Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Kellar's Last Mystery. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Kellar's Last Mystery. Sort by date Show all posts

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Kellar's Last Mystery

Something is terribly wrong in magicland. This concerns the first Dean of Magicians Harry Kellar. Today, March 10th, marks the 89th Anniversary of his passing. He was cremated and his remains are in Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles CA. All of that is accurate. What follows is the mystery.

As you may or may not know, I collect photos of the graves of magicians who have passed on. I think we should pay homage to those who have done so much for the profession and have now gone into eternity. I had posted the image below from the Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery on one of my blogs in the past. This is the headstone for Harry Kellar's grave. It can be found near the road under a small tree in Section L, directly to the right of the front of the mausoleum.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Magic Detective Podcast Ep10 Notes on Harry Kellar in Retirement

Most people kind of fade out of the limelight when they retire. But this was not the case for Harry Kellar. Sure, he didn't spend all of his time on the road going from theatre to theatre but he still traveled a fair amount. He also visited his old friends quite a bit. And he kept up with magic.

Kellar retired in 1908 when he handed his Mantle of Magic over to Howard Thurston. But Thurston got a lot more than the Mantle. He also received Kellar's Manager, Keller's Touring Routes, Kellar's two chief assistants Frizt and Carl Bucha, as well as all the props and paraphernalia that went with the Kellar show. And to the surprise of many, Thurston only kept two of Kellar's illusions, the rest he sold.

The first thing he did after he retired was take a very long vacation in Atlantic City. Above is a photo of Kellar and Houdini in Atlantic City. According to the Ken Silverman bio on Houdini, this is where their friendship really began to take off. Over time they developed a father/son type of relationship and it's proven in the various letters they shared back and forth.

I mentioned on the podcast about a photo I had of an improved Kellar prop. His name was cast into the iron, and below is a photo of that prop. I'm only showing the part that has Kellar's name due to secrecy issues. The piece is now owned by David Haversat.

Here is a video of Kellar and Houdini. I'm not sure of the location, but I did learn that Houdini had some film footage taken of Kellar and himself while he was in Los Angeles, so that is possibly where this was taken.

One quick minor correction to the podcast also has to do with Kellar giving Psycho to Houdini in 1919. He didn't ship it to Houdini but rather gave it to him while Houdini was in California making movies. 

Finally, I wanted to give you the link to an article I wrote a few years back called 'Kellar's Last Mystery'.

I used the book, Kellar's Wonders by Mike Caveney and Bill Miesel, The Sphinx Magazine, Ken Silverman's Bio on Houdini, and several other sources during my research for the entire three part series on Harry Kellar. I also used, to research newspaper articles on Harry Kellar.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Remembering Kellar

Harry Kellar passed away 93 years ago this week on March 10th 1922. I've written about Kellar a lot on this blog and recently over at my other blog. We are fortunate that in the past few years some new books have come out on Kellar. The enormous Kellar's Wonders by Mike Caveney and William Miesel was the first to come out and it gives a very complete history of the life of Harry Kellar. A short time after another book was published called, The Amazing Harry Kellar: Great American Magician by Gail Jarrow.

Kellar was the first Dean of the Society of American Magicians and really the first famous American born Illusionist. In his life he would have seen Robert-Heller, John Henry Anderson, Alexander Herrmann, John Nevil Maskelyne, David Devant, Harry Houdini and of course, Howard Thurston. That's an incredible span of time to be able to see the acts of some of the most iconic people in magic history, and yet Kellar was among these iconic performers.

Had it not been for Kellar, we might not have had the Vanishing Birdcage here in America. Had it not been for Kellar the Kellar Levitation might still be known as the Maskelyne Levitation, lol. Ok, not everything Kellar did was honest. He certainly lived a full life with many incredible adventures, including loosing his whole act in a shipwreck! Yet he came back from loosing everything and became the #1 Illusionist in America.

Monday, February 14, 2011


 "I knew, as everyone knows, that the easiest way to attract a crowd is to let it be known that at a given time and a given place some one is going to attempt something that in the event of failure will mean sudden death."

"You can never arrive at the perfection of art until your handling of the illusion produces a thrill of genuine surprise in all who behold it"

"The end of all magic is to feed with mystery the human mind, which dearly loves mystery. So leave every mystery forever unexplained!"

"I do tricks nobody can explain."

"My professional life has been a constant record of disillusion, and many things that seem wonderful to most men are the every-day commonplaces of my business. "

"As long as the human mind delights in mysteries, so long it will love magic and be entertained by magicians."

First Encounter
When Houdini started out with his brother Dash, there were two prominent magicians in America, Herrmann the Great and Harry Kellar. In August 1896, after struggling in the tough world of show business and getting no where, Houdini wrote to both of the great magicians looking for work as assistants in their shows. No reply came from Herrmann who would pass away by December of 1896. Kellar did reply but he told Houdini he had no room in his show at that time.

Kellar's Retirement
1908 Atlantic City
In May of 1908, Harry Kellar left the stage to retire. Just a few weeks later he would spend sometime with the Houdini's in Atlantic City, even Cecelia Weiss was present during this visit. According to the Ken Silverman Bio this is basically where their friendship starts. For a while Kellar lived in NY with his wife Eva, and Houdini and Kellar saw each other from time to time. But only a year later Kellar purchased a home in Los Angeles and he and his wife moved to the west coast.  Kellar still made trips to the east and whenever he was in NY he would usually attend the magic club meetings and see Houdini. Kellar and Houdini stayed in touch writing letters throughout the rest of their lives.

I found a very interesting note in the Kellar's Wonders book by Mike Caveney and Bill Miesel. In 1916, Houdini and Kellar were at a meeting of the Society of American Magicians. It was at this meeting that the decision was made to start local chapters throughout the country, called 'assemblies'. Houdini and Kellar both stepped up and agreed to spread the word and it's no doubt through their efforts that today the S.A.M. has assemblies all over the U.S. and even other parts of the world.

Another interesting S.A.M. item took place when Houdini was President of the organization. He nominated Harry Kellar to be Dean of Magicians. He was unanimously voted in.

Kellar's Second Retirement
On Nov 11, 1917, Houdini coaxed Kellar into coming out of retirement for one evening. This was so that he could be part of an all star cast at the Hippodrome in NYC. The event was to raise money for the victims and family members of the S.S. Antilles, an American Transport ship that had been torpedoed by a German submarine.

On the evening of the 11th, Houdini acted as host and M.C. for the first half of the show. He even presented his Water Torture Cell. But the real thrill that night came from Harry Kellar who treated the audience to his amazing Floating Table routine and he followed this with his Spirit Cabinet. After his performance Houdini stepped on stage with roses for the Grand Master. Then he brought on a sedan chair and members of the show picked up Kellar sitting in the Sedan Chair and marched him across the stage as the entire audience got up and sang 'Auld Lang Syne'. It was a night to remember and Kellar was to taken with the gesture that it was difficult for him to express himself.

A few days later he wrote a heart felt letter to Houdini in which he said "you gave me the proudest and happiest evening in all my life and a farewell that can never be surpassed." Houdini followed this with a letter to Kellar in which he basically said it was an honor to be able to give back to such a beloved man and magician.

When Harry Kellar sold his show to Howard Thurston, only two things made it into the Thurston show, the Levitation and Kellar's Spirit Cabinet. The other items were sold off and Charles Carter purchased several of them.

One in particular was Kellar's automaton Psycho, which was a knock off of J.N. Maskelyne's automaton of the same name. Psycho had been with Kellar since he purchased it in England in 1878. Kellar referred to him as 'my little companion and friend'. He was also an important part of Harry Kellar's show. He sold it to Howard Thurston in May 1908 and now he was about to come face to face with his old friend.

While Carter was performing in Los Angeles, Kellar convinced Charles Carter to sell Pyscho back to him. Then in May 1919, Harry Houdini received a letter and package from Kellar. It was Psycho and Kellar was giving his old friend to Houdini as a gift.

This was not the only gift Houdini received from his friend Kellar. According to Edward Saint, Houdini had a jeweled Question Mark pin that he received as a gift from Kellar. This pin has been lost to time. Kellar also gave Houdini his Spirit Cabinet that was used in the final Farewell performance of Harry Kellar. I'm curious if the Spirit Cabinet survives today.

