Showing posts with label The Great Lafayette. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Great Lafayette. Show all posts

Friday, October 12, 2018

Episode 2 of The Magic Detective Podcast is UP!

I'm really having a fun time with these podcasts. I just uploaded episode 2, and episode 3 is finished and will go this weekend. Episode 4 however is one that I'm REALLY excited about. This one has the first feature that was written specifically for the podcast and will also be a blog article. That is what I had hoped to do all along, use both mediums to complement each other.

In Episode 2, I share some Washington D.C. connections to Magic History. The 15 item list can be seen here. During the HOUDINI RADIO Segment, I share the story of where Houdini got the dog that he gave to The Great Lafayette. Of course, that dog, whom he called Beauty, would be Lafayette's companion for the rest of his life. If you'd like to read more about Lafayette & his dog Beauty, follow this link.

I'll be experimenting with the Interview feature next week, so hopefully by the time I get to episode 5 or 6, I'll be ready to conduct some awesome interviews. And WOW, do I ever have a list of people!!!! You probably know some of them, and you might even BE one of them, lol. And I expect to have quite a few people that maybe you've not heard of but have so much to share!

Personally, I have gathered a great deal of information that I have never used for the blog. Now, I'll finally get a chance to use it for the podcast. I have a couple of interviews I did with people who have since passed on, so those might be fun to include. In addition, I've got some wild ideas that I just can't reveal, yet.

There is one thing I'm very careful NOT to do, and that is reveal secrets. I'm very old school in that regard, so I won't be tipping any big secrets. I know there will be non-magicians listening to the podcast and I don't want to give away the farm, so to speak. I've done a pretty decent job of keeping secrets out of the blog all these years, with the exception of two incidents which are among the 700+ blog articles, so I guess they're safe.

PLEASE DO ME A FAVOR, if you like the podcast, please leave me a review, or comment, or a LIKE, depending upon where you listen to it. 5 star reviews are appreciated. Trust me, I'll be working hard to earn them! And if you're listening via iTunes, please subscribe to the podcast! Or go to,

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Houdini's Gift of a Nashville Dog, Plus 2nd Nashville Appearance

The Great Lafayette & Beauty, the dog Houdini gave him.
I have written several times about how Houdini gave The Great Lafayette the gift of a dog while the two both were appearing in Nashville. Lafayette named the dog, Beauty, and it would become his traveling companion and best friend for the rest of their lives.

In 1899, Houdini and Lafayette were both in Nashville and appearing at the old Grand Theater (Grand Opera House). On November 6th, went down to the Nashville Police Department, unannounced. As the story goes, Houdini came into the station house, along with some reporters and made the claim they could lock him up in their cuffs and he could get out. The police in the station just laughed at him. Eventually, they brought out three pairs of cuffs, one of which hadn't been opened in 10 years because no one had a key. Houdini took key-less cuff and stepped out of the room for a moment. When he returned, the cuff was open, to the amazement of the chief of police! The officers locked Houdini in all three pair of cuffs and then, the newspaper article says, "he stepped behind an improvised curtain and began his escape." Houdini was free in 2 minutes and came walking back into the room two minutes later holding the three cuffs which had now been interlocked together.

Apparently, according to a March 12, 1924 article in The Tennessean Newspaper, Houdini, recalling the event from years previous, says that the detective who handcuffed him, later gave him a dog. And that Nashville dog, was then given to Lafayette and became the most treasured gift that he would ever receive.

Lafayette, later had a fake pedigree made for the dog. On the front door of his home in London Lafayette  hung a plaque that read 'The more I see of man, the more I love my dog'. Beauty had her own room and bathroom in the house. She ate five course meals. And an image of Beauty appeared on Lafayette's checks. She also was a member of the cast of his show.

Second Appearance in Nashville

This appeared to be Houdini's second appearance in Nashville. The first was back in 1899. Now it was March 11, 25 years later and he was appearing at the Ryman Auditorium. His show was sponsored  by The American Legion. Please note, in the advertisements he was referred to as 'The King of Magicians.'

To advertise his appearance, a group called 'The Battle of the Colors' would perform an aerial battle over the business district of Nashville. The troupe consisted of four planes taking off from Blackwood Field and being flown by pilots from the National Guard. They would first distribute fliers from the planes and then meet for the mock battle. Part of the fun was shooting red and green sky rockets at each other! I wonder what the FAA would say about that today, lol.

In addition to the airplane battle, articles appeared almost daily in The Tennessean Newspaper proclaiming Houdini's upcoming appearance and how he would be exposing fake mediums.

On the evening of March 11th, Houdini began with his lecture of Spiritualism, complete with his slide show. He presented a number of spirit like effects, like how fake mediums made messages appear on spirit slates, and how they could speak through spirit trumpets without being seen. Later he explained how these various effects were done. Houdini even covered one local ghost sighting from the Nashville area, called The Bell Witch of Robertson County. The Bell Witch was so popular that it's said, even President Andrew Jackson apparently had an encounter while encamped with his troops on the Bell Farm.

