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spiritual ecstasy. I thought, ‘what if the Sultan were trying some
of his sleight-of-hand tricks on me for the amusement of the thing.
Sultans have been known to do such things.’ Now I wanted to keep
cool and have all of my wits {228} about me. My reputation as a
prestidigitateur was at stake. It was very silly, I suppose, to
entertain such ideas. But once possessed of this absurd obsession I
could not get rid of it. So I waved off the attendants politely and
signified by gestures that I did not desire to indulge in coffee or
tobacco. But they persisted, and I saw that I could not rid myself
of them without an effort. Happy thought! I just took a whiff of
the pipe and a sip of the coffee, when, hey, presto!—I made the
chibouk and cup vanish by my sleight of hand and caused a couple of
small snakes, which I carried upon my person for use in impromptu
tricks, to appear in my hands. The astonishment on the faces of
those two Arabs was something indescribable. They gazed up at the
gilded ceiling and down at the carpet, puzzled to find out where
the articles had gone, but finding no solution to the problem and
beholding the writhing serpents in my hands, fled incontinently from
the room. These simple sons of the desert evidently thought that
I had just stepped out of the Arabian Nights Entertainments. At
this juncture a chamberlain entered and in French bade me welcome,
informing me that His Imperial Majesty was ready to receive me. He
conducted me to a superb salon with a platform at one end. I looked
around me, but saw only one person, a black-bearded gentleman, who
sat in an armchair in the middle of the apartment. I recognized in
him the famous ‘Sick Man of Europe.’ I bowed low to the Sultan Abdul

“ ‘Well, monsieur, begin,’ he said in French.

“And so this was my audience. No array of brilliantly garbed
courtiers and attendants; no music. Only a fat gentleman, languidly
polite, waiting to be amused. How was it possible to perform with
any _élan_ under such depressing conditions? It takes a large and
enthusiastic audience to inspire a performer. I began my tricks.
As I progressed with my programme, however, I became aware of the
presence of other persons in the room besides the ruler of the
Ottoman Empire. The laughter of women rippled out from behind the
gilded lattice work and silken curtains that surrounded the salon.
The harem was present though invisible to me. I felt like another
being and executed my tricks with more than usual effect. The Sultan
was charmed and paid me many compliments. A couple of weeks after the
{229} séance, I was invited to accompany him on a short cruise in
the royal yacht. On this occasion I created a profound sensation by
borrowing the Sultan’s watch, which I (apparently) threw overboard.
His face fairly blazed with anger; his hand involuntarily sought the
handle of his jeweled sword. Never before had the Commander of the
Faithful been treated so cavalierly. Seeing his agitation, I hastened
to explain. ‘Don’t be alarmed, your Majesty, for the safety of your
timepiece. It will be restored to you intact. I pledge my honor as a
magician.’ He sneered incredulously, but vouchsafed no reply. ‘Permit
me to throw overboard this hook and line and indulge in a little
fishing.’ So saying, I cast into the sea the line, and after a little
while brought up a good sized fish. Cutting it open, I produced from
its body the missing watch. This feat, bordering so closely on the
sorcery of the Arabian Nights, made a wonderful impression on the
spectators. I was the lion of the hour. Constantinople soon rang with
my fame. In the cafés and bazaars the ignorant populace discussed my
marvelous powers with bated breath. The watch trick, however, proved
my undoing. One morning I was sitting in my room at my hotel, idly
smoking a cigarette and building palaces as unsubstantial as those
erected by the Genii in the story of ‘Aladdin and his wonderful
lamp,’ when a messenger from his Imperial Majesty was announced. He
made a low obeisance and humbly laid at my feet a bag containing
5,000 piastres, after which he handed me an envelope inscribed with
Turkish characters and sealed with large seals.

“ ‘Ah,’ I said to myself, ‘the Sultan is going to confer upon me the
coveted order of the Medjidie.’ My heart swelled with pride. I was
like the foolish Alnaschar, who, while indulging in day dreams of
greatness, unconsciously overturned his stock of glassware in the
market, thereby ruining himself. I prolonged opening the envelope in
order to indulge my extravagant fancies. Finally I broke the seals
and read the enclosed letter, which was written in French:

“ ‘It would be better for you to leave Constantinople at once.’

