Showing posts with label John Henry Anderson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Henry Anderson. Show all posts

Saturday, November 29, 2014

What Came Before The Rabbit and Hat?

When lay people think of magicians, one of the first things that comes to mind is the Rabbit and Hat trick. Thanks to John Henry Anderson, the Great Wizard of the North, this effect has become the most iconic image of the magician. It dates to the Victorian era by the way. But there is another creature that has been the magical sidekick to many magicians, probably even before the Rabbit. That creature is the Goldfish.

I am not really certain who produced the first goldfish via magic, but I do know that it was in the act of Robert Houdin in the 1850s. If Houdin had it, then so did John Henry Anderson who got a great deal of his act from duplicating Robert-Houdin's act. Robert Houdin produced a bowl of goldfish. Magicians since that time have created many wonderful illusions with these little guys.

In Vienna Austria, probably slightly before Robert Houdin was Johann Hofzinser who presented a
Fountain of Love
very interesting effect called The Fountain of Love.  It begins with a glass goblet containing some sort of murky dark water apparently from the 'Fountain of Love'. A borrowed ring is tossed into the water to test whether the volunteer who lent the ring has true love, for if he/she does, the water will turn crystal clear. The performer covers the glass goblet with a scarf for a moment and then when it is removed the water can be seen to be clear and there are a a couple goldfish swimming inside the goblet. But the even more amazing part, one of the fish apparently has the ring in it's mouth! A net is used to retrieve the fish and the ring.

Hofzinser continued to develop the trick and eventually developed a slightly different routine he called 'The Ink of the Enamored'. The effect was similar, but the method had been changed.  A very primitive version of the trick is sold as 'Ink to Goldfish' today.

Chung Ling Soo presented an effect called Aerial Fishing where he would take a fishing pole and cast it out over the heads of the audience and a fish would appear on the end of the line. The fish would be reeled in and removed from the line and dropped into a fish bowl. Then the effect was repeated several times. Today, Mac King presents a slightly streamlined and very funny version of this effect.

Jack Gwynne, the illusionist, was known to magically produce a stack of goldfish bowls. This was one of his signature tricks. In fact, this particular trick is so associated with Jack Gwynne, that the Stack of Goldfish Bowl Illusion is actually etched into his tombstone! Jack Gwynne also had a Goldfish bowl illusion where he would produce a woman from a large goldfish bowl.

Maybe the craziest and in some ways coolest fish trick of them all is the Educated Fish by David
Devant. In this particular trick, the Magician has a large bowl of water and fish. On the bottom of the bowl are cards with letters on them. Words are chosen by audience members and written down on a blackboard. The fish them proceed to spell the words! They apparently hit the cards as they swim around and then the proper letters gradually float up to the surface! I told, crazy, but oh so cool.

As mind boggling as the effect seems, the method to produce the illusion is even crazier. Unfortunately, I don't give away magic secrets on this blog, but you may want to check out OUR MAGIC by Maskelyne and Devant  just to discover how the illusion works. To top things off, I had heard someone recreated this trick for one of the magic conferences a few years ago! Wow.

Today, Teller from Penn & Teller, presents a version of Miser's Dream in which coins are produced from a large tank of water. At the end of the routine 100 goldfish are magically produced as well. Interestingly, on page 283 of OUR MAGIC a very similar effect is described in the same article about the Educated Fish. Given that Teller is well known for his knowledge of Magic History, I guess it's possible that this was the source of his inspiration. The routine described in the book is a Misers Dream where the magician produced handfulls of coins and they are dropped into a large glass bowl on stage. It doesn't say if the bowl contained water, nor does it mention anything about a goldfish ending. Those additions are Tellers.

I too have ridden the Magic Goldfish Train. In fact, some of my friends jokingly call me the Goldfish Magician because of the countless number of ways I've developed to magically produce fish. I even do a goldfish routine in my School Assembly Show, but it uses fish images rather than actual goldfish.

