Henry Ridgely Evans.

The Old and the New Magic online

. (page 18 of 28)
Online LibraryHenry Ridgely EvansThe Old and the New Magic → online text (page 18 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

agitated with a thousand thoughts. I, too, will become a conjurer,
and hold the groundlings spellbound; bring bowls of goldfish from
a shawl; cook puddings in a borrowed hat; pull rabbits from old
gentlemen’s pockets.

Dear old Wyman, ventriloquist as well as prestidigitateur, old-time
showman, and the delight of my boyhood—what a weary pilgrimage you
had of it in this world; wandering up and down, never at rest,
traveling thousands of miles by stagecoach, steamboat, and railroad,
giving entertainments in little villages {202} and towns all over
the United States, and welcomed everywhere by happy children. The big
cities you left to your more ambitious brethren. But what of that?
You brought thereby more pleasure into humble lives than all of the
old conjurers put together. Well have you earned your rest. Though
your name is quite forgotten by the present generation, a few old
boys and girls still hold you in loving remembrance.

[Illustration: WYMAN, THE MAGICIAN.

(From an Old Print, Ellison Collection.)]

Wyman was born in Albany, N. Y., and was reported to be sixty-five
years of age at the time of his death. Just when he went on the
stage, I have been unable to ascertain. Mr. George Wood, who is now
running a small curio shop on Filbert Street, Philadelphia, was for
sixteen years Wyman’s manager. He afterwards went with Pharazyn and
Frederick Eugene Powell. Thanks to my friend, Mr. C. S. Eby, who
interviewed Mr. Wood during the summer of 1905, I have obtained a
few facts concerning Wyman’s career. After giving exhibitions all
over the United States in school houses and small halls, Wyman went
abroad and brought back with him quite an outfit of apparatus, most
of it purchased, I presume, from Voisin’s Repository in {203} Paris.
Voisin was the only manufacturer of magical novelties in those days.
About 1850 Wyman played in New York City under the management of
P. T. Barnum. When the magician Anderson sold out, Wyman bought
considerable of his paraphernalia, such as the “Magic Cauldron”
(Phillippe’s old trick), the “Nest of Boxes,” “Aerial Suspension,”
“Inexhaustible Bottle,” and “Gun Trick.” In 1867 Wyman started the
“gift show” in connection with his magic entertainment, sometimes
giving away building lots as a first prize. He introduced the Sphinx
illusion in the South for the first time and made a tremendous hit.
People would come twenty miles to see it. He had a wonderful memory,
which he applied to a second-sight act. The articles were placed in a
handkerchief by the boy who borrowed them and the professor managed
to get one secret look at the collection. From his remembrance he
would later describe the articles while they were held aloft still
tied in the handkerchief. Another favorite illusion was the borrowing
of a watch, which was pounded and afterwards found under one of the
spectators (not a confederate). It was one of the duties of Wood to
slip the borrowed watch in place while ostensibly selling magic books.

Wyman retired from the stage eventually, and lived in Philadelphia
for several years at 612 North Eleventh Street. Afterwards he moved
to Burlington, New Jersey, where he bought an imposing country place.
He owned considerable real estate. He died July 31, 1881. A few days
before his death he called to see his old friend Thomas W. Yost, the
manufacturer of magical apparatus, of Philadelphia. He must have had
a premonition of his demise, for he remarked to Mr. Yost, as he left
the store: “You will not see me again. This is the last of Wyman.” In
a few days he was dead. He was buried at Fall River, Massachusetts,
the home of his wife. Wyman’s show consisted of ventriloquism, magic,
and an exhibition of Italian _fantochini_ (puppets). He was one of
the best entertainers of his day.


I took to magic at an early age—not the magic of the sleight of hand
artist, however, but the real goetic or black magic, {204} as black
as any old grimoire of mediæval days could make it. Aye, darker in
hue than any inveighed against in the famous Dæmonologie of King
James I. of Protestant memory. I believed firmly in witches, ghosts,
goblins, voodoo spells, and conjure doctors. But what can you expect
of a small boy surrounded by negro servants, the relics of the old
régime of slavery, who still held tenaciously to the devil-lore of
their ancestors of the African jungle? At nightfall I dared not go
near the smoke-house for fear of the witches who held their revels
there. One day my father brought home a book for his library. It
was Mackey’s _Extraordinary Popular Delusions; or, The Madness of
Crowds_. That work of absorbing interest opened my eyes to the
unreality of the old superstitions. I read it with avidity. It became
a sort of Bible to me. It lies on the table before me, as I pen these
lines; a much-thumbed, faded, old book.

