Showing posts with label nevil maskelyne. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nevil maskelyne. Show all posts

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Spirit Handkerchief and It's History

There is a wonderful effect in magic that has found it's way into the acts of many performers called The Dancing Handkerchief. Probably the most iconic performer to present the effect was Harry Blackstone Sr., and then later his son Blackstone Jr.. Even David Copperfield made a hit out of this little wonder.  But you might be surprised just how many well known performers and hundreds of lesser knowns performed this effect.

I tried to track down the origins of the mystery, originally known as The Spirit Handkerchief. Magicpedia lists Nevil Maskelyene as the creator. I can find no reference in magic literature to Nevil Maskelyne having been the creator of the trick.
Anna Eva Fay
thought I had the answer but then a second source listed a different name. Originally, I thought that Anna Eva Fay created this mystery. She began her career as a fake spirit medium and this type of effect would have been ideal for her 'Light Seance' segment.

However, here is what I do know. In the 1870s, Anna Eva Fay was in England presenting her seances. She had encountered John Nevil Maskelyne, who was busy exposing all spirit mediums. There is a brief account of their altercation in White Magic by Jasper Maskelyne. Shortly after this Anna Eva Fay returned to America and for a time was thought to be English, though she was actually from Ohio.

So who created the Spirit Dancing Hank? Looks like the winner is Anna Eva Fay*. But I think I know why Maskelyne's name is connected to it. The Dancing Hank was often presented in conjunction with another effect which was sort of a mini-Spirit Cabinet. Two chairs were placed on stage. A sheet of glass was balanced upon the two chairs and then a small cabinet was placed upon the glass. Inside was a bell and a slate. This effect was the creation of Maskelyne.  And it may have been Frederick Eugene Powell who first presented these two together in the United States. This information comes from Magic: A Pictorial History of Conjurers In The Theatre by David Price.

I do know that Harry Kellar began presenting these two effects together in 1894. He called it The
Cassadaga Propaganda. And from several different accounts, his Dancing Hank routine was a big hit. It's hard to say where he got it from, though he may have seen Maskelyne present it as he was known for stealing material from the Maskelyne show.

I found an interesting article in The Linking Ring Vol 40 #8, on a lesser known magician, John Grdina. In the article it says that Grdina taught none other than Harry Blackstone Sr. the Dancing Hank and whenever Blackstone was in Cleveland, he would mention it to his audiences. Grdina, as a youth apparently saw Harry Kellar first present the effect. He later would create some kind of version of his own.

Blackstone Sr. presented the Dancing Hank so well, that he is associated with the effect. His son, Harry Jr. also made a showpiece out of the routine. Others have presented the original version including Harry Willard, John Calvert and Howard Thurston. But no one made as big a mark with it as did Harry Blackstone Sr.. Below is the video of Harry Jr. presenting the hank, exactly as his father before him had presented it. (The person who uploaded the video fast-forwards through a bit of the early section, so just ignore that.)

In the 1950s, along came Ralph Adams. He created a more elaborate version of the Dancing Hank that was different from the Blackstone version. Doug Henning later used the Ralph Adam's version in his shows for many years. Though it was still a piece of cloth becoming animated, it was a different routine from the earlier versions. Below is a shorter version of the Henning routine. Usually, Doug presented it onstage with one of his dancers.

Then in the late 1970s David Copperfield debuted a new take on this classic effect. His version was the creation of Don Wayne and it combined aspects of the original with a sort of animated 'zombie' like effect. The Don Wayne version became all the rage for a number of years. Incidentally, the Don Wayne version may have been an updated version of the Joe Karson version known as Voodoo. One reason I think the Copperfield routine became so iconic was that he created a story based routine or a vignette. The magic was an important aspect of telling the overall story.

And speaking of updating versions, the latest and most advanced version of the effect started with the Don Wayne method and flew out to the stratosphere thanks to magic creator Sean Bogunia. Sean has taken the basic effect, added multiple methods and truly brought the animated handkerchief to life in ways that no one ever thought possible. Because of his innovations, many performers present the Dancing Hank in their shows today.

