Henry Ridgely Evans.

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up-to-date legerdemain. In Philadelphia, Mr. Thomas Yost, a veteran
manufacturer of magical apparatus, holds forth. He has built many
fine illusions and tricks. In London, we have the well-known firm of
Hamley & Co.; in Paris, Caroly and De Vere. There is no dearth of
periodicals devoted to the art of magic. Among the leading ones are:
_Mahatma_, Brooklyn, New York; _The Sphinx_, Kansas City, Missouri;
_Magic_ and _The Wizard_, London; _The Magician_, Liverpool;
_L’Illusioniste_, Paris; and _Der Zauberspiegel_, Berlin.



“Come, bring thy wand, whose magic power
Can wake the troubled spirits of the deep.”

HEMANS: _Address to Fancy._


They come back to me, those old days in the newspaper office in
Baltimore. I can shut my eyes and see the long, dingy room with its
ink-splattered tables and flaring gas jets. The printers’ devils
rushing in and out with wet proof-sheets. Reporters come and go.
Look! There is Joe Kelly, Lefevre, Jarrett and John Monroe. And here
comes Ludlam, familiarly known as “Lud,” the prince of Bohemian
newsgatherers; a cross between Dickens’ Alfred Jingle and Murger’s
Rodolph. He is always “down on his luck,” but nothing can phase his
natural gaiety and bonhomie. He snaps his fingers at Fate, and mocks
at the world. On his death bed he made bon mots. Poor old Ludlam, he
is forever associated with my introduction to Alexander the Great.

I look back across the years that separate me from my journalistic
experiences, and see myself seated at a reporter’s table, on a
certain morning in January, waiting for an assignment from the city
editor; a fire, a murder, political interview, I knew not what,
and therein lies the ineffable charm of newspaper reporting. Enter
Ludlam, jaunty and debonaire. The snow encrusts his faded coat with
powdery flakes. He strikes a theatrical attitude, and exclaims:
“Philosophers say that the Devil is dead! Gentlemen, don’t you
believe them. I have just had an interview with His Satanic Majesty,
and he is very much alive. He was beautifully perfumed with sulphur
(or was it cigarette smoke?); and wore a fur-lined overcoat. Coming
from a tropical climate, {216} he finds this cold weather very
disagreeable. He turned my watch into a turnip and back again. He
took a roll of greenbacks from my coat pocket. That was sure enough
witchcraft. I defy any other person than Beelzebub to get money from
_my_ clothes. He extracted a hard-boiled egg from my nose, and a
rabbit from my hat. But seeing is believing. Here he is now!”


With that he threw open the green baize door with a crash, and in
walked Alexander Herrmann, the magician, smiling and bowing. This
little comedy had been arranged by the irrepressible Ludlam. He was
a great practical joker. We shouted with laughter. This was my first
introduction to Alexander the Great, who was making his periodical
visit to the newspaper offices, and he came to the _News_ first,
because it was an afternoon journal. He was to play that night at
Ford’s Opera House. He performed a number of capital tricks for us
with watches, coins, handkerchiefs and rings, and was pronounced
a royal good fellow by the entire outfit—editors, reporters,
typesetters and devils. Being the only amateur magician on the paper,
I was detailed to accompany the famous conjurer on his “swing around
the {217} magic circle.” I was delighted with my assignment. We
traversed the markets; visited the Stock Exchange, where a howling
mob of brokers danced a carmagnole about us; and the police stations.
Herrmann was received everywhere with acclamations. His impromptu
feats of magic evoked shouts of laughter. On one of the street cars
the following scene took place, which I hugely enjoyed:

The conductor, a cadaverous, solemn looking man, who took the world
and himself seriously, came around to collect the fares. He accosted
the conjurer first.

“Fare.” exclaimed Herrmann, with an expressive shrug of the
shoulders. “Why, I paid mine long ago.”

“No such thing!” snapped the conductor.

“But, my dear fellow—!”

“You can’t come that game on me!” said the conductor. “I demand your
fare, at once, or off you go.”