“My budding hopes were crushed. I left the city that afternoon in a
British steamer bound for a Grecian port. Either {230} watch tricks
were unpopular in the Orient, or I was encroaching upon the preserves
of the Dervishes—a close corporation for the working of pious frauds.
But things have changed in Turkey since then.”


Madame Herrmann, on the death of her husband, sent to Europe for her
nephew-in-law, Leon Herrmann, and they continued the entertainments
of magic throughout the country, meeting with success. Some curious
and amusing adventures were encountered on their travels. One of
Alexander Herrmann’s favorite tricks was the production of a mass of
colored paper ribbon from a cocoanut shell, and from the paper a live
duck. This clever feat always evoked tremendous applause. The stupid
look of the duck as it waddled around the stage was very laughable.
On one occasion, when I was present at the _soirée magique_, the
duck seemed to find difficulty in reaching the exit and went around
quacking in loud distress, thereby interrupting the conjurer in his
patter. Quick as a flash, Herrmann remarked to his assistant, “Kindly
remove the comedian.” Shouts of laughter greeted the sally. Herrmann
was very felicitous in this species of impromptu by-play. He was
indeed, as he described himself, the necromantic comedian. Leon,
following in the footsteps of his illustrious uncle, also performed
the cocoanut shell trick. He had as assistant a stalwart Ethiopian,
who had been with the elder Herrmann, and rejoiced in the stage
name of “Boumski.” One day in the city of Detroit, Mich., Madame
Herrmann missed from her dressing room at the theatre a valuable
diamond ring. Suspicion fell upon the negro, who had attained some
proficiency in the _black_ art, so far as making things disappear was
concerned, though he was not so apt when it came to producing them.
Boumski stoutly asseverated that he had seen the duck swallow the
ring. The fowl was accordingly slain, and its stomach searched, but
without result. The loss of the duck caused considerable grief in the
conjuring ménage. It was quite a pet, and trained to perform its part
in the magic tricks. Suspicion again fell upon Boumski. Finally, the
dusky necromancer confessed that he was the thief and that the poor
{231} duck was innocent. The ring was recovered in a pawnbroker’s
shop. Boumski went to jail. To revenge himself he exposed the whole
repertoire of tricks of the Herrmann company to the newspapers.


(In the Possession of Francis J. Martinka.)]

After playing together for a season or two, aunt and nephew
separated, today they are performing with great success in
vaudeville. Madame Herrmann calls her act “A Night in Japan.” It
is an exhibition of silent magic—_en pantomime_. She was ever a
graceful woman, and her exhibitions of legerdemain are most pleasing.
Beautiful scenery adds to the effect. Leon Herrmann, who resembles
his great uncle in personal appearance, is fast becoming a favorite
with the American public.



The magician places a card in one of the little drawers of the
cabinet, and it reappears in any other drawer the onlooker may
suggest. (Now in the possession of Mr. Martinka, New York City.)]

Let us now pass in review some of Alexander Herrmann’s tricks. His
gun illusion was perhaps his most sensational feat. {232} I am
indebted to the late Frederick Bancroft for the correct explanation
of the startling trick. A squad of soldiers, under the command of a
sergeant, comprised the firing party. The guns were apparently loaded
with genuine cartridges, the bullets of which had been previously
marked for identification by various spectators. The soldiers stood
upon a platform erected in the centre of the theatre, and Herrmann
stationed himself upon the stage. The guns were fired at him, and he
caught the balls upon a plate. Upon examination the balls were found
to be still warm from the effects of the explosion, and the marks
were identified upon them. The substitution of the sham cartridges,
which were loaded into the gun, for the genuine ones was very subtly
executed by means of a trick salver having a small well let into its
centre to hold the cartridges. Into this well the marked cartridges
were deposited by the spectators. In the interior of the salver was
a second compartment loaded with the blank cartridges. The sergeant
who collected the bullets shifted the compartments by means of a peg
underneath the salver, as he walked from the audience to the stage.
The sham cartridges {233} were now brought to view and the real were
hidden in the body of the salver. While the soldiers were engaged in
loading their rifles with the blank cartridges, the sergeant went
behind a side scene to get his gun and deposit the salver. A couple
of assistants extracted the genuine bullets and heated them. Herrmann
went to the wing to get the plate, and secretly secured the marked
bullets. The rest of the trick consisted in working up the dramatic


[Illustration: “AFTER THE BALL”—2. THE ESCAPE.]

