Showing posts sorted by relevance for query wyman. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query wyman. Sort by date Show all posts

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Civil War Era Magicians Part 5

John Wyman Jr.
Our next magician who conjured in America during the Civil War seems as though he deserves a bigger place in the annals of conjuring than he has. His name was John W. Wyman Jr. and he performed professionally as Wyman The Wizard. He was born in 1816 in Albany NY and according to several magic history books, he was the most successful magician of his time from a financial perspective. I think that Signor Blitz would take the honor of being the most well known of that time, especially with his dozen + imitators. Though a number of newspapers dispute that fact and say that Wyman was THE most popular. Either way Wyman apparently made the most money, and unlike Blitz, Herrmann, Anderson, Heller and others he was American born!

He had the honor of having performed for President Abraham Lincoln four times. Apparently Mr. Lincoln was a big fan of magic as he had seen, Blitz, Compars Herrmann and now Wyman the Wizard! David Copperfield has in his museum, the very coins that Wyman the Wizard used to pass through the hands of Abraham Lincoln during one of his performances before the President. Wyman lived on 6th St in Washington D.C. for a period of time. And his regular performance spot was a place called The Odd Fellows Hall, which was located at 419 7th St N.W Washington, almost exactly half way between the Capital Building and The White House. I assume that his close proximity to the White House and his celebrity status helped him obtain his numerous appearances before not just President Lincoln, but also President Martin Van Buren and President Millard Fillmore.

Odd Fellows Hall in Washington D.C.
According to Houdini, Wyman had one particular attribute that made him popular, he was honest! This is an important fact to remember because Wyman presented what were called 'Gift Shows'. Basically, all the tickets that were sold to his shows had numbers on them and every ticket received a prize depending upon the number. Wyman apparently gave out some really good quality items, among them, watches, table sets, family bibles, silver plated ware and more.

I can't find any record of Wyman having performed for the soldiers during the Civil War, but four performances for the Commander in Chief are enough to put him in this category as a Civil War Era Magician. He very likely performed for members of the military and their families at some point. Prior to the war he was a popular attraction in the Southern States and even out west on Mississippi River Boats.

Like several of his fellow conjurers of the time, one of the features of his act was 'The Gun Trick'. What made his Gun Trick special is that he bought it from John Henry Anderson. He apparently also purchased Anderson's Floating Lady which was a pirated version of Robert-Houdin's Etherial Suspension. Besides magic, Wyman also was an accomplished ventriloquist and mimic and even presented automatons.

The American Civil War began in 1861, but also in 1861 there was almost a Magical Civil War between Wyman the Wizard and Compars Herrmann. This Civil War being started in the press with a challenge from Wyman to Compars Herrmann. In the challenge, Wyman disputed the claims of Herrmann to be performing 'original material' and offered the sum of $25,000 to the winner of a magical duel. Ten of his best tricks would be performed by Herrmann, and ten of Herrmann's best tricks would be performed by Wyman. The challenge would be public and the winner would get all the money plus the box office receipts. The outcome of the Magical Civil War? It never happened because Herrmann ignored Wyman completely.

Besides living in Washington D.C., Wyman also lived in Philadelphia and eventually purchased quite a bit of property in Burlington NJ where he retired. He died in Burlington and was buried in Fall River, MA. in 1881 (the hunt is on to find his grave!)

One interesting historical note, Wyman kept a scrapbook of his career. After Wyman's death this scrapbook was sent to George M. Cohan who claims he never received it. So this very valuable historical item was 'lost in the mail'. I can't help but wonder if it has ever turned up?

NEXT: Horatio Cooke, Civil War Era Magician

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Few More Details on Wyman the Wizard

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

The book, Annals of Conjuring says that Wyman was the first U.S. born magician to attain prominence. And the Illustrated History of Magic says that "he was the biggest money maker of the period." John Mullholland writing in The Sphinx, says "he was the first American-born magician to present a full evening's stage performance". 