On the set of The Grim Game
Houdini had started the Film Development Corporation and Kellar became one of the investors. Unfortunately, this was not the high point of their relationship. The FDC struggled to make money and Kellar often spoke to Houdini about getting rid of his shares of stock. Kellar's concern it turns out wasn't about loosing money, but instead about being responsible to creditors for future money. Kellar encouraged Houdini to get out as well. He felt it would be a terrible shame for Houdini to loose all the money he had worked so hard for during his career on a bad business venture.  Houdini's concern was less over money and more over loosing his friendship with Kellar over this deal.

One plus to the movie business was that it put Houdini in California and the studio where he was making movies was only a few miles from Harry Kellar's house. Kellar had suffered a stroke and wasn't as mobile as he had been before. Houdini visited him often and made arrangement for flowers to be sent to his home every week. During at least one visit, Houdini was able to capture Kellar on film thus preserving his image for posterity. Imagine how thrilling it would have been to sit in a room while these two spoke of things mysterious and magical.

Kellar thought of Houdini as a son and it was obvious that Kellar was a father figure to Houdini. He was also probably the only living magician that Houdini looked up to. However, though their friendship was filled with mutual admiration they did not agree on everything. For example, Houdini let people know that all his effects were presented by purely natural means, his "My Mind is the Key That Sets Me Free" quote expresses this perfectly. But read what Kellar thought..."Make your work artistic by clothing each illusion with all the glamor and shadows of fairyland, and the suggestions of incantations and supernatural powers in order to prepare the observer's mind for a mystery though there be no mystery." Kellar filled his promotional materials with demons and other supernatural beings. Houdini on the other hand was totally against the suggestion of supernatural powers in his performance.

However it's safe to say that they agreed in most areas. Kellar believed that tricks performed by the masters who came before him would no longer fool even children and it was the modern magicians job to constantly update and improve the effects and the methods. Houdini took older tricks and made them new, like the Needle Trick or repackaged them to fit him, like the Sub Trunk, or created brand new effects, like the Water Torture Cell. They both debunked Spiritualist phenomenon in their shows. Interestingly, Kellar is probably best known for his rope tie. Houdini of course was a master of rope ties and rope escapes.

After Chung Ling Soo died on stage doing the Bullet Catch trick, Houdini made plans to add the dangerous Bullet Catching routine to his show. When this news reached Harry Kellar he sent a fast and firm reply to Houdini.  I believe his words were "Don't do the damned Bullet Catch, we cannot afford to loose Houdini!" or something to that affect. Houdini heeded the advice of his old friend and chose to not present the Bullet Catch, ever! Harry Kellar was probably the only person who could scold Houdini and get away with it. But the letter over the Bullet Catch was sent more out of concern and caring for his friend than as a rebuke.

Harry Kellar passed away on March 10, 1922. He had been suffering from a bad bout of pneumonia and had been coughing up blood. The build up of blood in his lungs killed him. He was 73 years old. Houdini was not able to attend the funeral, so he made arrangements for it to be filmed. He actually did the same thing when his friend The Great Lafayette died, he had that funeral filmed as well. But to my knowledge neither of these films have survived.

Before Kellar died Houdini got his permission to write his biography. Houdini would use his 100s of letters (Houdini claimed thousands) and also his many meetings with Kellar as the foundation for the book. He only got as far as 100 pages. This became one of the projects that Houdini never finished because in 1926, only four years after Kellar, Houdini died. In the book Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer he says the manuscript resides in the Mullholland Library, which today is part of the David Copperfield Magic Collection.

Houdini referred to Kellar as  'the greatest magician the world ever saw.'

In a letter to Houdini, Kellar referred to him as 'our greatest showman-Harry Houdini.'
I think that pretty well sums it up.

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Illusions of Chevalier Ernest Thorn

Episode 41 of The Magic Detective podcast was on the life of Chevalier Ernest Thorn. If you've listened to the podcast, you'll be aware that I was unfamiliar with Thorn, prior to working on the episode. Now that I've finished my research, it seems, well, my research has just begun. Let me explain...

Thorn was an incredible inventor of illusions as well as being a performer. I have not been able to track down everything he did. In truth, I only have a few of this illusions figured that I mean, I figured out what they are. The names of his illusions are listed in numerous biographical articles, but exactly what the illusions did, that's another story. I'm going to list the few that I know. Keep in mind, these are the same ones from the podcast episode, but here you'll be able to see pictures of them rather than just hear about them.

I'll begin with one of his first illusions. The poster for this came out in 1894, so it's assumed the illusion began around that time. It was called, The Dream of the Chalif. I believe Thorn altered the name of this illusion over time to the Chalif of Bagdad. As has been mentioned before, the illusion was pretty much stolen by Charles Morritt and put out as FLYTO. The main change being that Morritt's cabinets were 6 sides rather than 4 sides, otherwise it's essentially the same illusion. I've put the original Thorn poster next to a poster of Kellar's so you can compare the two.

Next we have an interesting illusion that he called The Fakir of Travancore, or The Mystery of Travancore. This illustration comes from the pages of Ottokar Fischer's Illustrated Magic. 
I knew I had seen it before, but try as I might I couldn't find the picture. Thankfully, I rediscovered the image in Illustrated Magic, and along with the picture came this explanation of the effect. By the way, Fischer says the effect was known as "1-2-3", but as we know, it was originally called The Fakir of Travancore by it's creator, Thorn.
“Among the transformation illusions is the one produced under the title of “One-Two-Three!” The proceeding is as follows: One of the performer’s assistants is laid on a sort of flat bench, and fastened to it with straps whose ends are secured by padlocks which the spectators themselves may lock. The bench with the man fastened to is is now lifted on to a platform about eighteen inches high, underneath which there is an unobstructed view. A curtain surrounding the platform is let down for a period of three seconds, while the conjurer counts, “one-two-three”. When the curtain goes up, the male assistant has disappeared from under the straps, and in his place is a girl. In order to release the girl, the padlocks must be opened and the straps unbuckled, which requires several minutes. The male assistant vanished without leaving a trace.”  And as I said on the podcast, it sounds very much like a horizontal version of Harbin's Assistant's Revenge, the big difference was the Harbin's illusion involved the exchange of two people, where as Travancore was the transformation of one person into another. I think it's possible that The Fakir of Travancore illusion was the inspiration for Harbin's Assistants Revenge.

The next illusion is called simply ATTAVAR and it looks similar to the Fakir of Travancore, but it is very different. What we have here is a large table, with a somewhat smaller table on top. Suspended underneath the smaller table is a hammock which has a girl reclining in it. According to the description: “The effect of which is the instantaneous disapparenace of a lady suspended in a hammock from a table. The table, hammock, and the lady vanish together in full view of the audience. The illusion does not depend upon the use of mirrors, cabinets, glass, traps in the stage, or back curtains."  What I can tell by the photo, is that Thorn fires a pistol to make the magic happen. It's possible there was a flash of smoke, or even a small fabric covering that happened just before the vanish, OR it's also possible that the sound of the gun fire was enough to allow the vanish to happen. This was apparently the joint creation of Thorn and Tommy Downs. T.Nelson Downs tried to include it in his show for a time, but audiences didn't take to him doing illusions as they did to Thorn.

Now we come to The Sarcophagus. This was one of the easiest illusions to identify because the design on the front of the illusion has been used by many modern performers. It is known as The Mummy Case, and is featured in the book, The Great Illusions of Magic by Byron Wells.

The basic effect is this: There is an upright Sarcophogus that is center stage. The front door is opened revealing a second door inside. This door is opened revealing the contents of the cabinet. There is a small mummy like figure which is clearly NOT a human being wrapped in cloth, but only meant to represent such. The mummy is removed and now the back door of the cabinet is opened so that the cabinet can be seen to be completely empty. Next the mummy is returned to the inner chamber, the doors closed and the traditional turning of the cabinet is done. When the doors are reopened, out walks an Egyptian princess. 

