Houdini’s Escapes and Magic


Editorial review of Houdini’s Escapes and Magic, courtesy of Amazon.com

Houdini's Escapes and Magic, by Walter GibsonThe secrets of the greatest magician of them all are revealed in this new one-volume edition of two classic long-out-of-print works, Houdini’s Escapes and Houdini’s Magic. Prepared by Walter Gibson after Houdini’s death in 1926, from the magicians private notebook and memoranda, and with the assistance of his widow, Beatrice, and his friend and attorney, Bernard M. L. Ernst, then President of the Society of American Magicians, these books provide the most complete description available of Houdini’s feats and how he performed them. Read More…

The Book of Secrets

The Book of Secrets: Miracles Ancient and Modern, by Walter B. Gibson


The Book of Secrets: Miracles Ancient and Modern, by Walter B. GibsonMany people have heard of Walter B. Gibson — best known as the author of “The Shadow,” a prolific writer.  What is less known is that he worked as a ghostwriter for Houdini, Howard Thurston, and Harry Blackstone Sr. He was a lifelong lover of the art of magic, an amateur magician and historian who was the first vice president of the Magician’s Guild of America.  In The Book of Secrets he combines these interests, writing about famous magic illusions of the ancient world, as well as some more modern. Read More…

Conjuring Among the Menomini Indians

Conjuring Among the Menomini Indians
By Walter James Hoffman

The following are excerpts from Walter Hoffman’s report on the Menomini Indians of Northern Minnesota found in the Fourteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution 1892-1893. This almost 300 page report contains a detailed discussion of the ceremonies and ritual magic of the shamans among the Menomini and other tribes. The author was invited to attend several initiation ceremonies to the Mitawit or Grand Medicine Society. He also discussed reports on ritual magic among different Indian tribes. Read More…

Mr. Macallister in Boston

From Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion, 1851

This so called “Wizard of the Age” came among us a few seeks since quite unheralded, and in the most quite manner put up his magical apparatus at the Boston Theatre, Federal Street, where he has ever since been performing, aided by this wife, to a series of the largest assemblies probably, that have ever convened within that house. There has been no evening that parquette, boxes and galleries have not been filled to overflowing, and with an audience that has universally retired highly delighted and amused with the unique and puzzling character of the entertainments. It would be impossible for us to enter into a detailed account of the elaborate and amusing experiments that are nightly performed by Mr. Macallister: but suffice it to say, that they are of the most unexceptionable character, and calculated to interest, amuse and delight, without in any way offending the delicacy of his audience. Our artist has given us herewith a very excellent picture of his utensils and automaton figures, as they appear on the rising of the curtain to the audience. The immediate feat represented as being performed by the wizard is that known as the shawl trick, wherein he produces a whole brood of hens, chickens, ducks, pigeons, lap-dogs, etc., from out of a shawl borrowed from one of the audience, and this too, without going near any place of concealment, or any assistant of his company. But this is only one of his very curious and unaccountable representations, which to be appreciated must be seen. Probably no artist of his school ever visited Boston, whose mechanical arrangements were so perfect, and whose instruments and accessories are so elaborate and fine as Mr. Macallister’s. We are gratified to see that he is reaping a golden harvest by this efforts to please. We should not fail to mention that Mr. Macallister is assisted by his wife, who is a most important auxiliary to him in the execution of his deeds of necromancy. She is dressed modestly, thought in male attire, and attracts much interest and attention by her pleasing manners and prompt enacting of the part entrusted to her skill. To her husband, she is invaluable as a most adroit assistant.

Macallister, The Celebrated Wizard and Magician

Macallister, The Celebrated Wizard and Magician

(Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion, Vol. I, No. 27, November 1, 1851, Boston )

The Marvelous Creations of Joseffy

The Marvelous Creations of Joseffy
By David P. Abbott

The Open Court Publishing Company, Chicago 1908


Joseffy Freud

Joseffy Freud

Were the public at large to become thoroughly instructed in the means by which magicians perform their effects, the noble art of magic would disappear. It can exist only by there being suitable subjects, upon whose minds the performer can produce his illusions. Any advance in the knowledge of magic made by such subjects, necessitates a corresponding advance in the art by the performer.

Of late there has been considerable publication of the secrets of magicians, which has reached the public at large. There has also been a certain amount of exposing, conducted from the stage, by persons who could not earn their salaries by the legitimate presentation of the art.

Accordingly, any pronounced advance in the art has been welcomed by magicians generally. Performers are continually looking for improvements in their art, and are diligently searching for new principles of which they can make use. Some recent important advances in the art, are the subject of this article.

When such apparent marvels as I am going to describe can be accomplished by the magician who uses nothing supernatural, and who claims nothing of the kind. it should be a lesson to all in credulity. That the usually clumsy tricks of so-called mediums should he attributed to the supernatural, certainly seems an absurdity, after witnessing such marvels as we are now to describe.

Certainly, if the performance of a medium requires the assumption of the supernatural on account of the mystery, then this far more mysterious appearing performance requires the same assumption in a far greater degree. This we know is an absurdity, for even the performer makes no claims to the supernatural.

The performances of magicians are usually along well defined lines. They are well exemplified by those of the late Alexander Hermann with whose work most readers are familiar. The great magicians of this day are of that type, and their performances are based on principles well known to conjurers. These principles which underlie the art consist in adroit substitutions, the misdirection of the spectator’s attention at the vital moment, the use of invisible threads worked by concealed assistants, some mechanical contrivances, etc.

Occasionally some performer is able to add a new principle or a new trick to the stock of those already employed by performers. The growth of the art has been slow, and a gradual process of evolution: although occasionally some new star has appeared above the horizon, who was of such undoubted genius that he was able to revolutionize or greatly change the magic of his day.

Of this class was Robert-Houdin, whose original productions are well known to readers of magical literature, and whose improvements were so sweeping that he may rightly be called “the father of modern magic.”

At a later date the great De Kolta appeared. He was a great originator: and by copying his ideas as best they could, other magicians were enabled to add many new things to the conjurer’s art. De Kolta, however, always refused to divulge his best secrets. At his death they perished with him. A committee of conjurers called on his widow and offered her a large sum for his secrets: but she positively refused to divulge a single one: and she is said to have concealed or destroyed all of her husband’s apparatus. Thus some of the greatest secrets of the art passed from the earth and perished with De Kolta.

His mysterious cube illusion was the greatest mystery to the magicians of his day: and they could in no way discover, or buy the secret. It has been the dream of conjurers ever since that time to re-create that illusion: but it has never been accomplished until the present day. Further on, I shall describe this illusion, and shall also describe that great improvement upon it which has lately been perfected by an originator of undoubted genius. De Kolta also originated the flowers, of which the ones used by conjurers of to-day are supposed to be copies : but this is only a surmise: for De Kolta never revealed the secret of his flowers, and his wonderful flower trick.