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

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

 Wyman lived on 6th St in Washington D.C. for a period of time. And his regular performance spot was a place called The Odd Fellows Hall, which was located at 419 7th St N.W Washington, almost exactly half way between the Capital Building and The White House.

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

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

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Wyman the Wizard...MORE

Wyman the Wizard
I wrote a blog article about Wyman the Wizard back in August of 2011. In that article I mentioned that 'the hunt was on for his grave'. Several magic books mentioned where he died, but there was no mention of where he was buried. I'm glad to report it's been found, sort of. I had narrowed down the cemetery to one in Fall River Mass, called Oak Grove Cemetery. There were several in that area and I had a hunch this was the cemetery, though I could not get definitive proof. I tried contacting some govt. officials in that area with no answers. And then I received an email from fellow magic historian, Gary Hunt. He had discovered a paragraph in an old Sphinx Magazine, which gave the exact location of the grave and sure enough it was in Oak Grove Cemetery! So now, I've got to travel up to that area later in the Spring and get a photograph of the grave so I can post it over at my deadconjurers blog. A HUGE THANK YOU to Gary Hunt for sending me the article with that information!

(from John Hopkins Unv. Library)
But I wanted to write more about Wyman and I began digging again. Milbourne Christopher mentions in the book Panorama of Magic that there were at least two songs dedicated to Wyman the Wizard. I just found one of them and it's called "Keemo Kimo Schottisch" by James Bellak and according to the cover was composed and dedicated to Wyman the Wizard. I do not play music, but if there is anyone interested, the entire sheet music is downloadable here

 Wyman seems to be a man of firsts. MAGIC-A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theatre says that Wyman was the first Americian born magician to do a full evening show of magic. The book, Annals of Conjuring says that Wyman was the first U.S. born magician to attain prominence. And the Illustrated History of Magic says that "he was the biggest money maker of the period.". Those are pretty decent accolades.

Peale's Baltimore Museum (photo by MKelly1990)
He apparently began his professional career performing at Peale's Baltimore Museum. From there he played a lot of small town school houses. His act consisted of marionettes, ventriloquism, memory feats and magic. The magic included the Aireal Suspension & Gun Trick he purchased from John Henry Anderson, the Inexhaustible Bottle, Egg Bag, Coin Magic, the Sphinx illusion and many other popular magic routines of the day. 

Wyman performed what were known as 'Gift Shows', which meant after the performance everyone in the audience was to receive a gift. He was known to provide nice gifts. No bait and switch for Wyman, if he promised a nice item, that is what he gave out. I'm wondering if one of the smaller gifts he gave was a 'Wyman Coin' because I have seen several images of his coins on the internet now.

Some books mention that Wyman only played 'small dates' but I'm not sure he could have become the biggest money maker of the period, only playing small towns. In fact, I know he played Richmond VA, Charleston S.C., Boston MA, NYC, and Washington D.C. among many places. So he clearly played all over. But he was around before the days of Vaudeville, so the types of venues would have been somewhat different.

Born January 19, 1816, John W. Wyman Jr. was known as Jack by his friends. He apparently wrote several books, one of which was called "Jokes & Anecdotes of Wyman, TheMagician & Ventriloquist" which was published in 1866.

His performing route consisted of areas east of the Mississippi River and also into Canada. I've seen a number of newspaper articles on Wyman that appeared in Virginia papers, so he was well known in the South as well as the North.

He died on July 31st 1881 and was buried in Fall River Massachusetts in the Oak Grove Cemetery.  I will post a photo of the grave later in the Spring.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Wyman the Wizard's Final Resting Place

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 22, 2018

P.T. Barnum the Magician

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Houdini and Barnum

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Episode 12 Podcast Wyman the Wizard Notes

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Magic Site Seeing in the Nation's Capital

Originally this blog article was specifically for those attending the Washington D.C. Symposium on Magic History. I wanted to share with you some interesting sites to see while you are in town that are all magic related. But now the S.A.M. Convention is here, so for all those attending please enjoy this guide as well!

