Showing posts with label Howard Thurston. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Howard Thurston. Show all posts

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Magic Detective Podcast Ep10 Notes on Harry Kellar in Retirement

Most people kind of fade out of the limelight when they retire. But this was not the case for Harry Kellar. Sure, he didn't spend all of his time on the road going from theatre to theatre but he still traveled a fair amount. He also visited his old friends quite a bit. And he kept up with magic.

Kellar retired in 1908 when he handed his Mantle of Magic over to Howard Thurston. But Thurston got a lot more than the Mantle. He also received Kellar's Manager, Keller's Touring Routes, Kellar's two chief assistants Frizt and Carl Bucha, as well as all the props and paraphernalia that went with the Kellar show. And to the surprise of many, Thurston only kept two of Kellar's illusions, the rest he sold.

The first thing he did after he retired was take a very long vacation in Atlantic City. Above is a photo of Kellar and Houdini in Atlantic City. According to the Ken Silverman bio on Houdini, this is where their friendship really began to take off. Over time they developed a father/son type of relationship and it's proven in the various letters they shared back and forth.

I mentioned on the podcast about a photo I had of an improved Kellar prop. His name was cast into the iron, and below is a photo of that prop. I'm only showing the part that has Kellar's name due to secrecy issues. The piece is now owned by David Haversat.

Here is a video of Kellar and Houdini. I'm not sure of the location, but I did learn that Houdini had some film footage taken of Kellar and himself while he was in Los Angeles, so that is possibly where this was taken.

One quick minor correction to the podcast also has to do with Kellar giving Psycho to Houdini in 1919. He didn't ship it to Houdini but rather gave it to him while Houdini was in California making movies. 

Finally, I wanted to give you the link to an article I wrote a few years back called 'Kellar's Last Mystery'.

I used the book, Kellar's Wonders by Mike Caveney and Bill Miesel, The Sphinx Magazine, Ken Silverman's Bio on Houdini, and several other sources during my research for the entire three part series on Harry Kellar. I also used, to research newspaper articles on Harry Kellar.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Happy Birthday Howard Thurston!

On July 20th, 1869, just a few years after the end of the US Civil War, Howard Thurston was born. He was born in Columbus Ohio, and is also buried in Columbus, at the Greenlawn Abbey.

Howard Thurston was certainly one of the greatest magicians of his era. He created an enormous traveling illusion show. He purchased Harry Kellar's Show and toured the country with Kellar for a year. Then on May 16, 1908 in Baltimore MD at the Ford's Theater, Kellar passed his Mantle of Magic on to Howard Thurston.

Howard Thurston died of Pneumonia on April 13, 1936. There is a FANTASTIC book on the life of Thurston by Jim Steinmeyer called The Last Greatest Magician In The World. I would encourage anyone interested in magic history or theatre history to check out this great book.

Thurston's Final Resting Place-GreenLawn Abbey

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Blackstone Auction by Potter and Potter

photo used with permission

On Oct 28, 2017, Potter and Potter will have another auction, this time The Blackstone Auction. The bulk of this auction comes from Dan Waldron's collection. And I should add, what a collection it is! Looking over the catalog, there are things here I didn't know still existed. I remember, the Blackstone Jr. Auction from a few years ago. There were a few Harry Sr. items in that auction. But this auction is mostly Harry Sr. with only a few things from Harry Jr. and then a whole lot of other historical  magic items as well.

Some of the highlights for me are the costumes. Wow! The Harry Blackstone Sr. tuxedo is remarkable because it looks JUST LIKE Harry Sr! You could make no mistake of who owned and wore this tuxedo. Much like Harry Jr who had very signature looking tuxedo jackets, this one has a particular cut to it that just screams BLACKSTONE!

There are many costumes from the female assistants too and they are incredible. One small let down, there are none of Adele Friel Rhindress's costumes. She was the Elusive Moth in the Blackstone show. But still the fact that these other costumes survive is amazing.

There are also two male tuxedo jackets that belongs to the male assistants. These come with a photograph with Harry and two gentlmen wearing the very same jackets. These would look amazing in a museum display recreating the image in the photograph!

My favorite costume here other than the Blackstone tux is the Lantern Jacket, worn during the Lantern Trick. This also comes with a photo of the costume as it appeared in the show.

I've got to admit, I'm also quite enamored with the artwork contained in the auction. There are a
number of really wonderful drawings and paintings. The standout painting I think would be the one which is featured on the cover of the auction catalog, by artist Salvatore Salla. Mr. Salla had a number of magic related paintings over the years and this one is wonderful.

I also really like the painting that former assistant and famous in his own right, George Johnstone painted (see image right). There are also two paintings by one of Blackstone's former wives, Inez Blackstone which are really amazing. I think those would have an even more collectable appeal because one depicts Blackstone and was painted by his wife!

Another one of the true gems of the auction are the Blackstone Scrapbooks. There is one that is listed as 'Pre-Frederick and Pre-Blackstone'. WOW! This was when Harry was still Harry Bouton, and performing with his brother in the act known as Straight & Crooked Magic. There are other scrapbooks as well, some from the 20s, some from the 40s, some from Blackstone assistants. Countless unpublished photos within.

You'll find photos, posters, personal belongings, props, like Blackstone Sr's birdcage and much much more. Then you'll also find a few items from Harry Jr., like Harry Jr's birdcage, a signed handkerchief,  and even a special Casadega Cabinet built by Bill Smith. There are 6 pages of Blackstone Jr. items.

Then we come to the section on apparatus. There are many great pieces, but hidden among them is a Houdini item. A pair of Houdini's Lily Irons, known as King Breakers. I'm going to have an article about 'King Breakers' on the blog in October, so I'm not going to say a lot about them, other than you should check them out.

