Henry Ridgely Evans.

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and such was his propaganda.”


V.

Is it not strange that people can take such performances seriously?
The cigarette test—an old one—and familiar to every schoolboy who
dabbles in legerdemain, was a mere trick, dependent upon clever
substitution and palming. The absurd splatterdash which the Mage
painted while blindfolded had nothing of Thibetan architecture about
it, but resembled a ruined castle on the Rhine. That he was able
to peep beneath his bandages at one stage of the proceedings seems
to me evident. He perhaps arranged this while kissing and fondling
the little child. Long practice, however, would enable him to paint
roughly while his eyes were bandaged. The horse episode was of course
a pre-arranged affair, yet I admit it was very well worked up and
gave one a creepy feeling—thanks to the _mise en scéne_. But the
Comte de Sarak has other occult phenomena up his sleeve, which I have
not yet witnessed—among them being the shattering of a pane of glass
by pronouncing the words, “Forward, ever forward”; the instantaneous
production of vegetation from the seed; and the immediate development
of fish from spawn. He doubtless owes much of his notoriety to the
newspapers, which herald his alleged feats of magic in sensational
style.

A few months after my séance at the adept’s house, the Washington
papers announced the fact that the Count de Sarak, the famous
magician, was projecting a personally conducted tour to the Orient
for the members of his cult and all those who were {270} interested
in occultism. The pilgrims were to visit the inaccessible shrines,
pagodas, crypts, and lamaseries of the East, under the ciceronage of
the Count, who doubtless was to break down for them by sheer force of
will the fluidic barriers that surround Lhassa, Thibet, where dwell
the Mahatmas, in order that the tourists might penetrate into the
sacred city.

I never heard of anybody leaving Washington to go on this expedition,
except the Count—and he, I understand, got no farther than New York
City, where the French _table d’hôte_ abounds, and magic and mystery
are chiefly to be studied in the recipes of French _chefs de cuisine_.

{271}




MAGICIANS I HAVE MET.


“To succeed as a conjurer, three things are essential—first,
dexterity; second, dexterity; and third, dexterity.”—ROBERT-HOUDIN.


I.

Imro Fox, “the comic conjurer,” was born May 21, 1852, in Bromberg,
Germany. He came to the United States in 1874, and after serving
as a _chef de cuisine_ in several New York hotels, finally came to
Washington, where he presided over the kitchen of the old Hotel
Lawrence, a famous resort for vaudeville people. When not engaged in
his culinary duties, he practised sleight of hand tricks. In the year
1880, a strolling company came to the city, having as its bright,
particular star a magician. The man of mystery, alas, was addicted
to the flowing bowl, and went on a spree after the first night’s
performance. The manager of the troupe, who was staying at the
Lawrence, was in despair. He told his woes to the proprietor of the
hotel, who informed him that the _chef_ of the establishment was a
conjurer. Descending to the “lower regions” (a capital place, by the
way, in which to seek a disciple of the black art), the theatrical
man discovered the genial Imro studying a big volume. Near by a black
cat sat blinking at him. Upon the stove was a huge caldron. The _mise
en scène_ of the place was decidedly that of a wizard’s studio. But
things are seldom what they seem.

The book which Fox was so industriously conning proved to be a
dictionary of the French language, not a black-letter tome on
sorcery. The _chef_ was engaged in making up a ménu card, in other
words, giving French names to good old Anglo-Saxon dishes. The
caldron contained soup. The cat was the regular feline habitué of the
kitchen, not an imp or familiar demon. {272}

“The _chef_, I believe,” said the manager, politely.

“I am,” said Fox.

“You are an amateur conjurer?”

“I amuse myself with legerdemain occasionally.”

“You’re the man I’m looking for. I am the proprietor of a vaudeville
company playing at . . . . . . The gentleman who does the magic turn
for me has disappeared; gone on a prolonged debauch. . . .”

“Ah, I see,” interrupted Imro, “a devotee of the ‘inexhaustible
bottle’ trick.”

“I want you to take his place,” said the manager, “and fill out the
week’s engagement. I will arrange matters with the hotel proprietor
for you.”

“_Donner und Blitzen!_” cried Fox. “Why, I never was on a stage
before in my life. I’d die with fright. Face an audience? I’d rather
face a battery of cannons.”

“Nonsense,” answered the theatrical man. “Do help me like a good
fellow. It will be money in your pocket.”

