Showing posts with label Wyman the Wizard. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wyman the Wizard. Show all posts

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Episode 12 Podcast Wyman the Wizard Notes

Episode 12 of the podcast is up and already getting downloads, thanks everyone! I don't have a lot of notes on this episode because most of it was covered in previous blog articles. However. I do have an image for you of Professor Pugh, the friend who Wyman met during his retirement. He gave or sold some of his props to Prof. Pugh and here is a photo of the good professor with them.

By the #s, there is #5 Little Bobbie, you can barely make out the carved head on this thing. # 6 is hard to see but it's in the back, the Spirit Clock/Dial. #7 is the rifle, or as it's listed, Gun and Target. #8 is that odd looking thing that the rifle is leaning against, it's a Pearl Inlaid Chair Back. #9 is pretty obvious, it's a Card Sword. #11 is the Money belt, though I don't see the number in the photo, but I do see the belt. And #13 is also not marked but it's the Canister and Bird Cage. You can see the cage right behind Little Bobbie. The man in the image is Prof. Pugh, not Wyman.

This is the link for the various articles on Wyman that can be found here on the blog...

Monday, January 22, 2018

P.T. Barnum the Magician

With the recent release of the movie, The Greatest Showman, I've once again become intrigued with Barnum. I will say that this movie has about as much to do with Barnum as the Tony Curtis movie about Houdini had to do with Houdini. But, like the Tony Curtis movie, it's an enjoyable film.

I'd like to examine the real Barnum for a moment, specifically his connection to the world of magic. If you're unaware, his connection is huge. Phineas Taylor Barnum was born in Bethel CT, July 5th 1810. Consider, Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809, Robert Houdin was born 1805 and you'll begin to understand where Barnum fits in history's timeline.

In 1836, Barnum had created something he called "Barnum's Grand Scientific and Musical Theatre." This was a traveling troupe of performers and had on the bill a gentleman by the name of Joe Pentland. Mr. Pentand was a magician, and at some point, Barnum acted as hidden assistant to his act. This job seems to be shortlived however, as one faithful performance, Barnum, while hiding inside a table, was bitten by a squirrel, which caused him to straighten his neck and legs and thus collapse the table which he had been hidden inside of.

In February of 1837, Barnum sold half his interest in Barnum's Grand Scientific and Musical Theatre to a man named Henry Hawley.  Mr. Hawley was a magician who performed many standard tricks of the day, including the 'egg and bag trick'. According to Barnum's Autobiography, Barnum's Own Story, this was the trick were multiple eggs are produced from a bag, and then eventually a live chicken. This is quite different from the 'egg and bag trick' many of us are familiar with today. This was the original age old version that dated back to the time of Issac Fawkes. Hawley, remained with the show until August 1837, when Barnum dissolved their partnership.

In 1841, Barnum purchased Scudder's American Museum. Scudder's was a run down place featuring mostly taxidermy displays. When Barnum took it over, he transformed the building inside and out. He added performers, freak show entertainers and more. Among his most popular freak show entertainers was General Tom Thumb. Barnum met Tom (Charles Stratton), when the boy was only 4 years old. He brought him to his museum and soon took him on a tour of Europe.

Barnum first sets up shop in London, at a place that would one day be known for magic, Egyptian Hall. In here he shared many curiosities, automaton, and General Tom Thumb. It wasn't long before Barnum and company received an invitation to visit the Queen. The company was coached in proper etiquette, but that would go awry when young Tom Thumb would speak out of turn to Queen Victoria. She loved it. And Barnum and company were invited back a second time to the palace.

Barnum attended the World Exposition in Paris, while on tour in Europe in 1844, . This is where he happened to see Robert-Houdin and his many wonderful automaton, for the first time. Barnum was most intrigued with Houdin's latest creation, The Writing and Drawing automaton. The device was a small human like figure who was very lifelike in both appearance and physical action. By all accounts it was much more than a wind up novelty, this automaton wrote or drew according to the question asked.

