Henry Ridgely Evans.

The Old and the New Magic online

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wife made a great sensation with the second-sight trick. When the
Franco-Prussian war broke out, Cazeneuve returned to Toulouse and
raised two companies of soldiers, one of which was composed entirely
of theatrical people. He served as captain of the 1st regiment of
Tirailleurs d’Elite, under the command of Colonel Riu, and fought
bravely for France. After peace was declared he prepared a new
programme of magic and toured Europe and the Americas. He has a
handsome home in his native city of Toulouse, where he has collected
many rare curios. In the year 1905, Cazeneuve was touring Algeria
with a magic show. He is a member of several scientific societies,
and manifests great interest in physics.

I first saw Carl Hertz in Baltimore at the old vaudeville theatre
“across the bridge,” some twenty years ago. I remember him as a
clever, good-looking young fellow, possessed of considerable dash,
and very neat in the performance of card tricks. His specialty was
the “bird-cage trick,” which he did to perfection. He was born in
San Francisco, of German parents. His first manager was M. de Frère.
Hertz has traveled extensively in the Orient. With the bird-cage
trick he puzzled the best informed fakirs of India. In Borneo he
met with a most romantic adventure. He is probably the only man who
has had to offer himself as a burnt-offering to escape an amorous
Princess. He was giving a series of magical entertainments before
a Malay Sultan and Court, and not only succeeded in fascinating
the yellow-skinned monarch, but his daughter as well. The young
princess proposed marriage to the conjurer. “On Mr. Hertz informing
the lady, through an interpreter, that he was already wedded, she
replied that made no difference to her, as she would rule his other
ladies. Here was a fix. However, with the {301} connivance of the
British Vice-Consul, Mr. Hertz took the place of his lawful spouse
in the Phœnix illusion, and jumping into the blazing caldron waved
an affectionate adieu to the astonished and dismayed Princess. Mrs.
Hertz had to keep up the delusion by weeping copiously while her
husband was being conveyed to the coast in a basket.”

In the Sandwich Islands, on one occasion, a chief leaped upon the
stage where Hertz was performing and began worshiping him as a god.
How very real must have been the effect of Hertz’s magic upon the
untutored mind of that simple native.

In the year 1904, a troupe of Hindoo jugglers, acrobats and snake
charmers were brought to the United States to entertain lovers of the
marvelous at the St. Louis Exposition. Among them was a man with an
unpronounceable name, whom the management dubbed “Alexander.” I met
the dusky necromancer at Martinka’s in the summer of 1904. He went
about the streets of New York garbed in his rich Oriental costume.
The street gamins always followed him from his hotel to the Palace of
Magic and stood about the doorway in crowds, awaiting in breathless
astonishment some feat of wizardry. But the impassive Hindoo paid
no attention to his youthful admirers, but went on blowing wreaths
of smoke from Egyptian cigarettes, and making purchases of magical
apparatus with which to astonish the natives of his beloved India.
Taking magic tricks to India is like carrying coals to Newcastle. But
Alexander had a very high opinion of Occidental conjuring, and fully
realized the fact that the sorcerers of the West, aided by all the
resources of modern science, were the superiors of the Hindoo fakirs,
except perhaps in one particular—feats of hypnotism and apparent
death. I saw Alexander, in Martinka s little back shop, support a
couple of heavy iron weights, which were fastened at the ends of a
cord, upon his eyelids. The cord rested on the lids, the weights
dangling at the ends of the string. The pressure upon the eyeballs
must have been tremendous. Alexander presented Dr. Ellison with a
wand—the thigh-bone of a sacred simian from the famous monkey temple
of India. The bone was inscribed with cabalistic characters and
Sanskrit sentences. The monkey is famous for playing {302} tricks,
and the thigh-bone of a sacred monkey consequently ought to make an
admirable mystic wand for a conjurer. The doctor prizes this unique
relic very highly, and is thinking of building a shrine of Benares
copper for its reception. In the future, crowds of wandering wizards
will doubtless make pilgrimages to this shrine to gaze in ecstasy
at the holy relic, just as crowds of East Indians visit the temple
where Buddha’s wisdom tooth is displayed for the delectation of the
faithful.


VIII.

In the year 1894 there flashed on the theatrical horizon of Europe an
eccentric gentleman conjurer, who performed with a mask on his face,
advertising himself as _L’Homme Masqué_ (the Masked Man).

“Who is he?” inquired the _quid nuncs_ of the vaudeville theatres.