After considerable persuasion, Fox consented. The culinary department
was turned over to an assistant. That night Imro appeared on the
stage, habited in a hired dress suit that did not fit him like the
proverbial “paper on the wall.” With fear and trembling he made his
bow, and broke the ice by the following allusion to his very bald
pate: “Ladies and gentlemen, why is my head like Heaven? . . . . You
give it up! Good! Because there is no parting there!” Amid the shout
of laughter occasioned by this conundrum, Fox began his card tricks.
In the argot of the stage, he “made good.”

This event decided him; he abandoned cooking for conjuring; ménu
cards for the making of programmes.

His entertainment is quite original. The curtain rises on a gloomy
cavern. In the middle is a boiling caldron, fed by witches _à la_
Macbeth. An aged necromancer, dressed in a long robe with a pointed
cap on his head, enters. He begins his incantations, whereupon hosts
of demons appear, who dance about the caldron. Suddenly amid the
crash of thunder and a blinding flash of light, the wizard’s cave
is metamorphosed into a twentieth century drawing-room, fitted up
for a {273} conjuring séance. The decrepit sorcerer is changed
into a gentleman in evening dress—Mr. Fox—who begins his up-to-date
entertainment of modern magic. Is not this cleverly conceived?


II.

A few thumbnail sketches of some of the local magicians of New York
City will not come amiss. First, there is Elmer P. Ransom, familiarly
known as “Pop.” He was born in _old_ New York, not far from Boss
Tweed’s house. He still lives in that quaint part of the city. He
knows New York like a book. Once he guided me through the Jewish
ghetto, the Italian and Chinese quarters. It was a rare treat. Ransom
is a good all around magician, who believes in the old school of
apparatus combined with sleight of hand. And so do I.

Next we have Adrian Plate, who was born in Utrecht, Holland, in 1844.
His rooms in upper New York are the Mecca of all visiting magicians.
He has a fine collection of books on magic, and a scrap-book
_par excellence_. Thanks to this clever conjurer, I have secured
translations of rare and curious Dutch works on necromancy. Plate has
always something new up his sleeve.

T. Francis Fritz (Frank Ducrot) edits _Mahatma_, a magazine for
magicians, and is a good conjurer.

Sargent, the “Merry Wizard,” and second president of the S. A. M., is
an adept in the psychology of deception and a recognized authority on
the subject of patter. His articles on magic, published in _Mahatma_,
are very interesting. He wields a facile pen as well as a wand,
and like Silas Wegg occasionally drops into poetry. His poetical
effusion, “In Martinka’s Little Back Shop,” brought out some years
ago in _Mahatma_, has been widely copied.

Henry V. A. Parsell, for a number of years the archivist of the S. A.
M., is a devotee of magic and freemasonry; a student of the occult;
and a mechanical engineer by profession. He is especially fond of
electrical tricks. He signs himself _Paracelsus_, not that he has any
special love for the Bombast of Hohenheim, but because the name is
a euphonic paraphrase of his own cognomen, and redolent of sorcery.
{274}

Dr. Golden Mortimer, first president of the S. A. M., is a gentleman
of culture. He was born in New York City, December 27, 1854. He began
life as a magician, and was a pupil of Robinson, the Fakir of Vishnu.
He eventually toured the country with an entertainment of the Heller
order, known as “Mortimer’s Mysteries,” and was very successful.
Graduating finally as a physician, he abandoned the _art magique_ as
a profession.

Krieger, the arch-master of cup-and-ball conjuring, the successor
of Bosco, often drops into Martinka’s. He is of Jewish birth. With
his little family he travels about, giving exhibitions of his skill,
at summer hotels, seaside resorts, clubs, lyceums, etc. The errant
propensities of the Krieger _ménage_ gained for it the sobriquet of
the “Wandering Few,” a paraphrase of the title of Eugene Sue’s weird
novel, _The Wandering Jew_. To listen to Krieger’s funny accent; to
see him shake his bushy locks; to watch his deft fingers manipulate
the little cork balls, is to enjoy a rare treat. When the small balls
grow to large ones and finally change into onions, potatoes, lemons,
and apples you are quite ready to acknowledge that Krieger’s art is
the acme of legerdemain.

But the prince of Hanky Panky is undoubtedly Nate Leipziger. For
close work with cards, coins, watches, handkerchiefs, and the like
he is pre-eminent in this country, perhaps in any country. His
great forte is amusing after-dinner parties. His art is extremely
subtle and indetectable, even to those acquainted with the mysteries
of magic. He is the inventor of many new sleights and conjuring
artifices.