“Nonsense, man, I gave you a five-dollar gold piece, but you did not
return the change. You said, ‘Wait until’—. But here is the gold coin
sticking in your scarf.” So saying, the conjurer proceeded to extract
a coin from the muffler which the conductor wore about his neck. “And
worse than that, you’ve robbed me.” Then seizing hold of the coat of
the dumbfounded man, he took from his breast pocket a large bundle
of what seemed to be greenbacks. These, Herrmann scattered about
the car. On each note was printed his portrait and an advertisement
of his show. At a trifling distance these advertisements resembled
greenbacks. They were more or less facsimiles of U. S. Treasury
certificates. The occupants of the car picked them up, and laughed
heartily at the mystification. Herrmann then paid his fare, presented
the conductor and driver with passes to the theater, and in a little
while we got off at Barnum’s hotel, where we had luncheon. The negro
waiters of the establishment eyed him with fear and trembling, for he
had played many practical jokes on them, and they never knew when he
would break out in a new spot. He had a capital trick of raising a
glass of wine to his lips as if about to partake of it, when with a
dash of the hand upwards the glass would vanish, wine and all, only
to be reproduced a minute later from somebody’s coat tail. {218}


The following is a charming anecdote related by Herrmann in the
_North American Review_, some years ago:


“In March, 1885, while in Madrid, I appeared at the Sasuella Theatre
quite successfully, for the house was filled every evening with
hidalgos and noble senoras, and King Alphonso XII. was kind enough to
view my performance from a box. He was so pleased that I was asked
to the palace, and knowing him to be a great sportsman, I presented
him with a silver-mounted saddle which I had brought with me from
Buenos Ayres. He was exceedingly kind, and after I had performed a
mathematical trick with cards, which pleased him greatly, he kept
asking me continually if he could not be of some service to me. At
first I did not accept, but a little while afterwards I thought it
would be a great {219} thing if I could make the King of Spain my
confederate in a trick. He consented, laughingly, and it was so
arranged that from the stage I was to ask one of the audience to
write a number, when the King was to get up and say, ‘I will write
it,’ and do it. Of course, with such a confederate, the trick was
accomplished with the greatest effect. The first thing I did in
beginning the second part of my performance was to take a blank piece
of paper. This I handed to the King, asking him to sign it at the
bottom. He did so readily, and the paper was passed from hand to hand
and given to me. I conjured up all the spirits that have been or will
be, and lo and behold! the paper was closely written from the top to
the place where His Majesty’s signature was affixed. It was handed
back to him, and, while he laughed very heartily, he said, ‘I will
not deny my signature to this document, which appoints Alexander
Herrmann prestidigitateur to the King of Spain, and, as the spirits
have done so, I heartily acquiesce.’ ”

Those who are acquainted with the peculiar properties of sympathetic
inks will readily understand the modus operandi of the above trick.
For example: Copper sulphate in very dilute solution will produce an
invisible handwriting, which will turn light blue when subjected to
the vapor of ammonia. Again, write with a weak solution of sulphuric
acid and the chirography will appear in black letters when the paper
is submitted to a strong heat. To obtain the requisite heat, all you
have to do is to lay the sheet of paper on a small table which has
a top of thin sheet iron or tin. Beneath this top, concealed in the
body of the table, is a spirit lamp—not a lamp run by spooks, but
“spirits of wine.” Ample time for the chemical operation to take
place is afforded by the patter of the conjurer.

Another clever trick, bordering on the supernatural, was Herrmann’s
“Thibetan Mail,” the effect of which was as follows: Handing a sheet
of note paper to various persons in the audience, Herrmann requested
them to write sentences upon it, one under the other. When this was
accomplished, he tore the paper into halves, and requested some
gentleman to retain one half. The other half the magician thrust into
the flame of a candle and burned it to ashes. Flinging the ashes in
the air, he cried: “I send this message to the mighty Mahatma who
dwells in the {220} great temple of Lhassa. Let him restore the paper
intact and return it to me by spiritual post.” No sooner said than
done. Immediately a District Messenger boy rushed into the theatre,
down the center aisle, waving in his hand a sealed letter. Handing
this to some one in the audience, Herrmann requested him to break the
seal and examine the contents of the envelope. Inside of the envelope
he found a second one, and within that a third and fourth, etc. In
the last envelope the half sheet of paper was revealed perfectly
restored. Its identity was proved by matching it with the half-sheet
of writing retained by the first spectator, whereupon they were found
to fit exactly, and the writing to correspond. The modus operandi
of this astounding feat, like all good things in magic, is very
simple, but it requires adroitness on the part of the performer to
execute properly. The conjurer does not burn the piece of paper which
contains the writing, but exchanges it for a dummy which he thrusts
into the flame of the candle. The original half-sheet of paper is
secretly transferred to an assistant, usually in the following
manner: The magician calls for a candle and matches, which the
assistant brings in upon a salver. The slip of paper is “worked off”
to the assistant in the act of taking the candle and matches from the
tray. The confederate then goes behind the scenes, slips the paper
into a “nest of envelopes,” seals them simultaneously, and gives the
package to a stage hand habited as a messenger boy, who runs to the
front part of the house to await the cue from the conjurer. This
trick was intended as a burlesque on Madame Blavatsky’s Indian Mail