David Copperfield has a really interesting goldfish routine where water mysteriously vanishes and the reappears in a glass and then with his barehands he produces a quantity of fish. 

My favorite Goldfish trick by someone other than myself is by Luis DeMatos. The first time I saw his routine I was blown away. I had been working on a similar thing myself but ran into a problem. When I saw his routine he had something unique, a cloth with a large hole in it. This allowed him to reach into the tank while it was covered.  About ten years ago, I emailed Luis and asked for permission to use this same cloth with a hole and he kindly gave me permission. I honestly don't know if he uses that anymore. I know though I used it for a time, I eventually moved onto other ways of producing fish.  But still today, I think Luis's routine is fantastic. The amount of fish that appear is astonishing. It's a beautiful effect and I'm glad he still performs it

I'm currently working on a NEW Goldfish effect for my Steampunk Illusionist Show. I'll post a link to it once it's completed.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Robert Heller's Magnifecent Peacock

Robert Heller and his Peacock Automaton

As fascinated as I am by Heller, I must now admit, I also have an odd fascination for the so-called Peacock Automaton. I had seen one in the collection of Ken Klosterman (Salon de Magie) and assumed it was Robert-Houdin's Peacock. In his book 'The Memoirs of Robet-Houdin', the author mentions seeing the 'magic peacock' in a show presented by Phillipe. Researching this unusual creature I found that according to Harry Houdini, Robert-Houdin claimed to have created it. But Houdini, in his book 'The UnMasking of Robert-Houdin' makes the claim that Houdin did not create it but rather ripped it off.

Actually, it appears that though there were Automaton Peacocks prior to the Houdin version, his was different in operation and mechanics, so Houdini got that one wrong. I actually assumed, like Houdini, that all these birds were the same. But their appearance is deceiving. They do share a few attributes, one being the realistic look of a peacock and the ability to take the tail feathers and raise them and spread the giant plumage for display. But that is where the similarities stop.

from 1815
There is a playbill from 'The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin' that belongs to Mr. Louis's Royal, Mechanical, and Optical Exhibition. The bird figures prominently on the playbill with the following description. "A Superb Mechanical Peacock-As Large as Life, In it's Natural Plumage! Which imitates, so closely, the Cries, Actions, and Attitudes of that stately and beautiful Bird, that it is not infrequently supposed to be an absolute Animal properly trained to act as an Amusing Deception."The playbill dates to 1815, certainly before Robert-Houdin was born, as Houdini points out.

An even earlier playbill from 1803, belonging to a performer named de Philipsthal, also from 'The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin' reads as follows, "The MECHANICAL PEACOCK, which exactly imitates the Actions of that flately Bird, that is has frequently been thought Alive. It eats, drinks & at command, unfold its Tail in a brilliant circle, and in every respect seems endowed with an intuitive Power of attending to the Thoughts of the Company." Frankly, that sounds pretty amazing to me.

I believe the Robert-Houdin bird was different from the above automatons and I base this on the illustration used by Heller and a similar illustration used by another Robert-Houdin imitator. Let me point out that Robert Heller began his career by doing an act which was essentially a duplication or imitation of Robert-Houdin.

Heller obtained his props from a mechanic named LeGrand who worked for Robert-Houdin. This is the same man who sold props to John Henry Anderson as well. This duplication of props was going on behind the back of Robert-Houdin, and when he found out he called the authorities and LeGrand faced prison time because of his theft. But the damage had already been done and untold props from the Houdin show were now out and being used by his competitors. These included: The Ethereal Suspension, The Fantastic Orange Tree, the Peacock, and numerous other automaton.

