Eugene V. (Eugene Valentine) Brewster.

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of thirteen, umbrellas are hung over every chair,
salt is spilled on every table, and so on, in defi-
ance of the laws of superstition.

Those foolish persons who believe in the silly
superstition "Thirteen at table, one of them sure
to die," should remember that if there are four-
teen at table, or more, the chances of one of them
dying soon are much greater than if there were
only thirteen, so that it is far safer to reduce the
number to thirteen!

Wonder is the effect of novelty upon ignorance,
it is said, but the ignorant are not the only ones
to wonder over novelty, and other things than
novelty cause wonder, such as want of familiar-
ity with common things met with every day.
Knowledge is the cure of both ignorance and
superstition, but of the love to wonder there ap-
pears to be no cure.

The reason we are so quick to believe in the
supernatural is that we are prone to discern in


it either good luck or bad luck — benefit or pun-
ishment. We are all governed by our passions —
principally Hope and Fear, and nothing is more
capable of creating those hopes and fears than
unrestrained credulity concerning the mysterious.
Everybody has doubtless seen those wonderful,
supernatural mind-readers at Coney Island, who
profess to be able to tell you your name. I lis-
tened to one of their dialogs recently, in which
a young lady and her companion were amazed
at having the magician look in their eyes and
read there their true names, fully convinced of
the supernatural powers of the operators. Guess-
ing at how it was done, my friend and I strolled
ofif, made a plan, returned, stopped in front of
the camp, and began a conversation in which I
addressed my friend as "William" — which was
not his name at all — and he called me "Wash-
ington," to all of which the several fakirs were
intently listening, though pretending not to. Just
as they thought they had enough to work upon
they approached us, and we yielded to their
entreaties. We were ushered into the mystic
chamber, there was some whispering among
them, and then we were dramatically ordered to
think intensely of our names, the chief fakir all
the while glaring tragicly into my friend's eyes.
"Ah, I has it," said he, gesticulating wildly,


"William!" he exclaimed, exultantly. "Wonder-
ful!" was our reply. Devoting his attention to
me, he appeared puzzled, but finally said: "You
no think; I no get name, but I tell you something
wonderful — I tell you what on your mind."
"Very well," said I, "that will do." And then
he put his greasy forefingers on my temples and
cried, "You think you have some washing done!"
If every spiritualist, astrologer, palmist, clair-
voyant, mind reader and fortune teller were com-
pelled by law to hang out a sign, "I am a pro-
fessor of tricks, magic, sleight-of-hand, legerde-
main, and tomfoolery; come in and match your
wits against mine!" they would still have many
customers; but, if everybody believed in signs,
there would be no harm done. But perhaps the
people would rather have it the other way, as it
is, so that they can nurse the delusion that "Per-
haps there may be something in it, after all."

Stage Tricks and Occultism

STAGE tricks are usually harmless, except
when played by fakirs who claim to be pos-
sessed of supernatural powers. There is a
large variety of these, such as spiritualists, slate-
writers, clairvoyants, telepathists and mind-read-
ers, who perform ordinary stage tricks under
the guise of occultism, and they deserve some-
thing more than mere exposure. Every operator
has his or her own particular method of per-
forming certain tricks, and it would be impos-
sible to explain in a brief article how each is
done; but it may be helpful to expose a few of
the more common ones. All of these tricks may
be accounted for as follows: Sleight-of-hand,
confederacy, ingenious contrivance, or the appli-
cation of some natural law, and most of the best
tricks are performed with the aid of two or more
of these. Had Hermann the Great, or Keller,
been dishonest, they could almost have had the
world at their feet, by maintaining that their
tricks were done through spirit or physic force;



but they were honest enough to admit that all
their feats were done by means of one or more
of the devices just mentioned. There is no slate-
writing trick, or materialization, or mind-read-
ing exhibition, that they could not have dupli-
cated, or even excelled; in fact, they did actually
duplicate and expose most of them. Had they
claimed that spirits or devils, aided them, a ma-
jority of the people would probably have be-
lieved it without question. Perhaps one reason
why more mediums, and such, are not exposed
and arrested, is because there is something grew-
some and awe-inspiring in the thought that pos-
sibly the on-looker is in the presence of the in-
habitants of another world; or, perhaps the feel-
ing of sadness, or of the sacredness of the occa-
sion, shuts ofip all sentiments of revenge, how-
ever doubtful he may be of the genuineness
of the exhibition. The fact that one by one prac-
tically all the great mediums have been exposed,
seems to make no difference, because in our anxi-
ety to learn if there is not some possible way to
get news of the departed loved ones, we reason
that because one, or a dozen, imposters have been
exposed, this particular one may be genuine,
and that there may possibly be something in it
after all.