The first amateur sleight of hand show I ever took part in, was
given by a boy named Albert Niblack. The _matinée magique_ was held
in a stable attached to my father’s house. The entrance fee was
three pins, orchestra chairs ten pins. The stage was erected in the
carriage house, and the curtain consisted of a couple of sheets
surreptitiously borrowed from the household linen closet. I acted
as the conjurer’s assistant. The success of the entertainment was
phenomenal. The audience consisted of some thirty children, with
a sprinkling of negro nurses who came to preserve order among the
smaller fry, and an old horse who persisted in sticking his head
through a window near the stage, his stall being in an adjoining
compartment. He occupied the only private box in the theatre. Among
other tricks on the programme, young Niblack produced a small canary
bird from an egg which had been previously examined and declared to
be the real product of the hen by all the colored experts present,
who tested it on their teeth. One fat old mammy, with her head
picturesquely done up in a red bandana handkerchief, was so overcome
by the trick that she shouted out: “Fo de Lawd sake! Dat boy mus’
be kin to de Debbil sho,’ ” and regretted the fact that she did not
have a rabbit’s foot with her, to ward off the spells. Years have
passed since then. Young Niblack is now Lieut. Commander Niblack,
U. S. N., erstwhile naval attaché {205} of the American embassy
at Berlin, etc. I wonder if he still practises magic. He obtained
his insight into the mysteries of conjuring from a little book of
sleights, puzzles and chemical experiments, a cheap affair and very
crude. Like Houdin, he had to create the principles of legerdemain
himself, for the book contained no real information on the subject.
It was manufactured to _sell_ in two senses of the word, and to the
best of my belief, was purchased at the circus. Among that audience
were several children who have since become famous, to a greater or
less extent. There was Umei Tsuda, a diminutive Japanese girl, sent
to this country to be educated, and who now presides over a great
normal school in Japan; Waldemar Bodisco (son of Count Bodisco, the
Russian Minister to the United States), now an officer in the Czar’s
navy; and, if I mistake not, Agustin de Iturbide, the adopted son of
the ill-fated Maximilian, who attempted to found an empire in Mexico,
bolstered up by French bayonets. Young Iturbide’s mother, after the
tragic death of Maximilian, came to Georgetown to reside and educate
her son, the heir to the throne of Mexico. Poor fellow, he was a
prince, but he did not plume himself because of the fact, for he
was in reality a “boy without a country.” We were classmates in the
preparatory department of Georgetown College. His career is one of
the romances of history. He is now living an exile in an old country
house in the District of Columbia, where he spends his time reading
and dreaming.


I entered upon the practise of sleight of hand in the year 1877,
after reading Hoffmann’s _Modern Magic_. I adopted Houdin’s method
of carrying a pack of cards and other articles in my pockets. On my
way to school, over a long country road, I put in some hard practise,
learning to _sauter le coupe_, and palm most any small object. While
in class one day, I was caught _in flagrante delicto_, with a pack of
cards in my hand, by the dignified old Latin professor. I was sent
to the Principal of the Academy for punishment, which I received
like a stoic, but vowing vengeance on the Latin pedagogue, who was a
very {206} orthodox religionist, the principal of a Baptist Sunday
school, and consequently held cards in abhorrence. I often heard him
remark that cards were the “Devil’s Looking Glasses.” One day, I
slipped a couple of packs of cards in the sleeve of the professor’s
overcoat, which hung upon the wall back of his desk, and tipped the
wink to the boys. They were astounded at my audacity. When the class
was dismissed, the scholars lingered around to see the fun. The
professor went to put on his coat, whereupon the cards flew about the
room in a shower, being propelled by the impact of his arm, which
he thrust violently into the sleeve. The boys, with a great shout,
began picking up the scattered pasteboards, which they presented to
the teacher, commiserating with him in his trouble. The old man, who
was very angry, disclaimed ownership of the detested cards, and got
out of the room as speedily as possible. Perhaps it is needless to
remark that I failed miserably in the Latin examinations that year.
But it may have been owing to my stupidity and not to any animus on
the professor’s part. Let us hope so.

[Illustration: GLEN WILLOW, GEORGETOWN, D. C.]