1. The location of the old Al's Magic Shop. If you knew Al Cohen, or had ever been to the shop, you know what a great guy Al was as a demonstrator. His shop was a hang out for many over the years. The final location of the shop was at 1012 Vermont Avenue NW. The original shop location was torn down in the late 1970s.

2. Robert Heller spots. Robert Heller was a resident of Washington D.C. for several years. Neither of his homes are still there, but I will give you the locations. The first place he lived in Washington is 260 F. Street NW. which is today a parking lot that is at the corner of 3rd and F st. St. (see link)
The next place that William Henry Palmer/Robert Heller lived in D.C. was 447 13th Street NW. Today the Warner Theatre sits at this location. He also played piano at the Church of the Epiphany at 1317 G St NW, Washington, DC.

3.  HOUDINI in D.C.. Harry Houdini was all over the D.C. First spot would be Old Ebbitt's Grill,
which is located across the street from the Treasury Building at 675 15th St NW. This is the location of Keith's Vaudeville Theatre and also the spot where in January 12th of 1922 Houdini hung upside down and escaped from a Straight Jacket.  If you walk up the street to the brown building you can get almost the identical view as seen in the photo to the left. Slightly down the street from Keith's Vaudeville Theatre location is the 'W' Hotel, which used to be the Hotel Washington and Bess and Harry stayed here several times on their visits to D.C. That hotel was also featured in the Godfather Movie.
Houdini's first hanging straight jacket escape in D.C. was from the Munsey Building which today is the J W Marriott Hotel at 1331 Pennsylvania Ave NW. Houdini also performed at the Chase Theatre while in town but it's long gone. The Old DC Jail where Houdini escaped from the cell of the assasin of President Garfield was located at 625 Park Road NW in D.C.(it is no longer there, a church stands in the lot where the jail used to be). See also, Capital Building and White House.
This link also describes the Challenges Houdini presented while in D.C.

4. Harry Kellar in D.C. Kellar performed a number of places in D.C. including the National Theatre (see address below) The Columbia Theatre 1112 F St NW but is gone now and Ford's Theatre on 511 10th St NW. 
5. The National Theatre 1321 Pennsylvania Ave NW. This is a historic theatre which still happens to be open and operational. Magicians who had performed there include: Robert Heller, Alexander Herrmann, Harry Kellar, Harry Blackstone Sr. and Penn and Teller.

6. National Theatre/Helen Hayes Theatre this is a smaller theatre within the National Theatre. During the Civil War days it was a pool hall frequented by none other than John Wilkes Booth. Today it's a small theatre where performances are given on select Mondays and Saturdays throughout the year. Countless D.C. area magicians have performed in this room, including ME!

7. MAX MALINI in D.C. Malini performed in several places in D.C. including The Willard Hotel
1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW (Houdini and Bess were also known to stay at this hotel). The Roosevelt Hotel 2101 16th St NW Washington is another spot where Max Malini set up shop, but today they are apartments. See also Capital Building and White House.

9. Alexander Herrmann in D.C.. Herrmann the Great appeared at the National Theatre (see address above) and also performed along with Compars Herrmann at the White House in the East Room to entertain none other than Abraham Lincoln.

10. Wyman The Wizard in D.C. John Wyman Jr. performed at Odd Fellows Hall fairly regularly when he was in Washington at 419 7th St N.W. He also performed for President Lincoln at the White House in the East Room. Wyman lived on 6th St in D.C. but I don't have an exact address and I'm sure the building is gone.

11. Signor Blitz in D.C. There is a story of Blitz running into Abraham Lincoln at the Summer White House (known today as Lincoln's Cottage) 140 Rock Creek Church Rd NW where Blitz did some magic and the President and magician had an interesting exchange.