Of late there has appeared in the firmament of magic a new star whose brilliancy has attracted considerable notice. This originator calls himself ” Joseffy.” It is his creations that are the subject of this article. In the opinion of the writer Joseffy is among the best originators since Robert Houdins day. To be sure he started where Houdin, and later De Kolta, left off; but he has certainly reached a high degree of perfection in his particular line.

Who is Joseffy? He is Mr. Freud an Austrian who was born in Vienna. He is a man with a scientific trend of mind, a splendid violinist, and a master of six languages and five trades.

To be sure, Joseffy has in many instances obtained his original ideas from other sources: but the perfected forms of his illusions are certainly original with him. I am not at liberty to reveal the secrets of his strange creations. even in the limited degree of which I am capable. I may also say that many conjurers are puzzled as to certain of his effects. I do not mean to disparage the performances of other conjurers: but merely to say that the creations of Joseffy are in a class by themselves.

In describing some of his creations, I shall describe some similar illusions as heretofore performed and give the secrets of the latter: and the reader can then see wherein lies the particular superiority of Joseffy’s productions.

Joseffy traveled all over Europe when quite youthful, and came to this country when nineteen years of age. When he first came he lived in a quiet way, did not push himself forward and was not heard of by magicians at large. He devoted some of his time to manufacturing apparatus for a certain dealer. Magicians marveled at the perfection of this apparatus, and did not know who the maker was, as the dealer kept his name in the background. During all of this time he was quietly working on his own ideas and experimenting.


Most of my readers have doubtless seen some form of the rising card trick performed by the various magicians. This consists in the performer passing among the spectators with a pack of cards from which certain persons draw cards of their own (?) choice, look at and replace them. The pack is then placed in a glass goblet which sits on a table upon the stage, and at the performer’s command the chosen cards arise one by one. Sometimes a nickeled card case is swung on two ribbons and the cards are placed therein or there are various other devices The principles of this trick have always been the same. The magician forces the selection of the required cards on the spectator. He does this by running the cards from one hand to the other rapidly, and requesting the spectator to take a card. Just as the spectator reaches for one, the performer adroitly pushes the proper one right into the spectator’s fingers, and the latter thinks that he has exercised free choice. Next the performer adroitly exchanges the first pack for a second prepared one which is concealed in a depression on the back of a table on the stage, or about some other piece of furniture. This prepared pack has an invisible black silk thread placed across its top end when it is being prepared, and the required duplicate cards are placed against this thread and pushed down into the pack, thus carrying down a loop of the thread which accordingly runs under each selected card. This thread is led to the floor, then through an eyelet and off to a concealed assistant in the wings, who at the proper time pulls on the thread thus causing the cards to rise one at a time. The spectators think that they see their chosen cards rising, and the trick is considered marvelous and is applauded accordingly. If no goblet is used, sometimes the thread runs through the double ribbons from which the nickeled card case is suspended.

Now it has always been the desire of conjurers to do away with the forcing of cards so as to allow the spectators free choice. It has also been their wish to do away with an invisible thread worked by an assistant, but this has never been accomplished before. For years Joseffy has been working on this idea, and he has stated to his magician friends that he hoped some day to be able to do away with all threads, forcing, and everything heretofore used: to permit his spectators to handle and examine his card case, to let them bring their own pack and freely choose the cards they desire, to let them place the pack in the case themselves: to make no substitution, to have no outside connection with the card case, and yet to cause to arise at his command, any card called for at any time.

The reader can judge the effect of this on magicians, who regarded such things as impossibilities. They smiled a quiet smile and said nothing, but it was understood that Joseffy was just a little off. They knew he was an enthusiast, that his work was excellent and all of that, but they did not think that he could accomplish this. Frequently, when he was at work upon it, they would, when calling upon him, and when they thought he was not looking, tap their heads significantly, look at each other and smile in a quiet but sympathetic way, as if to say. “Poor Joseffy! He is crazy. He ‘has wheels.'”

The day has come for Joseffy too smile when he meets these same friends. He has actually accomplished what he undertook: and these magician friends can only look on with admiration.

Joseffy's rising cardJoseffy uses a tiny card case made in imitation of a lyre, with glass front and back. This is held in the hand of a little cupid made of metal. The case has flat sides so as to hold a pack of cards and is very artistic. This is handed to a spectator. The latter brings his own pack of cards, which he may freely shuffle. He places the pack in the card case himself. Joseffy now takes the latter in one hand and holds it aloft so all can see. There is positively no exchange. He sets the case on a small table in full view of all. There is no thread running to a concealed assistant. Joseffy leaves the side of his card case, and can be in any part of the room, hall, or auditorium.

Now, any spectator who desires may choose any card freely. Joseffy then calls upon it to arise, whereupon it does so. It will remain up as long as desired, and at the spectator’s desire return into the pack. It will keep rising and returning as long as the spectator wishes, or it will again arise at any time during the performance. This spectator or any other may now choose any other card and repeat this same performance. There is absolutely no forcing of the choice of cards, and any one may choose at any time.

In the performance, the spectator can at any time remove the pack from the card case, examine everything, and replace the pack. He can then choose another card, or the same one, and it will come up, stay up, or go down as he desires. When the performance is finished, he may remove the cards from the card case himself and keep them as a memento.

In a recent letter, while describing this creation. Joseffy said, “I know that this sounds pretty extravagant, but you may take my word for it that it is really true. It is the outcome of three years of continuous research and labor.” Joseffy claims that he has been offered two thousand dollars for this illusion, but he says that he does not think that five times that amount would tempt him.


The illusion which I shall now describe may be a little more understandable to some, than the last, but it is surely a marvel of ingenuity. He calls it “Balsamo, the Living Skull.” There is a stage trick something like it in appearance. A papier mache skull with a movable jaw is placed on a glass plate suspended by four ribbons on the stage. This skull answers the conjurers questions by working its lower jaw. The secret is an invisible black silk thread leading across the stage and glass plate to a concealed assistant who manipulates it. The jaw is just over the thread and a pull on the latter moves the jaw. This can be had for a few dollars.


Joseffy's Balsamo, the Living SkullThe skull used by Joseffy is made of copper beautifully decorated or painted in the most natural manner possible. Real human teeth are set in sockets in a natural manner. It rests on a neck around which is a lace collar. Its lower jaw is articulated so that it can move and answer questions by clicking its teeth. The skull can also turn on its neck. He uses a glass plate and any four spectators may hold the cords supporting it. Joseffy places the skull on this plate in the usual manner when he performs in halls, but in a parlor he merely places it on any piece of furniture.

There is no thread or outside connections, yet this skull carries on a most intelligent conversation with its master, by clicking its teeth the required number of times when asked a question. There is positively no outside connection.