It's a great illusion and the method for which has been used in a couple other illusions that come to mind. I believe Paul Osbourne in his many illusion plans books, had a version with a GrandFather Clock instead of a sarcophagus. I've also seen some images online of versions that are just plain cabinets. Somehow I think the illusion looses it's appeal as a plain box. Though, in truth, even though Thorn's outer graphic has been used many times since, I think a better design is needed.

This next illusion was not part of the podcast because I just now stumbled upon it. The illusion was called "TOIZA WONNDA". This is apparently a Japanese phrase meaning 'Escape & Perish'. I believe this was mistakenly referred to as a 'Chinese Mystery' in Thorn's advertisements. But the effect, was a 'X' shaped torture device that an assistant would be tied or chained to. And next to them was an executioner cutting of the heads of victims. This is my sketchy guess on what this illusion is based on an image from one of his posters and now discovering what Toiza Wonnda actually means. I'm pretty sure I'm on the right track. I am wondering also if the X shaped torture device was some adaptation of the Strobieka illusion. There may have been another torture device where a person is suspended by their feet and there body is tied up. Eventually, I will find out more about this mystery, but I'm pleased to have figured out this much. 

The final Thorn illusion for this article will be his most famous perhaps and that is The Noah's Ark Illusion. This is another illusion that I believe he created in the 1890s. It begins with opening the big front door and back door of the cabinet to show it completely empty. Then after closing it, several buckets of water were poured into the 'ark' from the top. Then, by reaching into the small curtained windows, animals of all sorts were produced, chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, baby pigs, etc, all came out from the ark. Then finally, when one would think nothing else could come out, Noah's wife was produced from the ark. I love this!!!! What a fantastically themed illusion. Forget about the religious connotations and just embrace the theme, you've got an ark-like structure that you produce all these animals from, and then finally Noah's wife. It's a great mystery and one you don't see today. However, I do know of likely the last artists to feature this and that was the LeGrand David Company out of Beverly Mass. They hand built and hand painted what is likely the most beautiful Noah's Ark Illusion to ever exist. I so wanted this when it went to auction but I was holding out for other things and missed it. IF you know who has it, let me know as I may still be interested. Below is a picture of their Noah's Art Illusion.

That my friends will do it for Part 1 of the Illusions of Chevalier Ernest Thorn. I would encourage you to listen to the podcast on him. I shall continue to dig further into his life and his many forgotten illusions and hopefully bring them to light. I have a lead on several as I type this but they are not quite 'in focus' yet. Until next time...

Sunday, January 26, 2020

T. Nelson Downs - Master Coin Manipulator

T. Nelson Downs is surely a name everyone in magic has heard of. Even if youre new to magic, you might have heard of the Downs Palm. Or at least the Misers Dream effect. And yet with his popularity, do we really know much about T. Nelson Downs? Probably not, and so, decided to put on the old Detective hat and find out more…

He was born Thomas Nelson Downs, March 16, 1867 in Garwin Iowa, though most references just say Marshalltown where he grew up. According to David Prices fine historical book Thomas was actually a twin, but his fellow twin did not survive, and word was that few believed Thomas would survive being only 2 lbs at birth. He did survive and was the youngest of three children. His father died when he was only 6 months old and the family moved around, eventually ending up in Marshalltown Iowa. 

How did Downs become interested in magic? Here is it is his own words, “"I was first inspired by a 'Town Hall' magician when I was about 12 years old, after seeing him turn ink to water and make cards rise magically from the pack, etc. It was all easy and simple to me s o I went home and duplicated t h e perform- ance and immediately commenced to study the art by pur- chasing all the books on the subject I could find." 

At least one of the books was likely Professor Hoffmann’s Modern Magic which came out in 1876. Downs himself also said, “Ed Reno got me started in the business”, but I think this refers to being a professional, NOT how he got started initially. Faucet Ross, in the Feb 1939 issue of The Linking Ring reveals that in Marshalltown Iowa, there lived a man named Frank Taylor. Mr. Taylor was the manager of a business called The Old Bowler which was right next to and actually part of The Chicago & Northern Railroad Station. Mr. Taylor was known to be an above excellent sleight of hand man and manipulator and is even mentioned in the book Leaves of Conjurers Scrap Books by Burlingame. 

It turns out that T. Nelson Downs worked as a telegrapher  or telephraph operator at the Railroad station, the same time Frank Taylor was working at The Old Bowler.  It’s certainly possible that Thomas Downs learned some magic from Taylor, though Downs never revealed this to anyone during his life. If nothing else, Taylor could have served as an inspiration to Downs who was just learning. OR Taylor might have been the magician that Downs saw as a kid? Hard to say. 

Young T. Nelson Downs, as I just mentioned took a job as a telegraph operator at the Chicago and Northern Railroad Station when he was 16 years old. He would continue working there until 1895. And numerous sources say that it was during his 12 years at the railroad station that he perfected his skills in manipulation. He was constantly seen with coins or cards while working. He worked the night shift when things were slower so that gave more time to concentrate on manipulation.  By the way, I’ll be referring to T. Nelson Downs as Tommy Downs from here on out. That was the name his friends called him.

In 1890, Tommy Downs married Nellie Stone. In October 1894, his son Raymond was born. But only a few months later, on April 8th 1895, his wife Nellie died. Raymond was sent to live with his grandparents and Tommy would go out on his own as a performer.

Now to back track just slightly. When Tommy was 16 he gave his first public performance. The program was a variety show with a number of performers, only one was singled out as probably being professional and that was Tommy. This event was recorded in his local paper, so we know that Tommy was doing shows even while working for the Railroad Station.  

Now if we fast forward to 1891, Tommy Downs did not start out as The King of Koins. He worked with a partner who was a mandolinist, Sam Siegal. Tommy presented manipulation, as well as escapes, hypnotism, and even mind reading ala John Randall Brown (which it says in the David Price MAGIC A Pictorial History of Conjurors In The Theatre). BTW, I covered John Randall Brown in Ep 15 of the podcast. I would imagine that either Tommy took gigs on his days off, or during the day, so his shows had to be close enough that he could make it back to the Railroad Station at night.  The partnership with Siegal didnt last long.

Now, we are up to 1895, Tommy’s wife Nellie passed away and he decides to go out on his own. Despite consulting with other magicians about the possibility to doing an ALL COIN ACT….he was discouraged to do so by everyone)…..he did it anyway. He took an engagement at the Hopkins Theatre in chicago with his Misers Dream act and it was a huge hit. In a letter to Faucett Ross, Tommy shares a story from that show. “Show business is a funny thing. The first vaudeville house I ever worked was the Hopkins Theatre, in Chicago. While there the manager told me, ‘DOWNS, you have a great act, but you will never be a real success in this country until you first make a success in Europe.’ He was 100% right. After a year in England, France and Germany, I was besieged with offers and contracts in America. And it is a poor rule that won’t work both ways. I have met a lot of European acts that got nowhere in their own country until they first made a hit in America.”

No one had ever seen an act like Tommy’s.  He was the first of the speciality acts and likely the first of the all manipulation acts. His success in the midwest caused his salary to rise and he went to New York City and then off to England.

Tommy claimed to have invented the Misers Dream…though the trick itself goes back many years having been presented by 19th Century conjurers as The Shower of Money, Aerial Treasury and other names. Rather it would be better served to say that Downs created THE ACT Known as The Misers Dream, as he did greatly expand upon the trick, adding unique sleights and clever moments and bits of business to the routine. A point not often mentioned, Tommy spoke throughout the act, it was not presented silent to music. So he had witty patter to go along with his amazing sleight of hand. 

His book, Modern Coin Manipulation does a great job capturing the various parts of the act. Though the book contains sleights that I can’t help but wonder are not things he used in his act, but put in to create the illusion of great difficulty to anyone reading it.

In Oct 1895, Mahatma Magazine said of Downs, “All his work is absolutely new, original and puzzling, even to magicians. We are frank to say that we believe him to be the cleverest man living with coins, and justly entitled to the name, “King of Koins”.

In 1895, the inventor of the handcuff act. Mr. B.B. Keyes, sold his act through the magic dealer W. D. Leroy of Boston. It was sold as, “Escape From Sing Sing, OR The Great Handcuff Act”. The first person to purchase it was Tommy Downs. But it doesn’t appear that he ever used them. In the November 1930 issue of The Sphinx, T. Nelson Downs relates a story of meeting up with Houdini at their hotel while Houdini was working the London Alhambra. Downs took from his trunk a ring of 52 keys and said to Houdini, "Here are the tools you do your act with." Houdini replied, "Tom, I don't use keys. You know I did not have the money to buy the keys" etc. Then Downs said, "Well you can't open them with hot air!"   