One of Herrmann’s best illusions, though not invented by him, was his
vanishing lady, known as “Vanity Fair” and “After {234} the Ball.” A
large pier glass, which was elevated some two feet above the stage,
was brought forward by the magician, and the glass shown to be solid,
back and front. Mme. Herrmann, dressed in a handsome ball costume,
was now introduced to the audience. By the aid of a small ladder, she
climbed up and stood upon a glass shelf immediately in front of the
mirror. A narrow screen was then placed about her, so as not to hide
from the spectators the sides of the mirror.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said Herrmann, “Madame Vanity Fair, who
is now gazing at her pretty features in the mirror, has only to
pronounce a certain mystic formula known to the Cabalists, and she
will be instantly transported to the grand ball at the Opera House.
This is a decided improvement on horses and carriages.” He fired a
pistol, and the screen was pulled away. The lady was found to have
completely vanished. But how? Not into the mirror, into that land of
adumbration, celebrated in _Alice’s Adventures in a Looking Glass_.
No, the glass was apparently of solid crystal, and too thin to
conceal anyone. This is the _modus operandi_ of the trick: The mirror
in reality was composed of two sections. The glass shelf, upon which
the lady stood, concealed the top of the lower section. The upper
section was placed to the rear of the lower mirror, so that its lower
end slid down behind it. This upper glass worked like a window sash.
When it was pushed up, its upper end was hidden in the wide panel of
the frame. The lower part of this large glass had a piece cut out.
Through this opening the lady was drawn by an assistant across an
improvised bridge—a plank shoved through the back scene, as shown in
the illustration. When she had escaped, the counterpoised mirror was
again pushed down into its proper place, and the plank withdrawn.
The fact that some of the mirror was in view during the exhibition
allayed suspicion on the part of the audience. The effect was further
enhanced by turning the back of the mirror to the spectators to show
them that the lady was not there. It was one of the most novel and
effective illusions of Herrmann’s repertoire, particularly because
of the fact that he was assisted by his pretty and graceful wife,
who looked charming in her elegant ball dress, and acted her part to
perfection. {235}

[Illustration: HERRMANN I, II, III.]


The following is one of Alexander Herrmann’s programmes:

The Necromantic Comedian
HERRMANN, the Great
Aided by MME. HERRMANN, in his incomparable entertainment of


All Nature’s laws set aside. Laughter born of bewilderment and
wonder. Concluding with Herrmann’s latest and most startling
illusion, entitled:



(During the Seance no one will be allowed to enter or leave the



Herrmann’s latest thrilling sensational illusion,


Founded on the recent escape of the notorious convicts, Pallister
and Roehl, from the famous prison.



With a bouquet of mystic novelties. “The closer you watch the less
you see.” Concluding with Herrmann’s mystifying masterpiece,



“I have, since I was three years old, conversed with a magician, most
profound in his art, and yet not damnable.”—SHAKESPEARE; _As You Like
It_—V. 2, 68.