He completed his performance that night with his signature Milk Can Escape. However, it had been advertised that he would present the Water Torture Cell. I'm guessing the stage floor of the Ryman couldn't withstand the 100 gallons of water needed for the USD, so the opted for the Milk Can escape, which still was an under water escape. The Tennessean which covered the event, stated the audience that night was fair. I take this mean this was either not a full house, or the response to the performance was less than expected. The article does mention that the auditorium was freezing inside, so perhaps knowledge of this kept potential ticket buyers away. Or perhaps it was a situation where people were expecting a night of magic, and instead they got a lecture with a few tricks included. This issue had come up before with Houdini's Spirit Exposure Lecture. But I think it's more likely that it was not a sell out crowd.

One side note, every ticket holder to the show was given a 25 cent coupon that could be applied to a ticket for that evening's American Legion's Ball, being held at the Hermitage Hotel following Houdini's performance.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Great Lafayette on TV

One of my favorite articles, from this blog, was called Beauty and Lafayette. It's the story of a magician and his dog and the tragedy that ends the magician's life. It's one of my favorite stories in the history of magic because it has so many interesting layers to it.

The TV show Mysteries At The Museum has done a piece on Lafayette. I don't know when it was done originally, I just heard about it. They share the story, rather briefly, of Lafayette's death and the amazing thing that happened afterwards. The fellow doing the interview is David Stahl, who just so happens to be on the cover of the December 2013 MAGIC Magazine. And you need to read the article about David because along with being a successful performer he is also a collector. There is a wonderful story about a 'chance encounter' related to Lafayette that is a must read within his MAGIC Magazine article.

Now, enjoy the video from the show Mysteries At The Museum.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Great Lafayette Funeral Footage Found!

A couple years ago I wrote a blog about the Great Lafayette (Sigmund Neuberger).  I had discovered during the research that Houdini had made arrangements to have the funeral filmed because he could not be there in person. I also learned that there was funeral footage in the UK but I couldn't view it. I was unsure if this was the UK footage was what Houdini had commissioned or was someone else's footage and I still don't know.

Well, a reader of my blog posted an address where the footage of Lafayette's Funeral can be viewed. It's only 2 minutes long but it's so cool to see it. Here is the link
and a special thank you to Fiona for the information!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

UPDATE on HOUDINI Funeral Films

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Houdini and the Funeral Films

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lafayette's Other Fire

The article about Beauty & Lafayette turned out to be very popular. I thought my readers might enjoy a little more information about the man who was once Sigmund Neuberger. If you read the other blog you know that The Great Lafayette died tragically in a theatre fire. But it turns out that was not the first fire that Lafayette was involved in.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Beauty and Lafayette

This is a story about a man and his dog. But not just any man and not just any dog. The man was Sigmund Neuberger who was born in Munich Germany on Feb 25, 1871. In 1890 he immigrated to the United States at the age of nineteen.

He began in show business presenting a variety show along with a partner by the name of Mike Whelan. They went out west, following the gold rush that a lot of the nation was going after. I'm not sure how long they lasted but eventually Whelan got tired of the bad conditions in the camps and he ended the partnership. Neuberger went off on his own with his act called "The Crackshot with the Bow" which was basically a sharp shooting exhibition with a bow and arrows. He presented his act in Vaudeville houses in the U.S. and by 1892 was working the theatres in England.

In 1898 his life would would change dramatically upon seeing a brand new act, the Chinese magician Ching Ling Foo. Foo created quite a stir in the magic world and many copy cat acts followed. Foo may have been somewhat to blame however as he offered a challenge to anyone who could duplicate his famous appearing giant bowl of water feat. A number of performers took the challenge and Foo and his management had to explain it was a publicity stunt. The damage was done however and the 'Chinese style magic acts' began to grow.

By 1899 Neuberger added a few of the chinese magic feats to his act, and also began to add quick change costume routines as well as other original magic. The Great Lafayette was born!  On a tour through Tennessee, Lafayette ran into none other than Harry Houdini. They were both not quite famous and yet it would happen to them  very soon. They were playing the Grand Opera House on Cherry St. in Nashville. During their time in Nashville, Harry gave his friend Lafayette the gift of a dog. Not just any dog, this would become Lafayette's best friend and traveling companion. He named the dog Beauty and even created a fake pedigree for the dog. Where Houdini got the dog is anyone's guess.

On the front door of his home in London Lafayette  hung a plaque that read 'The more I see of man, the more I love my dog'. Beauty had her own room and bathroom in the house. She ate five course meals. And an image of Beauty appeared on Lafayette's checks. She also was a member of the cast of his show.

Lafayette it appears was the first to present the Mid-Air Bird Catching routine. Several magic history books credit Lafayette as the creator, but the actual creator of the Birds in the Net was Cyril Yettmah. It should be pointed out that Yettmah worked for Lafayette so this could be where the confusion comes from.  Lafayette did create many of his own effects and illusions however. Probably his most famous magic illusion was called 'The Lion's Bride'. Apparently, he was the first magician to add a lion to his act, and would be followed by many other magicians after him, including modern day performers like Doug Henning and Siegfried and Roy. Not unlike Roy Horn who was severely injured by a tiger during his act, Lafayette was attacked on more than one occasion by his lion. None of his injuries were ever as bad as Roy's.