For the Houdini fan, you'll find a few Houdini items in the books section. But when you get to the Ephemera section, you'll see a photo of Harry, that I sure don't recall, though maybe it is familiar to other folks. This photo is inscribed to Professor Hoffmann, of Modern Magic, Later Magic and More Magic fame.  There are a number of Houdini items including letters, other photos and something that solves a mystery that I had been working on. Again, there will be something on that next month. (Yes, expect a lot from me in October)

Also, of note in the Ephemera section are three works of art by Okito, called Marquetry panels which are inlaid wood used to create a picture. They are incredible.

Just when you think you've gotten to the end of the catalog, there is one more section, the final one is the Poster section. There are eleven pages of vintage magic posters. Some of the highlights here include Carter-Sawing in Half, Thurston Million Dollar Mystery, and Thurston Whippet, and a Chung Ling Soo/Suee Seen poster among many others.

All in all, another impressive catalog and will no doubt be another exciting auction by Potter and Potter. The auction takes place October 28th, 2017. Please visit their site for more information and to order the catalog or download it.

All the photos above come from the Blackstone Auction Catalog and are used with permission of Potter and Potter Auctions.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Otto Maurer And His Magic Shop

Who was Otto Maurer? I think I first heard the name in connection to the sleight known as the Back Palm. Later, I came upon the name Otto Maurer again, while researching the Coin Casket, or what Maurer called, "The Miraculous Golden Box." But who was this guy Otto Maurer?

He was born Otto Maurer in Gemeisheim Germany on October 28th 1846. He immigrated with his family to America at the age of 5 according to The Perennial Mystics by James Hagy.  MagicPedia says that Maurer was a graduate of a German University and came from Berlin. This information may come from an unidentified clipping in one of Houdini's scrapbooks. I have not yet been able to track down the most accurate information.

In 1872, Otto Maurer opened his magic shop on No 321 Bowery in NY. I believe it was simply a tinsmith shop at first, but because so many magicians came to him asking to have their props repaired, he shifted to a magic shop. In his catalog he makes claims to being a performer as well as builder and even offered lessons in magic. But T. Nelson Downs in a 1924 letter said that Maurer was definitely NOT a sleight of hand performer. That doesn't mean he wasn't a magician, he could have simply used apparatus magic. And speaking of T Nelson Downs, there is a great story that is related in numerous sources about Downs first visit to New York City. Downs stopped into Otto Maurer's shop and told him that he was in town performing, not only that,  he was making $100 a week. Maurer said to Downs, "No magician has ever been paid that kind of money, GET OUT of my shop!" At least one source claims the amount was $150.

Though he issued a catalog with an illustration of a grand storefront on the cover, the Otto Maurer Magic Shop was not a storefront at all, but rather it was a basement location where he built most everything.

An interesting story from W.W. Durbin which appeared in the Dec 1935 edition of The Linking Ring, tells how he (Durbin) ordered a number of things from Maurer and some of it arrived, some of it didn't, some took a while before they arrived. In addition, some of the items were clearly salvaged from (non magic) store bought purchases and then welded or attached in various ways and then gimmicked to produce the desired magic effect. From the description that Durbin gives, it sounds as if Maurer had his own methods on some items as well. And indeed, Otto Maurer did claim to use the very latest methods for his apparatus. For example, the Vanishing Birdcage that Maurer sold was unlike the DeKolta cage that was all the rage at the time. Instead it used a rather unconventional method and a very solid cage.

Otto Maurer covered the issue of potential delayed props on the first page of his catalog. Here is how it reads,  "It being almost impossible to keep a full supply of everything on hand, some articles selling more rapidly than others, all orders cannot be filled from stock. All goods not on hand must necessarily be manufactured after the order has been received, and consequently such orders require time to fill..." It goes on, but the point is, Maurer was letting potential customers know ahead of time, there might be a delay in ordering if it was an item that needed to be built.

In his book, Adventures in Magic, Henry Ridgely Evans shares the story of how when he was 19 years old me went from Baltimore to NY to find Otto Maurer's Magic Emporium. Despite much searching, he could find no store front, no palace of mystery. Finally, he asked someone who guided him to a set of stairs on the side of a building. Henry Ridgely Evans said, "Imagine my astonishment at finding the Aladdin's palace of enchantment in the cellar of a grimy old tumble-down house. My gorgeous dream was dispelled. His magnificent magical salon was a myth, but his heart was in the right place."

In another issue of the Linking Ring, W.W. Durbin describes what the inside of the shop looked like,
and it was not unlike near every magic shop I've ever seen. Photos adorned one wall. There were display cases with various types of apparatus that took up other areas. Sounds pretty standard magic shop with the exception of it's basement entrance. Despite the apparent lack of a fancy establishment, this did not deter magicians of all kinds from frequenting his shop. And clearly, it had a good reputation because folks like Trewy, T. Nelson Downs, Herrmann, Thurston and Houdini all visited the shop and purchased from the shop.

Otto Maurer's big claim to fame seems to be his learning the back palm from a Mexican gambler. This sleight he later showed to Houdini, Thurston and a host of others who used the underground technique to it's fullest. From what I can gather, Dr. James Elliott also learned the sleight from Maurer, and then developed the more impressive Front and Back Palm version. Though others would make claim to that as well. T. Nelson Downs attributes the effect to Elliott.

In 1890 he changed the name of the shop to The Columbia Magic Trick Manufacturing Company.

In 1899 Otto Maurer began to develop health problems. This issues soon made a turn for the worse when he was diagnosed with Cancer. All the money he had saved from his magic shop went into medical bills. He died nearly penniless at the age of 53 at Metropolitan Hospital in NYC on May 15th, 1900. He was survived by a wife, son and a daughter.

