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Ere I bring this chapter to a close I must not neglect to pay a
tribute to my old-time friend, Dr. Leonard Caughey, of Baltimore,
Md., the finest amateur conjurer, rope-tying and cabinet medium I
have ever met. A dentist by profession, he devoted his leisure time
to magic. He died some fifteen years ago in Washington, D. C. His
cousin, Mr. Charles M. Caughey, also an amateur prestidigitateur, is
at present United States Consul to Palermo, Sicily, the birthplace
of Cagliostro. From Dr. Caughey I received my first scientific
instruction in the art of palming and mediumistic marvels. I
owe him a debt of gratitude. In my little book “Hours With the
Ghosts” I have described some of my adventures with this admirable
amateur necromancer, who has passed from the lesser to the Greater
Mysteries. Long before Professor Hoffmann had written his great
treatise on “Modern Magic,” Dr. Caughey was thoroughly initiated
into all branches of magic, something unusual in those days, and
was giving splendid entertainments for churches, lyceums, etc. A
fine mechanic, he made most of his apparatus, some of it of a very
elaborate character. I imported Hoffmann’s {317} book from England
and showed it to him. He was paralyzed with astonishment at the
revelations contained in the volume and exclaimed, “The golden days
of magic are over. The _Götterdämmerung_ (Twilight of the Gods) has
come! The world will be as full of magicians as the Jersey coast is
of mosquitoes. The palmy days of Herrmann, Houdin and Heller are
ended.” His prophecy has been more or less fulfilled. The vail of
Isis is lifted and the mysteries of magic laid open to all who care
to delve in its literature and inform themselves. Alas, unscrupulous
professionals have contributed to this state of things by exposing
tricks on the stage for the benefit of the public at large. This is
indeed killing outright the goose that lays the golden eggs. Initiate
the _hoi polloi_ into the secrets of the cult, and magic will soon
be relegated to the parlor as an after-dinner amusement, unless some
absolutely original genius like Robert-Houdin or de Kolta arises and
recreates the art. The Society of British Magicians, known as “The
Magic Circle of Great Britain,” expels a member who wilfully exposes
any magical trick or illusion on the stage. The Society of American
Magicians comes out strongly against the reprehensible practice of
stage exposés, but as yet has taken no steps to expel members who
offend against the law. But that will doubtless come in time.

{318}




THE RIDDLE OF THE SPHINX.


“Thus they placed Sphinxes before the gates of their temples,
meaning by that to say that their theology contained all the secrets
of wisdom under an enigmatic form.”—MARIETTE: _Voyage dans la
Haute-Egypt_, Vol. II, p. 9.


I.

What is the meaning of this Egyptian Temple, transplanted from
the banks of the Nile to prosaic London? The smoke and grime have
attacked it and played sad havoc with its sandstone walls, painted
with many hieroglyphics. The fog envelops it with a spectral embrace.
No Sphinxes guard its portal. Alas, its glories have departed! But
stop a bit! There is a gentleman in evening dress, with a tall hat
pushed well back from his forehead, sitting in a small box-like
receptacle on one side of the colossal entrance, his face framed
in by a small window; and another man, similarly attired, standing
at an iron wicket leading into the sanctum sanctorum. The temple,
then, _is_ guarded by two up-to-date, flesh-and-blood Sphinxes in
swallow-tail coats and opera hats. Ah me, what a travesty on the
human-headed monsters of the land of Mizraim. See the long line of
worshipers waiting to obtain admission to the Mysteries. Has the cult
of Isis and Osiris been revived? The devotees deposit coins with
Sphinx No. 1 and receive from him yellow tickets in exchange, the
presentation of which to Sphinx No. 2 permits their entrance into the
temple.

What does it all mean?

Dear reader, this is Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, London, and the
people are crowding to see a conjuring exhibition by Colonel Stodare.
His Sphinx trick is the great attraction.

Stodare is dust long ago, and the Sphinx no longer a mystery. Its
riddle has been solved. {319}

[Illustration: THE SPHINX ILLUSION.

(From the English edition of Hoffmann’s _Magic_. London, 1877.)]

{320}

But let us rehearse its history.