From Leroy's Catalog, the price of the Great Handcuff Act was $75.00. I went through the catalog and most everything was under $10. A few items reached $20 and $30 and a Sub-trunk reached $50. But here was the act that put Houdini on the map, and it's price much much higher than everything else. Perhaps Houdini, didnt have the money, lol. Or maybe he did.

There is a great story that is related in numerous sources about Downs first visit to New York City. Downs stopped into Otto Maurer's Magic shop and told him that he was in town performing, not only that,  he was making $100 a week. Maurer said to Downs, "No magician has ever been paid that kind of money, GET OUT of my shop!" At least one source claims the amount was $150.

Otto Mauer was known to have taught the Front and Back Palm to a number of magicians. But Tommy claimed he first did the trick at the Opera House in Boone Iowa around 1891. By 1898 he had turned it into an act of it’s own, by making multiple cards vanish, showing his hands empty and then reproducing the cards one at a time. He would use this as an encore to his Misers Dream Act.

In April of 1899, Tommy Downs secured a booking to play England, specifically the Palace Theatre in London.  It’s safe to say he took London by storm as no one had seen an act like his. He was constantly being interviewed in the paper for his unique act. Soon, other American acts would find their way to London, folks like Thurston, Houdini, Lafayette, William Robinson and more. David Price’s book even says Robinson confided in Downs that he was going to challenge the Chinese magician Ching Ling Foo. So Downs suggested to Robinson to use the name ‘Chung Ling Soo’.

Will Golston wrote this of Tommy Downs “ T. Nelson Downs, the King of Koins—and truly he deserves the title, is "one of the best," both as Magician and Gentleman, and as talent is sure to come to the top, and he has an abundance of it, he has certainly got there.  His manipulation of coins is marvellous, his audiences are often to be seen open mouthed, and amazed at his wonderful dexterity. “

Downs tells this story about his days of working in the train station. Sometimes when things were slow he would go out into the waiting room and show tricks to the travelers, farmers, or whoever was there. There was one incident when he showed some coin magic to Fred Stone and his brother, they were working with the Taylor Circus at the time doing a high wire act. Well, fast forward 14 years and Fred Stone was in London performing. On this particular day he was visiting with some fellow performers. One of the entertainers was bragging about the incredible coin manipulations presented by T. Nelson Downs at the London Palace Theatre. Fred spoke up and said, “I’m sorry but the best coin man on the planet works at a little train station in Marshalltown Iowa.” Well it turned out they were both correct because that little telegraph operator was now headlining the Palace!

In another letter Tommy wrote, “One of the first magicians I met in London was Charles Bertram and he told me, ‘DOWNS, you are really not a magician but a manipulator and juggler. Why don’t you do tricks?’ I answered, The reason I don’t do tricks is because everyone else does tricks. If I did tricks I probably would not be playing the Palace!”

Another of Tommy Down’s first contacts in London was William Hilliar who saw Tommy at the Place Theatre. He soon became his agent. Tommy continued on at the Palace for 6 months. They actually wanted him to stay longer but he had other engagements to attend to. It was during this time that Tommy wrote the book, Modern Coin Manipulation, which would explain his entire act, plus many of the unique sleights he had developed over the years. William Hilliar edited the book.

Speaking of William Hillar, this incident involved him and takes place in the early 1900s. He says,  “I visited the Theatre de Robert Houdin in Paris. They had a replica of Houdin’s stage settings large center and two side tables with traps running through to the wings. The performance was given by a French conjurer named Carmenelli. One of his features was the Rapping Hand. A few years later,  I again visited Houdin’s theatre accompanied by Nelson Downs. Carmenilli did the aerial treasury, borrowing Down’s hat for the purpose. I wonder if he ever knew that he was using the masters hat!”

Here is more from Hilliar via Mahatma Magazine. “I have been in Paris the last month, but have not seen much conjuring. According to what I am told Magic does not seem to take on here at all. There is, however, one exception i.e. T. Nelson Downs (King of Coins) whose wonderfully clever coin act goes great here and he has, I understand, been re-engaged for the next three years at the Folies Marigny, the most fashionable theatre in Paris. This notwith- standing the fact that one ot his best imitators preceeded him in Paris, but when Downs appeared the public could tell at once that there was only one King of Coins. I wonder what Robert Houdin would say could he but witness Down's show ? If I remember rightly Robert 
Houdin said that with practice it was possible to palm 2 coins. Downs palms 45 ! But in addition to his digital cleverness, he has that gen- tlemanly appearance and pleasing manner which makes his show go. He is booked for three solid years in the finest theatres in the world at an enormous salary and he carries his apparatus in his waistcoat pocket ! Now I'll give you the secret of Downs' success—ORIGINALITY. He originated the "King" idea, and although he has been copied by hundreds, the others are not in it. There you are my mag- ical brothers, work out some new idea and you will suddenly become famous. “

Here is Down’s talking about an incident in Paris. “I have often wondered just how much an audience sees when a magician does a trick. In 1900 I was playing a long engagement at The Marigny Casino in Paris. One night I walked out on the stage, started to do the act and then suddenly discovered that I have forgotten to load up with coins. I had a top hat but no coins—-they were on a table in the wings. What could I do? Well, I started the act without the coins—just pantomiming catching them from the air for about 3 minutes. Then I took a bow and received terrific applause. During the applause, I stepped offstage, loaded up and continued the act but, honestly, I don’t think that audience ever knew the difference.”

And here is a story from a letter to Faucett Ross from Tommy Downs, “As you know I played 26 consecutive weeks at the Palace Theatre in London. After my first show there Mr. Morton, the Manager, came backstage and complimented the act. He said, Mr. Downs, I am particularly impressed by the slow and deliberate manner in which you walk off and on the stage. It is very impressive.’ Well, I did not have the nerve to tell him the truth. You see, when I first arrived in London I did a lot of walking in order to see the sights. The result was I developed sore feet and there was no choice- I HAD to walk slowly. So I’ve been doing it ever since. Another interesting thing happened during my Palace engagement. After a few weeks I decided to build up the act a bit by using the coin wand which I always liked. Well, after the first show using the wand, Mr. Morton came to the dressing room and said, “Mr. Downs, my patrons are utterly intrigued with your great digital dexterity, but tonight you disillusioned them by using that mechanical stick which has no place in your fine act.’ Well, I saw that he was right and I never used it again from that day to this. It’s a good trick, but not for me."

In 1901, John Northern Hilliard was the dramatic critic and editorial writer for The Rochester Post Express. He wrote a glowing review of Downs act. Here is a little of what he said, “There is a real magician in Rochester. His name is T. Nelson Downs and he is working his wonders at the Cook Operah House this week.  Mr Downs is billed as The King of Koins and there is no magician on any stage in any country today who can compete with Mr.  Downs as a manipulator of either coins or cards. This is much conceded even by members of Mr. Downs own profession. He stands absolutely alone in his chosen field.” 

While in London, Downs became a sensation. He not only worked the Palace Theatre, but he appeared before The Prince of Wales who would go on to become King of England, at a private event. The Prince loved Tommy’s magic so much that after the performance was over, he was requested to stay and teach some magic to the Prince, which he gladly did. 

Shortly after his performance for the Prince of Wales, he was appearing before Queen Victoria. In fact, his standing with the Royals of Europe was quite high. He performed before Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, Abdul Hamid the Sultan of Turkey, and The Czar of Russia. 

As he toured throughout Europe he appeared in Paris at the Marigny Casino and the Follies Bergere, The Wintergarten in Berlin, and when he returned to London he appeared at the Empire Theatre for forty weeks at twice the money he made at the Palace Theatre. 