Why is it that so many are willing to attribute


occult powers to all magicians who perform in-
explicable tricks? There is scarcely a person
who cannot do one or more card tricks which
will puzzle the most astute observer, but we do
not marvel because we know that they are
merely tricks; but let the trickster once announce
that he is a mind-reader or a hypnotist, and three
out of every five will accept the statement as
truth and not seek further to disprove it. Thus,
we are taught that credulity is a disease with
which most persons are afflicted, and that it is
very easy to fool the best of us. Those who are
so weak as to accept every mystery as a manifes-
tation of supernatural power, should obtain one
of the many books which can be had at any
library, and make a study of the art of legerde-
main. Then, when attending a spiritualistic
seance, or a slate-writing exposition, the student
will be able readily to detect the fraud and to
duplicate it for the amusement of his own

If every investigator would, before going to
a seance, buy one or more of the books, which
are on sale at every bookstore, showing how the
various stage tricks are done, there would not
be many spiritualists in the world. These books
sharpen the wits, and while they may not give
the precise methods adopted by the medium to


be visited, they will show how easy it is to de-
ceive the eye and to fool the best of us.

Much has been said of the wonderful tricks
of the fakirs in India, particularly of the Great
Mango Trick, and all kinds of supernatural
powers have been ascribed to these clever people.
In these exhibitions, the fakirs take a seed and
a pile of sand, and make a Mango tree grow, in
a few minutes, to the height of three or four feet.
The secret lies in the fact that the leaves and
twigs of the Mango are such that they can be
folded into a very small compass and rolled up
within the hollow seed, so that when they are
unrolled they do not show the slightest crease.
The fakir covers the whole with a cloth, and
operates beneath it, piling the dirt around it, and
exhibiting the building tree occasionally to his
astonished audience. Baldwin, "The White
Mahatma," has exposed this and many others of
the Indian tricks, in his book, "The Secrets of
Mahatma Land Explained."

Slate-writing tricks are done in a hundred dif-
ferent ways. Some operators carry a tiny point
of pencil under their thumb nail, some have
chemical compounds which render writing in-
visible until heated, or moistened, and some have
duplicate slates. The messages they write are


obtained in various ways, often by means of ac-
complices, and still oftener by guess-work.

Some mediums have a regular detective force
who make it a business to get acquainted with all
susceptible persons, or prospective customers,
and after getting a history of these persons, they
convey it to the medium, who only has to await
the coming of the victims to be able to make
startling revelations.

The mind readers also operate largely by
means of confederates, and most of the theatrical
performers have clever trappings. One of
these was exposed recently in a Long Island vil-
lage, when it was discovered that the operator
had several telephone wires running under the
floor of the theatre, from the rear of the stage.
In another instance, it was found that the sheets
of cardboard, which were passed around for the
audience to rest their papers upon, were sensi-
tized so that when they were collected and sub-
jected to chemical treatment they would make
visible the writing that had been done over them.
The questions asked were communicated to the
operator by an accomplice in the wings. An-
other method, adopted by those who claim to
read the numbers in watch cases, and to tell the
numbers on banknotes, is that of a code of signals
sent to the operator by a confederate in the audi-


ence. These codes are sometimes composed of
words, and sometimes of gestures and signals.