12. The Capital Building & White House. There is more 'magic' going on in these places than any magician could ever do! But I'll give you a brief run down of some historical moments. Max Malini bit the button off Senator Hanna's coat on the steps of the Capital Building. Malini also gave an impromptu performance in the Marble Room of the Capital. Houdini gave his testimony before Congress at the Capital Building during the debate over Fortune Telling in the district.

The White House has seen countless magicians. Alexander & Compars Herrmann performed for Lincoln in the East Room of the White House. Houdini was known to have been invited to the White House. Howard Thurston performed there during the White House Easter Egg Roll, as did Al Cohen,
David Williamson, Silly Billy, the entire cast of the Le Grand David Spectacular Magic Company from Beverly Mass, Doug Henning, Harry Blackstone Jr., Steve Wyrick, Wayne Alan, Trixie Bond, Ralph The Great, Dean Carnegie, Dave Risley, Mac King, Ken Scott, Mark Daniel, Ray Goulet, Mike Bent, Emanuel Shabum, Eric Henning, The Pro Kids Show performers, Adam Ace, James Wand, and many many others from all over the WORLD!

13. Henry Ridgely Evans in D.C. Henry Ridgely Evans the prolific magic writer lived in D.C. and is buried here. His grave is in the Oak Hill Cemetery 3001 R St NW. Grave location: Stewart- Lot 610 East

14. Fords Theatre in D.C.. Of course, this is the historic theatre at 511 10th St NW where President Lincoln was shot. But it was also a spot where Harry Kellar performed and then years later, Lance Burton, The Pendragons and others have performed there for the Gala for The President. This building once had a sister location in Baltimore where Harry Kellar passed his mantle to Howard Thurston. That Ford's Theatre is no longer there.

15. Next is the Library of Congress which has quite a lot of magic posters and ephemera in it's collection. The Houdini collection is housed in the Jefferson Building and I think you need an appointment.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Book: David Copperfield's History of Magic


(photos by Homer Liwag, used with permission)

My readers and listeners to my podcast tend to already be magic history fans. Some however are new to magic history, others are just interested in history and they enjoy the stories of magicians. Whichever category you are part of, please pay attention to the next few paragraphs.

I remember listening to the radio on my way to work. A news report came on about a strange collection of magic that was in need of a buyer. It must have been an article in a newspaper that some radio personalities picked up to talk about. At any rate, I remember them saying it was called The Mulholland collection and it was worth 2.3 million dollars or somewhere in that price range. I also remember talking so some friends of mine and trying to figure out just how to come up with 2.3 million dollars to buy this thing, LOL. Needless to say, we didn't come up with the money. Instead, another person did. Encouraged by his friend Mike Caveney, David Copperfield purchased the Mulholland Collection. That alone was pretty exciting news. The most popular magician of the day just purchased the biggest collection of magic known to exist. What exactly was IN the collection was not known to me. I imagine some folks in the magic history world had a good idea, but I was not yet in that group, neither was David, yet. 

Over time, David would purchase numerous collections. Eventually it would become 6 times the size of the original Mulholland Collection. And slowly overtime, this new curator and his crew would create the most amazing museum of magic. The official name is the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts, it is located somewhere in Las Vegas and is not even open to the public. If you were part of the latest Magic History Conference that Bill Smith put together, you had the rare fortune of getting a tour of the museum. (I was not among the lucky participants)

The book, David Copperfield's History of Magic is a journey into David's World of Magic and frankly our world of magic. It's his enormous collection that is lovingly shared in breathtaking photos throughout the book. The photos taken by a magical artist in his own right Homer Liwag. Every single photo is a work of art. In fact, ALL of the photos in this article were taken by Homer and are used with permission (please do not copy them).