The leading exponent of the magic art in the United States today is
the famous Harry Kellar. He makes a specialty of pseudo-clairvoyance,
second sight, feats of levitation, spirit cabinets, and mechanical
illusions. Seizing upon the craze for Hindoo necromancy, mahatma
miracles and the like, he presents many of his tricks and illusions
as examples of Eastern thaumaturgy. Unlike Herrmann, who bubbled
over with wit and humor and acted the comedian, Kellar assumes a
Sphinx-like demeanor and envelopes himself in a mantle of mystery.
Herrmann was the tricksy Mephistopheles of Goethe’s _Faust_. Kellar
is the Arbaces of Bulwer’s _Last Days of Pompeii_—the Egyptian
sorcerer and initiate into the rites of Isis and Osiris; or, better
still, the Brahmin adept of Crawford’s _Mr. Isaacs_. Kellar’s
entertainments appeal to the scholarly inclined. To see him at work,
one is transported in imagination to a Hindoo temple where mahatmas
exhibit their miracles. His patter is more or less based on Oriental
ideas. For example, “The Yoge’s Lamp,” which is a very fine trick,
invented by a German conjurer, Herr Conradi, of Berlin. The effect
is as follows: On a pedestal stands a lighted lamp. Enveloping this
lamp with a foulard, the magician carries it across the stage and
places it upon a small gueridon with a glass top. A portion of the
chimney of the lamp is in view all the time, and within the silken
folds of the foulard the light may be seen shining through with
subdued effect. Kellar now fires a pistol. The foulard drops upon
{238} the table, and the big lamp vanishes with lightning rapidity.
It seems to melt away. It is a seemingly impossible feat, because the
glass-topped table has no possible place of concealment about it.
The foulard is afterwards passed to the spectators for examination.
I am not at liberty to reveal the secret of this surprising trick. I
must preserve a discreet silence, in deference to the wishes of Mr.
Kellar. As originally invented by Herr Conradi, the lamp reappears
in a frame hanging in the center of the stage. But Kellar’s method
I consider more artistic, and in better keeping with the _mise en
scène_. Without patter this feat of magic would fall comparatively
flat. In Kellar’s hands it is invested with a halo of supernaturalism
which is very effective. The following is a brief résumé of the story
of the lamp: “Ladies and gentlemen, I have here on this pedestal a
copper lamp of antique pattern which was loaned to me by a celebrated
Brahmin who presides over a shrine in the Holy City of Benares,
India. I have his permission to use it in my thaumaturgic séances,
but I must return it to him at a certain hour every evening, as it is
needed in the ceremonial rites of the temple at Benares. That hour
has now arrived. (_A bell strikes the hour, slowly and solemnly. He
wraps the foulard about the lamp, which he places on the table._)
I shall count three—the mystic number of Brahmin theosophy—and
fire this pistol. Instantaneously the atoms composing the lamp
will be disintegrated by the force of my will and fly through the
fourth dimension of space to India, where they will reassemble and
materialize in their former shape, and the lamp will appear upon the
altar of the temple as of old.”

Of course no one credits this rhodomontade, but the conjurer’s
purpose is accomplished. The trick is given a mystical setting and
a certain kind of pseudo-scientific explanation. And all things are
possible in nature, for have we not the x-rays, radio-activity,
wireless telegraphy, and forces undreamed of a few years ago by the


Kellar was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, in 1849—the famous year of
the California Argonauts. When quite a young lad he {240} was
apprenticed to the drug business. In this respect he resembles the
great Cagliostro. One day while experimenting on his own account,
during the absence of his master, he charged a copper vessel with
soda and sulphuric acid, the result being a terrific explosion
which tore a hole in the office floor overhead. Thus he began life
by making a great noise in the world, and has resolutely kept
it up. After the fiasco with the chemicals, he was dismissed by
his employer, whereupon he boarded a freight train and went to
New York City, where he became a newsboy. His energy and winning
manners attracted the attention of Rev. Robert Harcourt, an English
clergyman, who adopted him, and gave him a good education. The
reverend gentleman intended preparing young Kellar for the church,
but such was not to be. Seeing an advertisement in a Buffalo paper
that the renowned “Fakir of Ava” wanted a boy to travel with him
and learn the trade of magician, Kellar determined to apply for the
place. He set out for Buffalo and went to the Fakir’s bungalow,
a quaint old house in the environs of the city. “When he entered
the yard, the Fakir’s little black-and-tan dog jumped at him in a
friendly way, and showed great delight at the meeting. The Fakir
soon appeared, and after he had talked with the boy for a short
time, said: ‘I have had about one hundred and fifty applications for
the place, but that little dog has shown great animosity to every
boy who entered the gate until you came. You are the first one he
has made friends with. I will give you a trial.’ ”[27] The result
was that Kellar became acolyte or familiar to the Fakir of Ava, and
all because of a dog. This was reversing the old proverb, “Love me,
love my dog” to that of “Whom my dog loves, I love.” The reader will
remember that Mephistopheles first appears to Faust in the shape of
a dog. Perhaps the Fakir’s canine was possessed with the Devil, and
recognized a future master of the black art in Kellar.

[Illustration: HARRY KELLAR]

[27] _A Magical Tour._ Chicago, 1886.

