behind in each city they played and simply had a new one built when they got to their next destination. Back in this time, the Spirit Cabinet was just that, a very large wooden cabinet. There was nothing faked or gimmicked about it so having the locals build a new one was easy.

Royal Mail Steamship Boyne
From Mexico they sailed on to South America and toured all over the country. The tour of South America was successful with the exception of a couple weeks in December 1874. By July 1875, the South American tour was complete and Fay and Kellar got on board a steamship called the BOYNE and set sail for London. They had smooth sailing across the Atlantic Ocean and made it safely to Lisbon, Portugal.

On Wednesday August 11th, the steamship Boyne set sail from Lisbon for London and there were no problems with the weather until Friday morning when a thick fog set in. At this point they plotted a course which would take them 15 miles west off the coast of Ushant Island. They checked the depth of the sea at 5pm and it was 450 ft deep. Another reading was to be taken at 7:15pm when the forward lookout alerted the captain that rocks were spotted. This information comes from a book called "The Shipwrecked Mariner" dated 1875. The book says "Captain Macauley, who was on the bridge, immediately ordered the engines to be stopped and the helm put hard aport." However, the ship hit the rocks right off the coast of the Island of Molene.

The captain commanded that the lifeboats be lowered and safely got passengers and crew into the boats in a orderly fashion. The book says that this happened 'without confusion'. The lifeboats full with passengers and crew were taken to the Island of Molene. Once the passengers were safe on the island, the captain actually returned and stayed with his ship. The next morning, Saturday August 14th, the ships crew returned via the lifeboats to the Boyne in an effort to salvage what they could.
A few bags belonging to passengers were recovered but most were lost. The Shipwrecked Mariner states that within an hour of hitting the rocks the water level was over the deck and that divers discovered the rocks completely penetrated the bottom of the ship. The Boyne was finished and so were the hopes that Fay & Kellar would be able to retrieve their show equipment and valuables.


According to Harry Kellar's book A Magicians Tour "he had  two chests of curios from Mexico and South America, including stuffed birds, images, a Mexican Saddle mounted with solid silver, a Mexican suit that cost $500, and specimens of the gold and silver currency of every country he had visited. He also had about $8000 worth of cut and uncut Brazilian diamonds". The estimated loss amounted to around twenty-five thousand dollars. Given that this baggage has been underwater for 137 years, I wouldn't think that the clothes or much of the curios would still be recoverable. However, gold and silver coins and diamonds, you bet!

If the diamonds alone were worth $8,000 back then, they'd be worth over $100,000.00 today. 

I would have to say that the drawing of the shipwrecked Boyne, along with the knowledge that the ships final resting place was off the coast of the Island of Molene gives a pretty good description where the shipwreck remains. Unfortunately for me, I'm not a diver. But if you find it due to my help, I'll happily accept a finders fee :)   

It would appear (see comment by Joseph P below) that some of the gold and diamonds had been found by the crew during salvage efforts. One of the articles states the crew was helping themselves and when they were discovered, they tossed the items back into the sea. The men were arrested.
Another attempt to bring up the valuables was attempted but it produced nothing. According to the article in the Otaga Daily Times, Oct 26th 1875, it was believed the treasure had either been secretly removed or sunk so deeply into the sand as to be near impossible to find.
So it appears that Kellar's treasure was either pilfered by the crew or probably lost forever. 

Besides the Kellar books mentioned in the article, I also used 'The Shipwrecked Mariner' page 232.
And a large section of this blog article was taken from a previous blog article I wrote on William Fay.

Friday, June 8, 2012


It seems that every month there is a new book about Harry Houdini, but it's pretty rare to see a book for the general public on any other magician. Recently, Jim Steinmeyer put out an excellent book for the public on Howard Thurston. Now there is a brand new book called The Amazing Harry Kellar Great American Magician by author Gail Jarrow.

This book is published by Calkins Creek/Boyds Mill Press and is a great book about the first really famous American magician. It's really more a biographical picture book but it has plenty of story to go with it. The book is 96 pages and is filled with 27 full color photos of Kellar's posters, as well as many other b/w images of Harry Kellar and other famous magicians of the time. The book contains all the major stories from Kellar's life, like the drug store explosion from his youth, the ship wreck where he lost all his props, and the passing of the mantel of magic to Howard Thurston. The book does not gloss over the way Kellar obtained many of his illusions and automatons. Ms. Jarrow does a fine job showing just who Mr. Kellar was and why he was an important figure in show business and magic history.