Nobody seemed to know. Had the Man in the Iron Mask, celebrated by
Voltaire and Alexander Dumas, come to life again?

“What does he wear a mask for?” asked the public.

“To hide his aristocratic features,” replied the manager of _L’Homme
Masqué_. “He wishes to remain incognito.”

Eventually he permitted his name to leak out. It was Marquis d’O.
“But ‘O’ is not a name,” cried the _quid nuncs_. “It is a letter,
an exclamation of surprise or terror.” “Not so fast,” remarked the
Dryasdusts. “There was a Marquis d’O who lived in the seventeenth
century. He was a noted duelist and gambler, but that did not prevent
him from being a favorite with Henri III of France. Possibly _L’Homme
Masqué_ is a descendant of the famous nobleman of the old régime. He
is unquestionably a Frenchman, for he speaks like a native.”

The masked man refused to further reveal his identity. In one respect
he resembled the favorite of the Valois King. He was familiar with
cards. After losing 800,000 francs at Monte Carlo, he took up magic
as a profession and made his début, March, 1894. I have ascertained
that the Marquis is a native of Peru, South America. His real name I
do not know. The “O” perhaps is a _nom de thèatre_. Again, it may be
an {303} abbreviation of Olivarez. Mr. Downs writes as follows in
the Sphinx, January, 1903, concerning the mysterious marquis:

“_L Homme’ Masqué_ (Marquis d’O) and myself are especially engaged
to give a series of magical performances at the Casino Theatre,
Spa, Belgium, Nov. 15 to Dec. 31, 1902. The Marquis is a remarkably
clever magician of the non-apparatus school and gives an hour and
thirty minutes’ performance, changing his show each evening. He uses
only cards, handkerchiefs, flowers, eggs and other small objects
for his illusions. He is eminently original and possesses a great
personality. He is a decided sensation in the theatrical world. His
success has been so pronounced that he has had many imitators who
have donned the mask and traded on his reputation. The Society of
Magicians in Hamburg presented him with a valuable gold-tipped wand
set with diamonds. Like Robert-Houdin, the Marquis presents his
audiences with many charming souvenirs, some of them of considerable
value, such as cigarette cases, cigars, bouquets, etc. He is very
popular in aristocratic circles. When in London, he received as high
as £20 for a private entertainment and was invited everywhere.”

To keep the public guessing is the particular business of a conjurer,
but to keep people guessing as to your identity as well as your
tricks, caps the climax in the art of mystery mongering. Imagine
the Sphinx wearing a mask. This business of a wizard disguising his
features with a black mask is a piece of sublime audacity. _Vive le_
Marquis d’O! Is it not a pity that such an act cannot be copyrighted?
Think of some really original idea and produce it on the stage and
immediately hundreds of imitators will spring up like mushrooms in a
single night. Not only will they copy your act, but your patter as
well.

Two of our foremost American conjurers, Downs and Houdini, can
testify to this fact. T. Nelson Downs, the “King of Coins,” a native
of Marshaltown, Iowa, invented a number of original sleights with
coins, which he embodied in an act known as the Miser’s Dream. A
brilliant success was the result, whereupon a legion of imitators,
billing themselves as Coin Kings, sprang up everywhere. Downs,
however, remains the unapproachable manipulator of coins; his
imitators have gone {304} to the wall, one after the other. Downs’
act is really unique, He is also a fine performer with cards. Edward
VII of England, who has a penchant for entertainments of magic and
mystery, had Downs give private séances for him, and was charmed with
the American’s skill.


IX.

A word or two here concerning that brilliant entertainer, Harry
Houdini, whose handcuff act is the sensation of two continents.