During the exhibition, King Louis Phillipe attended and made a special arrangement to visit with
Robert Houdin to see his various automaton. The King was quite inquisitive and Houdin enjoyed the banter. But when the King came upon what was really the crowned jewel of the display, The Writing and Drawing Automaton, things really got interesting. Houdin explained what the device could do and then suggested to the King that he ask the automaton a question. The King asked, "How many inhabitants does Paris contain?"  The automaton began to raise it's arm, which allowed a sheet of paper to be placed on it's table. Then the little figure lowered it's arm and began to write, "Paris contains 998,964 inhabitants." The next test involved the King reciting a poem, but leaving out the final line. The King gave the first three lines of the quatrain, and then the little figure wrote out the last line to complete the poem.

The final test involved the automaton's ability as an artist. The King turned to the Comte de Paris who was in the King's entourage, and said, "choose your own subject for a drawing." The prince who was heir to the thrown, chose a crown to be drawn. The automaton began to fashion a crown on the piece of paper but in the midst of drawing the pencil lead broke, preventing the drawings completion. The King spoke up and said to the Comte de Paris, "As you have learned to draw, you can finish this for yourself." The Christian Fechner book, The Magic of Robert Houdin An Artists Life Volume 1, points out that this was a forewarning of events to come, as the Comte de Paris never took the thrown.

In the book, Struggles and Truimphs: Forty Years' Recollections of P.T. Barnum, by Barnum, he shares the story of meeting Robert Houdin. Barnum attended the Exposition specifically to find new curiostities for his museum, and right there he purchased from Houdin the Writing & Drawing Automaton, along with numerous other automatons. While in Paris, Barnum attended Robert Houdin's Soirees Fantastic, and was always introduced by Houdin to the other attendees.

Barnum sent the Writing & Drawing Automaton to London to be put on display and then later shipped it off to his museum in NYC. Sadly, the fire which destroyed the Barnum museum in 1865 destroyed the legendary Houdin automaton, along with many other irreplaceable treasures.

Let me back up slightly to 1856. At this time in history, there were three names that reigned supreme in American Magic History, Signor Blitz, Wyman the Wizard, and Jonathan Harrington. They all had similar acts which included magic, ventriloquism, and imitations. Ventriloquism back then was different from what we think of today. They used no mechanical dummies to speak through. Rather, they 'threw their voice' and made it appear that sounds, and talking, were coming from other places. In regards to the imitations, they would recreate the sounds made by animals, birds, even machinery and such.  All three gentlemen were well known by Barnum. In fact, Barnum had hired Harrington previously to perform for him at an exhibit in Boston. Blitz performed at Niblo's Garden, right near the Barnum Museum, and was on friendly terms with Barnum. Blitz in fact, may have been the most famous magician in the country at the time. It's said that there were 13 other performers working throughout the U.S. claiming the name Signor Blitz. Finally, we come to Wyman the Wizard, who was extremely popular and one of the most financially successful magicians of his time.

One evening in 1856, the three men attended the first American performance at Barnum's Museum of British ventriloquist and mimic Lionel Goldshmidt.  The theatre was sold out and the anticipation was great for this renowned performer. The only problem was, he had not shown up for the performance. As it got closer and closer to showtime, Barnum began to panic. He went to his three magic friends in the audience and asked if they could fill in. Blitz, declined because he did not have his equipment with him. Harrington similarly excused himself from performing. It came down to Wyman the Wizard who agreed to fill in. Barnum rushed him to the dressing room and quickly applied a fake mustache and beard to Wyman so that he might look more like the famed British Ventriloquist.  Wyman then went out and performed an impromptu performance of imitations and ventriloquism. He produced the sounds of many different animals and then had comedic conversations with members of the audience, thought it was Wyman's voice doing the talking from the audience and the answering. Barnum was relieved and elated. And that was not the only time Wyman worked for Barnum. According to Houdini (via MAGIC by David Price) while in NY in 1850, Wyman was under management of P.T. Barnum!

There is an interesting event that took place in 1855 when Barnum had invited Blitz to witness the
exhibition of a new invention called an annihilator, which I gather was some sort of fire extinguisher.   A building was about to be set on fire so they could demonstrate this new device, but before the fire was set, voices were heard coming from the building saying, "Don't! Please let me out! Don't burn me up!" The building was then searched, but no one was found inside. So again, they attempted to set the building on fire, but once again, voices were heard screaming out for help. After another search, they attempted to yet again set the building on fire but this time the sound of barnyard animals could be heard coming from the building. It then dawned on Barnum exactly what was going on, it was his friend Blitz creating the havoc. This story comes from the book P.T. Barnum the Legend and the Man by A.H. Saxon. The end result was the two men having a long standing feud.