One noted spiritualist claimed to be able to
put the subject under a spirit influence and give
him superhuman strength. For instance, the sub-
ject would support his feet on two little stools,
and his hands upon two others, each pair of
stools being about five feet apart, and he would
then arch his body upward, in the form of a
bridge. A heavy anvil was then placed upon
his abdomen, and the operator would take a
huge sledge hammer and beat a piece of red hot
iron into a horseshoe. This was only an experi-
ment in inertia, and the heavy blows were hardly
felt by the man below, the effect of them being
almost absorbed by the large mass of iron. It
was also noticed that when heavy weights were
lifted at arm's length, they were so arranged as
to lie along the forearm, this position being more
graceful and about fifty per cent, easier. Leather
straps were broken around the chest, and this
was done by means of a sharp tongue to the
buckle, filed to an edge, which cut the strap with
slight pressure. (The audience eagerly examined
the strap in advance, but never thought of ex-
amining the buckle.) Heavy Jack-chains were
also broken by the subject, but these chains all
contained one weak link, of unwelded soft iron,


'which would stretch out when pulled in a cer-
tain direction. Pennies were broken with ease,
but these were, of course, prepared in advance,
by placing them in a vice and working them
back and forth many times until they became
soft in the middle.

Innumerable tricks are done by means of cans
and other vessels containing false bottoms, or
several compartments, and every stage where
magicians perform contains various trap doors
in the floor, mirrors, and other illusions. A
modern scheme is to have two rows of blinding
lights, before a black background, so that the
audience cannot see the machinery. By this con-
trivance, figures on the stage are made to float
in the air, and to do all kinds of apparently im-
possible things. One familiar performance has
a man at a piano rise in air and revolve rapidly,
all in full view — apparently — of the audience,
and another makes a lady dance in midair, and
take gigantic strides at enormous speed. These
tricks are done by means of machinery, concealed
from view by optical illusions, the lady having
an iron belt about her waist which connects with
the hidden machinery in the rear.

Another familiar trick is the appearance and
disappearance of a person into or from a box,
basket, coffin, and so on, also in full view of the


audience. It will usually be observed that these
are placed near to the back curtain, where it is
easy for a person to enter or exit through a se-
cret opening, but sometimes it is done through a
trapdoor in the floor. Once I had the pleasure
of assisting Hermann the Great at "Hermann's
Theatre" on Broadway, since burned down. I
went to his dressing room before the perform-
ance, and he gave me a tiny rabbit which I con-
cealed in my ulster pocket, and at the same time
several other confederates were given "props,"
such as silk hats, in which omelets were after-
wards made, and handkerchiefs with red moons
in the center, and red handkerchiefs with white
moons, which were afterwards used in the per-
formance by Hermann who cut a circle out of
the middle of a white handkerchief and one
from a red handkerchief, and afterwards pro-
duced out of the audience the handkerchiefs
aforesaid, much to the wonderment of the audi-
ence. The rabbit I held was the counterpart of
another which Hermann shot from a pistol on
the stage, and which was afterwards found in my
pocket, much to my apparent chagrin.

The art of magic, while by no means a lost
art, is not so popular now as formerly, yet it still
has a firm hold on human credulity. As Bar-
num used to say, "The people love to be hum-


bugged." Inborn in us is that love of the mar-
velous which caused our ancestors to believe in
astrology, sorcery and witchcraft. The stage ma-
gician is well aware of this, and as the old tricks
become familiar to their audiences, they soon
discover new methods to satisfy this natural pro-
pensity to crave mystery. Some good folks say
that all magic is bad, in that it is deceit and
treachery; but this seems rather a lame argu-
ment when it is remembered that the magician
practically tells his audience that he is going to
?ool them, and that he is merely matching his
dexterity against their quickness of perception.
The real harm and danger comes of the modern
tricks of magic, in which the magician pretends
that he is possessed of some supernatural powers,
such as spiritualistic manifestations, clairvoy-
ance, mind reading, slate-writing, etc. If the
real truth were known, these charlatans prob-
bably reason thus: "We are magicians, the peo-
ple love to be mystified, we can no longer enter-
tain them with the old tricks, they are ever ready
to believe that which they cannot understand,
the supernatural is always entertaining; and
since we must make a living some how, we will
perform our tricks and claim that they are of
supernatural origin." There is some logic in
this viev/, from their viewpoint, but from the


standpoint of us who see the danger in, and who
are trying to destroy, superstition, it is a practice
that should be suppressed.