Mr. Houdini, whose real name is Weiss, was born April 6, 1873, in
Appleton, Wisconsin. He began his career as an entertainer when
but nine years of age, doing a contortion and trapeze act in Jack
Hoffler’s “five cent” circus in Appleton. His mother took him away
from the sawdust arena and apprenticed him to a locksmith. Here he
was initiated into the mysteries of locks and keys, and laid the
foundation of his great handcuff act. Locksmithing, despite the fact
that King Louis XVI of France worked at it as an amateur, possessed
no charms for the youthful Houdini. To use his own expression, “One
day I made a bolt for the door, and never came back to my employer.”
Again he went with a circus, where he acted as a conjurer, a clown
and a ventriloquist. He made a specialty of the rope-tying business
and performed occasionally with handcuffs, but without sensational
results. Finally the circus landed in Rhode Island and opened up in
a town where Sunday performances were forbidden by law, but were
greatly desired by a large section of the population. As the fine was
light, the proprietor ran the risk, and gave a show on the Sabbath. A
summons followed, and each member of the troupe was fined. As Houdini
epigrammatically put it: “The manager couldn’t find the fine, so we
all found ourselves in confinement.” Houdini was locked up in a cell
with a number of side-show freaks, the fat lady, the living skeleton,
and the German giant. The fat lady was too wide for the compartment,
the giant too long. With tears in their eyes they emplored Houdini to
pick the lock and let them out. Finally the young conjurer consented,
and dexterously picked the lock, whereupon he and his companions
{305} marched out of the jail in triumph, and paraded down the main
street of the town in Indian file, to the great amusement of the
populace. Houdini was rearrested on the charge of jail-breaking,
but the judge let him off with a reprimand. This event decided his
career. He became a “Handcuff King.”

[Illustration: HARRY HOUDINI

(The Handcuff King)]

His salary at the Alhambra Theatre, London, was $300 a week. One week
at St. Petersburg, Russia, netted him over $2,000. He appeared before
royalty. {306}

[Illustration: HARRY HOUDINI, IN HANDCUFFS AND CHAINS]

The handcuff act when exhibited with the proper _mise en scène_
is certainly very mystifying and calculated to produce a profound
impression on the minds of susceptible people. Taking the cue from
the Davenport Brothers, Houdini might have advertised himself as a
spirit medium, thereby creating a great sensation. But he preferred
not to play the charlatan. I am not personally acquainted with his
method of working the trick, therefore I express no opinion on the
subject, except to say that the locks of the handcuffs are _picked_
with a key of some {307} kind which is adroitly secreted about the
person of the performer; or some soft piece of iron or copper wire
which can be converted into a skeleton key. In the event of his
being stripped naked (as often occurs in the case of Houdini) the
key is probably hidden in the nose, ear, mouth, or bushy hair of the
Handcuff King—or else slipped to him by a confederate, or concealed
in a pocket in the drapery of the cabinet. I quote the following from
the _Strand Magazine_ (Sept., 1903):

“For a man fettered with handcuffs, leg-irons, and chains to free
himself in less time than it has taken to fasten him has long been
so mystifying a performance that many people have acquired the
impression that it bordered on the supernatural. The secret is,
however, like many of the best tricks ever invented, in reality a
surprisingly simple one.

[Illustration: FIG. 1—THE PERFORMER FASTENED WITH SIX PAIRS OF
HANDCUFFS.]

“In the first place, it must be remembered that handcuffs such as are
used by Scotland Yard are constructed with spring-locks, which are
fastened or released by means of a key, or some article which answers
the same purpose, which pulls back the spring. Without the aid of
such a key it is impossible for any human being to free himself from
the regulation handcuffs employed by the police. And herein lies the
whole {308} secret—the performer _has_ a key, or rather several
keys. All his ingenuity is exercised in concealing these about his
person, or inside the cabinet to which he retires to release himself
after being, to all appearances, helplessly secured.

“Some of these keys are concealed in the framework of the cabinet,
which is generally constructed of piping, having additional pieces
which appear to be essential portions of the framework, but which in
reality are only intended to hold the keys. Other keys the performer
keeps disposed about his person in sundry small pockets especially
made for the purpose, and so arranged that he is able to place his
hand upon some one or other of them in whatever position he may be.
The best places for concealment are—first, a pocket between the
knees, to permit the key to be reached when the performer is fastened
in a crouched position; secondly, a pocket about six inches up inside
the leg of the trousers; thirdly, a key carried in the hip pocket of
the trousers, for use when pinioned with the arms behind the back;
and finally, a small pocket inside the top of the waistcoat, or
wherever it may be found convenient.

[Illustration: FIG. 2—THE HANDKERCHIEF AND KEY DRAWN FROM THE
WAISTCOAT.]

[Illustration: FIG. 3—UNLOCKING THE HANDCUFFS WITH THE KEY.]

{309}

“Let us now turn to the photographs, which have been especially taken
for this article, and which render the whole proceeding very clear.
In Fig. 1 the performer is fastened with six pairs of handcuffs. In
such a position it seems impossible that he can free himself; but
by putting his hands over his head and down his coat collar he has
caught the end of a silk handkerchief thrust into the breast of his
waistcoat, to which a key is attached. Fig. 2 shows the handkerchief
and key drawn to the front; while Fig. 3 shows the key inserted in
the lock.