Other performers of the time had Automaton Peacocks in their shows which can be seen in their advertisements. I think some of these were like the automatons listed above, true actual automatons, clock-work mechanical devices that could imitate a few actions of the bird. But the Robert-Houdin automaton appears to not be a true automaton, but rather what is referred to as a false automaton. This means it was partly mechanical but also relied upon human aid to perform it's functions. If the Heller illustration is any indication, the bird sat upon a raised platform and was able to grab selected playing cards with it's beak. It probably also moved it's head and raised it's plumage, but the action of grabbing a selected card may have been the work of a hidden assistant. That doesn't lesson the impact of the effect and to my way of thinking, is just as much a mechanical marvel as the others. Houdin was known to use both true automaton and false automaton in his show, so it makes possible that the Peacock was a false automaton. And Heller, who had purchased duplicate props of Houdin, was using The Harlequin as well as the Peacock, and the Harlequin was also a false automaton.

While doing research online for this article I came across a photo for an item listed as The
Magnificent Peacock. I found this same image on several sites, including Pinterest. The first place I found it was All of the pages are unsure of it's origins and they only speculate as to the date of manufacture. One website in particular has a different photo but it's very blurry. It shows that the red base in the photo is actually on an ornate raised wooden or medal pedestal. What is amazing to me is, this looks exactly like an image I saw on one of the Robert-Houdin imitator's posters. So this image to the right could actually be a piece out of a magic show.

For those who might be curious, in the late 1800s, a company called Roulette & Decamps out of Paris France was producing the Peacock Automaton for the general public. They made three versions of the Peacock, a small, a medium and a larger version with a music box inside. All three of their Peacocks had the ability to walk, moves its head and raise it's plumage. One of the Roulette & Decamps Automatons can be seen in the video below. By the way, the Peacock in the Klosterman collection is one of these Roulette & Decamps Automatons. It is identical to the bird in the video, so my initial assumption that it was Robert-Houdin's was incorrect.

*I don't have access to all of the Robert-Houdin books on magic, so I'm unsure if his Peacock and it's workings were listed in a book I missed. If anyone knows and can enlighten me, please do. I make an assumption that Houdin's automaton was a false one, which I also found similar statements online. But with Houdin's knowledge of clockworks, it's just as possible the bird was 100% mechanical. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Beginning & Maybe The End of Rabbits From Hats

The rabbit and hat trick. Old as recorded magic history some might think. But actually not quite so old. The first recorded event of rabbits magically appearing did not in fact come from a hat, but rather from a woman giving birth to them. The woman's name was Mary Toft and she was from Surrey England. She apparently gave birth to numerous rabbits over a short period of time. News of this event caused quite an uproar and soon an investigation took place. Eventually, Mary Toft would admit the entire thing was a hoax. Too bad. I do not see a real connection to conjuring however, even though Barry & Stuart used this incident as an idea for their 'rabbit from hat' routine. There is a video of B&S doing their rabbit routine but I'm not going to post a link because it's graphic (not meant for younger eyes).

The first magician to pull a rabbit from a top hat might have been Louis Apollinaire Christian Emmanuel Comte, known as 'The Kings Conjurer'. Born June 22, 1788 in Geneva Switzerland, Comte became a popular Parisian performer. One of his more famous effects was borrowing a hat and producing various objects from it.  I have found several places that list Comte as the first to present the rabbit from top hat effect, but I don't can't seem to find where the original source information came from.

John Henry Anderson
Milbourne Christopher in his book The Illustrated History of Magic says the rabbit from hat trick originated in the 1830s, but does not give the name of the first person to present the effect. 1830 was the height of Comte's career so perhaps he was the one.

But Christopher does give a great deal of credit to John Henry Anderson, the Great Wizard of the North, for popularizing the trick. John Henry Anderson was born in 1814 in  Scotland. I had always heard that Anderson was the first to do the rabbit from top hat, but if it began in 1830, it would have been before J.H. Anderson's career started. There are numerous posters and woodcut illustrations of Anderson not only pulling a single rabbit from a hat, but numerous rabbits from a top hat.

