Showing posts with label victorian magic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label victorian magic. Show all posts

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Heller, Houdini and more

Photo taken during Houdini's visit to the grave in 1910

My fascination with Robert Heller began with Houdini. Specifically, the image of Houdini next to Heller's grave. Houdini referred to Heller in his Conjurer's Monthly Magazine, as "the most versatile magician who ever lived." Had it not been for Houdini, the whereabouts of Heller's grave would be likely be lost forever because it was Houdini who had rediscovered the grave.

When I began to research Heller back in 2011, I had no idea I would become so fascinated by the man. He is certainly an interesting character. I had done a ton of research on him and thought I had uncovered about all there was to uncover, but it turns out I was very wrong. I came across a wealth of new material this weekend on Heller, including playbills and posters and some images and illustrations that I'm not sure have seen the light of day for a very long time. So I will be delving back into the life of William Henry Palmer aka Robert Heller, to see what new mysteries and insight can be uncovered. In the mean time, I hope you enjoy the new photo of the Heller grave, taken in 1910, very possibly by Houdini. And enjoy the poster below, it's a beauty. All three images come from a Houdini scrapbook.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

New Resource For Researching Victorian Magic History & More

This may be the coolest thing to happen to magic since the Top Hat!!!! Seriously, I am loving this new addition to It's called "Victorian Popular Culture" and in their own words 'it is an essential resource for the study of popular entertainment in the 19th and early 20th centuries.'

Though it is not strictly magic oriented, it does represent conjuring quite well. I was looking at the list of participating libraries and they include the Harry Ransom Research Center at the University of Texas where a great deal of Houdini owned scrapbooks reside. Also, they list The Senate House at the University of London which contains items from the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature.

In addition, they cover Spiritualism, so anyone interested in that topic (NORMAN), might want to delve into it. There is a section on Music Halls, Theater and Popular Entertainment, a section on Circuses, Sideshows and Freaks, and a section on early Motion Pictures.

How in depth this is I don't really know yet. I just recently stumbled upon it. But AskAlexander is such a valuable resource that I would have to say this new addition must be great otherwise they would not have included it. I'm assuming you must be a member of to access the site. IF you are a member and have not looked into this new resource, please do! From what I have seen so far it will be a great tool when researching our unique art for historical purposes.

This is the link to get there, though if not a member the link may not work for you.

UPDATE: I just discovered this service 'Victorian Popular Culture' is a paid feature. So if you don't have an account/membership with The Conjuring Arts Research Library, you won't be able to view it, sorry. I did not realize that at first. I was able to view it because all Genii Subscribers were able to see it up until June 15th. Needless to say, June 16th, no go! lol. Genii Magazine used to run their online version of the magazine through But now they have gone to their own portal, so it's no longer available for us to access. However, does offer very reasonably priced monthly subscriptions to their site so for as little as $10 a month you can view the 'Victorian Popular Culture' portal plus lots of other great research tools offered by and the Conjuring Arts Research Library.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Victorian Magic - The Book

I recently stumbled upon a book on eBay called 'Victorian Magic'. It's a hardbound book by Geoffrey Lamb published in 1976. I was unfamiliar with the book and many of the auctions for the book had it listed at $40 and above. Fortunately for me I was able to find it for a little more reasonable price.

I must say, it's a really enjoyable history on Victorian Magic. There are a number of things in here that I was not familiar with. The book opens with a chapter on The Great Wizard of the North, John Henry Anderson. The chapter also discusses a lesser known competitor and some of the battles they had together.

Another chapter that I really enjoyed was on Pepper's Ghost and Pepper's Metampsychosis illusions. Fascinating chapter on optical principles once used in the theatre. It was doubly interesting because I was reading it on Christmas Eve just after having watched Charles Dicken's 'A Christmas Carol' on TV. One of the things that is mentioned in the chapter is how the Pepper Optical Principles were used to create the illusion of real ghosts in plays of the Christmas Carol back in the 1800s! The author also gives a fairly good explanation of the Blue Room, probably the most thorough I've ever read (not counting Jim Steinmeyer's book on this exact topic)

The chapter on Robert Houdin was good. It's from a slightly different perspective. It's written from the eyes and of the Londoners who witnessed Houdin's performances in England. Apparently, when Robert-Houdin first began to perform in London he spoke no English. The crowds were not happy with this and according to the book, his solution was to inquire to the audience as to the english name of each item he presented. It became more interactive and the audiences warmed up to him.

The chapter on the Davenport Brothers was also interesting. The brothers were extremely popular in America, but in England they often met with resistance and even hostility. I must add that at this moment the Spirit Cabinet holds an extra amount of interest to me because of the recent presentation by Mike Caveney of Charles Carter's Spirit Cabinet at the Los Angeles Conference on Magic History. I was unfamiliar with the routine he presented and it sure opens my eyes to new ideas for this ancient but still wonderful effect. In addition, the Davenport Brothers leads into J.N. Maskelyne, who I always assumed was already famous at this point in time, but that was not the case. His confrontation with the Davenports actually helped to make a name for himself.

And for the first time that I can recall reading in print, is an explanation on how the famous Egyptian Hall began. Fascinating stuff to say the least.

It's interesting to see the types of entertainment that Victorian audiences appreciated. I was familiar with a great deal of information in this book, yet in every chapter I discovered some new piece of history that I did not know. All in all it's a fine book. I have only seen them for sale on eBay, but they seem to pop up fairly often.

This article was copied from my other blog