The book came about because Lisa and Rich Gensheimer introduced Ms. Jarrow to the world of Harry Kellar. Lisa and Rich are film makers who are working on a documentary film about Harry Kellar called "American Mystic: The Magical Life of Harry Kellar" which is due to come out very soon. Mike Caveney and Bill Miesel, the authors of the almost 600 page book KELLARS WONDERS, were involved in the project as well.

To me it's exciting that young readers will get to learn about another character from the world of magic besides Houdini. And don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled with every book on Houdini that comes out. But Kellar is among my top 5 favorite magicians and his story deserves to be told. There just aren't a lot of books out there on Harry Kellar. Besides the two mentioned in this article, the only other book on Kellar I can think of is the one that Kellar wrote, A Magician's Tour, which was redone twice, once by Magico and then again by Phil Temple & Robert Olsen. On a personal note, I'm thrilled with The Amazing Harry Kellar Great American Magician because I will add it to the list of books I cover in my educational reading programs for schools.

The Amazing Harry Kellar Great American Magician is a fantastic book for young readers, adults, and especially magicians. It would certainly make a great gift for anyone interested in magic or interested in the history of the theatre or entertainment. Hey and for the Dad into magic, a great Father's Day Gift!

The book retails for $17.95 and is available through and Barnes and Noble stores.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Imitation Is The Sincerest Form of Flattery-Magic Style

In today's magic world we have enormous amounts of imitation, which is often more akin to theft and copying than imitation. One recent example was the fellow who stole Piff The Magic Dragon's act and presented it on TV as if it were his own. I've also seen a video on Youtube of a fellow performing Lance Burton's Dove Act copying every detail down to the costume and music. This stuff sadly has been going on forever and happens in other areas of entertainment as well. It's one thing to be inspired by another performer, it's another to steal their act. If the originator has passed on then it's a different issue. Though unless one is presenting a tribute act, it's probably best to still change the act somewhat. I thought I'd share some examples from a bygone era to show how far back this goes.

The Pastry Chef of the Palais Royal
We'll start with Robert Houdin the great french magician. Many performers ripped off the routines of Robert-Houdin. But if you read Harry Houdini's book "The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin" you'd think that everything Robert-Houdin did was stolen also. I find this book to have some interesting historical facts, but I don't always agree with Houdini's conclusions. There is a wonderful routine called The Pastry Chef of the Palais Royal which Robert-Houdin presented. In his routine, a miniature model of a bakery sits upon a table. It appears to be mechanical in nature, as Robert-Houdin must wind it up in the manner of a music box. Out comes a pastry chef holding a tray to take the order. The magician tells the chef what an audience member has selected off a menu of pastries, and the chef turns and goes back inside. The audience can see other mechanical men rolling the pastries and working in the kitchen. A few moments later the mechanical chef figure comes back out with the exact item the person from the audience requested. A marvel of the time. But was it original?

Ernest Basch
If we are to believe Houdini, no way was it original. In fact, Houdini does a fine job of proving that a routine of this nature existed before Robert-Houdin. In his book he says "the trick appears first, not as a confectioners shop with small figures at work, but as a fruitery, then again as a Dutch Coffee house, then as a Russian Inn, from which ten sorts of liquor were served. Finally in 1823, it is featured under the name that made it famous, The Confectioners Shop." So the effect did seem to exist prior to Robert-Houdin. But I tend to think Robert-Houdin was presenting his version of an already existing routine.

The image on the right is that of french magician Ernest Basch, and he is standing near what he claimed was Robert-Houdin's original Pastry Chef automaton. However, if you look at the picture above, you'll see it is clearly not the same. This black and white image was from Houdini's book. It does show that there were other automaton's of this nature out there and it also shows that Robert-Houdin's actual automaton was different. So I think this was more a case of imitation not theft.