After long practise in legerdemain, I determined to give an
entertainment, and selected as my assistant, my school chum, Edward
L. Dent, a boy who possessed great mechanical genius. Later in
life he graduated with honors as a mechanical engineer {207} from
Stevens’ Institute, New Jersey, and founded a great iron mill in
Georgetown. Poor fellow, he met with business reverses and lost a
fortune. He died some five or six years ago. Young Dent lived in a
historical mansion on the heights of Georgetown, surrounded by a
great park of oaks. It was the home of John C. Calhoun, when he was
Secretary of State of the United States. In the great attic of the
house, Judge Dent had fitted up a superb carpenter shop and forge for
his son.

Here my chum and I manufactured our apparatus: the Washerwoman’s
Bottle, the Nest of Boxes _à la_ Kellar; the Card Star; the Coffee
and Milk Vases; the Sphinx Table, etc. When all was ready, about
two hundred invitations were sent out for a _Soirée Magique_. The
great drawing-room of the house was fitted up as a theatre, with a
stage at one end and drop curtain. We fenced in the stage with rich
draperies, after the style of Robert Heller, and our gilded tables
and silver candelabra with wax tapers looked very fine against the
crimson background. It was the most elaborate amateur show I ever
saw. Twenty minutes before the curtain rang up, both magician and
assistant were seized with stage fright. We had peeped through a hole
in the curtain and taken in the sea of faces. We dared not confront
that crowd of youngsters without a mask of some kind. Happy thought!
We decided to blacken our faces with burnt cork and appear as negro
necromancers. The performance went off very well indeed, until we
came to the “Card Star.” O fatal Pentagram of Pythagoras! The cards
were chosen from a pack and rammed down the mouth of a big pistol,
preparatory to firing them at the star, on the points of which they
were to appear. I began my patter, facing the audience. “Ladies and
gentlemen, I will give you an exhibition of magic marksmanship. I
will fire this pistol (laughter) at the star on yonder table (renewed
laughter), and the cards”—(ironical cat calls). I turned around, and
to my horror, the duplicate cards were already sticking to the star;
my assistant had let off the apparatus too soon. The curtain fell.
I shed tears of rage at the fiasco. But, later on, I learned to act
more philosophically. Magicians are subject to these mistakes. I have
seen Alexander Herrmann’s {208} calculations all upset by comical
contretemps of like character to the above, but he smiled benignantly
and went right along as unconcernedly as ever. Conjuring certainly
gets on the nerves of its devotees.


Amateur magicians are called upon to exhibit their skill in all sorts
of places. I once gave a performance in a Pullman car, going at
full speed. It was on the occasion of a pilgrimage to the Scottish
Rite temples of the Southwest, with a party of eminent members of
the fraternity. This was in the spring of 1904. Among those who
went on the journey were the Hon. James Daniel Richardson, 33°,
Sovereign Grand Commander of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite
of Freemasonry for the Southern jurisdiction of the United States,
and Admiral Winfield Scott Schley, 32°, the “hero of Santiago,” a
most genial traveling companion and raconteur. Mr. Richardson had
jocularly appointed me Hierophant of the Mysteries, so I took along
with me a box full of magic apparatus, to amuse the Initiates when
time hung heavy on their hands. My first performance was given while
speeding across the State of Kentucky. At one end of an observation
car I arranged my table and paraphernalia. In honor of the Admiral,
I got up an impromptu trick, which I called, “After the Battle of
Santiago.” Borrowing a silk hat, and showing it empty, I began as

“Gentlemen, stretch your imaginations, like Jules Verne, and let
this hat represent the cruiser Brooklyn, Admiral Schley’s ship. This
oscillating Pullman car is the ocean. The great battle of Santiago
is over. Victory has crowned the American arms. An order comes from
the flagship to decorate the vessels of the fleet with bunting.
The sailors of the Brooklyn dive down into the hold and bring up a
variety of flags. (Here I produced from the hat the flags of all
nations.) They are not satisfactory. Roll them together, says the
commander, and see what the composition will make. (I rolled the
flags into a bundle, which I proceeded to throw in the air, whereupon
a big silk American flag appeared, the smaller ensigns having
disappeared.) Ah, the Star {209} Spangled Banner, under whose folds
the men of many nations live in amity as fellow citizens.”

I waved the flag in the air, amid the plaudits of the spectators.
Just then the car gave a terrific lurch, while rounding a curve; I
lost my balance and was precipitated head first like a battering ram
against the capacious stomach of an old gentleman, seated in the
front row. He doubled up with pain.

“Say, what kind of a trick do you call that?” he gasped out.

