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Blitz and the Fire Annihilator

Peoples Press, September 11, 1852 (Salem, North Carolina)

Signor Blitz

Signor Blitz

The recent successful experiments with the fire annihilator has reminded us of some circumstances connected with the first exhibition of them in New York, and which caused a feud between P. T. Barnum and Signor Blitz, so well known for his ventriloqual powers, his skill in birds, and his extraordinary feats in Natural Magic. Barnum had invited the Signor to be present (in New York) at an experimental exhibition, in which he was interested, of the machines that put out a great smoke. The great deceiver was on hand — a little man, dressed in black, with iron gray hair, and a restless, observant eye — and he mingled in the crown unrecognized.

The temporary structure in which the fire was to be kindled and then the annihilator, was about fifteen feet square, and one story and a half high. There was an upper floor, but no stairs, as none were needed. The carpenter who had nailed it down had merely left a hole by which he descended after performing his job.

P. T. Barnum

P. T. Barnum

A large concourse of people assembled to witness the experiment, which was to come off a little after dark. The spectators examined at leisure the building and the queer looking cans that contained Barnum’s gas, ready to be let forth to arrest the progress of the “devouring element” which to use the stereotype language for the insurance companies, “often sweeps away in a few hours the hard earnings of many years.”

Professor Colton then mounted a stand and explained to the assembly the principles of the Annihilator, and set forth the immense benefits that would accrue from it to all combustible communities.

Barnum was around, and although he had been searching for his friend Blitz, that wily professor of deviltry dodged the great showman and remained invisible.

At length every thing was ready, A heap of highly combustible matter had been prepared on the middle of the floor, and an assistant was proceeding to set fire to it, when all in the vicinity were startled by a cry from the upper room of the building —

“Don’t ! don’t! Let me out! Don’t burn me up!”

“Stop!” shouted a police officer; “there’s a man in the loft.”

The master of ceremonies stepped into the building, and ordered the intruder to jump down.

“I can’t (hip) get down,” said the voice.

“Some drunken fool has got up there with his bottle,” said Barnum, in a tone of vexation. “O, for a Maine liquor law in these diggings! Somebody must go up and haul the fellow down.”

A stick of timber was procured and placed in a slanting position, and a policeman managed to crawl up into the attic.

Signor Blitz' Act

Signor Blitz’ Act

“Hello, there! Come out of this!” said the policeman, poking about with his stick. But, to his surprise, he found no one there. After satisfying himself that the place was vacant, the officer came down, muttering curses upon the whole affair.

Again did the torch-bearer approach to light the pile, and again the voice sounded from the upper room.

“Let me out, I say!” Con denm (hic) yer pieters, will ye burn a fell’r alive?” Let me out! Let me ou-u-ut!”

“Stop!” shouted Barnum to the torch-bearer, “this won’t do! Mr. Colton, will you send a man up into that building who has his senses about him? Send him quickly too.”

Another person now ascended to the loft, which he examined by the light of a lantern that was passed up to him, and he likewise reported the place empty.

A short pause how took place, during which the spectators began to manifest great impatience, and their cries began to fill the air.


“A Barnum humbug!”

“Woolly Horse!”

“Joice Heth!”


These were some of the unpleasant words that assailed Barnum’s ear in the great bubblement that was rising like the roar of waves around him.

“Have a little patience, gentlemen, and we’ll proceed,” said he.

“Well, yer kin proceed, but yer can’t succeed,” growled a member of old Forty-Two’s company.

Blitz doing walk around magic at costume ball.

Blitz doing walk around magic at costume ball.

The torch was now applied to the tar and rosin, and, as the flames began to curl up a number of voices sounded distressfully from all parts of the building. It was apparently half full of men. — Pigs also began to squeek, as if their bristles were scorched, but Barnum took the hint. He recognized some of the very voices that the great ventriloquist had produced in this office that afternoon, and he exclaimed in high dudgeon —

“That cursed Blitz has made all this trouble! I’ll give his iron gray lock an extra kink if I ever catch him.”

The Signor’s ventriloquism in reality did more mischief than he had intended for it was probably owing to the confusion he created that the experiment proved a failure.

Barnum, had not forgiven Blitz to this day, although the waggish Signor is confident that if he can get the great showman into one of his Armory Hall entertainments, he can conjure all the anger from his breath, and restore their former friendly relations. —

Boston Lit. Museum.

(The illustrations are from Signor Blitz, Fifty Years In The Magic Circle, Belknap and Bliss, Hartford, Conn., 1872 and P. T. Barnum, Struggles and Triumphs, Courier Company, Buffalo, NY, 1884.)

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