Due to his financial situation, he was buried in an unmarked grave in the public area of The Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery in Queens NY. Magic historian Tom Klem started a campaign last August (2016) to raise money for a gravestone for Otto Maurer. The money was successfully raised and a stone has been placed in the cemetery for magic dealer and magician, Otto Maurer.

For a time his son, Otto Jr. took over the shop and moved it's location. But a few years later sold it to Frank Ducrot. And Ducrot also purchased Hornmann's shop, as well as quite a few other magic shops. Otto Maurer Jr. eventually took a job in the music department at a department store.

Images provided by Tom Klem and posted with his permission. A BIG THANK YOU to Tom Klem for working so hard on the project to get a gravestone for Otto Maurer!!!

Monday, December 15, 2014

A True Forgotten Illusion

Back in 1998, I purchased an unusual little booklet called Chung Ling Soo's Mechanists -They
Stayed Behind, by Brian McCullagh and Dr. J. Ernest Aldred. It's only 38 pages long and has some interesting photos and information within. The booklet is about two 'mechanists' from the Soo show, Phil Davies and Ernest Aldred, who stayed in Australia after Chung and the rest of the company moved on.

Within the 38 pages is a page on an illusion called The Lantern Illusion. This was created by Soo in 1907 and was also known as the Glass Casket, and also known as The Slave of the Lamp. I still remember reading about this illusion back in 1998, it had left a large impression on me. The illusion seemed incredible. A large 'lantern' made of glass was brought on stage and was proven to be empty. Then a cable was connected to the top and it was lifted off the stage. It was then spun and as it spun in circles the light would catch it and it made an incredible sight to see. Then, suddenly the figure of a woman appears inside the lantern as the cage is spinning. Except, the woman faces forward and does not spin, only the lantern surrounding her spins. Sounds pretty amazing and I sure don't recall seeing anything like this in any show of modern times.

So that brings me to the illustration here of Thurston presenting 'The Whirling Crystal Cage and Mysterious Production'. I had come across this on the internet maybe a year ago and the moment I saw it I remembered the Chung Ling Soo booklet. This must be the spinning lantern trick I had read about years before. Much like a LOT of magic back then, more than one performer was presenting it, sometimes legally, sometimes not. There were two copies made in Australia by Phil Davies. Thurston had a copy, which I assume he got permission to build from Soo. Though, Harry Kellar was known to steal everything, Thurston, as far as I can tell, got permission.

There is one Soo Poster that depicts the illusion. It can be seen in the Gary Frank book Chung Ling Soo the Man Behind the Legend. AND it can be seen in the Todd Karr book, The Silence of Chung Ling Soo, it's poster #36 near the front of the book and there it is called 'The Spinning Cage'.

In the Silence of Chung Ling Soo, Jim Steinmeyer has a short chapter on the illusion. It appears on pages 16-20. Jim describes the method used for the illusion, which I must say is quite elaborate. And he mentions that the illusion must have weighed upwards of 750 lbs. If you add the weight of the assistant, you've got 850lbs. That wouldn't be such a big deal except this big behomoth is spinning in the air!

I so want to see this thing in action!!! But, I don't think that is ever going to happen. It must have been a thing of true beauty. In fact, Percy Abbott, in his biography, A Lifetime of Magic, says this about the illusion, "This was a beautiful and spectacular effect. I can safely say one of the most beautiful I have ever witnessed and, believe me, to make that statement after viewing magic for more than sixty years, is unusual."

Does anyone know if any of the 5 Spinning Cage/Lantern Illusions exist anymore?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Remembering The Passing of the Mantle of Magic

Today marks the 106th Anniversary of the Passing of the Mantle of Magic from Harry Kellar to Howard Thurston at the Fords Theatre in Baltimore MD. May 16, 1908 in Howard Thurston's own words,
"Before the final curtain had fallen Kellar led me to the foot- lights and in a most touching speech briefly mentioned his own career of forty-five years as a public entertainer, and finished with a generous and affectionate prediction of my future. Kellar had played Ford's Opera House for many years. He handed his arm around my shoulders, while the orchestra played 'Auld Lang Syne'. As the ushers carried many floral offerings to the stage, the audience sang with the music. Finally, the musicians stood, then the entire audience was on its feet repeating the refrain. Leaning heavily on my shoulder as the curtain dropped for the last time, Kellar cried—so did I."
What was the Mantle of Magic? Essentially, it was nothing more than a business transaction between Kellar and Thurston. But that is too boring, so they put a theatrical spin to the whole affair and created this idea of passing Kellar's Mantle onto Thurston. For the 1907-08 Season, Kellar and Thurston toured the U.S. together.  All of the posters for the tour featured an image of Kellar's face in the upper corner and Thurston's face in the opposite corner. The final poster above, was the only one with a full sized image of both Thurston and Kellar, that I'm aware of.
I'm not sure how long Thurston continued using the Kellar endorsement after that iconic event. But it's clear he did continue to use "Kellar's Successor" for some time. 
Library of Congress Image
Today, all parties associated with the event are long gone. Thurston and Kellar have low since passed away. Even the Ford's Theatre in Baltimore is gone. But we have the posters, playbills and history to look back upon and fondly remember an important event in the annals of magic.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Golden Age of Magic - In Bronze

I have posted many statues, sculptures, carvings, figurines and busts of magicians. But now it's time for the finest renditions of them all. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you 'The Masters of Magic's Golden Age!

This series of museum quality, limited edition bronze busts are the creation of Mike and Mary Elizalde. This whole project came about because Mike wanted some museum quality busts for his own magic collection. Mike funded the entire project and they were produced through Spectral Motion, the company that he and his wife own and operate. Spectral Motion is among the world's leading creature and makeup effects studios with over 50 films to its credit. Headed up by Academy Award Nominee Mike Elizalde and his wife Mary, Spectral Motion is known for its astounding cinematic effects and an unblemished record of reliability, believability and superb quality. Let's take a closer look at these incredible bronze busts. I'll post them in historical order. 

Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin (b.Dec 7,1805 d. June 13, 1871) Known to all of us as the Father of Modern Magic. He was the great French Conjurer who we still revere today. Inventor of many incredible automaton like Antonio Diavolo and the Fantastic Blooming Orange Bush.  Also, creator of incredible magic like the Ethereal Suspension, which in updated forms is still presented today. 

Another of his iconic creations was the Light & Heavy Chest, which was used not only to amaze and impress but also to stop a tribal uprising in French Algeria.  

A full size statue of Robert Houdin resides in front of the Maison de la Magie in Blois France.

Alexander Herrmann (b. Feb 10,1844 d. Dec 17, 1896)
The GREAT Herrmann is considered by many to be the first in the line of the famed Mantle of Magic. He was also a Frenchman, like Houdin, but made his fame here in America. Originally, he worked with his brother Compars, until he went out on his own. Compars Herrmann was equally as famous in Europe as his younger brother was in America. The Herrmann's had a Mephistopholean appearance that added to their mystery and intrigue.

Though he had a very mysterious appearance, his magic and performance was filled with comedy. He was also known to do magic off-stage in public places. Perhaps we should credit Alexander Herrmann with being the creator of 'Street Magic'!

Herrmann died suddenly on a train in 1896. His wife Adelaide took over the show and was joined by her nephew Leon, who also bore a striking resemblance to Alexander.

Harry Kellar (b. July 11, 1849 d. March 10,1922) Here we have the Dean of Magicians. So called, because he was the first 'Dean' of the Society of American Magicians. Harry Kellar was the first nationally famous American born magician. The second in line for the Mantle of Magic, though technically, it really started with him, though some do put Herrmann first.

Kellar began his career as an apprentice to the Fakir of Ava. He went out on his own for a short time and eventually went to work for the Davenport Brothers. When he had a falling out with one of the brothers, he left them and took another employee, William Fay, with him. They toured North and South America and were heading to Europe when a ship wreck ended their tour.

Kellar found his way back to the U.S. and rebuilt his show and went on to  have a flourishing career. He and Herrmann, though not friends, shared a secret that I will reveal a bit later in this article.

HOUDINI (b March 24,1874 d. Oct 31, 1926) The most famous magician in the world, who wanted to be known as an 'escape artist' for much of his life, and then as an actor, producer and later as an author and scientific investigator. Eventually, he would return to magic in a grand way with his Three In One Show of Magic, Escapes and Spiritualist Exposures. Houdini is likely responsible for inspiring more people into magic than anyone alive. I know my own push into magic came from discovering Houdini. 

The creation of the Magic Detective Blog, really has a lot to do with Houdini. There are 172 articles on the blog that are either about or that refer to Harry. The next closest is Harry Kellar with 32. He is an icon, a legend and the bust of Houdini created by Spectral Motion captures Houdini in all his splendor. He looks confident, proud and defiant. It's a fantastic image of the Master Mystifier.

Howard Thurston (b. July 20, 1869 d. April 13, 1936) 
If we talk of the Mantle of Magic, Howard received the Mantle of Magic from Harry Kellar in a ceremony at Ford's Theatre in Baltimore on May 16th, 1908. In all truth, it had more to do with Kellar selling his show to Thurston, but it sure made a great publicity campaign and a tradition that has continued up until present time.

I always thought Thurston was a great performer. But I never quite knew the whole story until Jim Steinmeyer published an incredible biography on Thurston called, The Last Greatest Magician In The World. It is a must read for anyone interested in magic or magic history.

Thurston had been making plans to pass the Mantle of Magic onto one of his associates, Harry Jansen, known professionally as Dante. There was never an official ceremony however because Thurston died suddenly.

Chung Ling Soo (b. April 2, 1861 d. March 23, 1918) 
I must admit when I first looked over the list
of people who were selected for bronzes, the one odd one was Chung Ling Soo, at least to me. He was born William Ellsworth Robinson and in all truth, his inclusion in this list is well deserved. Robinson worked for Alexander Herrmann. Later, he worked for Harry Kellar. Robinson was the 'secret' that I referred to earlier. He worked for the rival magicians before his own rise to fame. He was known as the most knowledgeable man in magic during his time. He played an important part in the success of both. 

Robinson also has a connection to Thurston. He allowed Thurston to show Leon Herrmann his version of the Rising Cards, and when it amazed Herrmann, Thurston publicized himself as 'The Man Who Fooled Herrmann'. The meeting would never have happened without Robinson however.

When Robinson went out on his own, he failed miserably. It wasn't until he came up with the idea of doing an Chinese after seeing Ching Ling Foo, that things really took off for him. So convincing was he in his performance that the public was unaware that Soo was really an American. They truly bought into the idea that he was Chinese. He even used an interpreter when he gave interviews. He is the only real life magician who gets a spot in the movie 'The Prestige'. He also had one of the most tragic deaths in the history of magic having been killed while performing the dangerous Bullet Catching Feat.

All of these busts are a little over 12 inches tall. They are made of bronze and are available for purchase. They were produced in limited quantities of 40, so there isn't a huge supply, but there are some that remain. They are all on display at the Magic Castle if you are interested in seeing them in person. If you want to purchase one of these wonderful works of art, realize you are not buying a mass produced bust from Target or Walmart. These are museum quality and exceptional pieces. If you are interested in purchasing one, and I really encourage you to consider this investment because once they are gone, they will be gone for good. Below is the flyer which has all the information for purchasing. You can reach them at (818)956-6080 or by email at

Special thanks for Mike and Mary Elizalde for providing all the wonderful photographs and for your great contribution to magic.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Robert Houdin Mystery Clock for Sale

I just saw on eBay a Robert Houdini Mystery Clock. I've actually seen several of them in real life, but I can't recall ever seeing one up for sale. It has a price tag of $30,000 which is pocket change to my most of my readers (ok, maybe not most).