“That,” said I, “is a representation of a sailor on board of the
Brooklyn falling overboard.”

“I call it a monkey trick,” he groaned. His dignity and digestive
apparatus had been sadly upset. From that time on, he eyed me with
suspicion whenever I gave a show, and always took a chair in the back
row of seats.

“Speaking of monkey tricks,” said Admiral Schley, “reminds me of
an incident that occurred when I was a midshipman on board of the
steam frigate Niagara, in 1860. A monkey was the prestidigitateur.
We were conveying back to their native land the Japanese embassy
that had visited the United States in return for the visit made
to their country by Commodore Perry some years before. One of the
embassy bought a monkey at Anger Point, Africa, during a stoppage at
that place. He (the monkey, not the Ambassador) proved to be a most
mischievous brute, and was continually picking and stealing eatables
from the cook’s galley. Worse than that, so far as the sailors were
concerned, the ‘missing link’ of Darwin took a special delight in
upsetting pots and pans of grease on the deck, which the seamen had
to clean up. When chased by some irate Jack Tar with a rope’s end,
the monkey would take refuge in the rigging, where he would hang by
his tail from a spar, and grin with delight at his enemies. We all
hated the beast, but respect for our Japanese guests forbade revenge.
Finally an old sailor caught the monkey and greased his tail. Soon
after, the simian committed one of his daily depredations and hied
himself, as usual, up the rigging, where he attempted to swing from
a yardarm by his greased tail. But, alas, he fell overboard and was
drowned. The verdict rendered was that he had committed suicide. His
only mourners were the Mikado’s ambassadors.” {210}


The study of natural magic is wonderfully fascinating. It possesses,
too, a decided pedagogic value, which eminent scholars have not been
slow to recognize. Those who obtain an insight into its principles
are preserved against infection from the many psychical epidemics
of the age. The subject is of interest to scientists. Dr. G.
Stanley Hall, at one time professor of experimental psychology at
the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md., at present president
of Clarke University, Worcester, Massachusetts, used to exhibit
conjuring tricks to his classes, to illustrate the illusions of
the senses. An eminent German scientist, Dr. Max Dessoir, has
written learnedly on the psychology of legerdemain. Prof. Joseph
Jastrow, of the University of Wisconsin, subjected the conjurers,
Herrmann and Kellar, to a series of careful tests, to ascertain
their “tactile sensibility, sensitiveness to textures, accuracy of
visual perception, quickness of movement, mental processes,” etc.
The results of these tests were printed in _Science_, Vol. III, page
685–689, under the title of “Psychological Notes upon Sleight-of-hand

The literature of natural magic is not extensive. Thirty years ago,
first-class works in English on legerdemain were rare. Houdin’s
_Secrets de la Prestidigitation et de la Magie_, which was published
in 1868, was out of print, and, says Prof. Hoffmann, “the possession
of a copy was regarded among professors of magic as a boon of the
highest possible value.” Hoffmann picked up an old second-hand copy
of the work in Paris, and translated it in the year 1877. To-day,
books on sleight of hand have been multiplying rapidly. Every
professor of the art thinks it incumbent upon him to publish a
treatise on magic. Strange to say, the good works on the subject have
been written by amateurs. Prof. Hoffmann (Angelo Lewis), a member of
the London bar, has written the best book, following him have come
Edwin Sachs and C. Lang Neill. The autobiography of that arch-master
of magic, Robert-Houdin, was translated, in 1859, by Dr. R. Shelton
Mackenzie, of Philadelphia. Thomas Frost, in 1881, produced an
interesting work on the _Lives of the Conjurers_, but it is now quite
out of date. I know of no really scholarly treatise extant to-day on
the history of prestidigitation. {211}


(From the Ellison Collection, New York.)]