Leipziger was born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1873, and was apprenticed
at an early age to an optical instrument maker. Grinding and
polishing lenses is his trade, but he abandoned it for conjuring when
he came to the United States. It is a curious fact that the majority
of great magicians have been recruited from among watchmakers,
optical instrument manufacturers, chemists, and physicians. Hundreds
of them have been doctors. Among our American Indians medicine and
magic are synonymous terms. The “medicine man” is the High Priest,
the Mage, of the tribe. As every student of psychology knows, there
is a good deal of humbug about the practice of medicine. {275}
Suggestion aided by deception in the way of bread pills and harmless
philtres effect as many cures as potent drugs. Surgery is an exact
science, medicine is experimental. The medico takes naturally to
magic, for he is already an adept in the art of suggestion. Apropos
of this let me quote a sentence from an article by Joseph Jastrow
(_Psychological Review_, Vol. 7, p. 617): “A dominant principle, most
frequently illustrated, is the kinship of conjuring to suggestion;
for it is the suggestion of things not done quite as much as the
concealment of those that are done that determines the success of
modern conjuring.”


III.

Horace Goldin is known as the “Whirlwind Wizard,” so called because
of the rapidity of his work. His tricks and illusions follow each
other with kaleidoscopic effect. Goldin can compress more magic feats
in a twenty-minute turn, than the average conjurer can execute in an
hour. But his act is a silent one; he uses no patter whatever. As a
general rule this is to be condemned. Amateurs are warned against
it. Says Professor Jastrow, the psychologist: “The ‘patter,’ or
setting of a trick, often constitutes the real art of its execution,
because it directs, or rather misdirects, the attention.” More than
that, artfully worded patter weaves about a conjuring experiment an
atmosphere of plausibility; people are often convinced that red is
black, etc. Consider the dramatic setting of Houdin’s magic chest and
aerial suspension. Without patter these charming tricks would have
degenerated to the commonplace. But Goldin is a law unto himself, and
must not be judged by any standards other than those laid down by
himself. He is a genius.

Goldin, who is of Jewish descent, was born in Wilana, Russia,
December 17, 1874. He began life as a traveling salesman. He took to
conjuring to amuse himself and his friends. Afterwards he went on
the stage. He has played before Edward VII of England and William
II of Germany. While playing an engagement in New York City, at
Hammerstein’s Theatre, August, 1904, he went about the city in an
automobile known as the “red devil.” Some of his facetious friends
described him as a “little white devil” in a “big red devil.”
Among the {276} numerous clever illusions performed by him is the
“Invisible Flight,” an exposé of which was published in the _Strand_,
as follows:

“A pedestal about seven feet high is seen in the centre of the stage.
The performer introduces a liveried assistant and entirely envelops
him in a black cloak and hood, and puts a pistol in his right hand.
He then fetches a ladder, places it against the pedestal, walks up,
and steps from it on to the top of the pedestal, behind a curtain,
which is hung in front, just reaching to his feet. The assistant
puts the ladder back and fires the pistol, when immediately the
curtain rises and a great surprise meets the gaze of the audience,
for there on the pedestal, where the performer stepped only a moment
previously, stands the liveried servant; but the climax is reached
when the supposed assistant pulls off the cloak and hood, showing him
to be none other than the performer himself.

“To perform this illusion it is necessary to have two assistants
as near alike as possible and of similar stature to the performer
himself, the rest being quite simple but requiring much exactness
in execution. The performer cloaks assistant No. 1 and hands him
the pistol, then goes to fetch the ladder, part of which is showing
between the wings, the other part being held by assistant No. 2, who
is made to look, at a quick glance, exactly like the performer. The
performer catches hold of the ladder and steps between the wings,
leaving one leg showing; the assistant (No. 2) steps out backwards
with the ladder, covering the performer momentarily, who then steps
right in between the wings. The natural movement of the assistant
in stepping back at the right moment looks as if it is still the
performer; indeed, he is never suspected to be otherwise. Assistant
No. 2 places the ladder against the pedestal, walks up, and, stepping
behind the curtain, unhooks a duplicate livery from it, quickly puts
it on, pockets wig and mustache, or any other make-up which went to
match the magician’s appearance, and stands ready for the curtain to
be raised, at the sound of the pistol, by a string leading inside
to one of the stage hands. During this time assistant No. 1 has
taken the ladder back to its original place, and the performer, who
has meanwhile quickly donned a cloak and hood exactly as worn by
assistant No. 1, reverses his previous action, stepping back {277}
with a pistol in his right hand, this again being so natural as not
to excite suspicion. He then fires, when assistant No. 2 is seen upon
the pedestal, believed by the audience to be assistant No. 1, the
idea of a duplicate never occurring to them, as they have not seen
the change take place. The performer then takes off his cloak and
hood, bowing smilingly to the bewildered audience.”