The Sphinx illusion, which has formed the basis of nearly all tricks
performed by the aid of looking-glasses, was invented by Thomas
Tobin, of the Polytechnic Institution, London. Colonel Stodare, the
conjurer, had the honor of first introducing it to the world. The
“London Times” (October 19, 1865) describes it as follows:

“Most intricate is the problem proposed by Colonel Stodare, when, in
addition to his admirable feats of ventriloquism and legerdemain,
he presents to his patrons a novel illusion called the ‘Sphinx.’
Placing upon an uncovered table a chest similar in size to the cases
commonly occupied by stuffed dogs or foxes, he removes the side
facing the spectators, and reveals a head attired after the fashion
of an Egyptian Sphinx. To avoid the suspicion of ventriloquism, he
retires to a distance from the figure, supposed to be too great for
the practice of that art, taking his position on the border-line
of the stalls and the area, while the chest is on the stage. Thus
stationed, he calls upon the Sphinx to open its eyes, which it
does—to smile, which it does also, though the habitual expression
of its countenance is most melancholy, and to make a speech, which
it does also, this being the miraculous part of the exhibition.
Not only with perspicuity, but with something like eloquence, does
it utter some twenty lines of verse; and while its countenance is
animated and expressive, the movement of the lips, in which there is
nothing mechanical, exactly corresponds to the sounds articulated.

“This certainly is one of the most extraordinary illusions ever
presented to the public. That the speech is spoken by a human voice
there is no doubt, but how is a head to be contrived which, being
detached from anything like a body, confined in a case, which it
completely fills, and placed on a bare-legged table, will accompany
a speech, that apparently proceeds from its lips, with a strictly
appropriate movement of the mouth, and a play of the countenance
that is the reverse of mechanical? Eels, as we all know, can wriggle
about after they have been chopped into half a dozen pieces; but
a head that, like that of the Physician Douban, in the Arabian
tales, pursues its eloquence after it has been severed from the
body, scarcely comes within the reach of possibilities; unless,
indeed, the old-fashioned assertion that ‘King Charles walked and
talked half an hour after his head was cut off,’ is to be received,
not as an illustration of defective punctuation, but as a positive
historical statement.

“Davus might have solved the ‘Anthropoglossus,’ but Colonel Stodare
presents us with a Sphinx that is really worthy of an Oedipus.”


II.

Mr. Alfred Thompson, the well known theatrical manager, attended
one of Stodare’s performances at the Egyptian Hall, and was lucky
enough to penetrate the secret of the Sphinx. In {321} an article
contributed to the _New York Journal_, some twenty years ago, he
writes:

“I happened to rise in my seat. In a moment the whole illusion was
swept away, and all because of the lack of a silk handkerchief. As I
stood up my eye caught, hovering between two of the table legs, the
marks of two fingers, such marks as may often be seen on a mirror
when the light falls at a certain angle upon it.

[Illustration: COLONEL STODARE.]

“Those two finger marks, though close to the carpet, gave me the
key to the riddle of the Sphinx. In my mental photograph I saw the
confederate kneeling behind the table, his head passing through
superposed apertures, one in the top of the table, the other in the
bottom of the box. The figure was concealed from view by two mirrors
of pure silver-plated glass, set at such an angle as to reflect
either side of the room (on the stage) in such a way that what to
the eye was evidently the back of the same room seen beneath and
beyond the table, was really only a reproduction of those sides
visible in the mirrors between the legs of the table. {322}

“This Sphinx was the sensation of London for weeks following,
and having occasion to go to Paris a few days later, I offered
the secret to Robert-Houdin’s successor, Hamilton, who, however,
refused my terms until he knew the trick. This delay of his was much
regretted by him, for some other speculator produced the secret some
three months later and made a colossal sensation in Paris with his
‘Decapite Parlant.’

“In the same year I introduced the illusion for the first time on
the stage in the celebrated spectacle of ‘Babil and Bijou’ at Covent
Garden Theatre. In the ballet of ‘The Seasons’ Mlle. Henriette Dor,
one of the most poetical dancers ever seen, appeared as the White
Rose, and I designed a large rose bud on its stalk, which, coming
up through the bed of summer flowers, blossomed wide until from its
open petals the beautiful Dor rose up, apparently materializing as
she issued from the calix on the stalk. The ballet girls were so
arranged in groups around three sides (not in front) as to aid the
deception by their adjusted reflections in the mirrors.