Now let's look at William Henry Palmer. He first saw Robert-Houdin perform in London and became interested in magic. When he decided to perform magic himself he changed his name to Robert Heller. It's said that he chose the name 'Robert' from Robert-Houdin, the name Heller from pianist Stephan Heller. Ok, he was inspired by Robert-Houdin, but read on.

Robert Heller took his imitation a step further and even performed with a french accent initially.  There is no denying he copied Robert-Houdin's act. In the book 'The Annals of Conjuring' by Sidney W. Clarke, there is a list of 15 routines presented by Heller and the exact same 15 in the same order presented by Robert-Houdin. Heller did give the routines 'slightly' different names, as if that made a difference. Worse yet, he claimed to have created the magic in his show. This bit of bragging was common among many magicians.  Eventually Heller dropped the accent and found his own style.  He met with real success  when he stopped trying to be Houdin and instead performed as HELLER.

John Henry Anderson, The Great Wizard of the North, claimed to have invented a trick that he called "Suspension Chloroforeene" which was amazingly similar to Robert-Houdin's invention called "The Ethereal Suspension".  In the Houdin version, his son was placed between upright walking sticks and a bottle of ether was held below his nose briefly. Backstage, an assistant with a hand held fan made sure the smell of ether made it's way into the audience as well so as to increase the theatricality of the effect. The boy passed out from the ether and apparently became as light as a feather. To prove this, Robert-Houdin removed one of the walking sticks and lifted his son up and showed that he could actually rest easily upon the other. In the John Henry Anderson routine, Chloroform was used instead of ether, other than that the routine was exactly the same.

Anderson, also presented the Magic Scrapbook, known as the Artist's Portfolio in Houdin's act and the Second Sight routine, which went by the same name in Robert-Houdin's show.

Let's take a look at Harry Kellar.  Notice the side by side photos below. Robert Heller is on the left and a young Harry Kellar is on the right. They look very much alike. Today we most often think of Kellar as the older, clean shaven, balding gentleman, but in his younger days he sported a rather large mustache. As best I can tell, he shaved it off around 1894 because the first Kellar posters without the mustache appeared that year. I wondered if he wore this mustache to look more like Heller. However, I think it was more the fashion of the time.
Robert Heller (left) Harry Kellar (right)
Though the two gentleman do look very much alike, Kellar actually tried to distance himself from Robert Heller. Harry's last name was actually spelled KELLER, but he altered the spelling because it looked too much like HELLER.  His act was fairly different from that of Robert Heller with the exception of the spirit manifestations that many performers of the day were doing. Harry Kellar had worked for the Davenport Brothers, the creator of the Spirit Cabinet act and he left their employment somewhat disgruntled. Upon his exit he took with him another Davenport employee, William Fay. Kellar and Fay teamed up and began to present their version of the Spirit Cabinet.

Harry Kellar did get something from Robert Heller though, but it was after Heller had died. When Robert Heller presented his Second Sight Act it was always with his 'so-called' sister Ms. Haidee Heller. Well, now that Robert Heller had passed on, Haidee, who was no relation, was off presenting the act with a new partner. In 1880, Kellar met her while he was working in Scotland and hired her and her partner to present their act in his show. A few years later, Kellar and his wife Eva began presenting a Second Sight Act. I wonder where he learned that from?

Kellar's most frequent target was John Nevil Maskylene of Egyptian Hall Fame. In fact, it was at Egyptian Hall that Kellar saw Dekolta present his Vanishing Bird Cage Trick. Kellar purchased a copy of the cage from a relative of DeKolta's, though apparently DeKolta himself was unaware of this transaction. A somewhat shady deal.

Maskelyne & PSYCHO
A short time later Kellar hired a mechanic to make a copy of John Nevil Maskelyene's popular  automaton PSYCHO. Kellar even called his version PSYCHO as well, though when he played England, he changed the name temporarily to Arno. Kellar continued to go back to the 'Maskelyne Magic Well' and steal not just automaton but illusions as well. At one point he tried to get permission to do Maskelyne's new Floating Lady illusion. When Maskelyne turned him down, Kellar figured out another way of getting the illusion. He offered a job to Paul Valadon, who had been working at Egyptian Hall. Paul moved to America to become part of Kellar's show.  Together, Valadon and Kellar would build a version of the Maskelyne levitation. Theirs was actually an improvement over the original levitation because it was portable. Maskelyne's original was not made to travel.