IV.

[Illustration: THE INVISIBLE FLIGHT.]

One of the most entertaining men in the profession is Frederick
Eugene Powell. He is a man of scholarly attainments. Powell was born
in Philadelphia, and was attracted to magic after having witnessed
a performance by good old Signor Blitz. He became quite an expert
at the art and gave entertainments for the amusement of his fellow
students at the Pennsylvania Military Academy, at Chester, from which
institution he graduated in 1877 with the degree of Civil Engineer
and the rank of Lieutenant. After a short career on the stage as a
magician, he entered into mercantile life. Eventually he returned
to his old love, magic, and began a series of entertainments at
Wood’s Theatre, corner of Ninth and Arch Streets, Philadelphia.
His “second-sight trick,” in which he was assisted by his brother
{278} Edwin, was one of his strong cards. Robert Heller had just
died, and there was no one to continue the art of second sight but
Powell. After touring the United States and Spanish America he left
the stage to take the intermediate chair of mathematics at the
Pennsylvania Military Academy, which post he held for three years.
The sedentary life affected his health, and he returned to the stage.
Powell has played several long engagements at the Eden Musée, one of
them lasting for six months. In the year 1892, he produced at this
theatre for the first time to a New York audience the illusion “She.”
In 1902 he visited the Sandwich and Samoa Islands, and played in
the principal cities of Australia. Powell was the first conjurer to
introduce the improved “coin ladder” in this country.

Howard Thurston, the American illusionist, was educated for the
ministry, but abandoned theology for conjuring. He possesses
great skill with cards, and is an inventor of many novel feats of
spectacular magic.

His stage represents an Oriental scene. Enter Thurston dressed
somewhat after the fashion of a Tartar chieftain: loose trousers,
short jacket, turban and high boots. He introduces his act with card
manipulation, after which he produces from a shawl thrown over his
arm a bowl from which bursts a flame, then another bowl from which
spurts a jet of water like a fountain. He stands on a small stool of
glass and produces a great quantity of water from a large tin can,
by dropping into it the half of a cocoanut shell. Enough water wells
up from the can to fill several receptacles. The thaumaturgist then
defies the laws of gravitation by suspending a large ball in the air,
_à la_ Mahomet’s alleged coffin at Mecca, and passes a hoop about
the ball. When he leaves the stage, the ball follows him. This feat
is accomplished by a stream of compressed air which plays upon the
globe from a receptacle secreted in the sleeve of the performer. The
conjurer walks to a stool, covers it with a shawl, and produces a
life-size statue, which undergoes various pretty transformations.
The illusion suggests that of Professor Pepper. Finally he produces
pigeons from a borrowed hat, and toy balloons which float in the air.
Altogether it is a pleasing and curious act. {279}

[Illustration: POWELL, THE PRESTIDIGITATEUR]

{280}


V.

William G. Robinson for years acted as Alexander Herrmann’s stage
manager and machinist. He is a devotee of the magic art, a collector
of rare books on legerdemain, and the inventor of many ingenious
sleights, tricks, and illusions. When not employed at the theatre,
he spends his time haunting the second-hand book stores, searching
for literature on his favorite hobby. He has found time to write
a profoundly interesting brochure called _Spirit Slate-Writing_,
published by the Scientific American Company. After reading this
work, I cannot see how any sane person can credit the reality of
“independent slate-writing.” It is a mere juggling trick.

[Illustration: CHUNG LING SOO.

(Mr. Wm. G. Robinson.)]