Joseffy first relates how, nearly two centuries ago, in the dungeons of the Holy Inquisition, he visited the old-time arch-enchanter of other days, Monsieur le Comte de Cagliostro (Joseph Balsamo). He relates how in these dungeons just three weeks before his death the Great Kophta presented him with his own skull.


Joseffy's Balsamo, the Living Skull, suspended by 4 volunteersWhile he is doing this, the skull turns around on its neck and looks about the room in a most life-like but ghastly manner. Finally its master discovers it looking at some lady in a very impertinent manner, and he calls to it to look around and to attend to business The skull turns instantly and looks at him. He now asks, ”Balsamo, do you know any of the persons present? The skull turns slowly about looking at each and then turns back to the performer clicking its teeth for “no.” He then permits the spectators to choose cards, to write figures on a small blackboard, etc., the skull always telling by the clicks of its teeth the correct card or figure. The skull then proceeds to add up a set of figures, tells the time of day that it then happens to be, ect., and when asked always gives answers in a very lifelike manner. It frequently turns and looks at the indicated individual when its master calls upon it for an answer. This ‘Living Skull’ Joseffy has always refused to sell.

There is also an old trick where a papier mache hand, which is laid upon a glass plate, answers questions by rapping. It is worked like the other old skull trick, by a concealed assistant pulling an invisible thread. Joseffy has a hand which he can lay upon any object anywhere, and it will answer any question he asks it by rapping. There is positively no outside connection to the hand, and no magnetism employed. He is now perfecting a means by which at the close of the performance with the hand, he can, as a climax place it against an upright easel, upon which some sheets of white paper have been stretched. The hand will remain in that position of itself, and proceed to write on the paper answers to questions which spectators have previously written on slips of paper, sealed in envelopes and retained in their own pockets.

Recently, when in Kansas City, Joseffy desired to purchase some ribbon for the cuff of this hand. The latter is a small, very beautiful model of a lady’s hand, and is very lifelike in appearance. In fact, to look at it gives one the creepy feeling of looking at a hand cut from a beautiful lady’s arm. Accordingly, he took the hand to a large department store; and placing it on a glass showcase, asked it to tell the lady by rapping, how many yards of ribbon it wanted, the kind, color, etc. When it began to make its lifelike motions and to manifest human intelligence in answering questions, the various clerks gathered quickly about, deserting their respective counters.

Soon a large crowd was collected, and as the manager was unable to recall the clerks, or disperse the blockade, he called in the police. Some reporters got hold of the matter and their reports proved a big advertisement for Joseffy.

Joseffy obtained the original idea of his perfected hand from a more crude model designed by another magician. A hand like this could formerly have been purchased of Joseffy for one hundred and twenty-five dollars. It is needless to say that but few magicians indulged in the luxury.


And now to describe the mysterious cube illusion of De Kolta, of which I made mention in the beginning. His stage was set with a center table near the rear side of which sat two wings or screens. De Kolta entered, carrying a small hand-satchel which he handed to his assistant, who immediately remarked that it was very hot. De Kolta replied, “Your wife would be hot also if you carried her in a thing like that as I do mine.” Then taking the small satchel he opened it and took from it an eight-inch cube. This he placed upon the center table, where it was seen by all spectators to grow slowly to a size of nearly three feet. Then De Kolta proceeded to lift the cube, and sure enough, his wife was found under it.

This is the mysterious illusion that for years has baffled conjurers; and of course it is naturally one of the wonders that Joseffy would set himself the task of surpassing. I shall now describe his illusion “The Enigmatic Cube.”

His stage is set with a low table, but there are no wings or screens, and it is out in the open. He first produces from the air a one-inch cube which he exhibits to the spectators. This is seenby all to grow slowly while in his hands, first to a two-inch, next to a four-inch and then to an eight-inch cube. It must be a marvel of ingenuity. This he now sets in full view upon his table, where it is seen to grow slowly to a size of three feet and six inches. The wizard now lifts this cube from under which steps a beautiful young lady who starts to run up the stage. Joseffy snaps his fingers, when she instantly stops and disappears in a sheet of flame in full view of the spectators; and in her place is seen to be a gigantic bouquet of real roses, which are picked and distributed to the audience.

Joseffy's enigmatic cube Joseffy's enigmatic cube
Joseffy's enigmatic cube Joseffy's enigmatic cube
Joseffy's enigmatic cube Joseffy's enigmatic cube - revealing the lady

Magicians, what do you think of this? “Pretty strong,” is it not? The last transformation is surely no mirage, or deception of the vision; for the lady is seen to visibly run to her position, and the succeeding roses are real and are distributed. This all takes place where but an instant before was nothing but the transparent atmosphere. I recently requested Joseffy to photograph this metamorphosis, and he replied to me, “To photograph this transformation will surely be quite an interesting problem, but I will attempt it if it if you desire.” I was glad to have this promise from a man of Joseffy’s resources, as I knew if such a thing were possible, he could accomplish it.

Probably one of his most weird and grotesque creations is what he calls “The Phantom Quartette.” Four real human skeletons that play music on those weird-sounding instruments, ocarinas. Their repertoire is not limited; for they can play anything, however difficult, within the scope of their instruments. This is where Joseffy’ s musical talent has certainly been of great assistance to him. These skeletons can also sing. To see these weird figures apparently endowed with life, making their lifelike motions and playing this weird music, is surely a grotesque sight. However, the observer must remember that he is not visiting the infernal regions, and that the creator of this uncanny spectacle is not His Satanic Majesty, but merely a peculiar and strange individual who resides in Chicago.

At the time of this writing the Phantom Quartette is dismantled, but Joseffy is soon to resurrect it.




The “Congress of Nations,” is the title of a new illusion originated by Joseffy, and it depends upon entirely new principles for its production. A ring twenty-four inches in diameter, made of metal, and representing the sun and its rays, is first exhibited. A sheet of paper is now stretched over this ring, and another ring slipped over this to hold it in place, as in the old tambourine trick. The paper really takes no part in the illusion other than furnishing an excuse for some interesting “patter.” This ring is now placed upon a standard which rests on a three-foot spread eagle and shield.

The paper of the ring is now punctured and a few handkerchiefs removed. This process being too slow, however, he steps to a distance and fires at the ring rapidly. At each shot, in perfect time. flags of all nations rise out of the ring on stems one foot, three feet six inches, and six feet long. This makes a very beautiful spectacle. He now enhances this by taking from the ring a real table and three real chairs. Next, he takes out of the ring a complete dinner set, also food and coffee, all real. He now sets the chairs around the table, and takes from the ring two living ladies. The three now seat themselves at the table, light some candles, and begin a light lunch as the curtain descends.