I'm not certain that anyone has really gotten the notoriety with the effect that the Blackstone's did. Though Sean is sure known as Mr. Hanky these days. This is by far a complete history of the effect but it does give you a good overview of the dancing hank through the years. Others have had innovations along the way as well, like Karrel Fox and Steve Dusheck. And a multitude of performers have presented this great effect. One thing is for certain,  over 100 years later the effect of causing a bit of cloth or handkerchief to come to life and animate and dance is still an amazing and popular illusion.

*Barry Wiley, author of The Indescribable Phenomenon, a biography of Anna Eva Fay, believes that in fact it was Maskelyne who created the Dancing Hank effect. His book is extremely well researched so now I'm leaning towards Maskelyne over Anna Eva Fay.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Another Forgotten Illusion-OH!

I am always astonished at the creativity of the old time magicians. Today when we think of illusions the first notion is some big box, which is usually correct. But the Victorian Magicians did not restrict themselves to mere boxes. In fact, the following is an example of very modern thinking, the props involved all look ordinary.

The illusion is called 'Mahatmas Outdone' and it was also known as 'OH!'. The basic effect is vanishing a person in a chair under challenge conditions. This was the co-creation of Charles Morrit and Nevil Maskelyne. According to two sources*, the effect first appeared at Egyptian Hall on September 29th, 1891. Oddly, the British Museum lists the date for the above poster as 1877. I think the date is incorrect on the part of the British Museum actually. Morrit would have been 17 years old in 1877 and as far as I can see, he didn't make his stage debut until 1878.

Interestingly, the Kellars Wonders book listed Harry Kellar as adding this trick to his act in three months after the Egyptian Hall debut. The book presumes that Kellar purchased the rights to the act as well as the rights to another routine he would add to his show.

Oh! is a remarkable illusion which requires the assistance of at least three people from the audience. The magicians assistant sits on a chair and places one wrist through a ring which is attached to a cord. The end of the cord is held by one of the audience helpers. The assistants other wrist is tied or buckled to the arm of the chair and then the curtain is lowered and the assistant can put their wrist through a hole in the curtain, thus allowing yet another audience helper to verify that the assistant within in still there. A sheet of metal was slid under the chair to prevent the person from going through some trapdoor.

When the magician gives the word, the volunteers raise the curtain, at the same time the hand that was being held is yanked inside the cabinet, but the second the curtain passes the height of the chair it's evident that the assistant is gone! Moments later the assistant reappears in the back of the audience! What an interesting trick. I love all these little convincers to prove that the person is still inside the curtained cabinet and then a second later, GONE!

The effect was presented by a number of different magicians at Egyptian Hall and later St. George's Hall. And of course, Harry Kellar used the effect to great success in the United States. There is a very cool poster of the Kellar OH! chair in the Kellars Wonders book. In addition, Howard Thurston also performed the OH! Chair Illusion.

I hate when I send these things out before I've done all the work! I forgot to check one source and now I'm kicking myself because this source was full of information. You see, I knew that one of the OH! Chairs was in the possession of Mike Caveney. I remember seeing a photo of it in MAGIC Magazine. It might even have been accompanied by an article, I don't recall completely. At any rate, Mike's newest book,Wonders and The Conference Illusions has an incredible amount of information.

I forgot to mention, and thankfully Mike does in his chapter on the OH! Chair, that the Morrit OH! Chair was likely an answer to the popular DeKolta Vanishing Lady. The DeKolta Chair had been exposed in the press and in magic circles by the time the OH! Chair came along. Though they both used a similar method of vanish, the OH! Chair's convicers made it seem more impossible.

In 2003, Mike Caveney recreated a presentation of the OH! Chair for the Los Angeles Conference on Magic History. He used Thurston's original chair. The chair by the way, had been restored by John Gaughan and the platform/curtain used in the recreation of the illusion was built by Craig Dickens.

There is a video of famed British Magician Paul Daniels recreating the OH! Illusion for his TV show
which can be seen here

*The two sources were Kellars Wonders by Mike Caveney and Bill Miesel, and St. Georges Hall by Anne Davenport and John Salisse