 In the late 1850s Barnum was back on England on a lecture tour. He hired the famous European magician, Kratky Baschik to perform on his tour. I would surmise that Barnum was always on the hunt for talent and oddities in his travels. For example, in 1873, he featured an Italian Magician by the name of Patrizio, who performed  a feat known as, "Catching a Live Cannon Ball". It was also around this time he hired Professor Verbeck from France to tour with his show in the United States.

The Illustrated History of Magic by Milbourne Christopher describes John Henry Anderson, The Great Wizard of the North, "as the Barnum of nineteenth century bafflers." The book goes on to describe how Anderson would not just put up one or two posters advertising his shows, but rather he would paper the town, covering every available inch of space on a wall. The book even claims he put posters on the Pyramids in Egypt and on the cliffs of Niagara Falls! Anderson is also credited with the grand parade that was later copied by many circuses. One wonders who came up with this first, Anderson or Barnum? But, looking at his period of time, John Henry Anderson was born in 1814 and died in 1874. And, Barnum and Anderson knew each other well. The Illustrated History of Magic shares a story of Barnum having dinner with Anderson and the later introducing people to Barnum saying, 'he is the Great Wizard of the North'. He apparently played along at first but then started giving out 'free tickets' to people who came over. Once the REAL Great Wizard of the North realized what was happening he quickly reclaimed his title and put a stop to the free tickets!

Now, we all know about Barnum's Fiji Mermaid, and his famous Siamese Twins, and even the dog faced boy. But have you ever heard of Euphonia? Probably not. I hadn't. I saw a photo of a playbill for it in David Price's book, MAGIC A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theatre. The book only contains a single sentence on the device, "Professor Faber's talking machine automaton was exhibited by P.T. Barnum in 1873." That's it, no other information. So I had to do some digging.

It turns out that Joseph Faber was a German inventor, scientist who in 1840 created the first talking automaton. But because of the lack of interest in the device, he destroyed it! In 1844 he built another one but discouragement soon set in due to lack of interest and he again destroyed it. In 1845 he was building another one. What was this device? It was made almost entirely of wood and rubber and had a keyboard which could produce various sounds. The device also had a bellows which created the flow of air combined with the keyboard made the sounds. A female face was mounted to the device and in 1846, Barnum found out about it and purchased or leased it, I'm not 100% certain which. He sent the inventor and the machine to London where it was exhibited at Egyptian Hall. The inventor and the device made it's way through Europe before coming back to America and being put on display at Barnum's Museum.

Somehow the Wonderful Talking Machine-Euphoria, escaped the devastation of the Barnum Museum Fire of 1865. Perhaps the device was on tour at the time.

Barnum continued to feature the device, even in his traveling circus as late as 1873. To the right is a photograph of the automaton taken by famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady.

I know there are more connections to magic by Barnum, I have not uncovered them all. In my next article, I'll be sharing a fascinating story of another artist who often gets compared to Barnum. It's quite the revelation, and one you'll want to read!

Houdini and Barnum

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Wyman the Wizard's Final Resting Place

When last I wrote about Wyman the Wizard, I mentioned that I had discovered the cemetery but had yet to visit it. Then fellow Magic Detective Gary Hunt contacted me to confirm that the cemetery I discovered was indeed correct. Well, Gary has beaten me to the cemetery and recently sent me some fantastic photos of Wyman's grave.

He is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Fall River Mass. His gravestone is quite weathered as can be seen in the photo. In a few years it will be totally unreadable.

I first became interested in Wyman when I found out he lived in Washington D.C. for a period of time. He also performed for several US Presidents including Abraham Lincoln. But one of the most fascinating things about Wyman is that many magic historians from the early 20th Century credit Wyman for being the most financially successful magician of his time.