The link to the item is

It's being sold by MAGICINVESTMENTS which is Mario Carrandi's ebay store. By the way, he also has a beautiful three sheet Thurston poster for sale

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.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

George-Supreme Master of Magic

I received an email the other day from a reader who made the suggestion that I cover GEORGE-The Supreme Master of Magic in a future column. As I have never mentioned George in the past I thought it was a wonderful idea. The very first vintage magic poster I ever purchased was a George so I have an interest in finding out more. There is not a lot written about George in magic literature, but I was able to dig up a few things. Here is what I discovered...


Grover G. George was born in Zanesville Ohio on August 18 1887. His parents were Arthur Alexander and Margaret Elizabeth George. He had one younger brother Emerson, and two younger sisters Flossie and Mary. His father was an Attorney for the firm George & Leasure. His interest in magic began at a young age and when he was 10 years old he presented his first magic show at the Old South Zanesville School in his home town.

His career started slowly, like many performers of the time. He learned his craft by doing a lot of shows in small towns. Along the way, Grover married Ruth Cornell and in 1910 they had their first child together, Mildred. He continued to work small time venues and then in the 1920s he started to expand his business. He wanted to take his show to the bigger theatres.  In 1922 he purchased the equipment and rights to Doc Nixon's 'Hong Kong Mysteries' and started a venture called "The Mysteries Production Company." A review of the show that appeared in the Sphinx Magazine in October 1922 says "George is very clever and has arranged an entertaining program in four parts and dressed with beautiful & costly settings." The review also goes on to say "George ranks among the best manipulators," in referring to his card and billiard ball manipulations. In 1923 George hired a young Paul Rosini to work as one of his assistants.

Grover George had one problem, Howard Thurston.* Howard was the preeminent illusionist in the United States and he did not want George moving into what he felt was his territory. At first, Thurston contacted theatres and told them if they booked George then he would cancel his contracts with them.

George ended up loosing a great deal of work because of this stunt. Then Thurston sent his lawyers after George and he also sent Harry Jansen (Dante) after George. The idea was that Jansen would persuade George to drop all the Thurston tricks and routines and eventually leave show business.

The lawsuits had no merit as Thurston didn't own the rights to any of the material that George had been doing. All of it  had been printed up in books or was available through magic dealers. George however didn't have the money to fight Thurston and eventually was forced to stop his 'Triumphant American Tour.' I think this was also about the time his marriage with Ruth ended in divorce.

But all was not lost. In 1924, Grover George teamed up with entertainment manager Felix Blei and turned his attention from the United States to a tour which began in Cuba and moved to Central and South America. There is a mention in the Sept 1927 issue of The Sphinx Magazine that George had won a lottery and this money enabled him to take the South American Tour. This is an unusual statement and makes me wonder if perhaps George was paid off by Thurston to leave. I have no proof of that, I'm only speculating. The article goes on to say that the tour did not start well because he did not speak the language and training assistants in that region of the world was very difficult due to the language barrier.

The Tour began in Cuba and covered many of the major Central and South American Cities. At one point, George and his company had to sail up the Amazon River to get to a location. His destination was Manaus Brazil which turned out to be a very contemporary city. One humorous note, Thurston sent Dante to South America in 1927 and Dante had a hard time with business there because George had such a strong hold on the territory.

In 1929 the tour was over, Grover George had a new wife Anita Sosa, and he returned to the sad news that his mother passed away after an illness that lasted 8 years. He was back in the U.S. and working but not the best venues.  He eventually gave up his hopes of America and returned to South America. Because he was out of the country there isn't a lot of mention of George in the magic periodicals of the time.

He left the magic business and went into Brazilian TV. He also started a business manufacturing projection machines for theatres. He had a ranch in Sao Paulo Brazil and was doing quite well. But the call of the road was always lingering and in the 1950s he returned to performing briefly.

In 1955, Robert Patterson of Zanesville Ohio, George's hometown, purchased George's Sword Box Illusion. By 1956, Grover George was retired from the magic business for good. He died in 1958 and was buried in Sao Paulo Brazil.

But the story is not quite finished. Let me get back to 1924 for a moment**. Charles Carter, another globe trotting illusionist was interested in purchasing a series of lithographs from the Otis Lithograph Company. They told Carter that they had a huge stock of posters that were printed for George the Magician but he never picked them up and they were available. Carter passed on them and had his own posters designed and created. That huge lot of posters was purchased by magic dealer Gerald Heaney and he stored them in his barn in Wisconsin.

Fast forward to the 1980s when those posters were rediscovered! Thousands of pristine, never used George posters in all shapes and sizes. So if you are wondering how so many of them survived for so long, now you know!

*There seems to be some dispute in magic literature as to when this clash with Howard Thurston  took place. David Price's book MAGIC A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theatre lists it as happening after George's 1929 return from South America. Similarly and article which appeared in Genii Magazine in May 1996 by Gary R. Brown, also lists his South American Tour beginning in 1924 and then upon his return in 1929 George had problems with Thurston at that point.

However, in the book The Complete Life of Howard Franklin Thurston by Robert Olsen, he shows in chapter 29 that the problem between Thurston and George took place in 1922 and he sites court documents as his proof.

