Showing posts with label Philadelphia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Philadelphia. Show all posts

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Houdini's Right Hand Man Jim Collins Died Today, in 1942

Here is Jim Collins death certificate from 1942. It contains all sorts of amazing information. For example, he died in Philadelphia, but according to the death certificate he was to be buried in New York. Try as I might, I have not been able to locate the grave, yet. I'll have more to add about Collins at a later date.

Sorry, been swamped with gigs right now, so The Magic Detective is behind, but I'll catch up shortly!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Continued Clean-up of Robert Heller's Grave

I just received a note from Tony Selletti about a young man, Ken Biddle, from Philadelaphia who, along with his wife, have begun some additional clean-up of Robert Heller's grave. This has been a long project. I first started a push a few years back to help clean-up the grave. Thankfully, the Friends of Mt. Moriah who have been periodically cleaning up this abandoned graveyard, eventually found their way to Heller's grave and uncovered it. Let's take a look back at some of these images from Heller's site.

This first image was one was what we were up against. Underneath this brush and mix of twisted vines was Heller's grave. It sure appears to be a daunting task from the looks of it.

Next we have the first image of the grave in the 21st Century. I was told it was laying down flat on the ground when they discovered it.  This image comes from Ed Snyder.

Since the initial rediscovery of the grave, someone cleaned up the gravestone itself. Then we come to the photos I received from Tony Selletti taken by Ken Biddle. And finally, Ken standing next to Heller's grave. I'm guessing this last shot was taken before they started their work on the site as the photo above shows the area more open.

In 1878 Robert Heller died unexpectedly in Philadelphia. He was buried a few days later in Machpelah Cemetary in Philadelphia. But a few years after he was buried, all the graves in that graveyard were dug up and relocated to other locations. Thus, the search was on to find the grave of one of the great 19th Century magicians. Houdini located the grave in 1910 and the photo at the top of the page is Houdini standing near the grave.

Thankfully through the hard work of volunteers like the Friends of Mount Moriah and others, the grave of Heller and the entire cemetery is getting a gradual make-over. If you would like to contribute to the cause or be part of a future clean-up, you can click the Friends of Mount Moriah link and you can find out more information on how to help.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Wyman the Wizard...MORE

Wyman the Wizard
I wrote a blog article about Wyman the Wizard back in August of 2011. In that article I mentioned that 'the hunt was on for his grave'. Several magic books mentioned where he died, but there was no mention of where he was buried. I'm glad to report it's been found, sort of. I had narrowed down the cemetery to one in Fall River Mass, called Oak Grove Cemetery. There were several in that area and I had a hunch this was the cemetery, though I could not get definitive proof. I tried contacting some govt. officials in that area with no answers. And then I received an email from fellow magic historian, Gary Hunt. He had discovered a paragraph in an old Sphinx Magazine, which gave the exact location of the grave and sure enough it was in Oak Grove Cemetery! So now, I've got to travel up to that area later in the Spring and get a photograph of the grave so I can post it over at my deadconjurers blog. A HUGE THANK YOU to Gary Hunt for sending me the article with that information!

(from John Hopkins Unv. Library)
But I wanted to write more about Wyman and I began digging again. Milbourne Christopher mentions in the book Panorama of Magic that there were at least two songs dedicated to Wyman the Wizard. I just found one of them and it's called "Keemo Kimo Schottisch" by James Bellak and according to the cover was composed and dedicated to Wyman the Wizard. I do not play music, but if there is anyone interested, the entire sheet music is downloadable here

 Wyman seems to be a man of firsts. MAGIC-A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theatre says that Wyman was the first Americian born magician to do a full evening show of magic. The book, Annals of Conjuring says that Wyman was the first U.S. born magician to attain prominence. And the Illustrated History of Magic says that "he was the biggest money maker of the period.". Those are pretty decent accolades.

Peale's Baltimore Museum (photo by MKelly1990)
He apparently began his professional career performing at Peale's Baltimore Museum. From there he played a lot of small town school houses. His act consisted of marionettes, ventriloquism, memory feats and magic. The magic included the Aireal Suspension & Gun Trick he purchased from John Henry Anderson, the Inexhaustible Bottle, Egg Bag, Coin Magic, the Sphinx illusion and many other popular magic routines of the day. 

Wyman performed what were known as 'Gift Shows', which meant after the performance everyone in the audience was to receive a gift. He was known to provide nice gifts. No bait and switch for Wyman, if he promised a nice item, that is what he gave out. I'm wondering if one of the smaller gifts he gave was a 'Wyman Coin' because I have seen several images of his coins on the internet now.