I found an unusual mention of Wyman in the Feb 1995 issue of MUM. It's from a column called 'Significant Events in Philadelphia Magic History'. Here is what it says, "July 1881, John Wyman walks out of the shop of Philadephia magic dealer Thomas Yost and says, 'You will not see me again. This is the last of Wyman.' Several days later on July 28th, Wyman dies."  The original quote came from an article by Frederick Eugene Powell that appeared in the August 1927 issue of The Sphinx. According to Powell, Wyman was not ill at the time, but apparently had some sort of premonition that his end was near, and it was.

Incidentally, Gary Hunt pointed out to me that John Wyman is buried with his wife Jane Wyman who appeared early on as a magician along with her husband. In fact, she received top billing as The Enchantress or Lady Magician and he performed as a Ventriloquist. Magic history never ceases to amaze me and continues to deliver incredible treasures of information!

Big Thanks go out to Gary Hunt for providing the grave photos!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Few More Details on Wyman the Wizard

Today, I'm once again exploring the life of John Wyman, known as Wyman the Wizard. I have written about Wyman before, but I continue to find new information that is quiet revealing. He was born in 1816 in Albany NY. His career as an entertainer began simply enough as a mimic. He could reproduce the sound of people's voices as well as animal sounds to such a degree people thought they were listening to the real thing. How this transferred to magic is not known, but before long he became a full fledged magician and mimicry was only a small part of his show.

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." John Mullholland writing in The Sphinx, says "he was the first American-born magician to present a full evening's stage performance". 

John Mullholland actually reveals a number of surprising details about Wyman. Mullholland claims that Wyman was the first magician to include spiritualistic/mediumistic effects in his programs. He also claims that  in 1857, when the Boston Courier was investigating the Fox Sisters, Wyman was chosen as one of the people to be on the committee. And probably due to Wyman's participation on the committee, no reward was given out to the Fox Sisters.

I first became interested in Wyman when I learned he lived and performed often in my area,
Odd Fellows Hall Today
Washington D.C.. Wyman performed for Presidents Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore and performed numerous times for President Abraham Lincoln. As I mentioned in a previous article, one of the effects presented to Lincoln was the Cap & Pence, where several coins would mysteriously pass through the hand of a spectator, in this case, through Mr. Lincoln's hands. Those coins now reside in the collection/museum of David Copperfield. 

 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.

One of the most fascinating things to me was Wyman's Gift Show. This was a show in which every ticket holder received some sort of gift. According to reports, these were often very nice gifts as well. I wonder how he worked this out financially to be able to provide quality gifts to every single person in the audience and still make a profit from his performances.

Wyman did make quite a huge profit in his lifetime. He was one of the few magicians in history to make a lot of money and keep it until his death. He also wrote an autobiography which was never published. The manuscript was apparently sent to George M. Cohan shortly after Wyman's death, but Cohan said he never received it. So that means the U.S. Post Office has been loosing packages for a very very LONG time!

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.

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, August 31, 2011

The MAGIC used by Civil War Magicians

After I completed my series on Magicians of the Civil War era, I noticed that many of them did the same tricks. I wanted to give you some highlights of the types of things that could be found in many of the acts of the Civil War era magicians.

The Spirit Cabinet
There is an interesting similarity among the magicians from the Civil War period. A commonality of effects if you will. In other words, they stole from each other back then as much as today. In fact, I noticed a trend among magicians to purposely steal certain routines and then 'expose them'. Specifically, the routines presented by the Davenport Brothers. Their creation, The Spirit Cabinet, along with their spirit manifestations, or fake spirit manifestations showed up in the acts of; John Henry Anderson, Samri Baldwin, Prof. Harry Cooke and many others. Interestingly, the Spirit Cabinet would continue in the years past the Civil War and become a popular feature with Thurston, Kellar, Carter, Willard, Blackstone, Calvert and many others. Today it is being revived once again by Michael Ammar and his wife Hannah, who is the daughter of Frances Willard, the daughter of magician Harry Willard.

Second Sight
Here is an effect from the repertoire of Robert Houdin. He presented this trick with his son. While blindfolded, his son Emile could identify objects that his father held up which were in full view of the audience but unseen by his son. This same routine somehow, mysteriously ended up in the show of Compars Herrmann, who presented it along with his younger brother Alexander. Other magicians took the same trick and began to alter and adapt it. Chief among them was probably Robert Heller.