** This part about the George Lithographs being pitched to Charles Carter in 1924 appears in The CARTER Book by Mike Caveney, pages 207-208. It's clear that Otis Litho Company had all the George Posters for an American Tour, NOT a South American Tour, yet in 1924 George left to go on a South American Tour after a failed tour in American, thanks to Howard Thurston.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

White House Easter Egg Magic-Revisited

Today is Easter Monday and it's also the day for the Annual White House Easter Egg Roll. This has been an annual tradition here in D.C. since President Rutherford B. Hayes began it back in 1878. The Easter Egg Roll used to take place on the lawn of the Capital building, but the lawn was getting damaged with so many people attending the event that Congress passed a law forbidding such activities.

Mac King
In 1878, President Hayes opened the White House lawn to the event and it has grown and grown ever since. Many famous and not so famous magicians have appeared at the event. Back in the 1930s Howard Thurston appeared at the White House Easter Egg Roll and performed his famous routine with Eggs from a Hat with Two Children. Washington D.C.'s own Al Cohen from Al's Magic Shop has performed at the White House Easter Egg Roll. So have David Williamson, Silly Billy, the entire case of the Le Grand David Spectacular Magic Company from Beverly Mass, Doug Henning, Harry Blackstone Jr., Steve Wyrick, Wayne Alan, Trixie Bond, Ralph The Great, Dean Carnegie, Dave Risley, Mac King, Ken Scott, Mark Daniel, Ray Goulet, Mike Bent (who is there right now by the way), Emanuel Shabum, The Pro Kids Show performers, Adam Ace, James Wand, and many many others from all over the WORLD! I have to admit, I'm not sure if Houdini ever appeared at the event. He certainly had been invited to the White House on numerous occasions but whether or not he ever appeared at the White House Easter Egg Roll is a mystery.

Dean Carnegie
Of course they don't just have magicians, they typically have famous celebrities and actors and singers in attendance. The singers, like Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers perform on the main stage. In 2011 Colbie Caillat and Willow Smith were among the featured acts.

The actors and other performers often read stories to the kids at various 'reading stations' throughout the grounds. Among the actors and celebrities appearing at the event in 2011 are Kelly Rippa, John Lithgow and Geena Davis.

Ken Scott
The only downer to the entire event is weather, which you can never predict. One year I sat in a Van with two friends waiting for the rain to stop and hoping we'd be able to perform. They canceled the event after an hour of constant rain and we drove home without ever having gotten wet. Other years we performed on both the White House lawn and on the Ellipse which is the area in front of the gated lawn between the White House and Constitution Avenue. I think that was the year we did 8 performances going back and forth between the two stages. That was also the year I presented Thurston's Eggs From Hat with a Boy and Girl, I'm sure I'm not the first magician since Thurston to have that idea.

Ralph the Great
For several years in a row they actually put up a 'Magic Stage' for all the magic acts to perform on. This was due to the effort of Ralph Meztler, known professionally as Ralph the Great. The Magic Stage had the benefit of being the stage closest to the White House which was nice and also closest to the actual Egg contests. The main stage was further down the lawn and though not as close, the area in front of the stage could hold thousands of people watching the shows. 

All in all it's usually a very fun day as long as the weather holds. My best wishes to the magical performers who are out there today!

*I originally posted this in April of 2011. But wanted to repost it because the Easter Egg Roll is this Monday.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Game Changing Illusion

The one magician who changed the face of illusion magic more than anyone in the 20th Century was P.T. Selbit. Born Percy Thomas Tibbles on November 17th, 1881 in London. He found the name Tibbles had a less than magical sound to it, so he reversed the spelling of his name and became Selbit. He was a performer and a creator of incredible mysteries.

Illusion magic during Selbit's time contained vanishes, appearances, floatings in the air and similar effects. But no one had ever presented the illusion of mutilating a human being in the way Selbit came up with*. His creation would start a whole new brand of illusion magic.

The illusion that changed everything was Selbit's Sawing Thru A Woman. It was first presented to the public on January 17th 1921 at the Finsbury Park Empire Theatre. It had been presented several times previous to that date to magicians and agents. Notice, it was not Sawing in Half. His version was Sawing Thru a Woman, a penetration illusion. But it gave birth to all later sawing effects. The Selbit Sawing was unlike anything that had been presented in the world of stage magic. A long rectangular box made of rough cut wood sat upon two small wooden platforms. Ropes were tied on the woman's wrists and ankles. The ropes would be fed through holes in the box and then these would be tied with knots preventing her movement within the box. Next, three sheets of glass were shoved down into the box from the top, and then two sheets of metal were shoved into the box from the sides. The woman was unmistakably divided into numerous sections. But the best was yet to come. A large cross cut saw was used to saw the box in two. This was not the super clean way we think about it today. No, the long saw was real and truly cut the wooden crate in half. It took a while to cut through the thick wood of the box. Unlike, the more popular versions, the now divided boxes were not separated. Instead, the blade was left below the two cut boxes, the lid was opened, the ropes cut and the girl emerged perfectly safe and healthy!
P.T. Selbit presenting his masterpiece
The illusion of Sawing Through a Woman was an instant sensation. Word spread across the globe and magicians in America got wind of the new effect. The Great Leon and Horace Goldin set about creating their very own versions of the effect, but with a subtle change. They would be sawing a woman in halves and separating the halved boxes. Their effect would not be a penetration like Selbit's but instead a destruction and restoration effect. Goldin began work first on his method when Leon inquired about it. He told Leon he owned the rights to the trick, but that was a lie and Leon later discovered the truth and created his own.

The Goldin Sawing had an advantage over the Selbit version in that you could see the girls head, hands and feet the entire time. But Goldin's first version which he debuted in May 1921 used a boy not a woman. Thurston saw this and recognized the potential in the effect but also knew it was not a finished piece. He worked out a deal to have his chief mechanic and builder Harry Jansen rework the prop. Harry Jansen, who would later be known as Dante, at one time had his own magic manufacturing shop in Chicago. His company had the building rights to Servais LeRoy's illusions. Jansen took the Goldin Sawing and added the LeRoy Asrah table base. In Mike Caveney's book The Great Leon, he says that Leon also used the LeRoy Asrah table but the method was slightly different. Goldin took his new and improved illusion and had it patented under his name alone!