I remember very well performing this experiment at an amateur show
at the home of Mr. O― H―, of Baltimore, some eighteen years ago,
before a company of interested spectators, among whom was the
charming daughter of the house, Miss Alice, now the Countess Andrezzi
Bernini, of Rome, Italy. My stage was situated in an alcove at one
end of the splendid drawing room, and it had a window opening on
a side street. My District Messenger boy, hired for the occasion,
and privately instructed how to act, was stationed beneath this
window, and threatened with all the penalties of Dante’s Inferno
if he went asleep at his post. My brother, Walter Dorsey Evans,
{221} afterwards a skillful amateur prestidigitateur, acted as my
assistant, and adroitly threw the sealed note out of the window to
the boy. Great was the surprise of my audience when the door bell
rang and the stately butler of the establishment brought into the
parlor the messenger boy with his sealed letter.

“Where did you get this?” asked the host, as he doubtfully fingered
the envelope and examined the address, which read, “To Sahib O― H―,
Baltimore, Md.”

“Please, sir, an old man dressed in a yellow robe came into the
office, and asked that the letter be delivered at once.”

“A Mahatma, I presume!” said the lawyer, ironically.

“He had no hat on, sir, only a turbot wrapped round his head.”

“A turban, I suppose you mean.”

“That’s it, sir—a turbing like the Turks wear.”

“That will do, young man. You may go.”

The boy left. May he be forgiven the lies uttered in my behalf. But
all is fair in love, war, and conjuring. He was well tutored what
to say in the event of his being questioned, but he performed his
part so naturally and lied so artistically and with such a front
of brass as to have deceived the most incredulous. I have often
speculated upon the subsequent career of that lad. Possibly today he
is representing his country abroad in an important diplomatic post,
or manufacturing sensational news for the yellow press. Had I been
a professional conjurer, I would have hired him on the spot as an


Alexander Herrmann was born in Paris, February 11, 1844. Information
concerning his family is somewhat meagre. His father, Samuel
Herrmann, was a German Jew, a physician, who had come to France to
reside, and there married a Breton lady. Sixteen children were born
of this union, of whom Carl was the oldest of the eight boys and
Alexander the youngest. Samuel Herrmann was an accomplished conjurer,
but rarely performed in public. He gave private séances before
Napoleon I, who presented him with a superb watch. This timepiece
descended to Alexander, and is in possession of his widow. {222}

Carl Herrmann was born in Hanover, Germany, January 23, 1816. Despite
parental opposition he became a sleight-of-hand artist, and was known
as the “First Professor of Magic in the World.” In 1848 he made his
first bow to the English people, at the Adelphi Theatre, London,
where he produced the second-sight trick, which he copied from Houdin
in France. Early in the sixties he made a tour of America, with great
success. At his farewell performance in New York City, he introduced
his brother Alexander as his legitimate successor. Carl then retired
with a fortune to Vienna, where he spent the remainder of his days in
collecting rare antiquities. His death occurred at Carlsbad, June,
1887, at the age of seventy-two. He was a great favorite with Czar
Nicholas and the Sultan of Turkey and frequently performed at their

Here is one of Carl Herrmann’s German programmes:

Teplitzer Stadttheater

Dienstag den 8 Juni 1886
Zweite und letzte Gastvorstellung
des berühmten Prestidigitateur

Prof. C. Herrmann

aus Wien
unter der Direction des Herrn A. MORINI


I. Abtheilung

1. Wo wünschen Sie es?
2. Die Billard-Kugel
3. Das Schlangentuch
4. Die fliegenden Gegenstände
5. Der Banquier
6. Der Fischfang und das Gegenstück

II. Abtheilung

1. Der Sack
2. Die Plantation
3. Die Tasche
4. Der Kegel
5. Der Ring in Gefahr
6. Eine Improvisation

Alle oben ausgeführten Experimente sind Erfindungen des Herrn
Prof. Herrmann und werden ohne jedweden Apparat und sonstige
Hilfsmittel ausgeführt.