Some books mention that Wyman only played 'small dates' but I'm not sure he could have become the biggest money maker of the period, only playing small towns. In fact, I know he played Richmond VA, Charleston S.C., Boston MA, NYC, and Washington D.C. among many places. So he clearly played all over. But he was around before the days of Vaudeville, so the types of venues would have been somewhat different.

Born January 19, 1816, John W. Wyman Jr. was known as Jack by his friends. He apparently wrote several books, one of which was called "Jokes & Anecdotes of Wyman, TheMagician & Ventriloquist" which was published in 1866.

His performing route consisted of areas east of the Mississippi River and also into Canada. I've seen a number of newspaper articles on Wyman that appeared in Virginia papers, so he was well known in the South as well as the North.

He died on July 31st 1881 and was buried in Fall River Massachusetts in the Oak Grove Cemetery.  I will post a photo of the grave later in the Spring.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Incredible Walnut Street Theatre

I love old theatres, and in America there is none older than The Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. It has been around for 204 years and thankfully is still in operation. The Walnut Street Theatre has some unique ties to the magic world which I thought I'd share with you, but first a little history on the theatre itself.

Built in 1809 in Philadelphia, The Walnut was the first theatre in America to have gas footlights, it was also the first theatre to have air conditioning. In 1863, the Walnut was purchased by famed actor Edwin Booth, who was also the brother of John Wilkes Booth.

A few famous names to grace the stage of the Walnut Street Theatre include: Henry Fonda, Ethel Barrymore, Jack Lemmon, Robert Redford, George M. Cohan, The Marx Brothers, Edward G. Robinson, Helen Hayes, Katherine Hepburn and many others.

But it's the magicians I'm most interested in. Since the theatre opened in 1809, it's hard to say who the first magician was to perform at the Walnut, but according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Herr Alexander played the Walnut in August of 1849. And I know that on July 4th 1853, Robert Heller opened at the Walnut Street Theatre for a three week run. Prior to his appearances at the Walnut, Heller had been performing with a fake French Accent and a wig. He dropped those accessories and the first place he performed as himself, was in Philadelphia! Oddly, on Nov 28th, 1878 (134 years ago today!) Heller would die of pneumonia in Philadelphia.

I thought Harry Kellar performed there, but I can't find a record. He did perform at the Walnut Street Theatre in Cincinnati Ohio however. And he played almost every theatre in Philadelphia, so I'd be surprised if he never made it to the Walnut St. Theatre.

I don't have any proof of it, but I'm going to guess that Signor Antonio Blitz might have performed there back in the mid 1800's, as he lived in Philadelphia for a time. And I'm thinking it's very possible the Alexander Herrmann may have also performed there which could be why I didn't see Harry Kellar's name listed because the two were competitors.

According to the website for the theatre, Harry Houdini performed at the Walnut, but I don't know when. A little digging shows Houdini at the Chestnut Street Theatre and also at Keith's Theatre in Philadelphia. Houdini had a number of ties to the city. On one visit he discovered the grave of Robert Heller, which had been lost to time. Heller was originally in Macepelah Cemetery in Phili and then later moved to Mt Moriah. At another time he introduced Remigius Weiss, a spiritualist debunker whose claim to fame had been exposing the slate writing of Dr. Henry Slade.

In October 1947, the Blackstone Show was at the Walnut Street Theatre and they were in need of a replacement girl. Word was sent out to some of the theatrical agencies in town and a young dancer named Adele Friel applied for the job. She met Blackstone backstage at the theatre and he gave her an idea of what was required for the position. She met the other girls in the show and just like that, she was hired! But that wasn't all. This was the afternoon, and there was a show in the evening and Adele had no idea she'd be IN the show that night!

Sure enough, she performed her first show with the Blackstone troupe that night and stayed with them for several years touring across the country in the process. One great blessing for the magic world is that Adele loves to visit with magicians and attend conventions on occasion. If you ever get a chance to meet her, please take the time to say hello and listen to some of her wonderful stories.

In the modern era, Penn & Teller have appeared at the Walnut Street Theatre as well. By the way, Teller, the quieter half of the duo, was actually born in Philadelphia!

To me the most exciting thing is that this old beauty of a theatre is still running and has continued to do so for over 200 years! The theatre is located at 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
If you are aware of the number of theatres that have been razed, destroyed or closed down in the past 100 years, you'll realize just how special the Walnut Street Theatre is.