This illusion, Joseffy assures me, is of unlimited capacity, there being no limit whatever to what he can produce, and he assures me that it depends upon entirely new principles.

Joseffy's Congress of Nations
Joseffy's Congress of Nations
Joseffy's Congress of Nations

There is an old-time trick in which a living rabbit was placed in a metal box, the same being held by the spectators. The performer would then place a canary in a paper bag, and shoot it to pieces; upon which the canary would be found in the metal box from which the rabbit had disappeared. There were also cages which had deep bottoms and that contained mirrors, which magicians used at times.Joseffy has made a cage that is perfectly open to view with no deep bottoms, mirrors, or anything of the kind. He places the rabbit in full view in this cage. He also uses a dove as it is larger than a canary and can be seen much better. When he shoots time paper bag to pieces, the rabbit is seen to visibly disappear before the very eyes of the spectators, and its place to be taken by the dove. The rabbit he takes, wriggling, from a spectator.

To him an idea is the birth of a desire. With this man who does not understand the meaning of the word “impossible,” and to whom obstacles present no difficulty, to desire is to possess. He immediately set about the task of creating a rabbit that would not eat. Is it alive? Well, to all outside appearances, it is. Its wriggling is certainly the same as that of life, and so is the grace with which it hops off the stage. Its fur and skin are surely those of a real rabbit. It seems under one’s very eyes to be a living, breathing creature, and the spectators certainly consider it as such.

Sometimes Joseffy uses a duck in place of this rabbit. I asked him why this was, and he replied, “Bunny was lonesome, so I created a helpmeet for him.” This duck is taken from the spectators, flapping its wings and quacking, but I am sure that it never eats.

Sometimes he finds other use for this duck. He exhibits an empty sauce-pan, and breaking some eggs into it, proceeds to set them on a fire. He covers the an with a lid for a moment, then removes the latter, and next lifts the duck flapping its wings and quacking, from the pan. The duck then proceeds to lay as many eggs as there are rings which have previously been borrowed and broken up with a hammer, etc. These eggs are now broken, and each is found to contain a borrowed ring tied with a bow of ribbon, to a beautiful rose. If he prefers, the eggs may either contain written answers to questions written and retained by the spectators, or previously borrowed and broken up watches, etc.

Earlier in this article I spoke of De Kolta’s wonderful flower trick. Joseffy has lately concluded successful experiments for one that I consider far superior to De Kolta’s, or in fact to any other.

An empty flower-pot is exhibited to the spectators. A paper cone large enough to cover it is also exhibited. The open end of the cone is always held towards the spectators, yet when he slowly covers the flower-pot with the cone for an instant, it is filled with beautiful roses on long stems. This he can repeat indefinitely, filling as many flower-pots as he may desire, and always using the same cone.

Then, again, as a climax, he can hold a flower-pot high in time air, or if preferred, place it anywhere on any object suggested by the spectators; then, leaving its side, and with no outside connection or contact to any living being or mechanism he can at the snap of his fingers cause it to visibly and instantly fill with real roses which are plucked and distributed. This I assure my readers is not an idle phantasy, but a fact.

Many marvelous tales are told of the performances of Hindu magicians. During the fair at Chicago many persons had an opportunity to witness some of their feats. One that appeared quite mysterious to most observers, and that has been told and re-told over the land, is the trick of popping corn on a white sheet with no fire, while the corn is being fanned.

Four Hindus held a white sheet by its four corners. A fifth one placed some unpopped corn on this sheet, and then he proceeded to fan the corn. First he did so gently, and then more wildly, continually striking the sheet. After a time he ceased, and the upper portion of the corn was found to be popped. This seemed very mysterious, but the secret lay in the fan.

The first fan exhibited was the usual article. This was secretly exchanged for a duplicate, which contained a secret compartment, filled with corn which has previously been popped. When striking the sheet, he secretly opened the compartment, allowing the corn to gradually escape. The popped corn being the lightest, naturally settled over the unpopped corn on the sheet.

This trick naturally suggested to Joseffy the idea of actually performing what the Hindus but pretended to do. He suspends a porcelain platter in mid-air. He allows the spectators to bring their own corn, and to count the grains and place them on the platter. The spectators can then cover the corn with an open wire hood, or glass cover, the only office of which is to prevent the corn scattering over the room. At Joseffy’s command the corn is seen to visibly pop, and it is then served to the spectators.


I here quote a few words from Edwin L. Barker, in The Lyceumite. “Over the river; out on Chicago’s West Side, up-stairs, there is a small room, the appearance of which resembles a combination machine shop, druggist’s prescription case, and chemist’s den, the whole enveloped in a shroud of creepiness. This is Joseffy’s laboratory – a place few noses save his own are ever allowed to peek in. When not ‘on the road’ here he labors from eight in the morning until midnight or later, experimenting and inventing. Joseffy is a mechanical, chemical, and scientific genius, and the world is sure to recognize it the same as I, as soon as the world sees what I have seen.

“When visiting his laboratory I asked, ‘Aren’t you afraid of an explosion?’ ‘Oh, no,’ smiled the inventive necromancer, ‘A bottle did blow out of the window the other day though. But, you see this is a quiet street, and the landlord is deaf, so there was no fire call.’

“The lathes, drills, wheels and pulleys formed a miniature machine shop. I backed away from a point where the sparks were flying like an imaginary starry rain-storm, during the millennium that is to be, when Joseffy exclaimed: ‘Look out! Don’t back into the quartette.’ I turned, saw four skeletons, and retreated toward the shower of sparks. ‘They are the members of my instrumental quartette,’ said the magician, pointing to the skeletons. ‘Their names are Cord, Accord, Discord, and Nocord.’

“‘Here is their companion, continued the inventor, ‘Balsamo, the Living Skull. He does everything but talk.’ And he did.

“I saw a pile of ‘junk’ which Joseffy said was to be a new illusion. He made me promise never to tell how it is done, and believe me, that is one promise I will always keep, truly I will – I can’t help it. But the effect will be like this:

“He borrows a rose from a lady in the audience. He drops a few drops of magic oil upon the rose; there is a flame several feet high, followed by an expansion into an American Beauty some sixteen or eighteen inches in diameter. Soon there is seen growing out of the rose a bubble – not unlike the soap bubbles of our youthful days. As the bubble expands, the face and form of a young lady are seen growing inside. This continues until the bubble has grown the full size of the lady. Then the bubble bursts, a shower of petals scent the room, and there stands the young lady holding the rose that was first borrowed from the audience.

“His ‘Card Riser’ is, in many respects, the most wonderful invention I have ever seen. Magicians have told me it was a dream – nothing more. But I know better. I saw Joseffy do it, and I was not dreaming. Every minute I was more and more wide-awake. I saw and examined its innermost workings, and the more I saw the more wonderful it seemed. I will not explain it – I can’t.