The top hat itself seems to have originated in Europe sometime in the late 1700s. Given the size and shape of the hat it was an ideal object for a magician to borrow and make things appear from. Even into the 20th Century magicians were still using a borrowed hat for productions and even for the Misers Dream effect.
Magicians today have shifted from the top hat to other ways of producing rabbits but unfortunately, those days may be coming to an end. The long arm of the US Federal Govt has decided that magicians and rabbits need governmental supervision. They now require magicians to have a liscense to use a rabbit in their show and apparently, magicians must also provide the USDA with a detailed disaster plan for protecting the rabbit in case of dangerous weather. This news came about from magician Marty Hahne of Missouri who has been all over the news of late with his story of the USDA Rabbit Police. No offense to rabbits, but I don't even have a written disaster plan for myself! I guess this means every undocumented rabbit puller is now an outlaw. Fantastic (not)! For the record, I've never pulled/removed/extracted/picked up or lifted a rabbit out of a hat. I don't own a rabbit, so nothing to see here, move along! I have recently purchased a top hat as strange as that is for me to admit, but upon last check, it was rabbit free!

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.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Civil War Era Magicians Part 5

John Wyman Jr.
Our next magician who conjured in America during the Civil War seems as though he deserves a bigger place in the annals of conjuring than he has. His name was John W. Wyman Jr. and he performed professionally as Wyman The Wizard. He was born in 1816 in Albany NY and according to several magic history books, he was the most successful magician of his time from a financial perspective. I think that Signor Blitz would take the honor of being the most well known of that time, especially with his dozen + imitators. Though a number of newspapers dispute that fact and say that Wyman was THE most popular. Either way Wyman apparently made the most money, and unlike Blitz, Herrmann, Anderson, Heller and others he was American born!

He had the honor of having performed for President Abraham Lincoln four times. Apparently Mr. Lincoln was a big fan of magic as he had seen, Blitz, Compars Herrmann and now Wyman the Wizard! David Copperfield has in his museum, the very coins that Wyman the Wizard used to pass through the hands of Abraham Lincoln during one of his performances before the President. Wyman lived on 6th St in Washington D.C. for a period of time. And his regular performance spot was a place called The Odd Fellows Hall, which was located at 419 7th St N.W Washington, almost exactly half way between the Capital Building and The White House. I assume that his close proximity to the White House and his celebrity status helped him obtain his numerous appearances before not just President Lincoln, but also President Martin Van Buren and President Millard Fillmore.

Odd Fellows Hall in Washington D.C.
According to Houdini, Wyman had one particular attribute that made him popular, he was honest! This is an important fact to remember because Wyman presented what were called 'Gift Shows'. Basically, all the tickets that were sold to his shows had numbers on them and every ticket received a prize depending upon the number. Wyman apparently gave out some really good quality items, among them, watches, table sets, family bibles, silver plated ware and more.

I can't find any record of Wyman having performed for the soldiers during the Civil War, but four performances for the Commander in Chief are enough to put him in this category as a Civil War Era Magician. He very likely performed for members of the military and their families at some point. Prior to the war he was a popular attraction in the Southern States and even out west on Mississippi River Boats.

Like several of his fellow conjurers of the time, one of the features of his act was 'The Gun Trick'. What made his Gun Trick special is that he bought it from John Henry Anderson. He apparently also purchased Anderson's Floating Lady which was a pirated version of Robert-Houdin's Etherial Suspension. Besides magic, Wyman also was an accomplished ventriloquist and mimic and even presented automatons.

The American Civil War began in 1861, but also in 1861 there was almost a Magical Civil War between Wyman the Wizard and Compars Herrmann. This Civil War being started in the press with a challenge from Wyman to Compars Herrmann. In the challenge, Wyman disputed the claims of Herrmann to be performing 'original material' and offered the sum of $25,000 to the winner of a magical duel. Ten of his best tricks would be performed by Herrmann, and ten of Herrmann's best tricks would be performed by Wyman. The challenge would be public and the winner would get all the money plus the box office receipts. The outcome of the Magical Civil War? It never happened because Herrmann ignored Wyman completely.

Besides living in Washington D.C., Wyman also lived in Philadelphia and eventually purchased quite a bit of property in Burlington NJ where he retired. He died in Burlington and was buried in Fall River, MA. in 1881 (the hunt is on to find his grave!)