The Lion's Bride, as well as most of Lafayette's routines was wrapped within a story or playlet. The Lion's Bride storyline changed over the years but the basic effect remained. A live lion in a cage roared and moved back and forth in it's cage. A woman was placed inside the cage with the ferocious beast. The lion would get up on it's hind legs as if to pounce on the woman and then suddenly, it would be revealed that it was Lafayette in a lion's costume! Frankly, that is an amazing routine. Today you see the production of a lion or tiger but this idea of having a live lion suddenly change into Lafayette wearing a lions costume is just brilliant.

In one of the many routines that Beauty would appear in, Lafayette donned an artists smock and beret, and began to paint on a small canvas. He would break the paper from the frame and his dog Beauty would burst forth!

Another spectacle of the Lafayette show, which was called "A Carnival of Conjuring", were his impressions of band leaders. This was part of his 'Travesty Band' sequence. He would conduct the orchestra and change costumes instantly to reflect whatever bandleader he was portraying.

It's been reported that during his career he was the highest paid entertainer in Vaudeville. It's clear that Lafayette knew he had a fabulous show and he held out for the right money. He was involved in all aspects of the show including costume design, set design and creation of illusions. Looking over one of his programs it's a show unlike any other performer before or since.

Life seemed to be going pretty well for Lafayette until May of 1911. On May 5, his most beloved friend in the entire world, Beauty, passed away. Lafayette had just opened a two week run at the Empire Theatre in Edinburgh Scotland. He was completely devastated. He made arrangements for Beauty to be buried in the Piershill Cemetery in Edinburgh. At first the cemetery officials would not allow the buried of the dog until Lafayette agreed that upon his death he too would be buried there.

The old showbiz saying is 'The Show Must Go On' and though in a state of deep depression Lafayette continued his run at the Empire Theatre. During his performance on May 9th, 1911, Lafayette was taking his bows after concluding The Lion's Bride routine. An oriental scenic lamp burst into flames on the set. The fire curtain was dropped but did not fall completely to the stage. Lafayette was very guarded with his secrets and he had the exits locked off so as the fire began to get out of control, backstage was a nightmare. Within 18 minutes of the fire starting the stage was ablaze with fire and smoke. The iron safety curtain broke free and fell to the stage. Thankfully everyone in the audience escaped safely and without injury. But on stage they were not so lucky. Ten people lost their lives due to the fire that night.
Among the dead was the body of Lafayette who was discovered near the Lion's Bride Cage. He was identified by the costume and sword he wore during one of his routines. The body was sent to be cremated.

However, Lafayette had one more piece of magic after his death. Several days after the fire another body was discovered. This one had the jeweled rings on it's fingers that Lafayette always wore. Lafayette's burnt body was found again, this time under the stage. Apparently when the Iron Fire Curtain collapsed it covered over the area where Lafayette had died.  The body that had been cremated previously was actually that of his body double, a man named Richards who was also the trumpeter in Lafayette's orchestra and was only 25 years old.

On May 14th, 1911 Lafayette's body was cremated and the urn containing the ashes of the dead illusionist was buried between the paws of his lifelong companion Beauty. They were now together for eternity.

The vaudeville and theatrical communities were devastated by the news. Houdini sent a floral display in the shape of Beauty to the funeral. He was unable to attend but made arrangements to have the funeral filmed. I discovered a site that apparently has film footage of the Lafayette Funeral. Whether or not the footage is that of Houdini's I cannot say. You can't view it at this location, but I'm assuming if you are in the UK you can make arrangements to view it.

Near the end of the book "The Life & Times of The Great Lafayette" by Arthur Setterington, he mentions a visit to the gravesite by Bess and Houdini. While there Houdini said about his friend Lafayette , "He fooled them in life and he fooled them in death, I envy him". 

The Empire Theatre was rebuilt three months after the tragic fire in 1911. It continued to operate as a theatre until 1963 when it was turned into a Bingo Hall.

In the 1990s the Empire went through another transformation, this one pretty major. The entire outer facade of the building was redone and the theatre changed it's name. Today it's called The Edinburgh Festival Theatre. (see photo below)

Doing the research for this particular blog I was amazed at the number of sites that covered the tragic fire. Clearly the folks in Edinburgh have not forgotten that frightful day in 1911 even after all these years. I discovered some interesting things in the course of the research. One of them is a song called "The Tragic Tale of the Great Lafayette and his Body Double" which can be heard by visiting the link.

The most amazing thing I discovered though is the upcoming celebration taking place in Edinburgh.
On May 9th, 2011, we mark the 100th Anniversary of The Great Lafayette's Death. Just so you know, there will be a real celebration! It's called 'The Great Lafayette Festival' and will take place of May 7th-9th in Edinburgh, Scotland. Among the activities in a special show put on by Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee celebrating the life and magic of Lafayette. There will also be a tour of the back stage area at the Empire Theatre(Festival Theatre now) and you can stand in the place where The Great Lafayette's life tragically ended. To find out more visit their official website at

Also, check out my other article with MORE information on Lafayette
The Old Empire Theatre is now The Edinburgh Festival Theatre