[Illustration: FIG 4—METHOD OF USING THE KEY WHEN OUT OF REACH OF THE
FINGERS.]

“Fig. 4 shows the method employed when the position is such that it
is impossible, owing to the awkwardness of the attitude, to pull the
lock back. A piece of violin string is made into a loop and kept
inside the cabinet. When it is impossible to draw the key, and with
it the lock spring, with the fingers, the loop is put over the key,
the heel of the boot placed {310} in the other end of the loop, and
the lock is then easily drawn back. After one pair has been opened
the others follow as a matter of course.

“Figs. 5 and 6 show another position, the key this time being
obtained from the waistcoat. Fig. 7 shows one of the most difficult
positions in which it is possible to be placed. The silk handkerchief
shown is just peeping from the waistcoat, and is brought out by the
aid of the tongue, it being possible to draw out a good silk by
licking it. In Fig. 8 the performer has rolled over and obtained a
good hold of the handkerchief, which, by a quick jerk of the head,
he throws over his back, and eventually gets hold of it with his
hands, as shown in Fig. 9. If the key falls to the floor he rolls
over and picks it up, the rattle of the handcuffs hiding the sound
of the falling key. His next movement is to free his hands from his
feet, which he does in the manner already described. The key for this
position can also be obtained from the leg of the trousers.

[Illustration: FIGS. 5 AND 6—ANOTHER POSITION, THE KEY BEING OBTAINED
FROM THE WAISTCOAT.]

[Illustration: FIG. 7—ONE OF THE MOST DIFFICULT POSITIONS.

(The performer is drawing out the handkerchief with his tongue.)]

[Illustration: FIG. 8—THE HANDKERCHIEF AND KEY DRAWN OUT.]

[Illustration: FIG 9—THE HANDKERCHIEF THROWN OVER THE BACK AND THE
KEY CAUGHT BY THE HAND.]

“Fig. 10 shows the implements of torture and the condition of the
performer’s wrists after an exhibition. The special keys {312} are
split with a saw about half an inch down, to allow for variation in
the sizes of various locks (Fig. 11). It should be understood that
an expert, when about to give a performance, inquires what position
it is intended to place him in. He then causes, as an introduction,
a few pairs of his own handcuffs to be placed on his wrists, and
while freeing himself from these in his cabinet he arranges his
keys to suit the position in which he will next be placed. Other
implements besides keys are also used: a piece of bent wire is often
quite sufficient. Most experts are also conjurers, and ‘palm’ the
key, especially in the case of a nude test, when they are stripped
and locked up in a cell; or they make use of a concealing key, which
is made telescopic, the handle being constructed to close down the
side of {313} the key, and the whole being fixed under the toes by a
piece of shoemaker’s wax and detached when inside the cell.

[Illustration: FIG. 10—THE PERFORMER AND HIS IMPLEMENTS.

(Showing the Condition of the Wrists after an Exhibition.)]

[Illustration: FIG. 11—VARIOUS KINDS OF KEYS]

“Although, when the secret is explained, it seems very easy to
accomplish, it must be understood that it is necessary for a
successful performer to possess very hard, strong wrists and
abundance of finger strength, and to be a man of some resource. It
is almost impossible for any person to fasten an expert securely
unless he himself understands the secret of the method of escape,
and even then he may not be successful. On one occasion a performer
underwent a severe test by a person who understood the secret, and
therefore did not use any keys whatever, but by a very ingenious
method overcame the efforts of the gentleman in question to fasten
him. He obtained some very small gold-filled wire and made it into
the form of a wire ring, which was partly covered by a broad gold
one, to which the wire ring was attached. Thus prepared he underwent
the test, unwrapping the wire ring when in the cabinet. Needless to
state, in a very short time he was free.

“Handcuffs are sometimes brought to fetter the performer with the
locks plugged or otherwise tampered with. But it is the performer’s
own fault if he is trapped. It is a very easy matter to tamper with
the locks—a few lead pellets dropped {314} down the barrel will
effectually prevent the lock from being drawn. This method has often
been attempted, but not successfully.

“Now that the methods have been explained and illustrated, it will be
very easily perceived that there is nothing supernatural about the
secret of handcuff manipulation.”