After traveling several seasons with the good old Fakir, Kellar
started out on his own account. It was an uphill fight. He met the
Davenport Brothers and Fay, alleged spirit mediums but in reality
clever conjurers, and joined them, first as assistant, then as agent,
and afterwards as business manager. He traveled {241} with them
over the greater part of the United States (including California)
and Canada, over the Continent of Europe, through Russia, via Riga,
Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nijni-Novgorod and Odessa; thence back again
to the United States. In the summer of 1871 he piloted them through
Texas. They traveled all over that State in wagons. There was no
railroad beyond Hearne then, and their route was from Galveston to
Houston, Columbus, San Antonio, Austin, Lampasas Springs, Dallas, and
Shreveport, and thence by boat down the river to New Orleans.

In the spring of 1873, he left the Davenports, from whom he
learned the secrets of rope-tying and the cabinet act, and formed
a combination called Fay and Kellar. Eventually he went into
partnership with two Chinese magicians. This company was known as
the Royal Illusionists. After touring Australia, India and China,
Kellar dissolved partnership and came to the United States. During
his stay at Calcutta, India, the _Asian_ of Jan. 3, 1882, printed
the following effusion, a paraphrase on Robert Heller’s verse about
himself and Anderson:

“For many a day,
We have heard people say
That a wondrous magician was Heller;
Change the H into K,
And the E into A,
And you have his superior in Kellar.”

Kellar has written several monographs on his art—mainly contributions
to magazines; all highly suggestive and entertaining. He says: “There
are six qualifications which are the essence of the successful
magician, prestidigitateur, necromancer—call him what you may. They
are: The will, manual dexterity, physical strength, the capacity
to perform things automatically, an accurate, perfectly ordered
and practically automatic memory, and a knowledge of a number of
languages, the more the better.”

Speaking of his experiences as stage helper, or _chela_, to the
so-called Fakir of Ava, he says (_Independent_, May 28, 1903): “The
‘face’ of many a prestidigitateur has been saved and his defeat
turned into a glorious victory by the merest chance. One of my
first adventures with the Fakir of Ava affords a capital {242}
illustration. We were doing the watch trick—taking a timepiece
from some one in the audience, passing it upon the stage in a
platter, destroying both platter and timepiece in plain view of the
spectators, loading the fragments into a pistol, firing the weapon
at a target and bringing the watch—whole and sound—to life again
upon the face of the mark, in plain sight of the audience. But on
that particular day the target concluded not to do its share of the
performance. No watch would it produce; the machinery was out of
order. We had to work hard to ‘save face.’

“Disguised as an usher of the house, I went down into the audience
with the timepiece, hoping to be able to slip it unobserved into the
pocket of the owner. He was sitting at a distance from the aisle; I
found it impossible. I did the next best thing—slipped the watch into
the waistcoat pocket of the man who sat next to the aisle on the same
row with the owner. Then I returned to the stage.

“The Fakir in the meantime was discussing learnedly upon some other
subject. When I returned, the question of the whereabouts of the
watch was called up and a bell on the stage was summoned to answer
questions; one ring for ‘yes,’ two for ‘no.’

“ ‘Is the watch on the stage?’

“ ‘No,’ replied the obedient bell.

“ ‘Is it in the audience?’

“ ‘Yes.’

“ ‘Is it on the first row?’

“ ‘No.’

“ ‘The second—the third, the fourth, the fifth?’

“To each question came a ‘no.’

“ ‘Is it on the sixth row?’

“ ‘Yes.’

“ ‘Is it the first man on the row?’

“ ‘Yes.’

“The eyes of the audience focused upon the unfortunate occupant of
the seat.

“ ‘Look in your pocket, sir,’ said the Fakir of Ava, in his politest,
most persuasive tones. {243}

“ ‘Go on with your show there and let me alone,’ shouted the enraged
seat holder.

“ ‘But I pray you, look in your pocket,’ said the Fakir.

“The man obeyed and produced the watch. The trick, called in stage
vernacular a ‘life saver,’ made a hit vastly more impressive than the
one originally planned but spoiled by the perverseness of the target.”


Kellar’s greatest and most sensational illusion is his
“levitation”—raising a person and leaving him suspended in mid-air
without any apparent means of support, seemingly defying the law of
gravitation. An explanation of this surprising feat is thus described

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Online LibraryHenry Ridgely EvansThe Old and the New Magic → online text (page 20 of 28)