Robinson was born in New York City, April 2, 1861, and received a
common school education. He started life as “a worker in brass and
other metals,” but he abandoned the profession of Tubal Cain for
conjuring. After the death of Herrmann, Robinson went as assistant
to Leon Herrmann for several seasons, and then started out to
astonish the natives on his own account, but without any appreciable
success. Just about this time there came to the United States a
Chinese conjurer named Ching Ling Foo, with a repertoire of Oriental
tricks. One of them was the production of a huge bowl of water from
a table-cloth, followed by live pigeons and ducks, and last but not
least a little almond-eyed Celestial, his son. This was but a replica
of the trick which Phillippe learned from the Chinese many years ago.
Foo’s performances drew crowds to the theatres. It was the novelty of
the thing that caught the public fancy. In reality, the Mongolian’s
magic was not to be compared with that of Herrmann, Kellar, or
Goldin. Beneath the folds of a Chinese robe one may conceal almost
anything, ranging in size from a bedpost to a cannon ball. When
Foo’s manager boastfully advertised to forfeit $500 if any American
could fathom or duplicate any of the Celestial’s tricks, “Billy”
Robinson came forward and accepted the challenge. But nothing came
of it. Foo’s impressario “backed water,” to use a boating phrase.
Robinson was so taken with Ching Ling Foo’s act that he decided to
give similar séances, disguising himself as a Chinaman. Under the
name of Chung Ling Soo he went to England, {281} accompanied by
his wife and a genuine Chinese acrobat. He opened at the Empire
Theatre, and not only reproduced Foo’s best tricks but added others
of his own, equally as marvelous. His success was instantaneous.
Theatrical London went wild over the celebrated Chinese wizard, and
gold began to flow into the coffers of the Robinson ménage. So well
was the secret kept that for months no one, except the attachés of
the theatre, knew that Chung Ling Soo was a Yankee and not a genuine
Chinaman. The make-up of himself and wife was perfect. Robinson
{282} even had the audacity to grant interviews to newspaper
reporters. He usually held these receptions at his lodgings, where
he had an apartment fitted up _à la Chinois_; the walls hung with
silken drapery embroidered with grotesque dragons. The place was
dimly lit by Chinese lanterns. Propped up on silken cushions, the
“Yankee Celestial” with his face made up like a finely painted mask,
sipped his real oolong, and laughed in his capacious sleeves at the
credulity of the journalistic hacks. He gave his opinion on the
“Boxer” trouble, speaking a kind of gibberish which the previously
tutored Chinese acrobat pretended to interpret into English.
Gradually it leaked out in theatrical circles that Chung Ling Soo was
a Yankee, but this information never came to the public ear generally.

At the close of the “Boxer” uprising the real Ching Ling Foo had
returned to his beloved Flowery Kingdom, loaded down with bags full
of dollars extracted from the pockets of the “Foreign Devils,” yclept
Americans. Under his own vine and bamboo tree he proceeded to enjoy
life like a regular Chinese gentleman; to burn joss sticks to the
memory of his ancestors, and study the maxims of Confucius. But the
longing for other worlds to conquer with his magic overcame him, and
so in the year 1904 he went to England. Great was his astonishment
to find that a pretended Mongolian had preceded him and stolen
all of his thunder. In January, 1905, Robinson was playing at the
Hippodrome, London, and Ching Ling Foo at the Empire. There was
great rivalry between them. The result was that Foo challenged Soo
to a grand trial of strength, the articles of which appeared in the
_Weekly Despatch_. “I offer £1,000 if Chung Ling Soo, now appearing
at the Hippodrome, can do ten out of the twenty of my tricks, or if I
fail to do any one of his feats.”

A meeting was arranged to take place at the _Despatch_ office, on
January 7, 1905, at 11 a. m. The challenged man, “Billy” Robinson
alias Chung Ling Soo, rode up to the newspaper office in his big
red automobile, accompanied by his manager and assistants. He was
dressed like a mandarin. The acrobat held over his master’s head a
gorgeous Chinese umbrella. Robinson gave an exhibition of his skill
before a committee of newspaper {283} men and theatrical managers.
Foo came not. The next day arrived a letter from Ching Ling Foo’s
impressario saying that the Mongolian magician would only consent to
compete against his rival on the following condition: “That Chung
Ling Soo first prove before members of the Chinese Legation that he
is a Chinaman.” This was whipping the Devil (or shall I say dragon?)
around the stump. The original challenge had made no condition as to
the nationality of the performers.

[Illustration]

The _Despatch_ said: “The destination of the challenge money remains
in abeyance, and the questions arise: ‘Did Foo fool Soo? And can Soo
sue Foo?’ ” {284}

The merits of this interesting mix-up are thus summed up by Mr. John


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Online LibraryHenry Ridgely EvansThe Old and the New Magic → online text (page 23 of 28)