The book begins with what I believe are the two most perfect words for a book of this nature. Two simple words, "Magic Matters." As historians we know it. As performers we know it. As fans of magic we know it. And in this crazy world we live in, it's time we let others know and remind those of us who have forgotten, Magic Matters!

There are 28 Chapters in this book and they are basically in chronological order. The first being a chapter about the first english language magic book, Reginald Scot's Discovery of Witchcraft of 1584. I have seen one of these treasured books in person at another historian's collection. I would not even touch the book, knowing of it's age and it's fragile state, I only looked upon it with awe. This marks an ideal way to begin the history of magic. 

Next we have a chapter on Robert-Houdin the Father of Modern Magic. I think he needs a new title, as He was more the Father of 19th Century Magic. The images included in that chapter show the Pastry Chef of the Palais Royale, numerous posters, cornucopias used to produce items in the show, and numerous Houdin Mystery Clocks. The chapter covers a brief history of Robert Houdin and it wonderfully illustrates the importance of Houdin in the history of our art.

I'm not going to cover every chapter, but I do want to mention the next one, which is on Wyman the Wizard. Readers of my blog will know of my interest in this gentleman. In fact, the chapter also covers a magician who I've written about a lot, Harry Cooke. Both of these artists have ties to Abraham Lincoln which is why they appear in the same chapter. Within David Copperfield's collection are the very coins that Wyman the Wizard used to magically pass through the hand of Mr. Lincoln. That might be one of the most incredible pieces in the collection.

Chapter 9 focuses on the Queen of Magic, Adelaide Herrmann. Take a look at this stunning image of her dress. It has a beautiful yet haunting effect to it. You can almost see her standing there in that very dress. Being able to see the actual costumes from these old time performers is to me, more exciting than seeing the various posters. The costumes really bring the artist to life. Playbills, posters, and such are two dimensional records of a performers life and career. But when you have a costume on display its a three dimensional representation of that person. To me it is even better than seeing their props (though I do love that too) but a costume is something they wore, it was in essence a part of them.  

On Sept 7th, 1926, the warehouse where Adelaide Herrmann was storing her show, burned to the ground. All was lost. So the fact that there are still items of hers to view is astonishing! Before I move on, take one more look at that costume. So much more interesting than the costumes worn by magicians today. THAT is the costume of a true superstar of her art.

Chapter 10 is another personal favorite. This time David explores Martinka's Magic Shop. They have created a replica of Martinka's Stage with an ornate proscenium and a huge Herrmann poster that once was displayed in the shop. The photos, like all the photos in the book are impressive. The area is filled with antique Card Stars, and Spirit Dials built by the Martinka Brothers. Included in the display is an illustration of the little theater from way back in the early 1900s. There are even antique theater chairs. One can almost imagine Kellar and Houdini and Frederick Eugene Powell and others gathered around talking shop. 

Chapter 14-HOUDINI. I would imagine that this section of David's museum has been the most photographed. I can recall seeing images of this section many times in the past. And every few years the photos change because the display grows. Looking over the photos in the book, I see some of the hottest items in recent magic auctions. It is no wonder they went to this collection and frankly, it's great to see them all together. As David Copperfield has said in numerous interviews, "If Houdini were alive today, he would see his whole show right here."  That's pretty accurate. At least, the main pieces. Much of the Houdini show has been lost to time. Yet, there are items here that have never been in a collection until now. Houdini's bathtub, straight out of 278, and his bookshelf also from 278. The way the bookshelf has been set up allows a visiter to get a photo recreation of one that Houdini himself took oh so many years ago. 

In the midst of all the authentic Houdini items is a bust of Houdini from Spectral Motions Studio, a testament to the quality of their work. I believe every major Houdini poster is on display. This section of the museum alone is worth millions. IF you are a non-magician and you're reading this chapter on Houdini and viewing the images, there is just no way to walk away without being hugely impressed with this man.