“Practically it was the same trick—two mirrors at a right angle and
a trap door. This curious trick was never improved on. It was added
to and altered at the Polytechnic, where, among other adaptations
of the same principle, was shown an animated tableau of Sir Joshua
Reynolds’ famous cherubs. Three cherubs’ heads appeared in a moonlit
sky, floating, and sang in sweet child voices the verses of an
anthem.

“Curiously enough I met the original Sphinx not three years ago
in the person of a business manager who had been Stodare’s agent,
and only three months back one of those very cherubs in Mr. Fred
Solomon, the comedian, who was then a chorister at the Chapel Royal,
and who was threatened with all sorts of tortures if he let the cat
or the cherub out of the bag.”


III.

One of the best explanations of the Sphinx is given by Professor
Hoffmann in his work on magic. I quote as follows from him:

“For the benefit of those who have never seen this illusion
presented upon the stage, we will describe its effect a little
more minutely. The Sphinx is always made a separate portion of the
entertainment, as it is necessary to lower the curtain for a few
moments before and after its appearance, in order to arrange and
remove the necessary preparations. The curtain rises, and reveals
a round or oval table, supported upon three slender legs, and
utterly devoid of drapery. This stands in a curtained recess of
ten or twelve feet square, open on the side towards the audience.
The performer comes forward bearing a cloth covered box, fifteen
to twenty inches square, and places it upon the table already
mentioned. He then unlocks the box, the front of which drops down,
so as to give a perfect view of the interior, in which is seen
a head of Egyptian fashion, and colored in perfect imitation of
life. The performer now retires to a position in the very midst
of the audience, and raising his wand, says in a tone of command,
‘Sphinx, awake!’ The Sphinx slowly opens its eyes, looking first to
the front with a strong {323} gaze; then, as if gradually gaining
consciousness, to the one side and the other, the head moving
slightly with the eyes. Questions are put by the performer to the
head, and are answered by it, the play of the mouth and features
being in perfect harmony with the sounds uttered. Finally, in answer
to a query of the operator, the Sphinx declaims a neatly turned
oracle in verse. This concludes the exhibition, and the performer
closes the box. Should the audience call for an encore, the
performer addresses them to the following or some similar effect:

“ ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I am glad that the Sphinx has afforded
you satisfaction, and I should be only too pleased to be able to
indulge the desire which you kindly testify of seeing it again.
Unfortunately, this is not possible. The charm by which I am
enabled, as you have seen, to revivify for a space the ashes of an
ancient Egyptian, who lived and died some centuries ago, lasts but
for fifteen minutes. That time has now expired, and the head which
has astonished you with its mysterious eloquence has again returned
to its original dust.’ As he speaks the last words, he again opens
the box, and the head is found to have disappeared, leaving in its
place a handful of ashes.

[Illustration: FIG. 1.]

[Illustration: FIG. 2.]

“This singular illusion depends upon the well-known principle,
common to optics as to mechanics, that the ‘angle of reflection is
equal to the angle of incidence.’ Thus, if a person standing at the
point _a_, in Fig. 1, look into a mirror placed in the position
indicated by the line _b c_, he will see reflected, not himself,
but whatever object may be placed at the point _d_. By an ingenious
application of this principle a looking-glass may be used to conceal
a given object behind it, while at the same time an image reflected
in the glass may be made to represent what would be presumably seen
if no glass were there, and thus prevent the presence of the mirror
from being suspected. This is the secret of the Sphinx. The table,
as already mentioned, has three legs, one in front, and one at each
side. Between these legs the spectator sees apparently the curtains
at the back of the recess, but really a reflection of the curtains
at the sides. The space between the middle leg and that on either
side is occupied by pieces of looking-glass (see Fig. 2, which
represents a ground plan of the arrangements), extending from _a_
to _b_, and _a_ to _c_. The glass extends quite down to the floor,
which is covered with cloth of the same material and color as the
surrounding curtains. The {324} spectators, therefore, looking
towards the table, see above it the curtains at the back, and below
it the reflection of the curtains at the sides; which, however, if
the relative angles are properly arranged, appears to be simply
the continuation or lower portion of the curtains at the back. The
illusion is perfect, and the spectator, from the position assigned
to him, cannot possibly discover, by the evidence of his senses,
that he is looking at any other than an ordinary bare-legged table,
with the background visible in the usual way.