It just goes to show, if you've got a popular trick, act or persona, there are people out there who will copy it. I mentioned at the start that this sort of thing happens in other forms of entertainment as well. Comedians are a great example. There are some performers who have no problem with stealing jokes and routines from other comedians. Carlos Mencia and Dane Cook have both been accused of stealing jokes and routines. I've noticed in the movie industry sometimes very similar  projects  come out from competing studios. An example would be the movie Tombstone and then Wyatt Earp. Same story basically, same characters, two different studios. When the movie Capote came out, it was followed quickly by a movie called Infamous, which was the same story about author Truman Capote. Very recently, the movie Battleship came out at the box office and an oddly similar movie which at first had the title American Battleships appeared on the Syfy Channel. The producers of Battleship sued the producers of the other movie over the title so the second movies title was changed to American Warships. So call it what you will, copying, imitation or whatever, it existed 100 years ago and is still going strong today.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Devil Made Them Do It

The Devilish Connection

Magic has a long history of being associated with the devil and the dark arts. The book, Discoverie of Witchcraft written by Reginald Scott in 1584 came about specifically to show that what witches often did was bunk and what conjurers did was certainly not in a league with the devil. The book was written during the reign of King James 1. This is the very same King James that commissioned an edition of the Bible that still carries his name. He was aware and concerned about witchcraft and demons at one point in his life. He wrote a book on that very topic in 1597, but eventually came around to see that the claims of witches were often grounded more in folklore than in fact.

Let me be clear, though there is a history of association, there is no actual association with the devil. Magicians are not devil worshipers, nor do they conjure up demons in order to present their effects. A number of conjurers over the years have implied this link in order to make their effects more mysterious, but it just simply is not so.

Magicians and conjurers of the 1500-1700s were mostly street & outdoor faire performers. Their use of advertising would have been limited, due to the lack of technology mainly. Whatever early pamplets or fliers there might have been would have had only words and no graphics or very primitive graphics. But that changed in the 1800s and the use of playbills and posters would eventually be the primary source of advertising a magicians performance right up into the early 20th Century.

I'm not sure who the first magician was to use the devil/imp idea in their marketing & advertising, but it may have come out of the old Phantasmagoria Shows of the early 1800s. These were magic lantern shows, where images of angels, demons, devils, or simply recently departed people were projected onto a wall, or screen or thru smoke giving the illusion of movement. They were a popular form of entertainment in the their time. Magicians were often on the cutting edge of science & technology and so many of the people demonstrating the magic lanterns were from the magic trade.

By the 1840s, European magicians began using devil creatures in their advertising in limited amounts. The 1848 poster advertising Robert Houdin's performances at the St. James Theater in London even has a few imp creatures on the poster. Though I couldn't find anything like that on his French advertising material.

In America, Robert Heller made more blatant use of the demonic imagery. His early posters were primitive and usually in a single color, but towards the end of his career he began to use two color playbills and posters with the devils appearance becoming more prominent. At one point in his career he adopted the slogan "Go To HELLers!" and would have print up flyers with this headline and information about the show. Some of these flyers were specifically sent to local churches. The clergymen would attend the programs to see what was going on and often return to tell their congregations about the wonderful entertainment they had seen. I can't help but imagine this scheme had to backfire a time or two, but it was a bold ploy and it worked for Robert Heller.

At the same time Robert Heller was performing in the United States, John Henry Anderson too arrived with a show that was very similar, both men had copied Robert Houdin's act. John Henry Anderson, who went by the moniker The Great Wizard of the North, may have used demonic imagery at some point. But interestingly, I saw a poster of Anderson's that used the opposite approach, rather than have devils and demons, he had a poster with the border covered in angelic beings. In his Second Site poster an angelic being can be seen hovering behind the performers.

Magicians & Lithographs

The explosion of devilish advertisments took place when magicians moved from using simple printed playbills to elaborate full color lithographs. The lithographic process dates back to 1796 but the use of color in lithographs wouldn't begin until 1819 and even then wasn't quite perfected until the 1840s.