Chapter 23 is called 'Blood on the Curtain'. Of course this is Richiardi Jr.. Here was a gentleman whose style inspired countless 20th Century magicians. I remember reading on Levent's Facebook page about bringing the Richiardi cases to the Copperfield museum and opening them for the first time. According to the chapter, these rare items, props, illusions, costumes and more had been in storage in Brazil since Richiardi died back in 1985. He died young, at only 62. The world was robbed of his artistry and his majesty. But to see it on display here and to read about the life of Aldo Richiardi is a real gift. 

I could go on and on about each chapter of the book, but I am going to stop here. Let me just say that each chapter contains several photos and a fine overview of the life of the performer being discussed. As a magic historian, I would have preferred longer chapters, but this is a book for the public and I believe those chapters are exactly the right length. Also, thankfully, this IS a book for the general public, because of that, it means we are not paying hundreds of dollars for the book. It is worth hundreds of dollars easily. 

Every category of magic is covered in this book: The Manipulators, The Close-up Performer, The Mentalist, The Stage Performer, the Comedy Performer, the Illusionist, the Escape Artist and more. If this were just a history of magic, it would be great to have these various images and stories in one place. But knowing that this is all together in one collection, that makes it all even more special. 

The final chapter of the book is on David Copperfield himself. I'll be honest and tell you that I have not read this chapter.  Is there any way to share his story and  do justice to a man who has done so much for the art of magic? Award Winning TV Specials, cutting edge illusions, brilliant magical presentations, touring shows that sold out more theaters than anyone on the planet, ISLANDS, his own museum and much more. I'm almost afraid to read that last chapter because I don't want the book to end...

And here is the little secret, it won't end. Sure the book will, but not the history of magic. David's place in the history of magic is as a living legend. And as magic continues so does the history. What was live and new today, is part of history tomorrow. In 10 years from now, I'd love to see an updated version of the book with more legendary performers from today. 

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the co-authors Richard Wiseman and David Britland. Richard is a reader of my blog and has been very generous to me in the past. While reading the chapter on Wyman the Wizard, I recalled the email I received from Richard sharing with me an audio track, of some of the music from Wyman's show, that he had specially made. The narrative throughout the book is wonderful and very cohesive considering there were three amazing authors. And this book would not be the same without the photographic genius of Homer Liwag. His ability to capture the beauty of magic in his photos is beyond compare.  

By the way, there is a Special Edition of the book available through Barnes and Noble which has an additional chapter on Orson Welles. There is also an autographed copy available through TalkShop.Live. I've included all the links you'll need to get your copy(s).

Let me end with this. If you have not ordered a copy of the book, please do so. Do yourself a favor and get this book. Use it to learn about the history of our cherished art. Use it for inspiration. Use it to understand that, as David Copperfield said at the beginning of the book, Magic Matters!

Exclusive Addition:


Autographed Copy:

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Witch of Lime Street -Book Review

The Witch of Lime Street by David Jaher is a book about the life of Margery the Medium. The subtitle of the book is ‘Séance, Seduction and HOUDINI in the Spirit World’. Houdini plays a part, but he is a secondary character even though his image and name appears on the cover of the book. Speaking of the cover, it might be the coolest book cover of ANY book with Houdini because this book cover GLOWS IN THE DARK! It’s very subtle, but I think the glowing in the dark cover and spine add to the already spooky subject matter.

When I heard that a first time author was writing this book, I had my doubts about the quality of the content. But having read the book AND listened to the audio version as well, I can tell you that Mr. Jaher did an outstanding job of research. The book is well written, entertaining and filled with history.

I had never been that big a fan of Margery until fairly recently. I think for me my interest began when I saw the actual Bell Box that was used in the Margery/Houdini Séances. I also got to see the so-called spirit-fingerprints that Walter, Margery’s spirit guide and brother, apparently created during a Séance. Shortly after this, I started to correspond frequently with the late escape artist and Houdini historian Norman Bigelow, about Margery. I wish Norm had lived long enough to read this book, I know he would have enjoyed it.

