Showing posts with label Washington Irving Bishop. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Washington Irving Bishop. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Three Early Pioneers of Mind Reading

John Randall Brown
I must reluctantly admit that I do not know as much about mind readers as I do other areas of magical entertainment. I know of some of the bigger names: The Zancigs, Dunninger, Alexander, Annemann, and others, but as far as it's origins, I am not as knowledgeable. This brings me to the subject of my latest podcast, Episode 15, The Early Pioneers of Mind Reading.

Stuart Cumberland
It appears that things center on three people: John Randall Brown, Stuart Cumberland, and Washington Irving Bishop. The only name of the bunch I was aware of was Bishop and I didn't fully grasp his contribution. It turns out though that things begin with John Randall Brown and a technique he developed which would become known by a number of different names: Contact Mind Reading, Hellstromism, Psycho Physiological Thought Reading are just a few names it was given. For my podcast, I used the word CMR technique to simplify the name.

The technique in it's simplest form involves holding the wrist of a spectator and apparently having the vibrations of their thoughts pass from touch into your brain. (Magicians will understand what I'm saying). What I didn't know was this was once considered very close to the real thing in regards to reading someone's thoughts, because it used no props or gimmicks of any kind. On top of that, this technique could be used to reproduce many different types of effects in mentalism. And it turns out, this was the technique used by all three of the pioneers of Mind Reading mentioned above.

John Randall Brown's initial test with the technique was to have someone hide a pin, and then he
Washington Irving Bishop
would locate the hidden pin by holding the wrist of the person who hid it. Moments later he would walk right to the object that was very well secreted away. A simple test and effective. It reminded me of modern day mentalists who have a spectator hide a coin in one of their hands and they are able to devine which hand contains the coin with 100% accuracy. It's also the same as the stunt Kreskin has done for years where someone hides his check and he finds it.

All three of these early mentalists used the Pin Test. They were each tied to one another in some way and they all did the same basic act. What made them different was their individual personalities.

I did find researching this podcast to be more difficult than others due to the lack of information on mind readers. Granted, there may be some excellent books on the history of mind reading that I do not own, but I have a pretty extensive library so I don't know if I'm missing much.

They also are all connected to spiritualism. These three all presented Spiritualist exposures in their programs. But other performers who would become iconic in mentalism were more closely tied to spiritualism, like Anna Eva Fay and Samri Baldwin. It's as if the earliest mentalism had to deal with the spirits telling the secrets of members of the audience and then that changing to the mentalist telling the secrets of members of the audience, aka mind reading. In a similar way, escapology has it's origins in spiritualism as well. The Davenport Brothers being examples of very early escape artists, and other performers following suit.

Of the three early pioneers, Stuart Cumberland seems to be the most prolific having written a biography of his exploits. Washington Irving Bishop was likely the most famous and suffered the most tragic death. To find out more, please check out episode 15 of The Magic Detective Podcast.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Life of Anna Eva Fay

Anna Eva Fay
Ann Eliza Heathman was born in Southington Ohio in 1851. She apparently showed signs of being a medium at a young age and was encouraged by her family in that regard. Spiritualism had just been born in 1848 and it was sweeping the nation. The Fox Sisters and the Davenport Brothers were touring with their respective spiritualistic shows. It seemed logical for Ann to move in this direction as well. She met a man named H. Melville Fay who was a fake medium who became her manager and some think he was the one who taught Ann the methods of the fake mediums. FAY, by the way was also a fake name, he likely appropriated it from William Fay who was touring with the Davenport Brothers.

Ann adopted the stage name of Annie Fay and began to perform as a stage medium. David Price's book, A Pictorial History of Magic says that she may have started performing as early as age 11. So that would be around 1862 that she began. The early act consisted of Mr. Alexander Fay (another name used by H. Melville Fay) who did magic and ventriloquism. Her act followed with a 'Light Seance and a Dark Seance'. The Light Seance is probably where she presented the 'dancing spirit handkerchief'. This is the same trick that Harry Blackstone Sr. made famous, but it's generally agreed that it was invented by Anna Eva Fay. Though, it's not likely her routine was the same as Blackstone's.