One interesting historical note, Wyman kept a scrapbook of his career. After Wyman's death this scrapbook was sent to George M. Cohan who claims he never received it. So this very valuable historical item was 'lost in the mail'. I can't help but wonder if it has ever turned up?

NEXT: Horatio Cooke, Civil War Era Magician

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Civil War Era Magicians Part 1

In America we are celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. The Civil War, also known as the 'War Between the States' lasted from 1861-1865.  Over 1 million people died, both soldier and non-soldier as a result of the war. The numbers are staggering and impossible to comprehend.

I live not far from the Manassas Battlefield, where a number of the key Civil War Battles took place, and in fact, as a kid I used to ride horses around the Battlefield. I grew up on a farm in Fauquier County Virginia and was told that there had been a Union Army encampment on our property. One day while treasure hunting with a metal detector we found tent stakes, lots of bullets, a stirrup for a saddle and even a Union Army Belt Buckle, so indeed it was true.

I often wondered what magicians were around during the Civil War and it turns out there were quite a few. There were many who lived 'during' the years of the American Civil War, but I'm only going to mention a few who had direct contact with events or people of the Civil War.

First up is John Henry Anderson.  Mr. Anderson was not an American and did not fight in the War. He was born near Aberdeen Scotland in 1812. He began his career as a magician with the moniker 'The Caledonian Conjurer'.  Later, he changed his moniker to "The Great Wizard of the North" and was quite successful. He performed throughout the British Isles and toured the European Continent as well.

His first visit to America was in 1851. He had recently acquired a number of pirated Robert-Houdin effects and toured with them quite successfully. One of his features since his early days and one that was not part of the pirated Robert-Houdin material was the infamous Bullet Catching feat, a very sensational effect which is notorious for having killed numerous performers since it first debuted. Anderson performed the trick successfully throughout his career. The Great Wizard was a hit in America and his tickets sold for a premium. By all accounts his first tour of the U.S. was a smashing success.

His next tour of the U.S. was in 1859 and he started on the West Coast bringing in a whopping $25,000 in just a couple months time. By July of 1860, The Great Wizard is on the East Coast and at one of his shows his audience questions him about the coming election between Lincoln and Douglas. Anderson called upon his fake spirit guides to sound out seven knocks. Seven, the exact number of letters in Lincoln's name! The crowd went crazy. Though, had they paid attention, they would have realized that Douglas also had seven letters in his name. A fortunate ad-lib that worked in The Great Wizards favor.

Though things were good in 1859 through mid 1860, as the tour progressed John Henry Anderson began to feel the effects of the conflict between the states. Business was drying up all over the eastern U.S.. When Anderson arrived in Richmond he discovered he was not welcome! The Virginians did not take too kindly to his posters proclaiming the arrival of "The Great Wizard of the NORTH". The word NORTH in one of the Southern States was a bad word to say the least.

The Civil War broke out shortly after his visit to Richmond and The Great Wizard tried to continue with the tour but it was a loosing proposition. Even when he took the tour westward that didn't help either. Business in the states was drying up everywhere.

As a last ditch effort, John Henry Anderson returned to NYC and hired an author to write a version of Shakespeare's TEMPEST but with an emphasis on pro-Northern ideals. He would call this play 'The Wizards Tempest'. He hoped to win over at least the Northern audiences with his new venture. After the first night it appeared he had a huge hit on his hands. But news that the war was not going well for Union Soldiers seriously hurt business. After a few weeks the show was closed and John Henry Anderson found himself $3000 in debt. He worked out arrangements to repay his debts and went to England, leaving his family behind. Unfortunately, by 1866 he had no choice but to declare bankruptcy.

During the course of his performing career John Henry Anderson made over $700,000. He gained and lost fortunes many times over his lifetime but the tough conditions during the American Civil War wiped him out completely. He never returned to America and never saw his family again. He died in England on February 3rd, 1874 and was buried in Aberdeen Scotland.

Houdini at the Grave of John Henry Anderson