“I went away from the laboratory thinking as I have never thought before. Here, right in Chicago’s busy heart is a genius – a genius of the olden days – who is content to work and wait.

Prophecies are not in fashion, but if this intelligent worker does not make the world of magic and entertainment open its eyes, well – I’m a poor guesser, that’s all.”

Charles Sandburg has said, “You have seen Joseffy play the violin? Then you have seen a man possessed.” A Joliet newspaper said, “He might have been god or devil.”

Elbert Hubbard says, “In every meeting of men, there are two factions – the conqueror and the vanquished.” A magical performance, unlike any other form of entertainment, may be said to be a continuous, bloodless war between one man and an entire audience. The majority of spectators usually attend with the intention of solving the secrets of the magician. The latter of course will not permit this, and the performance is thus a continuous contest of wits. Usually, in the beginning is the time when the psychological relation between the performer and his audience is established, which decides whether or not he shall be the conqueror.

Here it is that Joseffy first establishes himself. As he comes forward with a slight sweeping bow, he looks as many spectators in the eye as possible. He pauses for an instant in the intoxication of conscious power, which he well knows soon will triumph. In that instant that peculiar psychological atmosphere is established which assures him success. Sandburg once remarked that Joseffy does not seem to walk, but to float out.

His ready wit is well illustrated in the following incident. In Citronelle, Alabama, he had just exhibited Balsamo’s Skull, when a lady rather loudly remarked, “That can not be a real skull. It shines too much.” This remark could not be overlooked. Now Joseffy quickly turned and replied, “Madam, you say the skull shines – quite true – but you must not forget that it is quite natural, as the Count was a highly polished gentleman.”

When walking one Sunday afternoon with one of the world’s great magicians, our conversation naturally turned to that enigma of the conjuring fraternity, Joseffy; for I may as well say that among the thirty thousand magicians of the world, many eyes are now turned toward this strange and unknown man. I remarked to my friend that I thought Joseffy might make large sums of money by abandoning the stage, which he has recently taken up, and by creating for magicians at very high figures. My friend remarked, “I do not know. Joseffy is a peculiar man. I fear it would not be a successful financial venture. You see, when he would have finished the most beautiful and perfect work of his imagination, he would suddenly think of some slight improvement wherein it might be bettered; and then he would not permit his work to be used, but would begin all over again.”

As an instance of this, he worked two years on a wonderful effect, only to consign it to the scrap heap at the end of that time. The effect was this: A guitar and a mandolin were shown, and placed on a table, supported in a position as if being played by invisible performers. The Spectators could then select any composition, and the instruments would execute it. This he actually accomplished; but it did not quite suit him, and he discarded it, only preserving the mandolin as a memento of his youthful dream.

Joseffy has studied science and delved into the occult. He is a man of infinite patience to whom time or even money is of little value. He is simply wedded to his art. Thus it is with the dreamer and with the enthusiast; but it is just this thing that enables him to accomplish the marvels that he does. To me Joseffy said, “I take this subject very seriously, for I have practically devoted my life to it.”

He also, when speaking of his creations, recently said to me, “Some of the most beautiful scientific problems are employed in some of them.” Then again he said, “There are some other things in embryo which I hardly dare to talk about for fear that it will induce violent language, so I suppose I had better not. However. I do hope to startle at least a small portion of the world some day. You see, Mr. Abbott, I fear you have guessed my secret. I have ambitions, and those classicists Houdin, De Kolta and others are my inspiration. Yes, I do intend to penetrate the mysteries of higher magic, and to go as far as it is possible for mortal to go.”

This wizard in the true sense of the term spoke thus. I could not deride him or tap my forehead. Who can say how far he will penetrate? Who can say what marvels that strange, eccentric and powerful intellect will evolve?

The Air Brahmin

The Air Brahmin
(People’s Magazine, June 14, 1833)

Brahmin air suspension

The Air Brahmin

Most of our readers will recollect the celebrated Indian Jugglers, who a few years ago visited this country, and performed some very extraordinary feats at public exhibitions. One of them had acquired the astonishing and dangerous power of passing a naked metal blade into his stomach, or, as he himself termed it, of “swallowing a sword.” He fell a sacrifice to his temerity: in one of his performances the blade taking a wrong direction, wounded him internally, and he expired in violent convulsions.

Another person of this description, but of a higher native caste, has lately appeared in India. His performance, though of a no less astonishing, is altogether of a harmless, nature. By the kindness of a friend we are enabled to present our readers with an engraving, from the original drawing of an Indian artist, together with an account, which may be relied upon, of this singular person, as he appears when exhibiting this strange feat

The drawing was taken at the Government House at Madras, and represents the Cuddapah Brahmin, named Sheshal, in the act of sitting in the air, apparently without any support, an exploit which he performs with great address. When he is about to exhibit, his attendants surround him with a blanket so as to screen him from the view of the spectators till he his mounted; a signal is then given, the blanket is removed and he is beheld sitting in the posture represented in the sketch. Read More…

The Hobby of Book Collecting

The Hobby of Book Collecting
By Leo Rullman

Of the making of many Magic books there is no end.

Leo Rullman, antiquarian magic book dealer (1875 - 1946).

Leo Rullman, antiquarian magic book dealer (1875 – 1946).

Prefacing this article with an apology for para­phrasing a well-known quotation, I respectfully beg to submit that in respect to Magic books “the mills of the gods” do not grind slowly,” and certainly they have not, in the past, ”ground exceedingly fine.”

In the past decade, which marks the span of my association with the subject, the magical market has been literally inundated with a flood of “literature.” Nearly every week marks the advent of a new title. Every would be follower of the late Harry Keller , every aspirant to the fame of Mask elyne, every neophyte in the mysteries of deception at some time in his life feels himself endowed with a “message” of which he must sooner or later unburden himself – which he generally does to the tune of ”Magic and its Confessors,” “Fretful Magic,” Banana Wizardry,” “Making Magic Stay,” “Excusable Magical Secrets,” and so forth, ad libitum and ad summum!

During the past ten years not less than 432 magical publications, in nine languages, comprising pamphlets, brochures, and books dealing with the subject have been given (save the mark!) to a patient public that, in the vernacular of the street, ”doesn’t know what it’s all about.” Many of these publications have long since passed, and been forgotten, consigned to the oblivion they merited.

And here – Enter the collector! Read More…

A Wonderful Conjuror: Ching Ling Foo

The New York Dramatic Mirror, June 3, 1899

Ching Ling Foo, Chinese magician

Ching Ling Foo, Chinese magician

During the past four weeks the Chinese conjuror Ching Ling Foo, whose picture appears above, has been mystifying audiences which have test the capacity of Keith’s Union Square Theatre at every performance.