The Dark Seance was her version of the Davenport's Spirit Cabinet. She would be tied to a post using strips of cloth. The knots in the cloth were then sewed together with thread. Rope would be tied to her feet and then the rope would extend outside her cabinet and be held by members of the audience. Her 'cabinet' by the way was not a cabinet at all, but instead was a pipe and drape set up to form a small curtained room. When the front curtain was closed, odd manifestations would occur, but every time the curtain was opened, Ann was found to be still tied and still in a trance-like state. The manifestations she offered were unique. Her head would be seen floating above the top edge of the curtain at one point; nails and a board were put into the cabinet and moments later the nails would be found to have been pounded into the board; a sheet of paper and a pair of scissors were put into the cabinet and when opened the paper was cut into the shape of a string of dolls.

So amazing and believable was Annie Fay that regardless of the inclusion of magic and ventriloquism people began to believe her work was the real thing. I should point out that she never presented her offerings and legitimate spirit manifestations. However, the statement or disclaimer made prior to her performance left a lot to the imagination. It basically said, 'if you think what you are seeing is real, you are welcome to think that. We present these demonstrations of your kind consideration'. That's a simplified version of the quote, and it hardly says what she is doing is fake, but it also makes no claim that it's real. I think because she was a 'stage medium' and presented her show in a theatrical setting, it was assumed she was merely a show person. But because people are so quick to believe these pseudo paranormal performers, she became a sensation.
After returning from England in the 1870s, Annie Fay became Anna Eva Fay. She and H. Melville Fay, whose real last name was Cummings, had a son, John, in 1877. Young John would assist his mother in the act as he grew older. Another interesting character who once acted as an assistant to the Anna Eva Fay show was Washington Irving Bishop. Sadly, Bishop was a bit of a traitor as he was source behind an exposure article that appeared in the New York Daily Graphic in 1876. He left the show and went off on his own after this. The exposure of the Anna Eva Fay act did nothing to slow down her success.

Shortly after her son was born, H. Melville Cummings/Fay, her manager and possibly her husband, died. She then married David Pingree who then became her manager as well.

Over the years the spirit manifestation part of the act began to loose appeal and it was replaced with Anna Eva Fay presenting feats of mentalism or mind reading. In the past, parts of her act were taken by other performers, specifically the spirit handkerchief or dancing hank which ended up in the acts of, Harry Kellar, Frederick Eugene Powell, Harry Blackstone and others. Now it was her turn to 'borrow' from another performer. She took Samri Baldwin's Q&A routine and added it to her act.

The Anna Eva Fay version of the Question & Answer Act started with pads of paper being passed out before the show to audience members who wrote down questions on the paper and then tore the paper off and kept it. Later in the show, Anna would sit in a chair and be covered with a light cloth and begin to answer the questions briskly that people had written down. Near the end of the act, the cloth covering would be removed and Anna Eva Fay would collapse in the arms of her husband.

Everything seemed to be splendidly for Anna Eva Fay until her son John married a woman named Eva Norman in 1898.  Eva and Anna Eva Fay did not get along from the start and what made matters worse is when Eva and John went off on their own and started doing an act called 'The Marvelous Fays. They were basically doing a copy of Anna Eva Fay's act. Later Eva Fay would bill herself as 'The High Priestess of Mysticism'. This caused a rift in the family. It was not an exact copy, as Eva Fay presented her version on the Q&A act much differently and more flamboyantly than the elder Fay.

In 1908, while apparently cleaning or toying with a loaded pistol, John Cummings Fay, son of Anna Eva Fay and husband to Eva Fay accidentally shot and killed himself. John was buried in the family plot in Massachusetts.

Anna Eva Fay continued to perform her act until 1924 when she retired. It was during this time that none other than Harry Houdini stepped into the picture. He had exposed her act in his book A Magician Among the Spirits, and was actually meeting her after the book had come out.

Houdini claimed that Fay revealed her secrets to him, but some historians believe that this probably did not happen. I'm not sure that the revelation that she was not a real spirit medium would be a real revelation to Houdini given the nature of Anna Eva Fay's act and Houdini's knowledge of escapes and magic. There was one thing she did reveal to Houdini.  According to the Kenneth Silverman's biography on Houdini, Anna Eva Fay confided in Houdini that she visited her son's grave often, always hoping for a message from beyond but never receiving one.

Another thing revealed in the Silverman biography was this shocking bit of news, 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.

Ms. Fay was also on hand when Houdini was set to challenge Margery the Medium at Symphony Hall in Boston in January 1925. I guess you could say she was there for 'spiritual support' (sorry I couldn't resist that one).