The two most prominent performers to use full color lithographs and devilish imagery were Alexander Herrmann and Harry Kellar. Which one of them used the devil images first is open to debate. My guess would be Herrmann, afterall he looked just like the Victorian eras depiction of Mephistopheles himself. The suave devil with small horns, mustache and goatee and a pitchfork is an invention from this time period. No such description of the devil exists in any biblical texts, so where the origin of this image actually comes from I've not been able to uncover.

Regardless of who first created this devilish depiction, both of these performers used the imagery heavily in their promotions. Alexander Herrmann died in 1896 and his nephew Leon Herrmann, who bore a striking resemblance to Alexander,  joined with Adelaide, Alexanders widow, to take over the show and the hellish pictures continued. After Adelaide and Leon split up their act, Adelaide used a devil at least once before moving to a more contemporary look.

Harry Kellar's first use of a devil on his posters was in 1884. Two devilish figures appear on a poster for his Spirit Cabinet, this can be seen on page 242 of Kellars Wonders by Mike Caveney and Bill Miesel. It wasn't until 1894 that Kellar really begins to commit to this design idea. His iconic poster (right) with the whispering imps is probably the most copied posters in the annals of magic.

When Howard Thurston purchased the Kellar show and became Kellar's successor he continued using the imps and the devils in his posters throughout his career. And not to be left out, Carter, Raymond, Dante and Blackstone all used devils in their posters. Even Houdini was not immune to the effects, though it looks as if he only used the devils once and that was in his poster promoting his Prison Cell & Barrel Mystery.

After the Golden Age of Magic the use of the devilish figures diminished though they have not vanished entirely. A few years ago, Ricky Jay used a version of the whispering imps poster to promote his Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants show. More recently, David Blaine has included the use of devils or what is really now iconic magic imagery in some of his posters.
If you're interested in ordering one of David Blaine's very cool posters, they are available at
Also, if you'd like to see a cool site with over 100 pictures of magic posters with imps and devils on them please check out this link to Rhett Bryson's site.

Blog comments are welcome and encouraged. Also, if I happen to get some fact wrong historically I do appreciate having someone set me straight on that. I try to get the best information possible, but even I can miss something. If you want to discuss a blog in detail, please email me at

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Houdini, Keaton, Thurston and more

(click on picture to see larger version)

Above is a theatrical page from 1907 edition of the Boston Journal. There are a number of interesting things to point out on this page full of ads. First, you'll notice that the Houdini ad is at the top of the page on the left. It's the first spot you'd see if you are reading left to right. His name is the largest in the ad and in fact, half the ad is devoted to his act, "HOUDINI - NOBODY CAN HOLD HIM" slightly below that it reads "ANYBODY CAN CHALLENGE HIM".

Look at the ad to the immediate right, for the National Theatre, and then go to the bottom of the ad and you'll see 'BOUDINI-NOBODY CAN HOLD HIM', followed by 'ALL CHALLENGES ACCEPTED'.  Houdini's imitators were right on his heels, even in the paper, but they never got the notoriety that he did! Over at the WildAboutHarry blog, you can find an article describing a challenge that took place between Houdini and Boudini in 1905. The outcome didn't seem to stop Boudini from performing because here he is two years later performing in the same town at the same time as Houdini.

The Three Keatons
If you go back to the first add for B.F. Keith's and look below the Houdini stuff, you'll see one of the acts on the bill THREE KEATONS Myra, Joe and Buster. This is young Buster Keaton's family. His real name was Joseph Frank Keaton. The story is that one day the young boy fell down some stairs and though he was ok, Houdini proclaimed 'he's a real buster' or 'that was a real buster'. The name 'buster' stuck, and his family referred to the boy as Buster the rest of his life. Even Buster Keaton himself told this very story on how he got his name. By the way, Houdini and Bess were also Busters Godparents.

One other interesting fact about Houdini and the Keatons. According to a number of sources, Houdini and Joe Keaton (father) owned The Mohwak Indian Medicine Company, a traveling medicine show in 1895. This seems to be well documented in the Buster Keaton biographies, but I've never seen it mentioned in the Houdini biographies, though they do mention the story of Houdini giving the boy the nickname. Their traveling medicine show must not have lasted very long.  In the Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini by Ruth Brandon, she mentions that in 1897, the Keatons and Houdinis worked together in Dr. Hill's California Concert Company, which was also a traveling medicine show. In HOUDINI!!! by Kenneth Silverman, he mentions that it was the California Concert Company where Houdini began to present a Spiritualistic Seance Act. The act ended in 1898 when the company disbanded, and not a second too soon for Houdini who did not like deceiving people with seances.