I have been very fortunate in my researches in the history of
magic, to have had access to several private collections of
books, old playbills, programmes, prints, etc., relating to the
subject. I myself have been an indefatigable collector of books and
pamphlets treating of magic and magicians. But my library pales
into insignificance beside that of my friend, Dr. Saram R. Ellison,
of New York City. Dr. Ellison is a practising physician and, like
many others of his profession, a great lover of escamotage, perhaps
because of its relationship to psychology. He has {212} in his
collection of books, many rare volumes picked up in Europe and
elsewhere. At the present writing his library contains nearly one
thousand two hundred titles, among them being rare copies of Decremps
(1789–1793), Pinetti (1785), Breslaw (1812), Porta (1658), Kosmann
(1817), Witgeest (1773), Naudeus (1657), etc., etc. In the year 1902,
Kellar visited the Ellison library. He endeavored to purchase the
collection for $2,000. Dr. Ellison refused to part with his beloved
books. In his will he has left the collection to Columbia University,
New York City. One of the doctor’s fads is the collection of wands of
famous magicians. He possesses over sixty rods of the modern magi,
and has often contemplated sending an expedition to Egypt to discover
the wands used by Moses and Aaron. Among his collection are wands
formerly wielded by Carl, Leon, Alexander and Mme. Herrmann (four
representatives of one family), Willmann, Anderson, Blitz, de Kolta,
Hoffmann, Goldin, Maskelyne, Powell, McAllister, Robinson, Kellar,
Fox, etc. Each of the wands is accompanied by a story, which will be
published in the near future.


When the citizen-king, Louis Philippe, ruled over the destinies of
_la belle_ France, there resided in Paris an old man, by the name of
M. Roujol, familiarly known among his confrères as “Father” Roujol.
He kept a modest shop in the Rue Richelieu for the manufacture and
sale of magical apparatus. The professional and amateur conjurers
of the French capital made Roujol’s their meeting place. “The Duc
de M⸺,” says Robert-Houdin, “did not disdain to visit the humble
emporium of the mystic art, and remain for hours conversing with
Roujol and his associates.” It was here that Houdin became acquainted
with Jules de Rovère, of noble birth, a conjurer who abandoned
the title of _escamoteur_, as beneath his aristocratic dignity,
and coined for himself the pompous cognomen, _prestidigitateur_,
from _presti digiti_ (activity of the fingers). The French Academy
sanctioned the formation of this word, thus handing it down to
posterity. Jules de Rovère also called himself _Physicien du Roi_.
Old Father Roujol is dust long ago. We have replicas of his {213}
quaint place in New York, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia. On
Sixth Avenue, not far from Thirtieth Street, New York City, is the
shop of the Martinka Brothers. It is located on the ground floor of
a dingy old building. In front is a tiny window, with a variety of
magical apparatus displayed therein. Above the door, in tarnished
gold letters, is the sign, “Palace of Magic.” The second floor is
occupied by a Chinese restaurant. The Occident and Orient exist here
cheek-by-jowl. The Chinaman concocts mysterious dishes to tickle
the jaded palates of the _boulevardiers_; the proprietors of the
Aladdin Palace of Up-to-Date Enchantments invent ingenious tricks and
illusions to astound the eyes of their patrons. Here I met Robinson,
de Kolta, Kellar, and many other conjurers of note. The Society of
American Magicians holds its meetings at Martinka’s.


This society owes its foundation to two practising physicians of
New York, Dr. W. Golden Mortimer, an ex-conjurer, and Dr. Saram R.
Ellison, the collector of magic literature. Ellison suggested the
name, Mortimer wrote the ritual of the order, and {214} the two
of them called the meeting for the formation of the society. The
first idea of such a fraternity of magicians was formulated by the
writer of this book, who endeavored to found a society called the
“Sphinx,” but it proved abortive. The leading conjurers of the United
States and Europe are enrolled among the members of the S. A. M.
The meetings are held once a month, at Martinka’s, usually followed
by exhibitions of skill on the stage of the Bijou Theatre, attached
to the place. Robert-Houdin, in the closing chapter of his _Secrets
of Conjuring and Magic_, remarks that it would be a superb sight to
witness a performance by magicians, where each would show his _chef
d’oeuvre_ in the art. At Martinka’s this is realized. Here you may
see the very perfection of digital dexterity, mental magic, and the
like. Mr. Francis J. Martinka possesses many interesting relics of
celebrated performers: Alexander Herrmann’s wand, Robert Heller’s
orange tree, and photographs galore of magicians, living and dead.
Some of the most important illusions of the day have been built in
the shop of the Martinka Brothers. Other manufacturers in New York
City are Witmark & Sons, and Mr. Beadle, a veteran mechanic and
erstwhile assistant to Robert Heller.

In Boston we have the magic emporiums of W. D. LeRoy and C. Milton
Chase; and in Chicago, that of A. Roterberg. Both LeRoy and Roterberg
are fine sleight-of-hand performers. Mr. Roterberg is the author
of a clever work on card conjuring, which ranks very high in the
estimation of the profession, also several little brochures on

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

Online LibraryHenry Ridgely EvansThe Old and the New Magic → online text (page 18 of 28)