Goldin knew an opportunity when he saw it and by Summer of 1921 sent out other authorized performers to present his Sawing a Lady in Halves. Among the early group were; Thurston, Dante, and Servais LeRoy. He had a total of nine performers traveling the country with his sensation. Selbit came to America in September of 1921 hoping to reap the rewards of his creation and was shocked to find he had been ripped off. Selbit sued Goldin and lost. It didn't stop Selbit from sending out magicians with his version of the effect as well though. David Price's book, A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theatre mentions that Houdini stepped into the fray to show a playbill from a London theatre dated back to the 1880s which had the headline "Sawing a Lady in Two".

Eventually, Horace Goldin came up with a method for the illusion that removed the box completely and the need for the long wood saw. Instead, a girl would be placed upon a table in full view and a large circular saw would rip through her body. This became known as The Buzz Saw Illusion. Three of the most famous practitioners of this illusion were Harry Blackstone Sr and Jr, and Richiardi. This illusion was created in 1931.

The improved Goldin version using the box stayed around however. Milbourne Christopher in his Illustrated History of Magic credits a Turkish magician, Zati Sungar with shrinking down the size of the box and thus creating what we call today the 'thin model' sawing. Numerous variations have been developed since that time. Robert Harbin's contributions were probably the most unique. He created a simple to travel with Bow Saw version and then elaborated greatly on the theme and created The Zig Zag Lady!

Who can be credited with originally coming up with the sawing concept can be debated forever. One thing we know for sure, no illusion in the history of magic has ever created the sensation that the Sawing in Half Craze of 1921 did.

*There were other mutilation effects prior to Selbit's Sawing. The Sword Basket is one example as is the much older John the Baptist effect, where a head is severed from the body and set next to body on a table. But even those did not have the impact  that the Sawing Illusions first created.

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!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

103rd Anniversary of the Mantle of Magic

Today marks the 103rd Anniversary of the Passing of the Mantle of Magic from Harry Kellar to Howard Thurston at the Fords Theatre in Baltimore MD. The reality of the situation was that there was no real Mantle, nor was there a wand or anything else passed over. It was basically a business transaction in which Thurston agreed to purchase the Kellar show and it's properties for a certain sum and then continue to pay Kellar a fee for the show. Not quite as romantic as the idea of passing on this theatrical legacy from one king to his successor.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Thurston Book Review

I just finished reading "The Last Greatest Magician" by Jim Steinmeyer. This is the recent biography that Jim did on Howard Thurston. It's been sitting on my shelf for a while, wanting to be read but NOT being read. The main reason was that so many others were reading and giving reviews that I wanted to hold off until it all calmed down a bit.

My favorite books are biographies. I have a huge library of biographies of famous magicians. Naturally there are more Houdini titles that anything else, but the second largest group are books on Thurston. Not all are biographies, but there are a few Thurston titles which include: My Life of Magic by Howard Thurston, The Complete Life of Howard Franklin Thurston V 1-2 by Robert Olsen, The Howard Thurston Illusion Show Workbooks V. 1-2, My Magic Husband by Grace Thurston and there are a few other titles I don't have in front of me at the moment.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Magical Three Stooges

The Three Stooges, comedy icons from the early days of movies. Their popularity continues today though all of the various Stooges are gone. I spent some time recently on Youtube watching videos of interviews with Moe Howard and Larry Fine. The history of their act is fascinating to me. Though I wouldn't say I'm a typical fan of the Stooges. I guess for me, they were intriguing and interesting in the same way a magic act or a manipulator would be, but not really all that funny. That's not meant to be a slam on the Stooges, as some people find them hilarious. I just saw them differently and yet still entertaining.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Spirit Cabinet - A History

This article is about the Spirit Cabinet illusion. However, there would be no spirit cabinet without The Fox Sisters. Margaret and Kate Fox were two young girls living in Hydesville NY with their parents. In 1848, the two sisters demonstrated that they could communicate with ghostly spirits by having strange rapping sounds manifest in their presence. Their abilities gave birth to a phenomenon/movement that would be known as Spiritualism. Later in life the sisters admitted they were frauds (but they even recanted that eventually).
Living not far from Hydesville, NY were two brothers, Ira and William Davenport. In 1854, the brothers started making claims similar to that of the Fox Sisters. To prove their abilities they created The Spirit Cabinet and took their show on the road. The Spirit Cabinet was a large rectangular wooden cabinet that rested upon two saw horses. This allowed the audience to view the cabinet from underneath. There was room inside for each brother to sit at opposite ends of the cabinet. I believe there was also room in between them as well for a spectator to sit if the routine called for that.  The basic effect was that the two brothers would be tied to the seats within the cabinet by members of the audience. A number of instruments, like bells and tambourines were placed in between them. The doors of the cabinet were closed to allow 'spirit darkness' and the manifestations would begin, the bells would ring, rapping could be heard and the tambourines would play.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Great Magic History Talk

Jim Steinmeyer's new book "The Last Greatest Magician in the World" is out. It's a biography on Howard Thurston. I covered a little bit on the "Passing of the Mantle of Magic" recently. Jim talks about the book and Thurston AND Houdini on the Please check it out it's a great interview.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ford's Theatre & The Mantle of Magic

John T Ford
The name Ford's Theatre instantly conjures up images of April 14, 1865 the night President Lincoln was shot while watching a play. However, I want to direct your attention to the OTHER Ford's Theatre, the one in Baltimore. Both were built by John T. Ford, who in my humble appearance looks strikingly like Jerry Seinfeld.