Howard Thurston
Finally, near the center of the page there is an ad for the GLOBE. In the ad is THURSTON-The World's Greatest Magician. Theo Bamberg is also listed as being in the show and doing his Shadowgraphy act (hand shadows).

This ad appears in the same year that Thurston met with Harry Kellar about becoming his successor and buying his show. No mention of Kellar in the ad, so this might have been just prior to that agreement. Kellar and Thurston toured together in the 1907-1908 season.

A lot of magic history on one newspaper theatre page!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Who Was Henry Ridgely Evans?

H. Ridgely Evans
Henry Ridgely Evans is a name I have come across many times over the years. I never knew who he was really, but I always recognized the name. While doing research on another magician earlier in the year I discovered that Evans lived and worked in Washington D.C.. Because this is essentially the area where I live, I decided to see what else I could find out about him.

H. Ridgely Evans was born in Pennsylvania in 1861.  Though born in Penn. it seems he was raised in Georgetown and Washington D.C.. He came from a large family of six other siblings.

In 1878, according to Evans himself, he attended a performance at the Old National Theatre presented by Robert Heller. This performance so captivated the young man that he instantly became enthralled with magic. Or as we say in the profession, 'he was bitten by the bug'. A few months later in March of 1879, Evans sat in the audience at Ford's Theatre for the first appearance of Harry Kellar in the Nation's Capital.

H. Ridgely Evans eventually went to school intending to become a lawyer, but at some point changed professions and became a journalist. His ability to write and record the news was certainly a benefit to us in the magic profession. Evans became  one of our early magic historians before that kind of thing became popular. He was a prolific writer of both books on magic and magazine articles. His most famous book is probably 'The Old and the New Magic' which was published in 1906. But he also wrote none magic books. I've discovered there is a much sought after book called 'Old Georgetown On The Potomac' that he wrote in 1933. There is a copy available right now on for $1,245.00.

In 1892, he married a woman named Florence. They had no children and lived at 1430 V St. NW. This was in 1900. Later in 1930, he and Florence were again living in DC and this time in an apartment building on Eye St. NW. I can find no record of Henry living in Baltimore, at least prior to 1930, though some sources claim he worked for a number of Baltimore Newspapers.

When Harry Kellar was touring with Paul Valendon, it was H. Ridgely Evans who wrote an article for Stanyon's MAGIC that said his prediction for the successor to Kellar would be THURSTON! Imagine that. Valendon was still touring with Kellar and here Evans throws his vote towards Thurston, who as far as we know wasn't even in the running. History proved Evans correct as Thurston indeed was the successor.

Houdini had an interesting connection to Evans. In the Christopher biography 'Houdini-The Untold Story' it describes an incident where Houdini slams Evans in The Conjurers Monthly Magazine for his new book 'The Old and the New Magic'. Apparently, Evans reprinted a description or expose on how the handcuff escape was done and it more than irked Houdini. But on page 210, of the HOUDINI!!! biography by Kenneth Silverman, he describes Houdini as having compiled a history of magic that he called "History Makers in the World of Magic" and gave it to Evans who was writing a similar book. I suppose this was to be a combined project as Houdini remained involved in the editing part of the book. This event would have taken place around 1916-1917. I don't honestly know if it was published.
The next magic history book that Evans published was 'The History of Conjuring and Magic' which he published in 1928. The book does not include Houdini's name as a co-author. A side note, David Price who wrote 'MAGIC-A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theatre' refers often to Evans's writings.