Now here is something that came as a big surprise. Tommy Downs was interested in illusions, as in Grand Illusion. As early as 1900 he had purchased an illusion, where a woman, is tossed into the air, away from any furniture or stage settings and vanishes in a flash of flame. He purchased this from William Hilliar. In 1905 he worked with illusionist Ernest Thorn (ep 41 of the podcast), and created and patented an effect for making a person or object vanish while suspended under table. He also worked with Will Golston and created and illusion where a person could appear inside a glass bottle which was also suspended in the air. The effect is in the book, LATEST CONJURING by Goldston, came out in 1905, the illusion is called, The Goldstone-Downs Bottle Illusion.”

In 1905 Tommy Married Harriet Rockey on June 3rd. She already had a son who was born in 1896. I don’t know if this son was his, or if he later adopted the boy. In 1908 John Northern Hilliard edited Downs book The Art of Magic. Years later John Northern Hilliard would go on to become Howard Thurston’s publicity agent.

In 1910, this illusion idea comes back up, this time he teams up with a fellow from California, who was fairly unknown at the time, his name was Guy Jarrett. 
Together they created a new act, which would start with Down’s Misers Dream Act, and then they would present 4 unique illusions. All of these were creations of Jarrett’s. The act was called ‘In Mid-Air Illusions’. He clearly has something for this concept. The first illusion was Guy’s Boy, Girl and Sack. It was a transformation effect where a rather large woman was placed inside a sack which was suspended in mid-air. She would vanish from there and appear in the audience, while a skinny man came out of the sack.  
Another effect was The Table Coat Dissappearance. A small undraped table that has been standing in plain view is now placed in center of stage. The assistant puts on a long coat and hat, climbs up on the table, the magician pulls the coat and hat up in mid-air by aid of a rope and pulley attached, when the coat collapses the man is GONE! 

The final illusion was called The Mystery of Mysteries. This was Jarrett’s Bangkok Bungalow Illusion, which was an incredible mystery, which later became a feature of Howard Thurston’s show. But Down’s was the first to get these illusions. The coin manipulator who always traveled light, was now hauling 2400 lbs of baggage and two additional assistants. For whatever reason, the act did not play well. Perhaps Downs was not cut out to be an illusionist. 

In another letter to Faucett Ross, Tommy writes, “I have never claimed to have invented all the tricks in magic. I did take the old coin catching trick, elaborated it, added a few new sleights, a new manner of presentation and made an act out of it. I do claim to be the originator of the famous Dime and Penny trick. I got the idea in 1909 and in 1910 a jeweler friend of mine made up the first outfit for me. After a few months, I showed it to a friend of mine who was a traveling man. He showed it, without my permission, to Carl Brema, the Philadelphia Magic dealer, who, not knowning it was mine, put it on the market. During the past 20 years, thousands of them have been sold, but as for me, I’ve never received any cash or credit. The moral of this is—if you have something really good, either keep it to yourself or make sure you will be reimbursed if it is placed on the market.”

Tommy’s mother passed away on February 19th 1910 in Marshalltown. But along with that a rather strange occurrence. The very same day Mrs. Down’s died, her sister who lived quite a distance away in New York City, also died. Both of them were 78 years old. Another strange connection that twins have I guess. 

In March of 1911, another tragedy struck, this time Tommy’s house caught fire. The odd thing was he had just sold the house but had not yet moved out. He lost all of his belongings, all his furniture, clothing, and his magic equipment. The loss was reported to be around $2500 worth of items, but his insurance policy only covered $500. What did Tommy Downs do about it? He quickly got back on the road and started working.

Tommy Downs was a man with a plan. And that plan was to make $50,000. The equivalent of a little over a million dollars today. He reached that goal in 1912 and set out to retire. I apparently purchased some rental property in Marshalltown and moved back to his hometown. He was 42 when he left the stage. He would occasionally come out of retirement for private gigs and charity events. In fact, he created  a full evening show, which is quite fascinating. Here again, in Tommy’s own words…”My full evening show runs about like this. I usually open with the torn and restored paper ribbon (his own version). Then a simple cigarette routine concluding with vanish of lighted cigarette at fingertips. I follow this with about 5 minutes of billiard ball manipulations. next the Misers Dream, my speciality. I then go into card work—-Ladies Looking Glass, General Card, Mental Spelling, Two Card Stabbing, a few fancy shuffles, and conclude with my BackPalm routine. Next a borrowed bill in lemon which amazes them. I think vanish a handkerchief and reproduce it from a spectators coat collar, followed by a showing of about thirty more handkerchiefs. I always finish with a patriotic  number. I produce a red, white and blue handkerchief and blend the into a 36 inch silk American Flag and then when the spectators think it is all over, BINGO, I produce two big six foot flags on staffs. Thats about all there is to it. Just a small three ring circus in one suitcase and no fuss or bother.”

T. Nelson Downs remained close to magic world, attending conferences, corresponding with and meeting with magicians when he could. He and Houdini were good friends spending many hours together talking magic. They originally met many years before at The Chicagos Worlds Fair. 
In the July 1901 Mahatma, this appears, “Travelers returning from Europe report the existence of a powerful mutual admirations society composed entirely of magicians, whose acts are features. The passwords are, “HOUDINI, I’ve seen all kinds of magical acts, but without exception, your is really the acme of perfection.” OR “DOWNS, I don’t often praise a man, but whenever I see your act I can’t help thinking that there can never be another act conceived that will be so really marvelous” It is rumored that there are only two members of this society. 
In Houdini's Backyard, Downs on far Right. (CarnegieCollection)

One year later both Houdini and Downs would be early members of the newly formed Society of American Magicians. There are many pictures of Downs and Houdini together. One taken very early in both their careers, probably in London. One of the last was taken in Houdini’s backyard. 

In 1935, Downs started suffering from an illness that lasted 3 years. He died on September 11th, 1938 and is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Marshalltown Iowa.

I thought I’d end this podcast slightly differently than usual. Faucett Ross had exchanged many letters with Downs during his life. The GEN Magazine in Jan 1958 featured an issue with many of those letters. I’ve included several of them in the podcast, but Id like to leave you with some advice from T. Nelson Downs himself.

“If I had an constructive advice to offer a young person starting out in magic, it would be this—At the outset he should  do as many different tricks and routines as possible before the public. By so doing he will soon discover the things he can do the best and the ones that register most strongly.”

“I turned down a lot of chances to do my act for fifteen or twenty dollars. I could use the money but I can’t afford to lower my reputation by working cheap. The more they pay you the more they will respect and enjoy you. A fellow called me the other night and said, “Mr. Downs, we would like to book your act but we do not have much money right now.” I answered, “Well, I’m a patient guy, so I’ll be willing to wait until you get enough.”

“Magicians nowadays are always complaining that there is nothing new but the trouble is that they can’t see the forest on account of the trees. There are dozens of good tricks described in books that most magicians have never bothered to read and that one of them have ever tried out in public. Take my own book, The Art of Magic for example. Turn to page 107 and read the description of my own version of The Flying Cards. For nearly 30 years I have been doing the trick on stage and off exactly as described. The turn to page 71 and read details of The General Card. This is my favorite card trick and almost an act in itself. Let me have this one and you can keep all the rest of them.”