In the introduction to Barnum's "Humbugs
of the World," the great showman says, "I once
travelled through the Southern States in com-
pany with a magician. The first day in each
town he astonished his auditors with his decep-
tions. He then announced that on the following
day he would show how each trick was per-
formed, and how every man might thus become
a magician. That expose spoiled the legerde-
main market on that particular route, for several
years. So, if we could have a full exposure of
the tricks of trade of all sorts, of humbugs and
deceivers of past times — religious, political,
financial, scientific, quackish and so forth — we
might perhaps look for a somewhat wiser gen-
eration to follow us."

Thus, we could go on at great length to show
how easy it is to deceive people. It is one of the
easiest things in the world to make up tricks to
fool the best of us, and all operators in occult
or physic phenomena know it. "Am I not to
believe what I see with my own eyes, and hear
with my own ears?" they all say, — at least ALL
who want to be convinced. The answer is, "No,
you are not."


ONE by one the great superstitions of the
world are slowly but surely disappear-
ing. It was not long ago when we, in
this new country of enlightenment, belived in
"witchcraft, and were burning witches at the
stake; but now it would take a long hunt to find
a man, woman or child who believed in that hor-
rible and disastrous superstition. The same is
almost true of "Ghosts^' for that word is now
used more in jest than in earnest; but to believe
in "apparitions" is not altogether of past cen-
turies, for there are still many who cling to the
delusion of supernatural appearances. The
modern way of putting it is "Spirits."

Authors, poets and dramatists of all ages,
?acred and profane, have made endless allusions
fo supernatural appearances, not only because
ghosts are convenient and entertaining charac-
ters to introduce, not only because writers natur-
ally tried to reflect the beliefs of the periods of
which they wrote, but because they could make a



deeper impression on the minds of a supersti-
tious world. Shakespeare makes fine use of the
Ghost in Hamlet and in Macbeth, just as Goethe
does of Mephistopheles in Faust. Not only is
fiction and the drama full of Ghosts, but there
are hundreds of volumes in the libraries giving
serious, and apparently "well-authenticated"
cases of supernatural appearances, Mrs.
Crowe's "Nightside of Nature" is probably the
classic of this line of literature — -at least, it ap-
pears to be quoted more than any other. The
author of Robinson Crusoe wrote "An Essay on
the History and Reality of Apparitions; being
an account of what they are and what they are
not, when they come and when they come not;
as also how we may distinguish between appari-
tions of Good and Evil Spirits, and how we
ought to behave to them; with a variety of sur-
prising and diverting examples never published

I have frequently been asked by believing
friends, "How do you account for this?" — fol-
lowing with, perchance, an elaborate account of
what the aunt's mother's sister's nephew once
saw. My answer has always been, and still is,
to those friends, to Mrs. Crovv^e, Daniel DeFoe
and all others, "I cannot account for what some-
body else saw, says he saw, or thinks he saw;


but let me see it and I will guarantee to give you
a reasonable explanation." John Ruskin says
somewhere that the greatest thing in this world
is to see something and to be able to tell simply
and accurately just what you saw, and nothing
else. There is the secret! I remember the first
time I saw Hermann the Great, and how I went
home and told everybody about the wonderful
trick he had performed. Of course, nobody
could tell me how it was done, for, from the
way I described it, it was an impossibility.
Sometime later I had occasion to meet Mr. Her-
mann in his dressing room, and I then learned
how the trick was done. How simple! I had
been duped and deceived. My eyes had not seen
aright. How different was the story I had told,
from the story Hermann told!

I have often thought, if Hermann had been in
the Ghost business, what harm could he not have

We all know what becomes of the bodies and
clothing of the dead. Of this there can be no
doubt. What becomes of the soul, the spirit,
nobody knows. Assuming that this does not die,
which seems probable, we know that it cannot
again live within the same body and apparel, for
that is destroyed. To assume that the spirit por-
cures a new and similar body and clothing, is


to assume the existence of material, physical mat-
ter in the spiritual world. Does it not require
quite a stretch of a sacreligious imagination to
picture a clothing factory in the spiritual world?
And yet, we are told that ghosts appear "in the
very clothes they used to wear." Mrs. Bar-
grave "took hold of Mrs. Veal's gown several
times" and recognized the velvet. (Drelincourt
on Death, 1700). We are also told of "rustling
of silk," "creaking of shoes" and "sounds of foot-
steps" (Footfalls on the Boundary of Another
World, Owen).