David Jaher does a great job of laying out the details for the reader of Margery’s character before becoming a medium and after and then during the last days of her life. It would seem that Mina Crandon was a fun loving individual. When she became Margery she developed a seductive air about her. She was overly flirtatious with many men on the  investigative committee. No doubt her suggestive behavior helped to take many of them off their game. Despite this she still had standards of behavior that can be seen when Malcolm Bird tried to bring a prostitute to Margery’s Lime Street home and he was abruptly chastised by Margery and turned away.

Margery was a complex woman. Early in the book, it’s apparent that she doesn’t believe in any of this ‘spirit nonsense’. Though skeptical, she still attends a séance with a friend and encounters a medium who shares a revelation with her that she has a future in the spirit business. Sure enough, she eventually becomes the best-known spirit medium in the country. Oddly, though she likes presenting séances she claimed she didn’t want publicity. She doesn’t even use her real name Mina; rather she uses a form of her middle name Margery. And though she doesn’t want the publicity, she is competing for the top prize in country, to be examined and proven to be genuine by a committee of investigators from The Scientific American Magazine. Yes, she was a complex woman.

Houdini is in the book because he plays a major part in the investigation of spirit mediums during the 1920s and he is an important player in the investigation of Margery. The author shares Houdini’s encounters with Conan Doyle and their early friendship as well as their eventual parting of ways. This helps to set-up Houdini  as an authority on fake mediums, for the reader. Even one of Houdini’s spirit debunking co-workers, Rose Mackenberg, gets featured in the book.

There really is no better person to spot a spirit faker than a knowledgeable magician. I preface that with ‘knowledgeable’ because if the magician doesn’t know anything about fake spirit work, they’ll likely be as taken in as anyone else. Houdini was not the first to expose mediums though he was arguably the most famous debunker. Magicians were involved with exposing mediums since the very early days of Spiritualism. John Wyman, known as Wyman the Wizard at one point helped to investigate the Fox Sisters. John Nevil Maskelyne, in England, went after the Davenport Brothers. So magicians have been at the forefront of investigating fake mediums from the start.

One thing that puzzles me is where Margery learned her tricks of the trade? It’s clear that she used deception. But she was creating manifestations that no one else was doing. And she continued to evolve over time adding more and more unique effects to her Séances. A great example would be the ectoplasmic arms and hands that would mysteriously protrude from her body yet no trace of them could be found after the Séance.

I really enjoyed The Witch of Lime Street. I’m not the only one, as the movie rights to the book have already been picked up. Will we see a Houdini/Margery movie? Time will tell. But what a fascinating movie it could be. It’s a very unique chapter in history and frankly I think we owe it all to Houdini. Without him, I don’t think there would have been as much press exposure.  I also think this unique confrontation would have likely been forgotten over time without Houdini’s participation.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The UnMasking of Harry Houdini Part 1

In 1908, Harry Houdini published a book called The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin., The book attempted to show that Robert-Houdin was NOT the Father of Modern Magic and in fact, he had stolen many of the ideas and concepts from other performers. It has gone down as not one of Houdini's better moments.

Personally, I find the book fascinating. Sure, Houdini's angle on Robert-Houdin was all wrong, but he does record quite a bit of history about other performers in those pages.  I'd like to take a moment or two and trace the origins of Houdini's act.  I will not be accusing him of pilfering his material from other performers. He was not the first escape artist, nor the first to do many of the effects he claimed as his own.  What he did do was what many performers do, including Robert-Houdin. He took a lot of existing material, made it his own and did it so well that everyone associated it with him. I think there is nothing wrong with that! Plus, Houdini did have some things that were uniquely his.