And finally a few words from Tommy Downs that should be eye opening to every magician.
This is from the Feb 1923 MUM Magazine
"Allow me to state that our late beloved Harry Kellar was not only my personal friend, but I was one of his most ar- dent admirers. However, Alexan- der Herrmann has always been to my mind the "Ideal Magician." Herrmann looked, lived and acted the part. He had three or four small tricks, brought to a state of, near, perfection. These tricks were a part of his personality, and he never lost an opportunity to exploit them. 
Now, I claim, the great trouble with most magicians is: They want to look and act like Herrmann, and what is more, and worse, they want to do the same tricks he did and in exactly the same style. "It can't be did.”"  By the way, you could take out the Name Herrmann here, and insert, Copperfield, Blaine, ShinLim, Darren Brown, I think you get my point.
He further goes on…

"The late Charles Bertram of, "Isn't it Wonderful" fame was  playing at the Grand Theatre in Chicago. The late William Robinson (Chung Ling Soo) took me down into Ber- tram's dressing room, where I did my full act for him. When I had finished 
Mr. Bertram said: "Very clever, young man, but—Why don't you do "tricks." I then replied, "the reason I don't do tricks is because other magicians do tricks." I believe neither Mr. Bertram nor I realized the full significance of the remark until several years later, when I was creating quite a sensation at the Pal- ace Theatre, London, where I re- mained a feature for twenty-six con- secutive weeks. Y our reference to the Winter Garden, Berlin, reminds me that I was warned by profession- al friends and theatrical agents not to sign a contract for that establish- ment, I was assured my act would be a complete failure there, and and would ruin me for Germany. The predictions, as you are aware, were all wrong, as I played there, eight weeks in 1900, and a month's return engagement about a year later. No doubt, the fact that I pos- sessed a very strong and penetrating voice, and knew how to use it to fairly good advantage, had consider- able to do with my success there and elsewhere. I have always con- tended that a magician, to meet with any marked degree of success, must be an actor—hundreds of people do tricks—but they cannot all CONVINCE, — yes, that's the word, CONVINCE an audience. My point is that it is not the particular trick that makes the magician, but it is the magician who makes the particular trick. I claim the public did not go to see Kellar's and Herrmann's tricks, but, on the contrary, they went to see the individuals, — great men's personalities in particu- lar. Their tricks were simply incidental. I will further elucidate: A few days ago I made a long voyage to see a celebrated mystifier—getting myself up at six A. M. with the thermometer at 20 below zero and traveling some seventy miles to see this miracle worker. Can anyone imagine me going seventy miles to see a mere magician do tricks! Not on your life!”" The man Downs was going to see was HOUDINI. I just found that line so incredible, “Hundreds of people do tricks but they can’t CONVINCE.” To do that takes a very special performer, part actor, part magician, a person who LIVES his or her material. That is incredible wisdom from Tommy Downs.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of the podcast. I do want to mention one other thing in regards to Down’s famous act The Misers Dream. Back in 2008 Levent, the great comedy magician and excellent manipulator, put out a DVD set on the Misers Dream. It has 5 hours worth of sleights and tricks, including the routines of Al Flosso, Charlie Miller, Roy Benson, Paul Potassy, Robert Houdin and of course, T. Nelson Downs. It’s well worth checking out. IT is extensive. And yes, it’s a teaching DVD. I honestly do not know if they’re available anymore, but you could contact Levent through his website to find out. 

All of the references are in Bold Letters within the article, so they are easy to find.
This was Episode 23 of the podcast and was one of the most popular of the entire run.

AFTER I put the podcast up, I wrote a companion article about Downs & Houdini which can be found here:

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Karl Germain The Wizard

Today I get to talk about one of my favorite magicians of all time. I became fascinated with this gentlemen when I first saw one of his breathtaking posters (see above). It was hanging in the American Museum of Magic years ago and I was awe struck. The poster was tall, a 3 sheet poster, with an image of a witch and black cat leaning over a fire. The smoke from the fire revealed an image of Germain who himself, was conjuring a spirit. And across the top of the poster the words, GERMAIN The Wizard. I read what little I could find on Germain in books, and then learned there were two biographies written on Germain, but a the time they were long out of print. When I finally was able to get a copy of them, I read them cover to cover. Germain truly seemed like a real wizard. I think you too will become fascinated by Germain just as I did, after reading this article. 

Our subject was born Charles Mattmueller on Feb 12, 1878 in Cleveland Ohio. Technically he should be Charles Mattmueller Jr. as his father was  also Charles Mattmueller. David Price’s book, MAGIC A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theatre, explains The name Karl came about during his school years when several other boys in his class also had the name Charles. The teacher decided this Charles would be called Karl. It must have pleased young Karl Mattmueller because he kept the name. 

He became interested in magic in his youth, but I’m not sure what the specific event was that peaked his curiosity. I have a feeling that his interest in magic came directly from his father, who had seen magicians in his native Germany and often told young Karl about the feats he had witnessed. Also, I know young Karl had a copy of Modern Magic by Professor Hoffmann which was given to him by his father when he was 14. At age 15, in 1893, he sketched out a design for a possible poster inside his copy of Modern Magic, on a blank page no doubt. His name in the design  is listed as Chas. Mattmueller. The following year he would create another sketch for a potential advertising piece but this time his name was listed as Karl Mattmueller-Magician. 

Young Karl’s early magic career, in fact, his entire magic career, would be a family affair. Census records from the time list his father as being a machinist and also working in the picture framing business. He was clearly a skilled craftsman. Karl’s father would make many of the props that Karl would use in his show. Another family member would be a regular part of Karl’s show and that was his sister Ida. She would act as assistant and would participate in his mind reading experiments. More on both of them later.

He would have several stage names before settling upon the best one. First he was Charles Mattmueller, then 
Karl Mattmueller, then for a time he went by the stage name Alexander, but upon being selected to perform for the Central Lyceum Bureau in 1899, he chose the name Germaine. Actually the chose the name GERMAIN without the ‘e’, but due to an error by a printing company, he became Germain with an e at the end. They didn’t have spellcheck back then sadly. 

Now before I can get into his magic, I must point out something that I read in several different articles and books on Germain. When describing his act, many people use the word ‘artistic.’ The first time I read it was in David Price’s book, and then I also saw it in The Annals of Conjuring book. In several magazine articles on Germain, they also use the word ‘artistic’ to describe him. On the surface it might seem that these various magic authors are simply being lazy and copying each other, which happens a lot in magic literature. But having looked over the material in Germain’s show, and seen photos of the incredible props, plus having seen a number of them in person, I can attest to the fact that ARTISTIC is probably the perfect word to describe Karl Germaine.

Beyond the look of his props, why do so many say Germain was artistic. I truly believe it was because he was highly creative, presented many of his own original creations. When he did regular magic routines, he always added something to the routine to make them unique to him. His patter was different from the standard performer of the time. Of course, he dressed immaculately, as did his on stage assistants. And this appears to be the case from the very start of his career right up to the end.

Germain’s bread and butter seems to be the Lyceum and Chautauqua circuits. As mentioned he began in 1899 and continued for several years. In the book, Germain the Wizard and His Legerdermain by Stuart Cramer, he shares the story of an event that took place in July of that year. The Germain company was onboard a train heading for their next destination. They were part of a larger troupe of performers. Germain was there with his sister Ida. Unknown to the passengers, a cargo train off in the distance was on the same track as the passenger train. No one knew, and the sudden realization did not prevent a disaster from happening. The two trains collided, sending various cars crashing, and some tipping off the tracks. The passenger car that Germain and his fellow performers were on, was further down the line but still suffered from the impact. The result was that their car came to an abrupt stop and tilted at an angle off the tracks. No one was hurt, though everyone was very shaken up. 

After helping other passengers out of the wrecked cars, Germain realized it would be impossible for him to make his show unless he made other arrangements. I’m not even sure how they pulled this off but they were able to get a buggy to take them and their luggage and equipment to another train and booked passage just in time to make it to their destination. They also made it in time to do give their performance!

Another story from the Germain The Wizard and His Legerdermain book, tells of Germain’s appearance at the Opera House in Wheeling WV. The company was unaware that the entire area had flooded, but the organizers met Germain at station with a raft to bring them to the theatre to do the show! Unreal. 

If you’re wondering what kind of magic Germain did, well, he was capable of doing most anything. He had primarily stage or platform style tricks, but he kept a number of very deceptive close-up tricks on him at all times. He also excelled at mentalism, which included his sister Ida. And one of the bigger surprises for me was to discover that Germain also presented illusion magic, as in Grand Illusion. At this time period, Grand Illusion was really in it’s infancy, but there were some truly marvelous creations that came out of this period. One early illusion was called The Mystery of Malabar. The thinking behind this routine was brilliant. The effect was a two sided platform which was set up in front of the audience. A top went onto this two sided platform and then a basket similar in style to that of the famed hindu basket effect was placed on top of this platform. You could see above, below, and to the sides of this platform. Next, Germain put on a robe and mask or beard and climbed into the basket. Only seconds later, walking down the aisle in the audience was Karl Germain. He vanished from the basket and in impossible time, appeared at the back of the theatre! He wouldn’t be the first or last to present this type of effect, but his method was quite clever. 