Even the voice is recognized, although the
various organs that produced the original voice
on earth have long since perished. We all seem
to have a notion that ghosts should be light, thin
and airy, but, it seems, there must be fat ghosts,
too. I remember at least one fat ghost, for I
yanked it into my lap in the middle of a highly
interesting seance at Mrs. Calder's, a famous
Ghost producer who once thrived in New York.
The ghost was alleged to be a famous Plymouth
church preacher whose name is too revered to
be mentioned in this connection.

Some Ghosts have even appeared in iron
armour, and some with walking sticks, swords or
shovels. People have heard, seen and felt all


these — the word felt might be used in a double
sense here, because one vicious ghost is said to
have delighted in thumping his hosts Vv^ith a cane
— so it can be assumed that such material things
as clothing, armour and canes are to be had in
the other world. And yet, ghosts are transpar-
ent! You can see right through them. They
disappear through a stone wall, through a car-
peted, oaken floor, and through a locked and
bolted door. You can shoot at them, run them
through with a sword, and you touch nothing.

Again, the same Ghost frequently appears in
many places at one and the same time. DeFoe
tells of the burglars who found the same ghost
in a chair in every room in the house at the
same moment. Still again, we have "well-
authenticated" cases of beggar Ghosts in rags,
of one-armed Ghosts, beheaded Ghosts, blind
Ghosts, hungry Ghosts, thirsty Ghosts, worried,
tormented and unhappy Ghosts, and wicked, re-
vengeful Ghosts. Is, then, the spirit world
(heaven), no improvement on our own world?
Mr. Kardec once asserted that we are sur-
rounded by "myriads of spirits — good, bad and
indifferent," which quite alarmed the author of
"Mary Jane," who feared accidents might hap-
pen among such a crowd of spirits. Mr. Baker,


it was, who set the author at ease, by explaining
that the spirits can walk through one another
and not feel it."

It is a wonder that, in a world so full of hum-
buggers, get-rich-quicksters, fakirs and delusion-
ists, greater effort has been made to profit by the
greatest of all passions. For every human weak-
ness we have a gold seeker, be it a Barnum,
Munyon, a Lydia Pinkham, a 520% Miller, a
Dowie, a Dis de Bar, or a Sister Fox. Some
want to be tall, some short, some fat, some thin,
some rich, some healthy, some beautiful, etc., etc.,
and there is always an army of fakirs, honest,
semi-honest and otherwise, ready to make them
so for a monetary consideration payable in ad-
vance. But, the greatest distress, the greatest
passion, the greatest longing and yearning, is for
the dead. What a tremendous army is the army
of the mourners! What a gold mine to the man
who can bring the mourner and the departed
together! Ghost makers do not necessarily mean
to defraud, nor do they always perform for
money. There are good and bad, as in all else,
and they sometimes fool themselves in their ef-
forts to fool others. The Imagination is a won-
derful organism. It is the greatest machine on
earth, because it can do the greatest things. But,



beware of it — it is not to be trusted; it will ex-
pand your credulity, undermine your reason, and
give you a taste of the delirium tremens — which
makes you see things!

Strikes^ Profiteering and the High
Cost of Living

Being an Argument in Favor of Industrialized


{Simplified for the Uninitiated.)

THE one great desire uppermost in the
minds of men is to get the greatest good
from the earth, the source of all wealth,
with the least possible labor and effort. In the
so-doing, both experience and reason teach that
economy is the watchword. It is the life blood
of civilization — the essence of industrial pros-
perity. The basis of all philosophy is "I want,"
and in the pursuit of happiness and con-
tentment, economy must be the watchword.




The destruction of the smallest useful atom is
an injury to every living person; and the more
useful the atom, the greater the injury. A great
fire, a flood, a devastating cyclone, is not only a

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Online LibraryEugene V. (Eugene Valentine) BrewsterWhat's what in America → online text (page 5 of 12)