The following is one of Carl’s characteristic English programmes. I
consider it of great interest to the profession: {223}


Mr. B. WEBSTER, Sole Lessee and Manager, Old Brompton.

Commencing at Two o’clock.

This Morning, Wednesday May 3rd, 1848,
And during the week,

M. Herrmann

Respectfully announces to the Nobility, Gentry and the Public in
general that he will give


Previous to his departure to the Provinces, and will introduce



L’Album Hanoverien; The Hanoverian Album.
Les Chapeaux Diaboliques; The Diabolical Hats.
Le Coffre infernale; The Infernal Chest.
Le Vase d’Armide; ou, l’horlogerie de Geneve; Armida’s Vase; or
The Geneva Clockwork.
La Multiplication des Indes; Indian Multiplication.
Les Mysteres de Paris; The Mysteries of Paris.

Will also exhibit her extraordinary powers of
By divining, with Closed Eyes, any objects that may be submitted
to this proof, which has astonished the most scientific.


Le Volage des Cartes; Illusions with Cards.
Le Miroir des Dames; the Lady’s Looking Glass.
Robin le Sorcier (piece mecanique); Robin the Sorcerer.
La Poche Marveilleuse; The Marvellous Pocket.
Le Noces de Canaes; The Nuptials of Cana.
Satan et son Mouchoir; Satan and his Kerchief.
Les Colombes Sympathetiques; The Sympathetic Doves.
Le Timbre Isole (piece mecanique); The Isolated Clock Bell.
Le pain de sucre Magique; The Magic Sweetcake.
Plusieurs tours de Cartes nouveaux et de magie blanche; New
Illusions with Cards and White Magic.
La naissance des Poissons rouges, execute en habit de ville; The
Birth of Gold Fish; performed in an Evening Dress.

By MADAME HERRMANN, with various new
And a Concert in Imitation of Various Birds,


Alexander was destined by his father to the practice of medicine, but
fate willed otherwise.

[Illustration: ADELAIDE HERRMANN.]

When quite a boy, he ran away and joined Carl, acting as his
assistant. He remained with his brother six years, when his
parents placed him in college at Vienna. He did not complete his
scholastic studies, but went to Spain in 1859 and began his career
as a magician. He appeared in America in 1861, but returned a year
later to Europe, and made an extended tour. He played an engagement
of 1,000 consecutive nights at Egyptian Hall, London. In 1875 he
married Adelaide Scarsez, a beautiful and clever danseuse, who
assisted him in his _soirées magiques_. Herrmann became a naturalized
citizen of the United States in 1876. He died of heart failure in
his private car, December 11, 1896, while traveling from Rochester,
N. Y., to Bradford, Penn., and was buried with Masonic honors in
Woodlawn cemetery, just outside of New York City. He made and
lost several fortunes. Unsuccessful theatrical speculations were
largely responsible for his losses. He aspired in vain to be the
manager and proprietor of a chain of theatres. He introduced the
celebrated Trewey, the French fantaisiste, to the American public.
Herrmann was an extraordinary linguist, a raconteur and wit. Several
chivalric orders were conferred upon him by European potentates.
He usually billed himself as the Chevalier Alexander Herrmann. His
mephistophelean aspect, his foreign accent, and histrionic powers,
coupled with his wonderful sleight of hand, made him indeed the
king of conjurers. He had a wrist of steel and a palm of velvet. He
performed tricks wherever he went, in the street cars, cafés, clubs,
hotels, newspaper offices, and markets, imitating in this respect the
renowned Bosco. These impromptu entertainments widely advertised his
art. He rarely changed his repertoire, but old tricks in his hands
were invested with the charm of newness. I can remember as a boy with
what emotion I beheld the rising of the curtain, in his fantastic
soirées, and saw him appear, in full court costume, smiling and
bowing. Hey, presto! I expected every moment to see him metamorphosed
into the Mephisto of Goethe’s “Faust,” habited in the traditional red
costume, with red cock’s feather in his pointed cap, and clanking
rapier by his side; sardonic, {225} and full of subtleties. He
looked the part to perfection. He was Mephisto in evening dress. When
he performed the trick of the inexhaustible bottle, which gave forth
any liquor called for by the spectators, I thought of him as Mephisto
in that famous drinking scene in Auerbach’s cellar, boring holes in
an old table, and extracting from them various sparkling liquors as
well as flames. In his nervous hands articles vanished and reappeared
with surprising rapidity. Everything material, under the spell of
his flexible fingers, seemed to be resolved into a fluidic state, as
elusive as pellets of quicksilver. He was indeed the Alexander the
Great of Magic, who had conquered all worlds with his necromancer’s
wand—theatrical worlds; and he sighed because there were no more to
dominate with his legerdemain. One of his posters always fascinated
my boyish imagination. It was {226} night in the desert. The Sphinx
loomed up majestically under the black canopy of the Egyptian sky. In
front of the giant figure stood Herrmann, in the center of a magic
circle of skulls and cabalistic figures. Incense from a brazier
ascended and circled about the head of the Sphinx. Herrmann was
depicted in the act of producing rabbits and bowls of gold fish from
a shawl, while Mephisto, the guardian of the weird scene, stood near
by, dressed all in red, and pointing approvingly at his disciple
in the black art. In this picture were symbolized Egyptian mystery
and necromancy, mediæval magic, and the sorcery of science and