“The rest is a very simple matter. The person who is to represent
the Sphinx is beforehand placed, duly attired, underneath the table.
There is a trap in the table through which he can pass his head at
the proper moment. This trap is a round piece of wood, covered to
match the surface of the table, and working on a hinge on the side
nearest to the audience. It has no spring, but is kept closed by
means of a button on the opposite side, and when released hangs down
perpendicularly. It must be large enough to allow the passage of
the somewhat elaborate headpiece of the Sphinx, and would therefore
leave an open space visible round the neck. This difficulty is met
by the expedient of having a wooden collar, the upper surface of
which is a facsimile in size and pattern of the trap. This collar is
fastened round the neck of the representative of the Sphinx. When
he lifts his head up through the trap, the collar exactly fills
the opening, and thus shows no break in the surface of the table.
The box is bottomless, and when brought forward by the performer
is empty. A little caution has to be observed in placing it upon
the table, for, if the performer were to approach the table _from
the side_, his legs would be reflected in the glass, and would
thereby betray the secret. He must therefore make his appearance
from some quarter _outside_ of the curtained recess, and advance to
a position well in front of, and at some little distance from the
table, when, by moving in a straight line from the audience towards
the middle leg _a_, he prevents this inconvenient reflection. The
placing the box upon the table, and the unlocking it, allow time
for the representative of the Sphinx to get his head into position
within it. This done, the box is opened, and the rest depends on the
dramatic talent of the performer and his assistant. The performance
being concluded, the box is again locked, and the head withdrawn, a
handful of ashes being introduced on the trap in its stead.

“The angle at which the two mirrors should be set cannot be
determined absolutely, but will vary according to the distance and
position of the surrounding drapery.”

The above method is generally employed in working the Sphinx
illusion, but it differs in one respect from that used by Colonel
Stodare. In the Colonel’s presentation of the trick, the box was not
_bottomless_. It had a trap in it corresponding with a similar trap
in the top of the table. Stodare carried the mystic chest to the “run
down” after the lid was closed, and then, by his ventriloquial power,
caused a muffled voice to issue from the receptacle, presumably that
of the Sphinx. Thus the spectators were led to believe that the head
was still in the {325} box, and that the table had nothing whatever
to do with the trick. On opening the chest great was the surprise
of everyone to behold the head completely vanished, the heap of
ashes having taken its place. This was a very clever bit of _mise en
scène_, and showed what an artist Stodare was.

And now for a word or two concerning the career of the clever
producer of the Sphinx. Colonel Stodare never smelt powder nor
directed the manœuvres of a regiment of red coats. His title was
self-assumed, to bedazzle the English public. He never wielded any
weapon save a wooden wand tipped with ivory. But he did that to
perfection. His real name was Alfred Inglis. Little or nothing is
known of his early life and education. His first appearance was at
the Egyptian Hall, London, on Easter Monday, April 17, 1865, when he
introduced, for the first time in England, those celebrated illusions
of Hindostan, the “Mango Tree” and the “Indian Basket.” It was on
the occasion of his two-hundredth consecutive representation at the
aforesaid hall that Stodare introduced the “Sphinx” trick, which at
once attracted crowds. On Tuesday evening, November 21, 1865, he had
the honor to appear before Queen Victoria, at Windsor Castle, on the
occasion of the birthday of H. R. H. the Princess Royal, afterwards
the Empress Frederick of Germany. Stodare died of consumption in
1866. He wrote two small treatises on magic: _The Art of Magic_
(1865) and _Stodare’s Fly-notes_ (1866).


IV.

