Showing posts with label Henry Ridgely Evans. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Henry Ridgely Evans. Show all posts

Monday, October 15, 2018

Pictures for Episode 3 of The Magic Detective Podcast

Henry Ridgely Evans Grave
Episode 3 is up and already has gotten a lot of downloads. In the episode I mention two graves that I visited, one belonging to Margery the Medium, and the other to magic author Henry Ridgely Evans. Below is an image of Margery's grave, above is the Evan's grave. If you click the links it will take you to my blog that lists the actual locations of the graves.
Margery the Medium's Grave
I also talk about my old buddy Steve Baker who was known as Mr. Escape, here is a picture of Steve. If you'd like to read more about Steve you can visit his website at

On the HOUDINI RADIO segment, I shared a piece about Queen Victoria's Dress and how Houdini obtained it. And where it is today. Below is an image of Houdini's mother wearing Queen Victoria's
If you'd like to listen to the podcast on iTunes you can use this link, or if you have an iPhone, go to the podcast app on your phone and type in Magic Detective Podcast and it should come up.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The GREAT Henry Ridgely Evans

I should probably have referred to him as the PROLIFIC Henry Ridgely Evans but it's sort of a play on words as you will see.  While going through a wonderful book on history by Ken Klosterman titled, Of Legierdemaine and Diverse Juggling Knacks*, I came across an interesting article titled, 'How I Became Interested In The Magic Art' by Dr. Henry Ridgely Evans.

It seems that a young Henry Evans was fascinated with the book The Arabian Nights as a child. The article even goes on to say that he slept with the book under his pillow.  Years later he came upon an article about Robert-Houdin in an issue of Harper's Magazine. And then in 1877, Professor Hoffmann put out his book MODERN MAGIC, and this took Henry Evans over the edge! He devoured the book and it's material. He soon found a copy of Houdin's biography that he also read through and through.

Drive way up to Dumbarton Oaks
While attending Columbian College in Washington D.C. one of his school mates encouraged him to put on a show and even offered his home as the venue for such a performance. His friend was Edward Linthicum Dent, and the home was called, The Oaks. Today it is known as Dumbarton Oaks and is a Research Library and Collection institute administered by the Trustees of Harvard University. But in the late 1800s it was a private residence and quite an impressive mansion. In fact, it still as!

According to the article, 200 school children from the area came to see the show put on by the amateur conjurer Henry Ridgely Evans. As is often the case for a new performer, poor Evans got cold feet. In fact, he got more than cold feet, his feet wouldn't even move. He was paralyzed with fear! The kids in the audience got wind of his condition and like wild animals that could smell blood, they were ready to pounce!!! But, Evans somehow gained his composure and presented a fairly decent show, with one exception. His 'Card Star' accidentally released early and cards shot everywhere, when they were not supposed to. It brought about the end of the show, and likely the end of Henry Ridgely Evan's career as a performing magician. Fortunately for us, his fascination with magic remained and he became a very prolific writer on the topic.

Dr. Henry Ridgely Evans would go on to become a valued writer of magic history. He wrote, Magic & It's Professors (1902), The Old and the New Magic(1906), Adventures In Magic (1927), History of Conjuring and Magic (1928), A Master of Modern Magic: The Life and Adventures of Robert-Houdin (1932), Some Rare Old Books on Conjuring and Magic (1943)  I just obtained a copy of The Old and the New Magic and am anxious to delve into it's pages.

I wrote about him previously and you can check out that article here
Evans died died at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore on March 29th, 1949. He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington DC. Below is an image of his grave. Incidentally, Dumbarton Oaks, that I mentioned above is right next to the cemetery! I'm sure had I done more research I might have found the home he lived in while he lived in town, but frankly, the weather was making any sort of further adventures difficult. It took an hour just to find the grave because the areas are not marked, at least not that we could find. But  eventually we did find it and I paid my respects. 

*To be clear, Ken compiled the material in this book, but the material was written by John Braun.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Magic of HELLER Pt 3, Second Sight

One of the features of Robert Heller's act was his presentation of Second Sight. He claimed to have invented the illusion, though that is not exactly correct. Robert-Houdin had been performing it long before Heller, in fact the first time Robert Heller had seen it was when Houdin came to London to perform. And Chevalier Pinnetti was performing Second Sight long before Robert-Houdin. So Heller's claim to have invented the effect was more bragging for promotional purposes than truth. The above poster shows Heller performing Second Sight with his assistant, the image is in the top center section of the poster.

Robert Heller did contribute to the act in a significant way however. His assistant Haidee Heller, sat upon a sofa while Heller held up hidden objects and Haidee correctly divined what they were. Most of the performers of the time who presented this type of act used a similar method. Newspapers often printed exposures claiming an elaborate code words were used. But it was when there was no dialog that audiences and magicians alike were dumbfounded. Even though, they did not speak a word, still Haidee Heller knew the answers to various questions or revealed hidden objects and so forth.

The method that Heller used in the 1800s was the piece of furniture that his assistant was sitting on!  The sofa was filled with wires and a battery which ran off the stage to a hidden assistant. A secret assistant in the audience, had a electric button underneath his seat and could tap the button using a type of code to signal the person on the couch. It was diabolical for the time and is yet another example of how magicians often used the latest advances in science to create their illusions.

The reason we even know about this Sofa is because of Henry Ridgely Evans the author of The Old And The New Magic. He wrote about visiting Francis Martinka at his home in NYC and while waiting on Mr. Martinka sat upon this odd piece of furniture. Martinka revealed to him it was Heller's Magic Sofa which he acquired after Heller's death.

I should note here that Heller had originally requested his props and paraphernalia be destroyed upon his death, but upon his deathbed he changed his mind and requested they be sent to Hartz the Magic Dealer to be sold. There is some debate though on what happened following his death. The props were apparently held by creditors in a warehouse. They obviously made it out of that warehouse somehow, whether they were sold off privately or sent to Hartz Magic Shop I don't know. Francis Martinka wound up with several of Heller's props, but this is the only one I know of specifically. I wish I knew what the others were.

Martinka later sold this sofa to a budding young mentalist by the name of Joseph Dunninger. I can't help but wonder where it is today. I will say this, if you know, contact me because I'd like to purchase this piece of furniture. It may still be in the possession of the Dunninger family or it may have been sold off. I don't know but I'd like to find out where it is and again, I'm interested in acquiring it. If nothing else, I'd love to have a color photo of this wonderful piece of magic history.

UPDATE: I just read in Houdini's book "The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin" that he believes Heller's sofa was copied after Robert-Houdin's. But I don't think the Houdin sofa is still around today and I'm not sure if Houdin left details as to the methods he used for his Second Sight routine. If it is true, then the Heller Sofa was built in England originally.

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