When Herrmann came to Baltimore, he always put up at Barnum’s Hotel,
a quaint, old caravansary that had sheltered beneath its hospitable
roof such notables as Charles Dickens, Thackeray and Jenny Lind.
Alas, the historic hostelry was torn down years ago to make room for
improvements. It stood on the southwest corner of Calvert and Fayette
streets, within a stone’s throw of the Battle Monument. I spent some
happy hours with Herrmann in this ancient hotel, listening to his
rich store of anecdotes. I received from him many valuable hints in
conjuring. There was something exotic about his tastes. He loved to
surround himself with Oriental luxuries, rare curios picked up in the
bazaars of Constantinople, Cairo, and Damascus; nargilehs, swords
of exquisite workmanship; carved ivory boxes; richly embroidered
hangings, and the like. His private yacht, “Fra Diavolo,” and
his Pullman car were fitted up regardless of expense. Habited in
a Turkish dressing gown which glowed with all the colors of the
rainbow; his feet thrust into red Morocco slippers; the inevitable
cigarette in his mouth, Herrmann resembled a pasha of the East. He
was inordinately fond of pets and carried with him on his travels
a Mexican dog, a Persian cat, cages full of canaries, a parrot and
a monkey. His rooms looked like a small zoo. He seemed to enjoy
the noises made by his pets. His opinions concerning his art were
interesting. {227}

“A magician is born, not made!” was his favorite apothegm. “He must
possess not only digital dexterity, but be an actor as well.”

“What is the greatest illusion in the repertoire of the conjurer?” I
asked him.

“The Vanishing Lady of M. Buatier de Kolta,” was the unhesitating

“Why so?” I inquired.

“Because of its simplicity. The great things of magic are always the
simple things. The ‘Vanishing Lady’ trick has the most transcendant
effect when properly produced, but, alas, the secret is now too well
known. Its great success proved its ruin. Irresponsible bunglers
took it up and made a fiasco of it. In the hands of De Kolta it was
perfection itself. There was nothing wanting in artistic finish.”

Herrmann related to me some amusing episodes of his varied career.
In the year 1863 he was playing an engagement in Constantinople. He
received a summons to appear before the Sultan and his court. At
the appointed hour there came to the hotel where he was staying a
Turkish officer, who drove him in a handsome equipage to a palace
overlooking the gleaming waters of the Golden Horn, where “ships that
fly the flags of half the world” ride at anchor. It was a lovely
afternoon in April. Herrmann was ushered into a luxuriously furnished
apartment and invited to be seated on a divan. The officer then
withdrew. Presently a couple of tall Arabs entered. One carried a
lighted chibouk; the other a salver, upon which was a golden pot full
of steaming hot Mocha coffee, and a tiny cup and saucer of exquisite
porcelain. The slaves knelt at his feet and presented the tray and
pipe to him.

“A faint suspicion,” said Herrmann, “crossed my mind that perhaps the
tobacco and coffee were drugged with a pinch or two of hasheesh—that
opiate of the East, celebrated by Monte Cristo; the drug that brings
forgetfulness and elevates its votaries to the seventh heaven of

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Online LibraryHenry Ridgely EvansThe Old and the New Magic → online text (page 19 of 28)