The inventor of the Sphinx, Mr. Tobin, sold the secret to M.
Talrich, of Paris, the proprietor of a wax-works exhibition on the
Boulevard de la Madeline. Talrich called his collection of figures
the Musée Français. Impressed with the success of Madame Tussaud’s
“Chamber of Horrors,” in connection with her wax-works exhibition in
London, Talrich transformed the “Talking Head” into the “Decapitated
Speaker.” His presentation of the illusion was calculated to strike
terror in the mind of the observer. Underneath his museum was a
damp and mouldy cellar, which he fitted up for the exhibition. The
visitor was conducted down a stairway, dimly lighted by a couple
of antique {326} lamps suspended from the vaulted roof. When he
reached the bottom he was suddenly confronted with a group of wax
figures representing a scene under the Inquisition. Every detail of
a torture chamber was given, such as is described by Victor Hugo in
his _Notre Dame de Paris_. The cowled emissaries of the Holy Office
were depicted in the act of putting a wretched victim to the torture.
The light from a flambeau, held by one of the figures, illumined
the ghastly scene. In this uncertain light everything was horribly
majestic. Pushing onward and turning to the right, “the spectator
passed through a dimly-lighted corridor, and found himself in front
of a balustrade, breast-high, which extended across the entrance
of a narrow recess. In the middle of this gloomy cellar, the floor
of which was carpeted with musty straw, was seen a table, on which
rested a human head, leaning slightly to one side and apparently
asleep. On being addressed by the exhibitor the head raised itself,
opened its eyes, and related its own history, including the details
of its decapitation, after which it replied, in various languages, to
questions put by those present.”

One day a party of young students, out for a lark, began shooting
bread pellets at the head, in order to test whether it had entirely
lost all sensation. The Decapitated One, in his wrath, abused them
soundly, in language that savored more of modern Paris than the days
of the Inquisition. This affair got noised abroad, and gay young
boulevardiers made up regular parties to go and shoot pellets at
the head; this amusement they called “pop-gun practice.” Some of
these pellets, not so well “bred” (pardon the pun) as others, struck
certain portions of the table which were apparently open, but from
which they rebounded, clearly indicating that the supposed vacant
space was really a sheet of looking-glass. M. Talrich then put a
close-meshed wire grating between the spectators and their victim,
but alas! the secret of the Inquisition was disclosed, and the palmy
days of the Musée Francais were over. Says Houdin: “The cause of M.
Talrich’s failure was the same that brought disaster to the Brothers
Davenport. Too great confidence in the Parisian public led both
parties to offer what, after all, were but ingenious conjuring tricks
as supernatural phenomena.” {327}


V.

A few years ago, the eminent English novelist, H. Rider-Haggard,
evolved from his elastic imagination a weird and wonderful romance of
Darkest Africa, called “She, who must be obeyed.” It was redolent of
magic and mystery. The beautiful sorceress, “She,” a damsel of Greek
descent, had lived for centuries in the heart of Africa, ruling over
generations of black subjects with an iron despotism, and subduing
them by her necromantic power. She was worshiped as a goddess. Her
immortality upon earth was due to the rejuvenating effects of the
mystic fire of Kor, into which she plunged and renewed her youth at
certain periods. Balling in love with a young English explorer, who
had succeeded in penetrating into her realm, the Rosicrucian spell
was broken, and the beautiful “She” shriveled up and expired in
agony while attempting to bathe in the flames of Kor. The scene, as
depicted by the novelist, is very awe-inspiring. The book had a great
vogue in its day, and was dramatized with fine effect.

[Illustration: “SHE.” FIG. 1.]

[Illustration: “SHE.” FIG. 2.]

“Have you seen ‘She’?” was the apparently ungrammatical question
asked by theatre-goers.

Finally, the conjurer, always ready to seize upon the fads and
fancies of the day to make capital out of them, took the chief
_motif_ of Rider-Haggard’s romance, and built upon it one {328} of
the very best illusions in the domain of magic, called “She.” I have
understood that the inventor of “She” was the Chevalier Thorne. In
this act, a young lady, garbed as the witch of the Dark Continent,
was cremated in full view of the audience. It was the Sphinx trick
over again, but in a more ingenious shape. The lady mounted a
bare-legged table, whereupon an asbestos canopy was lowered over her,
so that she was completely concealed from the audience. Suddenly
flames and smoke poured forth from beneath the canopy. The shrieks
of the victim were heard. When the cover was raised, nothing was to
be seen except a blackened skull and some charred bones—the lady
was presumably cremated. In another version of the trick, the skull
and bones were dispensed with, and the lady reappeared in a private
box or came running down the center aisle of the theatre, after the
canopy was lifted.

Now for an explanation of the illusion.

The spectators saw an innocent-looking table with four legs, and
beneath it, supported by a central rod, four supports holding lighted


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