The Baltimore Ford's Theatre was known as The Grand Opera House and was built in 1871. It was located on 320 West Fayette Street in Baltimore. It lasted until the mid 1960s when it was torn down to put a (wait for it...) parking garage in it's place. Readers of my blog will now the frustration I have over many of these historic theatres being demolished and turned into parking garages.

The reason Ford's Grand Opera House holds significance for magicians is that this is the location of the show where Harry Kellar passed the Mantle of Magic over to Howard Thurston. This established a long line of magic royalty that lasts until today (at least for publicity purposes).

Harry Kellar
Let's start with how it all came about. First it's the 1900's Herrmann the Great has passed away leaving it wide open for Harry Kellar to take over as the leading Illusionist in America. He's been following in Herrmann's shadow for quite a while and is ready to take over. Kellar is a unique character, older, less hair, but tremendously loved by audiences across the nation. He successfully fills the place left by Herrmann and becomes the leading magical performer in the U.S.. In 1906 he begins to announce his plans to retire. His successor will be Adolf Weber. WHAT? Yes, Adolf Weber was slated to be Kellar's Successor. OH wait, you might know him as Paul Valadon.

Paul Valadon was a magician who had been working at Maskelynes Theatre in England. He suddenly appears in America working with Harry Kellar and that also was the same year that Kellar mysteriously figured out how the Maskelyne Levitation worked and added it to his show. He might have gotten a little help from Paul Valadon. In 1906 Kellar proclaims that Valadon will be his successor when he retires. But that doesn't happen.

The first person to publicly say otherwise was Henry Ridgley Evans who saw Kellar's final D.C. appearance at the Columbia Theatre. Following this Evans writes a little note to Stanyon's Magic which says he predicts the successor will be Howard Thurston.  It's actually unclear when Kellar made this decision to go with Thurston over Valadon. Apparently, Paul Valadon had a drinking problem and Mrs. Kellar was not particularly fond of either Paul or his wife. So Paul is out as successor and is no longer working with Kellar. By 1913, Paul Valadon, one time possible successor to the Great Kellar is dead. The last few years of his life were not good, his wife either left him or she died. He had a son, but when Paul Valadon died, he had not one dime to leave his young namesake.

Howard Thurston
Thurston it seems may have been in the running all along. In 1907, Kellar and Thurston met for dinner to iron out the agreement. Thurston agreed to buy the entire Kellar show for $5000.00. Howard Thurston had made a name as a Card Manipulator. But he knew in order to gain a bigger piece of the showbiz pie he'd have to expand his repertoire. So he began to expand his act and he took it on an overseas tour. By the time he returned to the states in 1907 he was ready for bigger things. It's interesting to note that Houdini was not in the running for the prize of Mantle of Magic. No doubt Houdini couldn't be happy about this. But Houdini presented a specialty act of escapes only at this time. Later he would begin to add features like Vanishing an Elephant and Walking Through a Brick Wall. Perhaps if he had done this sooner or if Kellar had waited to retire then Houdini could have been considered. Houdini's friendship with Kellar doesn't really begin until after Kellar retires, so that his another reason why he was not in the running. No, this prize went to Thurston and he would make the most of it.

The two magicians had toured the country together in the 1907-08 season. The passing of the Mantle of Magic took place on May 16, 1908 at the Ford's Theatre in Baltimore Maryland.

To quote Howard Thurston the night of the final performance, "Before the final curtain had fallen Kellar led me to the foot- lights and in a most touching speech briefly mentioned his own career of forty-five years as a public entertainer, and finished with a generous and affectionate prediction of my future. Kellar had played Ford's Opera House for many years. He handed
his arm around my shoulders, while the orchestra played 'Auld Lang Syne'. As the ushers carried many floral offerings to the stage, the audience sang with the music. Finally, the musicians stood, then the entire audience was on its feet repeating the refrain. Leaning heavily on my shoulder as the curtain dropped for the last time, Kellar cried—so did I."

History shows however that Kellar was not completely happy with Thurston's use of his old show. Thurston basically dropped everything except for the Floating Lady and the Spirit Cabinet. Thurston's presentation of the Floating Lady enraged Kellar. Thurston would invite audience members to come up on stage to see the lady in mid-air. This would reveal the method of course and that drove Kellar crazy.

Kellar soon began work on another floating lady that I believe ended up with Blackstone, but not until after Kellar had passed away.

Thurston continued holding the crown until his untimely death in 1936. But before that he did make an announcement as to his successor would be. In 1929 on stage in McConnelsville, Ohio, Thurston announced that McDonald Birch would be his successor. But the Great Depression made theatre performances harder and harder and the proposed final tour with Birch never happened nor did the passing of the mantle.

Magic lore would also have you believe that the mantle was then passed over to Harry Jansen (DANTE). But Dante was overseas touring when Thurston died. The truth is, the mantle of magic set up by Kellar died with Howard Thurston. Magic groups in America wanted Dante to come home and claim the the mantle that Thurston left behind, but that is hardly the same as having the mantle bestowed upon you by the KING.

The romanticized version sounds so much better doesn't it? I like the idea that the Mantle of Magic went to Dante, then to Lee Grabel and finally to Lance Burton. But, it's not the Kellar/Thurston Mantle, it's a different one. 

One final note about Ford's Theatre. Some smart magician took wood from the stage floor of Ford's Theatre either before or as it was being torn down. The wood was turned into a magic wand with a profile of Kellar on one end and Thurston on the other. If you hold it up to a light source it casts the profile shadow of the two magicians. For the record two of these were made and one resides at Egyptian Hall West, the Mike Caveney Collection.

The parking garage that replaced the iconic Ford's Theatre in Baltimore Maryland.