Anna Eva Fay Pingree died on May 1927. She was buried in the family plot at the Wyoming Cemetery in Melrose Massachusetts. She was an amazing woman and became quite famous and wealthy with her unusual act. Historian Barry Wiley has written a biography of Anna Eva Fay called, The Indescribable Phenomenon and it's published by Hermetic Press.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Strange Life & Death of Washington Irving Bishop

Washington Irving was an American author who is famous for many books including the stories "The Legend of Sleepy Hallow" and "Rip Van Winkle" both which were written in 1820 and are still popular today.  There was another Washington Irving, however, this one was Washington Irving Bishop and he was supposedly the godson of Washington Irving.

He was born in 1856 to parents who were both devout Spiritualists. His mother, Eleanor, was in fact a practicing medium. He lived a fairly ordinary life, went to college and then got a job. He left that job to work for Anna Eva Fay the famous psychic/medium/mentalist. Before long, Bishop became Fay's manager. But something would happen to change all that. In 1876 an exposure of Anna Eva Fay's act appeared in a newspaper. The information was secretly provided by none other than Washington Irving Bishop. Right after this, Bishop left the employ of Fay and went about presenting his very own 'exposure' show revealing the tricks of Anna Eva Fay and other fake spiritualists. He even went so far as to expose the 'Second Sight' act that Robert Heller the magician had been presenting. Heller by the way, never claimed to be anything other than a musician and a magician.

Around 1877, Bishop's act changed from being an exposure act to one where he did Mind Reading effects. He learned these from another popular mind reader of the time Jacob Randall Brown. The one main effect that he got from Brown was the technique called Muscle Reading. During Muscle Reading the performer can be blindfolded, and while holding the hand of an audience member, is able to locate hidden objects. Bishop built this into quite the phenomenon.

Now fast forward to the night of May 12, 1889. Washington Irving Bishop has been asked to perform before the prestigious Lamb's Club in NYC at 70 West 36th Street New York NY. The Lamb's Club was the first professional theatrical club in America. Over the years some of the famous members have included: John Barrymore, W.C. Fields, Will Rogers, Cecil B. DeMille, George M. Cohan, Fred Astaire, John Phillip Sousa, Cliff Robertson, John Wayne, Charlie Chaplin and many more. Bishop was asked to perform for the top tier of Theatrical Entertainers and he gladly agreed.

He performed a number of unbelievable Mind Reading effects with the use of his muscle reading technique. And then, he collapsed! He fell to the ground unconscious. A friend of Bishop's mentioned that his friend was probably alright. He apparently suffered from catalepsy.   The definition of Catalepsy- noun a physical condition usually associated with catatonic schizophrenia, characterized by suspension of sensation, muscular rigidity, fixity of posture, and often by loss of contact with environment. This was not the first time Bishop passed out during a performance. Because of this he carried a note in his breast pocket explaining the situation and informing whoever found him that under NO circumstances should an autopsy be performed. 

Bishop woke up a short time later and actually requested to finish his performance. But before he got too far he was out again. This time however, he did not wake. Attending doctors eventually pronounced him dead in the early morning. Bishop's wife was notified and the following day she came to see her dead husband at the funeral home. When she saw her husbands body she was mortified. An autopsy had been performed! His skull had been cut open and his brain removed. She began yelling "they've killed my husband!!!" It is very likely that Washington Irving Bishop was simply in a cataleptic trance. The doctors who examined him in the early morning said  'no note was found on his body'. Possibly they found the note after they had begun the autopsy. Shocking!
But the story doesn't end there. If the wife was angry, it was nothing compared to Eleanor Bishop, the mother! She wanted answers. Why was an autopsy done? Who stole her son's brain? She asked for an coroners inquiry, so a second autopsy was done. The missing brain was located in the chest cavity of Bishop, but no cause of death could be discovered.  Later she had charges brought against the doctors involved. Unfortunately, they encountered a hung jury and the doctors were all released.

Mrs. Eleanor Bishop was kind of a unique person. She made countless outlandish claims throughout her life. Things like being friends with Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and William McKinley. She claimed she was owed countless millions of dollars and on an on the tales went. Apparently, none other than Harry Houdini came to her aid later in life and he would purchase items from Bishop's collection to help out the mother. When she passed away, Houdini found out he was the sole beneficiary of her $30 million estate (except there was no money to be had).