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David Abbott

Biography of David Phelps Abbott (1863 – 1934)

David Abbott was one of the most creative, and prolific, magical minds of the 20th century. David Abbott is the author of Behind the Scenes with the Mediums (1907), this book is still one of the best accounts of the techniques and methods used by fraudulent mediums.

Photo of David P. Abbott, taken from the cover of The Sphinx, 1906In addition to his work in exposing spiritualist fraud, David Abbott was a master of magic and illusions and had many of the greatest magicians of the day — including Harry Kellar, Howard Thurston, Horace Goldin, Theo Bamberg — visited his “Mystery House” in Omaha, Nebraska to learn from him.

Some of David Abbott’s magical inventions include:

  • The Floating Ball, which he taught to Okito.
  • The Talking Teakettle: a teakettle that could be shown empty, but when the spout was held to a spectator’s ear it would answer a question that the spectator was thinking about. This was before the advent of radio.
  • Spirit Paintings: this was David Abbott’s duplication of a spiritualism trick done by a pair of mediums known as the Bangs Sisters. Having created a stage presentation for the effect, David Abbott revealed the secret to a Dr. Wilmar — who then sold it as his own to P.T. Selbit and to Harry Kellar, who proceeded to use it in their own shows. It involves the gradual appearance of an image on canvas and is still performed today.

Before his death, David Abbott wrote a second book, dealing with both the “seances” he held in his home, as well as other magical effects. However, he died before it was published, and the manuscript was lost for many years, before being found and published as David P. Abbott’s Book of Mysteries in 1977.

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