Each year Germain added new an amazing mysteries to his show. Let’s take a moment to examine some of his other unique effects…

The Block. This is an incredible effect with a crazy method but completely original. From the perspective of the audience, this is what they see. There is a block of wood, probably about 12 inches long and maybe 2.5 inches square. This is handed out for examination. In addition is a wooden board, 16 inches long, twelve inches wide, and a quarter inch thick, which is also given out for inspection. Germain then took the block and held it against the board and mysteriously it passed right through. He then pulled it back out, and placed the block at another position on the board at a different angle and once again, the block passed through the board. He repeated it a third time. To the audience it appeared he could push the block through the examined board at any spot and it would pass through, like a knife going through butter.  The image of Germain passing the block through the board is just crazy. In it’s most basic form, this is a penetration effect, and there are many of them in magic. What makes this one so diabolical is the fact that the items are handed out beforehand. Also their appearance is quite organic, meaning they don’t look like magic props but rather normal pieces of scrap wood. They also don’t appear to leave a hole in the board once the block is  passed through. Keep in mind, I do not reveal methods on this podcast, but trust me the method is wild. In the book, CONJURING by Jim Steinmeyer, he has two effects of his own creation that are inspired by Germain’s Block trick, if you are interested.

Another incredible Germain effect is his Butterfly. Again, this was one of the early Germain photos that totally had me intrigued. Keep in mind, this is totally original. Here is the effect: Germain would tell the audience he was about to produce a somethingness out of nothingness. And then he reached up and produced a 14 inch silk. He continued to do this again, and again until he had a dozen or so of varying colors. All of this was done to patter. The dozen silk scarves were then rolled into a sort of ‘cocoon’ and suddenly the bundle of fabric sprung open to reveal a very large butterfly with fluttering wings. I don’t know the actual size of the butterfly but in images it looks to be approximately 3 feet wide. Very large. Once it was produced it was handed off to an assistant who carried it away. Sadly, it almost seems that the better approach would have been to have it float or fly away on it’s own!

Flowers have figured prominently in the acts of many magicians. The Kellar Flower Growth is a wonderful routine where two planters of dirt, eventually sprout two large bushes of flowers. Kellars routine used several tables and two large metal cones which were first showed empty. I have mentioned this in previous podcasts, there is a video of Nickolas Night presenting the Kellar Flower Growth on Youtube, it’s a must see! Oh, and the technique that is used in this video is an improvement suggested by none other than Karl Germain!

Germain’s personal favorite routine was his own Flower Growth. This was the creation of Karl and his father. You see, according to the book Germain the Wizard by Stuart Cramer, Karl’s father had seen a magician in Germany do a similar trick and it always stuck in his brain. So now father and son went about creating a version of their own. In fact, Germain would create several different flower productions before working on the actual Flower Growth idea.   It went through various renditions until the final version, the ultimate one was finally realized. This is how it appeared to the audience. On stage sits a gold Louis the 14th Style side table. It is away from the curtain, and has a clear view above and below the table. On a second table sits an empty flower pot. Germain shows the empty flower pot and proceeds to fill it with dirt. He carries the now full flower pot to the other table and picks up a fan that was resting on the table. Without any covering, no tubes, no curtains, Germain simply waves the fan in the direction of the flower pot. Almost immediately a small tiny green sprout is seen. Germain then continues to wave the fan and move or dance around the table. Gradually, the tiny sprout blooms and gets larger. As Germain continues his fan dance, the plant grows higher and higher until the audience sees large roses on the table. The plant grows to a height of several feet. Germain then takes a pair of shears and cuts off some roses at their stems and passes them out the members of the audience, thus proving he has just made a LIVE rosebush grow right before their very eyes.  

I have been very fortunate to see the Germain Flower Growth prop LIVE in person. It resides in the collection of Ken Klosterman. It is a thing of beauty. The elder Mattmueller hand made this table, with ornate carvings on angels on each leg of the table. The method is diabolical, there was nothing like it when it came out. Many have said it was superior to Kellar’s Flower Growth, at least, that is what I’ve read in a couple books. I swear I saw a video of it being presented online, but now I can’t seem to locate it anywhere. There are three Germain Flower Growths that exist, one , as I mentioned is in Ken Klosterman’s collection, another other is in the collection of David Copperfield, and a third earlier version is in the collection of TELLER.

There is another effect of Germain's that is purely his, and that is his Egyptian Water Bowl Mystery. I recently wrote about it on this blog, so here is a link to that article.

Earlier I mentioned Ida Mattmuellar. This was Karl’s younger sister. She was born in 1880 and thus was 2 years younger than Karl. She provided the music in the show by playing the piano, and served as an assistant to Karl since his earliest days as a magician. In his first tour in 1899, she is listed on the brochure, along with her photogragh, as Ida Germain. She is also singled out as helping him in his ‘Telepathy’ Act. She continued in this role until Karl was offered the chance to perform in England. 

In June 1906, Germain set sail for England. He arrived 7 days later, after an awful sea voyage which left him sea-sick the entire time. But he recovered quick enough and was soon performing. He would tour all over England and Ireland. Eventually he ended up in London where he appeared at the New Bedford Palace Theatre. Germain was very popular in London, as was magic in general. Many of the greats of that era where in town the same time as Germain, folks like Chung Ling Too, Houdini, Lafayette and more. 
In 1907, Houdini and Karl Germain were both in England. Germain, happened to run into Houdini at a banquet and decided he wanted to amaze his friend. He then proceeded to present his favorite pocket trick, the term that was used then for close-up magic. The trick was called The Spirit Writing On Cigarette Paper.  The effect was a blank piece of paper was pinned to the end of a pencil. The spectator (HOUDINI) was asked to name someone, and the signature of that person appeared on the previously blank paper. Houdini watched like a hawk, but in the end was amazed by the presentation.

The highlight of his time abroad was working at St. George’s Hall for Maskeylne and Devant. He was there for a quite a long run. By December 1907, he was back home in Cleveland…..after another LONG sea-sick filled ocean voyage.

On Feb 26th, 1908, Germain’s friend Edward Maro passed away from Typhoid Fever. You can learn all about Maro by listening to podcast ep#11. Maro’s real name was Walter Truman Best, and his wife Allie was abruptly left a widow. Germain did not find out about the death until after Best had been buried.

Allie Best asked Germain for help in dispersing her husbands show props. Germain agreed and headed north to Maronook, on the shores of Lake Lelanau, in Michigan. While going through the various props. Germain naturally got first dibs on things he wanted. He came away with Maro’s Meteroic Ribbon effect, and he came away with a very famous piece that had once belonged to Charles Bertram. And he almost came away with Allie Best! Apparently, that relationship did not last. But let me backtrack to the Charles Bertram item. This was Bertram’s Spirit Lock, that no one knows how it ended up with Maro, but here it was in Maro’s collection. Germain apparently tried to purchase it while he was in England a few years before but was unable. And now it was his. And as he always did, he made it his by creating a unique routine. He told the story of Dr. Faust who was in prison, this lock held the prison door shut. He held up a picture of a lock and then held his fingers as if they were a key. A shadow was cast on the picture of his fingers and as the shadow entered the lock, he turned his hand and the real lock sprang open. 

Thanks to an article in the Dec 2005 issue of MAGIC magazine by Tim Moore, he said no one knew what Bertrams routine was, nor did they know what Maro’s routine was.  So here was Germain, making this clever trick his own by creating a mystical and memorable story. 

Curiously at the conclusion of his tour in 1909, Germain gave what he called ‘His Farewell Performance’ at Marktinka’s theatre in NYC. FAREWELL PERFORMANCE???? It seems rather abrupt, and premature to say the least. 

However, in only a few months an event would happen to make him want to leave the stage for good. On Jan 30th, 1910, Ida Mattmueller died from a tumor on her spine. She had been in declining health ever since he returned from England a few years before. But now, her death left a huge void in his life. He began to reassess his priorities. The lure of the road and stardom no longer appealed to him  . The reality of the road was that it could be brutal and miserable more than it was good. And as far as stardom, despite the constant demand for his shows, he had not achieved the kind of celebrity status like Kellar, Herrmann, or Houdini. 