The Origins of the Escape Act

Escapes generally came out of the Spiritualist Movement. Folks like the Davenport Brothers were the first to be tied into a cabinet and cause odd manifestations to take place. The truth was, the brothers had discovered a special way to be tied so that they could untie themselves and then get back into their bonds. The Davenports began their act in 1854, a good 20 years before Houdini was even born. The Davenports presented their show as apparently genuine mediums, so they were not escaping, but the technique of freeing themselves was very much the same.

In the March issue of The Sphinx, John Mullholland points out that it's very possible Wyman the Wizard was the first magician to present these fake spiritualistic effects in a magic show. So there is the jump from pseudo-religious use to entertainment. In fact, John Wyman was also on a committee in Boston in 1857 to investigate the Fox Sisters, the originators of the Spiritualism Movement. Other performers soon jumped on the spirit phenomenon train, like John Henry Anderson, Robert-Heller, Samri Baldwin and a fellow named Horatio.

Houdini & Cooke
Actually, his full name was Horatio Green Cooke, known also as Harry Cooke. Young Harry, was a soldier in the Union Army during the Civil War. On May 1st, 1864, Harry found himself standing before an audience that included Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War in Washington D.C., General William Tecumseh Sherman, General Hancock, Robert Ingersoll and President Abraham Lincoln. He had been asked to appear before the group because word had gotten out of the young mans unusual ability to free himself from restraints and they wanted a demonstration. After he was securely tied with 50 feet of rope, Cooke asked Lincoln to walk ten feet away. Then he asked him to return and before Lincoln got back, Cooke had freed himself from the confinement! According to the Los Angeles Evening Express Newspaper, Lincoln was amazed and jubilant. Lincoln said to Cooke "Here my boy, keep this to remember Uncle Abe by" and Lincoln then handed Cooke a two dollar bill. Harry Cooke kept that two dollar bill his entire life. Harry Cooke was then chosen to be one of Lincon's Federal Scouts. According to Harry Cooke's daughter, Cooke was a mentor of sorts to Houdini. 

Another close friend and mentor, was Harry Kellar. Mr. Kellar worked for the Davenport Brothers and eventually developed his own rope tie that allowed him to present the Spirit Cabinet. By the time, Houdini and Kellar became close friends, Kellar had retired. But Kellar was the most popular magician in America for a long time, and no doubt Houdini witnessed his performances and was inspired by what he saw.

Though, he never worked for the Davenports, Samri Baldwin was inspired by their performances and decided to create of his own based on the same concept. It was also Baldwin who made the claim to be the first performer to present a handcuff escape. He mentions it in a letter written in 1915 that reads "The first public handcuff escape ever given in the United States and elsewhere, was given by myself in the city of New Orleans during the first week I ever exhibited in public. This was 46 years ago, long before any so-called handcuff kings were born." The year was 1871. He no doubt escaped from genuine handcuffs. Gimmicked handcuffs were used in the world of the seance worker, in fact, that might just be where they originated and eventually found their way into the magic world.

Let's move to one of Houdini's signature tricks, The Metamorphosis. This was the creation of John Nevil Maskelyne and was known as The Indian Mail. Also known as the Maskelyne Trunk Trick, the Houdini's took it and added the element of speed and got their career going with this piece. I'm honestly not sure if anyone else presented it in the same fashion that they did, before them, but I do know that it's such a great piece that magicians still present it today. Where the trunk came from is somewhat of a mystery. I went to the best source I know, Houdini-The Key by Patrick Culliton. In there he states that 'Houdini borrowed the money to buy the trunk'. But then a page later he states that 'Walter Gibson claimed Houdini purchased the trunk from Joe Godfrey-The Man of Mystery'. However, over on there is another quote from Patrick Culliton that states "Houdini had created the trunk with his own hands and with the help of Frank Allen.' Frank Allen was a propman who worked at the Kansas City Orpheum who met Houdini in the 1890s.  Not sure which story is the correct one. I'm leaning towards the latter. One thing for sure, Pat Culliton knows more about Houdini than most of us will ever hope to!

To Be Continued...