He is no ordinary professor of legerdemain, is Ching Ling Foo, but a past master in the art of fooling people before their very eyes, who has come all the way from the Far East to show us a few tricks we have never seen before. Read More…

Truth Will Come To Light

Truth Will Come To Light, By James Elliot

Many years ago when the late Prof. Otto Maurer conducted his magical store in the basement at 321 Bowery, New York City, a Spanish magician by the name of Robertus (who had played South America, but who has long since been dead, and whom Imro Fox, the comic conjurer, knew personally) walked into Maurer’s establishment and vanished a card to the rear of his hand, and then apparently produced it from the air immediately afterwards much to the amazement of Maurer as he himself related to me with his own lips.

My friend, Mr. Adrian Plate, who is unusually well posted upon all matters appertaining to practical magic, told me the same story as Maurer related to me, but what I wished to know was the name of that card manipulator. Read More…

A Day With Alexander the Great

A Day With Alexander the Great,
By Henry Ridgely Evans


Alexander Herrmann at the age of 23

Alexander Herrmann at the age of 23

They come hack to me, those old days in the newspaper office in Baltimore. I can shut my eyes and see the long, dingy room with its ink-splattered tables and flaring gas jets. The printers’ devils rush in and out with wet proof-sheets.

Reporters come and go. Look! There is Joe Kelley, Lefevre, Jarrett and John Monroe. And here comes Ludlam, familiarly known as “Lud,” the prince of Bohemian newsgatherers; a cross between Dickens’ Alfred Jingle and Murger’s Rodolph. He is always “down on his luck,” but nothing can phase his natural gaity and bonhomie. He snaps his fingers at Fate, and mocks at the world. On his death bed he made hon mots. Poor old Ludlam, he is forever associated with my introduction to Alexander the Great.

I look back across the years that separate me from my journalistic experiences, and see myself seated at a reporter’s table, on a certain morning in January, waiting for an assignment from the city editor: a fire, a murder, political interview, I knew not what, and therein lies the ineffable charm of newspaper reporting. Enter Ludlam, jaunty and debonaire. The snow encrusts his faded coat with powdery flakes. He strikes a theatrical attitude, and exclaims: “Philosophers say that the Devil is dead! Gentlemen, don’t you believe them. I have just had an interview with His Satanic Majesty, and he is very much alive. He was beautifully perfumed with sulphur (or was it cigarette smoke?); and wore a fur-lined overcoat. Coming from a tropical climate, he finds this cold weather very disagreeable. He turned my watch into a turnip and back again. He took a roll of greenbacks from my coat pocket. That was sure enough witchcraft. I defy any other person than Beelzebuh, to get money from my clothes. He extracted a hard-boiled egg from my nose, and a rabbit from my hat. But seeing is believing. Here he is now!”

With that he threw open the green baize door with a crash and in walked Alexander Herrmann, the magician, smiling and bowing. This little comedy had been arranged by the irrepressible Ludlam. He was a great practical joker. We shouted with laughter. This was my first introduction to Alexander the Great, who was making his periodical visit to the newspaper offices, and he came to the “News” first, because it was an afternoon journal. He was to play that night at Ford’s Opera House. He performed a number of capital tricks for us with watches, coins, handkerchiefs and rings, and was pronounced a royal good fellow by the entire outfit – editors, reporters, typesetters and devils. Being the only amateur magician on the paper, I was detailed to accompany the famous conjurer on his “swing around the magic circle.” I was delighted with my assignment. We traversed the markets; visited the Stock Exchange where a howling mob of brokers danced a carmagnole about us; and the police stations. Herrmann was received everywhere with acclamations. His impromptu feats of magic evoked shouts of laughter. On one of the street cars the following scene took place, which I hugely enjoyed.

The conductor, a cadaverous, solemn looking man, who took the world and himself seriously, came around to collect the fares. He accosted the conjurer first.

“Fare,” exclaimed Herrmann, with an expressive shrug of the shoulders, “Why, I paid mine long ago.”

“No such thing!” snapped the conductor.

“But my dear fellow-!”

“You can’t come that game on me!” said the conductor. “I demand your fare, at once, or off you go.”

“Nonsense man, I gave you a five-dollar gold piece, but you did not return the change. You said, wait until -. But here is the gold coin sticking in your scarf.” So saying, the conjurer proceeded to extract a coin from the muffler which the conductor wore about his neck. “And worse than that, you’ve robbed me.” Then seizing hold of the coat of the dumbfounded man, he took from his breast pocket a large bundle of what seemed to be greenbacks. These, Herrmann scattered about the car. On each note was printed his portrait and an advertisement of his show. At a trifling distance these advertisements resembled greenbacks. They were more or less facsimiles of U. S. Treasury certificates. The occupants of the car picked them up, and laughed heartily at the mystification.

Herrmann then paid his fare, presented the conductor and driver with passes to the theatre, and in a little while we got off at Barnum’s hotel, where we had luncheon. The negro waiters of the establishment eyed him with fear and trembling, for he had played many practical jokes on them, and they never knew when he would break out in a new spot. He had a capital trick of raising a glass of wine to his lips as if about to partake of it, when with a dash of the hand upwards the glass would vanish, wine and all, only to be reproduced a minute later from somebody’s coat tail.

The following is a charming anecdote related by him in the North American Review,” some years ago:

“In March, 1885, while in Madrid, I appeared at the Sasuella Theatre quite successfully, for the house was filled every evening with hidalgos and noble senoras, and King Alphonso XII. was kind enough to view my performance from a box. He was so pleased that I was asked to the palace, and knowing him to be a great sportsman, I presented him with a silver-mounted saddle which I had brought with me from Buenos Ayres. He was exceedingly kind, and after I had performed a mathematical trick with cards, which pleased him greatly, he kept asking me continually if he could not be of some service to me. At first I did not accept, but a little while afterwards I thought it ‘would he a great thing if I could make the King of Spain my confederate in a trick. He consented, laughingly, and it was so arranged that from the stage I was to ask one of the audience to write a number, when the King was to get up and say, ‘I will write it,’ and do it. Of course, with such a confederate, the trick was accomplished with the greatest effect. The first thing I did in beginning the second part of my performance was to take a blank piece of paper. This, I handed to the king, asking him to sign it at the bottom. He did so readily, and the paper was passed from hand to hand and given to me. I conjured up all the spirits that have been or will be, and lo, and behold! the ‘paper was closely written from the top to the place where His Majesty’s signature was affixed. It was handed hack to him, and, while he laughed very heartily, he said, ‘I will not deny my signature to this document, which appoints Alexander Herrmann prestidigitateur to the King of Spain, and, as the spirits have done so, I heartily acquiesce.'”