Today, second sight demonstrations are a regular part of a mentalists performance and sometimes seen in magic acts. The Evanson's come to mind as an excellent example of a modern couple presenting the Second Sight Blindfold act.

The Gun Trick
A very popular effect was notorious The Gun Trick or Bullet Catching Trick. This effect was used by John Henry Anderson with great success until he sold it to Wyman the Wizard who also had a lot of luck with it. Signor Blitz used it, but he was not always so lucky.  In one particular instance an audience volunteer loaded a button in the hole of the rifle and when it was shot the button ripped through the skin of Blitz's hand. Several close calls like this were enough for him to eventually remove it from his act. After the Civil War Alexander Herrmann added the effect to his show, as did William Ellsworth Robinson. Mr. Robinson was better known as Chung Ling Soo and was also one of the many individuals who was killed on stage presenting the Bullet Catching Feat. Today, in the 21st Century the effect lives on in the act of Penn & Teller.

The Suspended Lady
This is Robert-Houdin's Ethereal Suspension. I believe the first pirated version shows up in the act of John Henry Anderson who called it 'The Suspension Chloriforeen'. He picked up his copy of the trick from a former mechanic who had worked for Robert Houdin. Compars Herrmann was also using the Suspension Illusion as well. For those newbies to magic, though the effect might seem like a levitation, it is not. In a levitation a person apparently rises in the air. In a suspension, they are held or suspended in space. Levitations and suspensions are similar enough and generally fall in the same category in magic.

The Suspended Lady illusion actually dates back to at least the 13th Century and possibly further. Today it's commonly known as the Broom Suspension and has been used by countless performers (including me). This effect appears in the Tony Curtis Houdini movie, however I am not sure if Houdini actually ever presented the effect in his show. Richiardi Jr. had one of the most incredible presentations of the trick. It also is a highlight of the Le Grand David Show in Beverly Mass.

The Inexhaustible Bottle
Now here is a fantastic trick. Actually, all of the things I've mentioned so far are great and you'll note that they all are still used in some fashion today. Thankfully, modern artists have altered them to fit the times, but why throw out a perfectly good trick? The Inexhaustible Bottle is an illusion where a glass bottle is filled with water and rinsed out. Then any liquid called for can be poured from the bottle, typically alcoholic drinks. According to Houdini, the trick dates back to 1635 and an effect called the Inexhaustible Barrel. Basically it's the same effect but using a wooden whiskey barrel. Robert-Houdin claimed to have invented it and as has been seen before this effect showed up in the acts of many other performers. One in particular Compars Herrmann who used it during his show at the White House before President and Mrs. Lincoln and their guests.

David Devant, the great English conjurer updated the effect by using a tea kettle rather than a bottle. Later, Charles Hoffmann created an entire act around the effect and he became known as "Think A Drink Hoffmann". Today, the effect, in it's Tea Kettle form, lives on in the act of Steve Cohen, The Millionaire's Magician.

Other Staples
It will come as no surprise that the following effects could be found within the repertiore of Civil War magicians: The Cups and Balls, The Sucker Die Box, The Devils Hank/Napkin, Passe Passe Bottles, Flower Productions/Botania, The Genii Tube/Cornucopia, Early Versions of the Misers Dream in various forms, Rising Cards, Handkerchief productions/vanishes, Flag productions and more.

Ventriloquism & other variety arts & acts
While not magic, ventriloquism was a popular addition to many magicians acts from the Civil War era. Among the practitioners of this craft were Signor Blitz, Wyman the Wizard, Fred Bearns and others. Robert Heller added Punch and Judy shows to his repertoire. Blitz had trained birds. Robert Heller was a trained pianist and he added musical numbers in his show which gave it an elegance and sophistication that other acts lacked. Adding variety and skill sets beyond that of magic gave the Civil War era performers broader appeal. The tradition of adding other variety art forms to ones act continues today, though ventriloquism is rarely found in the acts of well known magicians. Rather, good ventriloquists have established their own shows minus any connection to magic.

Basically, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Well, in magic, they don't seem to change too much. Another way of looking at it is good magicians recognize quality effects and keep them! But I can't help but wonder, how many effects have fallen out of favor over the years which could be brought back, updated and still fool modern audiences?

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