Houdini is not only a Handcuff King, but a skillful performer with
cards. When too many imitators shall have made his specialty a drug
on the market, he can take to some other branch of conjuring. He
has a very fine trunk illusion which he often combines with his
handcuff act. For seven years past he has been collecting data for
an extensive biographical encyclopedia of magicians. In his travels
on the continent of Europe he has visited the homes and haunts of
famous conjurers of the past and secured valuable material for his
prospective book. Thanks to this interesting man, photographs of the
tombs of Robert-Houdin and Bosco have been made, and considerable
light thrown on their careers. In a letter to me, October 9, 1905,
he says: “When in Russia, I searched in vain for the grave of the
fascinating Pinetti—that prestidigitateur _par excellence_ of the
eighteenth century—but, alas, my labors were not rewarded. But in
St. Petersburg I picked up an exceedingly rare portrait of Pinetti,
which I prize highly and which will form the frontispiece to my book
on magicians.” Houdini is a reincarnation of Sir Walter Scott’s
Old Mortality, who went about furbishing up the tombstones of the
illustrious dead of his faith. When at home (New York City), Harry
Houdini lives among his books and curios. He has also a handsome farm
in Massachusetts. Houdini’s brother, under the stage name of Hardeen,
is also a handcuff expert.


X.

In this review of magicians I have met, I must not fail to mention
Charles Edwin Fields of the Royal Aquarium and Crystal Palace,
London, England. This veteran of the wand was born in London, May 15,
1835, and received a good education at private academies in England
and France. He has appeared before royalty and instructed hundreds of
people in {315} the mystic art. In the days when magic literature
was sparse, Prof. Fields obtained large sums of money from wealthy
amateurs for the secrets of tricks. Alas, the golden age of wizardry
has passed. Magic is an “open secret.” The Professor’s occupation is
gone.

I come now to François de Villiers, the French illusionist, who is an
excellent performer. He is able to invest the simplest parlor trick
with a halo of interest, thanks to his wit and bonhomie. He was born
in the Island of Malta, where Cagliostro went to work in the chemical
laboratory of the Grand Commander Pinto. De Villiers when but a
callow youth ran away from the parental home and joined a French
circus which happened to be touring the Island of Malta. He wandered
all over the continent of Europe with the knights of the sawdust
circle, playing many parts, acrobat, clown and conjurer. Finally he
took up magic as a profession.

De Villiers next drifted to India, where he became a subject of the
British crown. Being of an adventurous nature, he joined a cavalry
regiment and wore the khaki of the Queen. When his term of enlistment
had expired, he went to Spain and fought valiantly under the banner
of Don Carlos. Captured by the government forces, he was tried as
a rebel and condemned to be shot, but his sentence was commuted
to banishment, thanks to the timely intervention of the British
Ambassador, to whom he had appealed for aid. De Villiers is now a
naturalized citizen of the United States and his home is in New York
City.

Ziska is a magician of ability and possessed of much originality.
Assisted by Mr. King, he does an act in which magic is blended with
comedy. It is entitled “The Magician and His Valet.” The conjurer is
very clever and the valet very clumsy, but no exposés of the tricks
are made; Mr. Ziska is too much of an artist to permit that.

J. Warren Keane is a clever manipulator of cards and billiard balls.
He gives a pleasing act of magic.

Prof. Barney Ives is possessed of great originality. Some of his
inventions have become famous. In this respect he is a rival to the
celebrated Henry Hardin. {316}

De Biere and Stillwell are conjurers who are fast rising into
prominence. Stillwell is a handkerchief manipulator.

Next in line we have Malini, Fred Hurd, Hal Merton and Maro, all of
them clever magicians. Hurd’s rabbit and duck trick has to be seen
to be appreciated. Maro is not only an excellent illusionist, but
a musician and a crayon artist. Merton, a favorite in the lyceum
field, was at one time the editor of “Mahatma.” Malini’s forte is
cards, and he devotes most of his time to giving drawing-room and
club entertainments. Of late years he has made London his home. Among
the clever amateurs I have met may be mentioned Mr. Guy L. Baker, of
Buffalo, N. Y., and Mr. LeRoy McCafferty and Mr. John J. Allen, of
Washington, D. C. Mr. Baker is an excellent drawing-room conjurer and
the originator of a novel method of working the rising card trick
_à la_ de Kolta, by means of a clockwork apparatus in the body of
a small table. Mr. McCafferty is good at hanky-panky, particularly
with billiard balls; and Mr. Allen, an ardent student of the art of
deception, bids fair to become a good entertainer.


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Online LibraryHenry Ridgely EvansThe Old and the New Magic → online text (page 25 of 28)