It was time to look for a new profession, something that would keep him home, near his father, who was still alive and near friends and familiar surroundings. He was able to convince the president of Western Reserve Law School to allow him to attend classes, despite not having graduated high school nor ever attending college. What would happen to the show you might ask? Germain trained a new person to be Germain. Paul Fleming, who was an up and coming magician was chosen to take out the show and fill the many dates that were already booked. He would hit the road as Paul Germain. On the rare occasion Paul was unable to fill a date, Germain himself went out and presented it. He was not completely out of the magic world, but he was heading in that direction.

In 1914, Karl Germain became a lawyer and opened a practice in Cleveland. He dealt with probate law and had a partner in his practice. He intended to be out of magic at this point, and leave the performing to Paul Fleming. But for whatever reason, Germain couldn’t  leave magic alone. By 1916, he accepted another Chautauqua Tour. This one however, would prove to be the final tour for Germain. During the 2 month tour he was having issues with headaches and blurriness in his vision. He went to see a specialist who recomenneded he go to Boston to see another specialist. The verdict was a tumor in his brain pressing against the optic nerve. An operation was nessesarry or else he could go blind and mad. But the operation could also cause him to go blind. Germain agreed to the operation and when it was completed, he had zero vision. It turned out to be temporary to a point. He never regained his full vision. This predicament also caused him to leave his law firm and also put an end to show business. His father, would assist Karl for the remainder of his life, at least until he died in the 1940s. 

I’m not sure the date of this, but the story comes from Germain the Wizard by Stuart Cramer. In the story,
Houdini was in Cleveland performing and had contacted Germain about some curtains he had for sale. They worked out an agreeable price, but before settling on the deal, Houdini said he needed to see them hanging in the theatre to get a better idea of their condition and if they’d work for him. The curtains were hung and Houdini went on with his show. After the show, Germain was waiting in his dressed room and Houdini said he’d be happy to take the curtains but the offer was now half what had been agreed upon. Germain vanished for a bit and when Houdini went to look for him, he had departed, along with his curtains. The curtains eventually found their way in Paul Flemings show and today they hang in the mini-theatre in Ken Klosterman’s collection. And I’m assuming these are the plush green curtains that are there. Though for some reason I was thinking they were the black curtains that hung in Germain’s show.

In 1922, Germain decided to put together a talk/lecture on spiritualism. This was something he had been interested in his entire life. In fact, many of his shows featured a spirit cabinet, different versions, or other spirit effects. It was a perfect topic for Germain to talk on. But a tour never developed. It could be he didn’t have the name recognition that HOUDINI had and this made it near impossible for him to get hired to deliver the talk. Plus, his partial blindness was very apparent, so I can imagine that figured into people’s decisions not to go with his program.

 This remarkable man, who created so much original magic had been dealt a terrible blow with this partial blindness. But things would get worse. In 1938, while crossing an intersection, a truck ran into him. He survived the accident, but was left completely blind. 

There was one saving grace and that came in the form of a young amateur magician who befriended Karl Germain, his name was Stuart Cramer. If it had not been for Cramer, the final days of Germain would have been much worse. If it had not been for Cramer, we likely would know very little about Germain, other than what was little was written in magic magazines. 

As it was, Stuart Cramer was with Germain in the hospital in his final days and his final moments on his planet. Karl Germain Mattmuellar died on August 9th, 1959. He is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Cleveland Ohio. He was 81 when he died, and he lived with his blindness for 43 years, more years than he was full time magician. A sad ending for such an incredible performer.

I was surprised by one thing, the Mattmueller family plot, has all 4 Mattmuellars buried there. On Germain’s grave it has this on the tombstone, “Karl Germain Mattmuellar”, but on the fathers grave it has “Karl Mattmueller” as well. However, in Census records he is always listed as Charles. I can’t help but wonder now if his name was actually Karl, as this is a German name, and it was changed when he immigrated to the United States. It also stands to reason why his son, Charles, continued to use KARL throughout his life. And it also makes me wonder about the ‘school house’ story. 

Like his friend Edward Maro, Germain’s posters did not include the devilsh imps, which were standard for the time. Instead, much like Maro, he had mythical creatures like elves, fairies, witches and the like. It appears that Germain had one full color lithograph, it must have been printed sometime between 1899 and 1905, as the poster has the spelling of his name, G-E-R-M-A-I-N-E. His other posters all have a red/black color scheme, or red/black/white color scheme. And they are very striking posters. I am not sure, but the long poster with Germain conjuring the spirit, I have seen this poster in a reddish color, yellowish color, as well as orange. I’m not sure what the original color was, or if there were indeed several versions of different colors. Also, Stuart Cramer reveals in his book that a stash of posters was found in the attic of Germain’s home after he died and these included 1 sheet, 2 sheets, 3 sheets and 8 sheet posters. I have NEVER seen one of these 8 sheet posters, so I can only imagine what that was like. 

A final point I would like to make about Germain. I believe Germain may have given the very first TED Talk. If you don’t know what a TED Talk is, I suggest you look it up on google. On May 9, 1949, Germain spoke before SAM Assembly #10. He was at the home of magician John Grdina and unknown to Germain, Grdina made an audio recording of the presentation. So Germain’s trust had been betrayed, and when he later found out, he was quite livid. But for posterity sake, that recording still exists, and thankfully so. I have not heard the recording, but in the May 2002 issue of Genii Magazine, a transcript of that speech is featured. It’s a bit heavy, and frankly for an audience, probably even boring. But if you read the content you really should be enriched. The point of the talk was to be a true artist, you must be original, and to be original you must be yourself. So to present a trick, word for word, move for move is not art, but copying. And please, I know there have been countless debates on this very subject. But I’m talking about Germain’s opinion here, and I think he has the moral high ground when it comes to talking about originality. His point was not to change everything in a given routine, but to include yourself, your personality, your thoughts, your opinions in the routines. A great example of Germain taking a standard trick and adding himself was his approach to The Misers Dream. IF you are not familiar with the Misers Dream, you should listen to Podcast Ep#23 about T. Nelson Downs the man who revolutionized that trick. But suffice to say, many people perform the Misers Dream in much the same way. Germain added something that I just love. At the conclusion of his routine, after having pulled countless coins from the air and from other places, he turns all the coins into candy. The method can be found in the Stuart Cramer books, and it’s genius, and rather simple.

Another example would be Germain’s approach to The Kellar Flower Growth. He never presented this, but he recognized it could be stronger with one simple change. In Harry Kellar’s hands, this routine was a thing of pure beauty. How it looked when other performers presented it I do not know. But Germain suggested changing the table drapes to a mesh-like fabric, in this way the audience could see through them. And proof of the brilliance of this one simple change can be seen in the Nicholas Night performance on Youtube of Kellar’s Flower Growth!
I wish I had the ability to include Germain’s recorded speech here on the podcast. Maybe in the future, I can track down a copy and then get permission from whoever the owner is. I would LOVE to hear Germain speak of originality in his own voice. Wow. 

I wonder how many magicians in the past 100 years have had a similar approach? Off the top of my head, I’d say Slydini, Tommy Wonder, for pure originality. And as far as putting themselves into their magic, one only has to look as far as the top performers in the field, Henning, Copperfield, Siefried and Roy, Penn & Teller. Sure there are lots of others, but the point is, those performers were unique, and they were unique because they were themselves.

It may come as a surprise to many of you, that Karl Germain would not approve of this particular episode. He was very much against people writing or talking about him after his death. In fact, he was even against people writing about him after he retired but was still alive. 
He told Stuart Cramer that he would come back and HAUNT him if he dared write about him after his death. And Stuart wrote two books, The Secrets of Karl Germain in 1962 and Germain the Wizard and his Legerdermain in 1966. 
Paper Mache Bust of Germain (Klosterman Collection)

 This is the transcript from the Feature of Episode 25 of The Magic Detective Podcast. It has been slightly edited to conform to this format.

Research Materials for This Episode Included:

Stuart Cramer GERMAIN THE WIZARD by the Miracle Factory
David Price     MAGIC A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theatre
Prof. Hoffmann MODERN MAGIC
Sidney Clarke  The Annals of Conjuring
The Linking Ring Vol 40 #12
M-U-M Vol 104 #4
M-U-M Vol 204 #9
MAGIC Vol 15 #4
MAGIC Vol 24 #6
MAGIC Jan 1997 Conjuring Column