It appears that Evans remained a hobbyist performer but was clearly a professional magic historian. I'm not clear on the cause of death. Magicpedia says that H. Ridgely Evans died at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore on March 29th, 1949. I discovered that he was buried in Washington D.C. at the Oakhill Cemetery recently so tomorrow I'll be heading over to the cemetery to take some photos. Once I get the grave picture I'll post it over at my

One additional note, Todd Karr's Miracle Factory has put out a CD containing all the writings of Henry Ridgely Evans. That can be purchased at

Thursday, September 1, 2011

UPDATE on HOUDINI Funeral Films

I ran an article about the funeral films of Harry Kellar and The Great Lafayette that Houdini had commissioned. I speculated that maybe just maybe they might still be around though they were certainly lost at the moment. John Cox was the first to chime in with a very smart comment regarding the explosive nature of the film material and how doubtful it would be that they'd still be around. This was followed by another excellent comment by Gregory Edmonds backing up John's thoughts and adding quite a bit more historical information to the mix.

Well, thanks to John Cox and also Joe Fox (hey Joe!) a photo of an article from the MUM Magazine October 1958 has appeared! It's the smoking gun that reveals that at least in 1958, the footage still existed and was in the possession of Larry Weeks. Mr. Weeks was attempting to get all the footage transferred over to a safer and longer lasting medium. Among the film footage that Larry Weeks had was 'the original Grim Game Movie, the Monastery Escape that Houdini did in France; the original films of his historic flight in Australia in 1910; his hanging straight jacket escape filmed in many cities; his Overboard Box Escape; Lafayette's Funeral; Houdini's own funeral; and others!

So it seems that luck and good fortune may be on the side of history here. It's still kind of an unknown as to whether Larry Weeks got all this footage transferred. We know he did get the Grim Game transferred over. So lets hope that the Keller and Lafayette funerals are still preserved for history and that we might see them someday, soon.

UPDATE: Here is something else I just ran across. While researching the life of Anna Eva Fay I stumbled upon something shocking. To preface, I've recently put up a couple articles about the lost films of Houdini, mainly his funeral films of Lafayette and Harry Kellar. Well, imagine my surprise to learn when Houdini went to visit Anna Eva Fay in her home in Mass., he brought along a movie camera to record the event. So here is yet another lost film. Maybe, just maybe it's among the Larry Weeks Collection as well.

UPDATE UPDATE: Yes, there is another film that I don't think has ever been seen. Reports say he was tied to the tower of the Heidelberg Building in Times Square. The New York Times says that after the escape he tossed the rope down to the crowd. However, other reports say he was placed in a straight jacket and hung upside down over the edge of the Heidelberg Building. He was going to repeat one of these stunts from the fire escape of Hammersteins Victoria, but the police intervened. Does this film still exist today? 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Houdini and the Funeral Films

Sometime ago I was reading one of the Houdini Biographies and something jumped off the page at me. Houdini had made arrangements to have the Funeral of Harry Kellar FILMED. Then a while later I discovered that Houdini also had his friend Sigmund Neuberger's (The Great Lafayette) funeral filmed as well.

I had never heard or read that before and I wondered what happened to the footage. To that end, I have no answer. But I did uncover proof that not only were the funerals filmed but Houdini had the footage in his possession. In the May 1923 edition of The Sphinx Magazine, it records a visit by Houdini to the Los Angeles Society of Magicians. During his visit he put on a 'special entertainment' for the club by showing the films of the funerals of Harry Kellar and Lafayette. Also in 1923, Houdini showed the film of Harry Kellar's Funeral to the Parent Assembly in NY.

If my memory is correct, Theo Hardeen offered Sid Radner a rather large box of films but he was unable to take them. Could the funeral films have been in this box? Maybe, or maybe not...

GET THIS, On July 25th, 1935 the film resurfaced and was shown at the PCAM Convention in Hollywood! So I believe this film was NOT part of the box of films that Theo offered Sid Radner and in fact may still be somewhere in California! Bess Houdini lived in California in the 1930s, so perhaps the film footage was in her possession. The big question is, where is it now? I checked the listings at the SAM DVD Library and it does not show up there. Any ideas?

ON a slightly different note, I was watching the History Channel recently and they were discussing Thomas Edison and his inventions. They did a demonstration of one of his early wax recording devices. I was quite surprised to hear that the recorded voice was 'higher' in tone than the actual mans voice when he recorded it. I instantly thought of Houdini's wax recording and how it always struck me as somewhat odd that Houdini had such a high pitched voice. But I think it's safe to say that his voice may have been slightly lower than what was recorded. Those early recording devices though amazing were not perfect by any means. However, a high pitched Houdini recording is certainly better than NO recording.