Those who are acquainted with the peculiar properties of sympathetic inks will readily understand the modus operandi of the above trick. For example: Copper sulphate in very dilute solution will produce an invisible handwriting, which will turn light blue when subjected to the vapor of ammonia. Again, write with a weak solution of sulphuric acid and the chirography will appear in black letters when the paper is submitted to a strong heat. To obtain the requisite heat, all you have to do is to lay the sheet of paper on a small table which has a top of thin sheet iron or tin. Beneath this top, concealed in the body of the table, is a spirit lamp – not a lamp run by spooks, but by “spirits of wine.” Ample time for the chemical operation to take place is afforded by the patter of the conjurer.

Another clever trick, bordering on the supernatural, was Herrmann’s “Thibetan Mail,” the effect of which was as follows: Handing a sheet of note paper to various persons in the audience, Herrmann requested them to write sentences upon it, one under the other. When this was accomplished, he tore the paper into halves, and requested some gentleman to retain one half. The other half the magician thrust into the flame of a candle and burned it to ashes. Flinging the ashes in the air, he cried: “I send this message to the mighty Mahatma who dwells in the great temple of Lhassa. Let him restore the paper intact and return it to me by spiritual post.” No sooner said than done. Immediately a District Messenger boy rushed into the theatre, down the center aisle, waving in his hand a sealed letter. Handing this to some one in the audience, Herrmann requested him to break the seal and examine the contents of the envelope. Inside of the envelope, he found a second one, and within that a third and fourth, etc. In the last envelope the half sheet of paper was revealed perfectly restored. Its identity was proved by matching it with the half-sheet of writing retained by the first spectator, whereupon they were found to fit exactly and the writing to correspond. The modus operandi of this astounding feat like all good things’ in magic is very simple, but it requires adroitness on the part of the performer to execute properly. The conjurer does not burn the piece of paper which contains the writing, but exchanges it for a dummy which he thrusts into the flame of the candle. The original half-sheet of paper is secretly transferred to an assistant usually in the following manner: The magician calls for a candle and matches which the assistant brings in upon a salver. The slip of paper is “worked off” to the assistant in the act of taking the candle and matches from the tray. The confederate then goes behind the scenes, slips the paper into a “nest of envelopes,” seals them simultaneously, and gives the package to a stage hand habited as a messenger boy, who runs to the front part of the house to await the cue from the conjurer. This trick was intended as a burlesque on Madame Blavatsky’s Indian Mall feat.

I remember very well performing this experiment at an amateur show at the home of Mr. O- H-, of Baltimore, some eighteen years ago, before a company of interested spectators, among whom was the charming daughter of the house, Miss Alice, now the Countess Andrezzi Bernini, of Rome, Italy. My stage was situated in an alcove at one end of the splendid drawing room, and it had a window opening on a side street. My District Messenger boy, hired for the occasion, and privately instructed how to act, was stationed beneath this window, and threatened with all the penalties of Dante’s Inferno if he went asleep on his post. My brother, Walter Dorsey Evans, afterwards a skillful amateur prestidigitateur, acted as my assistant, and adroitly threw the sealed note out of the window, to the boy. Great was the surprise of my audience when the door bell rang and the stately butler of the establishment brought into the parlor the messenger boy with his sealed letter.

“Where did you get this?” asked the host, as he doubtfully fingered the envelope, and examined the address which read, “To Sahib O- H-, Baltimore, Md.”

“Please, sir, an old man dressed in a yellow robe came into the office, and asked that the letter be delivered at once.”

“A Mahatma, I presume!” said the lawyer, ironically.

“He had no hat on, sir, only a turbot wrapped round his head.

“A turban,” I suppose you mean.

“That’s it, sir – a turbing like the Turks wear.”

“That will do young man. You may go.”

The boy left. May he be forgiven the lies uttered in my behalf. But all is fair in love, war, and conjuring. He was well tutored what to say in the event of his being questioned, but he performed his part so naturally and lied so artistically and with such a front of brass as to have deceived the most incredulous. I have often speculated upon the subsequent career of that lad. Possibly today, he is representing his country abroad in an important diplomatic post, or manufacturing sensational news for the yellow press. Had I been a professional conjurer, I would have hired him on the spot as an assistant.


Alexander Herrmann was born in Paris, February 11, 1844. Information concerning his family is somewhat meagre. His father, Samuel Herrmann, was a German Jew, a physician, who had come to France to reside, and there married a Breton lady. Sixteen children were born of this union, of whom Carl was the oldest of the eight boys and Alexander the youngest. Samuel Herrmann was an accomplished conjurer, but rarely performed in public. He gave private seances before Napoleon I, who presented him with a superb watch. This time-piece descended to Alexander, and is in possession of his widow.

Carl Hermann

Carl Hermann

Carl Herrmann was born in Hanover, Germany, January 23, 1816. Despite parental opposition he became a sleight of hand artist, and was known as the “First Professor of Magic In the World.” In 1848 he made his first bow to the English people, at the Adelphi Theatre, London, where he produced the second-sight trick, which he copied from Houdin in France. Early in the sixties he made a tour of America, with great success. At his farewell performance in New York City, he introduced his brother, Alexander as his legitimate successor. Carl then retired with a fortune to Vienna, where he spent the remainder of his days in collecting rare antiquities. His death occurred at Carlsbad, June 1887, at the age of seventy-two. He was a great favorite with Czar Nicholas and Sultan Abdul Aziz, and frequently performed at their palaces.

Alexander was destined by his father to the practice of medicine, but fate willed otherwise.

When quite a boy, he ran away and joined Carl, acting as his assistant. He remained with his brother six years, when his ‘parents placed him in college at Vienna. He did not complete his scholastic studies, but went to Spain in 1859 and began his career as a magician. He appeared in America in 1861, but returned a year later to Europe, and made an extended tour. He played an engagement of 1,000 consecutive nights at Egyptian Hall, London. In 1875 he married Adelaide Scarsez, a beautiful and clever danseuse, who assisted him in his soirees magique. Herrmann became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1876. He died of heart failure in his private car, December 11, 1896, while traveling from Rochester, N. Y., to Bradford, Penn, and was buried with Masonic honors in Woodlawn cemetery, just outside of New York City. He made and lost several fortunes. Unsuccessful theatrical speculations were largely responsible for his losses. He aspired in vain to be the manager and proprietor of a chain of theatres. He introduced the celebrated Trewey, the French fantaisiste, to the American public. Herrmann was an extraordinary linguist, a raconteur and wit. Several chivalric orders were conferred upon him by European potentates. He usually billed himself as the Chevalier Alexander Herrmann. His mephistophelean aspect, his foreign accent, and histrionic powers, coupled with his wonderful sleight-of-hand made him indeed the king of conjurers. He had a wrist of steel and a palm of velvet. He performed tricks wherever he went, in the street cars, cafes, clubs, hotels, newspaper offices, and markets, imitating in this respect the renowned Bosco. These impromptu entertainments widely advertised his art. He rarely changed his repertoire, but old tricks in his hands were invested with the charm of newness. I can remember as a boy with what emotion I beheld the rising of the curtain, in his fantastic soirees, and saw him appear, in full court costume, smiling and bowing. Hey, presto! I expected every moment to see him metamorphosed into the Mephisto of Goethe’s “Faust,” habited in the traditional red costume, with red cock’s feather in his pointed cap, and clanking rapier by his side; sardonic, and full of subtleties. He looked the part to perfection. He was Mephisto in evening dress. When he performed the trick of the inexhaustible bottle, which gave forth any liquor called for by the spectators, I thought of him as Mephisto in that famous drinking scene in Auerbach’s cellar, boring holes into an old table, and extracting from them various sparkling liquors as well as flames. In his nervous hands articles vanished and reappeared with surprising rapidity. Everything material, under the spell of his flexible fingers, seemed to be resolved into a fluidic state; as elusive as pellets of quicksilver. He was indeed the Alexander the Great of Magic, who had conquered all worlds with his necromancer’s wand – theatrical worlds; and he sighed because there were no more to dominate with his legerdemain. One of his posters always fascinated my boyish imagination. It was night in the desert. The Sphinx loomed up majestically under the black canopy of the Egyptian sky. In front of the giant figure stood Herrmann, in the center of a magic circle of skulls and cabalistic figures. Incense from a brazier ascended and circled about the head of the Sphinx. Herrmann was depicted in the act of producing rabbits and bowls of gold fish from a shawl, while Mephisto, the guardian of the wierd scene, stood near by, dressed all in red, and pointing approvingly at his disciple in the black art. In this picture were symbolized Egyptian mystery and necromancy; mediaeval magic; and the sorcery of science and prestidigitation.


Alexander Hermann

Alexander Hermann

When Herrmann came to Baltimore, he always put up at Barnum’s hotel, a quaint, old caravansary that had sheltered beneath its hospitable roof such notables as Charles Dickens, Thackeray and Jenny Lind. Alas, the historic hostelrie was torn down years ago to make room for improvements. It stood on the southwest corner of Calvert and Fayette streets, within a stone’s throw of the Battle Monument. I spent some happy hours with Herrmann in this ancient hotel, listening to his rich store of anecdotes. I received from him many valuable hints in conjuring. There was something exotic about his tastes. He loved to surround himself with Oriental luxuries; rare curios picked up in the bazaars of Constantinople, Cairo, Damascus, etc.; nargilehs, swords of exquisite workmanship; carved ivory boxes from India; richly embroidered hangings from the looms of Turkey; Japanese bronzes and the like. His private yacht, “Fra Diavolo,” and his Pullman car were fitted up regardless of expense. He was a replica on a small scale of the Count of Monte Christo. Habited in a Turkish dressing gown which glowed with all the colors of the rainbow; his feet thrust into red Moroccan slippers; the inevitable cigarette in his mouth, he resembled a pasha of the east. He was inordinately fond of pets and carried with him on his travels a Mexican dog, a Persian cat, cages full of canaries, a parrot and a monkey. His rooms looked like a small zoo. He seemed to enjoy the noises made by his pets. His opinions concerning his art were interesting.

“A magician is born, not made!” was his favorite apothegm. “He must possess not only digital dexterity, but be an actor as well.”

“What is the greatest illusion in the repertoire of the conjurer?” I asked him.

“The Vanishing Lady of M. Bautier de Kolta,” was the unhesitating reply.

“Why so?” I inquired.

“Because of its simplicity. The great things of magic are always the simple things. This trick has the most transcendant effect when properly produced, but, alas, the secret is now too well known. Its great success proved its ruin. Irresponsible bunglers took it up and made a fiasco of it. In the hands of De Kolta it was perfection itself. There was nothing wanting in artistic finish.”

Herrmann related to me some amusing episodes of his varied career. In the year 1863 he was playing an engagement in Constantinople. He received a summons to appear before the Sultan and his court. At the appointed hour there came to the hotel where he was staying a Turkish officer, who drove him in a handsome equipage to a palace overlooking the gleaming waters of the Golden Horn, where “ships that fly the flags of half the world” ride at anchor. It was a lovely afternoon in April. Herrmann was ushered into a luxuriously furnished apartment and invited to be seated on a divan. The officer then withdrew. Presently a couple of tall Arabs entered. One carried a lighted chibouk; the other a salver, upon which was a golden pot full of steaming hot Mocha coffee, and a tiny cup and saucer of exquisite porcelain. The slaves knelt at his feet and presented the tray and pipe to him.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Adelaide Herrmann

Adelaide Herrmann

Madame Herrmann, on the death of her husband, sent to Europe for her nephew-in-law, Leon Herrmann, and they continued the entertainments of magic throughout the country, meeting with success. Some curious and amusing adventures were encountered on their travels. One of Alexander Herrmann’s favorite tricks was the production of a mass of colored paper ribbon from a cocoanut shell, and from the paper a live duck. This clever feat always evoked tremendous applause. The stupid look of the duck as it waddled around the stage was very laughable. On one occasion, when I was present at the soiree magique, the duck seemed to find difficulty in reaching the exit and went around quacking in loud distress, thereby interrupting the conjurer in his patter. Quick as a flash, Herrmann remarked to his assistant, “Kindly remove the comedian.” Shouts of laughter greeted the sally. Herrmann was very felicitous in this species of impromptu by-play. He was indeed, as he described himself, the necromantic comedian. Leon, following in the footsteps of his illustrious uncle also performed the cocoanut shell trick. He had an assistant, a stalwart Ethiopian, who had been with the elder Herrmann, and rejoiced In the stage name of “Boumski.” One day in the city of Detroit, Mich., Madame Herrmann missed from her dressing room at the theatre, a valuable diamond ring. Suspicion fell upon the negro, who had attained some proficiency in the black art, so far as making things disappear was concerned, though he was not so apt when it came to producing them. Boumski stoutly asseverated that he had seen the duck swallow the ring. The fowl was accordingly slain, and its stomach searched, but with out result. The loss of the duck caused considerable grief in the conjuring menage. It was quite a pet, and trained to perform its part in the magic tricks. Suspicion again fell upon Boumski. Finally, the dusky necromancer confessed that he was the thief and that the poor duck was innocent. The ring was recovered in a pawnbroker’s shop. Boumski went to jail. To revenge himself he exposed the whole repertoire of tricks of the Herrmann company to the newspapers.

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

(The Sphinx, Kansas City, Mo., Volume 4, Numbers 3 & 4, May and June, 1905. Additional illustrations from Harry Houdini’s The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin and Henry Ridgley Evans’ The Old and the New Magic.)