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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.

A MIRROR man called upon this wonder worker one day last week at Keith’s. He was informed by Mr. Hodgdon, the courteous resident manager, that Ching does not speak English, so he introduced the Mirror man to Moy Frederick Sang, Ching Ling Foo’s secretary and interpreter, who dresses American fashion and speaks English fluently. Moy introduced the scribe to Ching, who got the interviewer’s questions at second hand from Moy and answered them pleasingly.

During the course of the criss-cross, three-cornered chat it was learned that Ching was born in Pekin, China forty-six years ago. He began to study conjuring about sixteen years ago and at first practiced it only as a pastime and for the amusement of his friends, as he was engaged in mercantile business, being connected with a firm that has branch houses in Pekin, Shanghai, Tien-Tsin, and San Francisco. Ching played at odd times before all the high officials of China, and for the prominent Europeans who have their homes in Pekin.
Pekin, China - Ching Ling FooHe began to make a business of conjuring two years ago. He was in San Francisco about the time of the opening of the Omaha Exposition and joined a company of Chinese performers who were going to exhibit at the Exposition. He played there for several months, and during his engagement attracted the attention of Colonel Hopkins, who signed a contract with him for his appearance in Vaudeville. Shortly after the Omaha fair was over the authorities tried to have Ching and his company sent back to China under the Exclusion act, but it was proven that he and his companions were artists and not laborers, and they were allowed to remain. Ching says he will remain in American for good, as he likes the country and the people very much.

Ching’s performance consists for the most part in producing, in some mysterious way the strangest sort of objects from under a cloth spread upon the stage, which has previously been carefully shown to the audience, so that they may see that nothing is concealed within its folds. His most startling trick is the production of the immense bowl shown in the picture, which holds two pails of water and is said to weigh eighty pounds. How he carries this strange object about with him and finally causes it to appear from under the cloth without any undue fuss is a secret which the guards carefully. Before producing the bowl he brings out in the same way a big flat dish of walnuts or a pair of live chickens, or a live lamb or a lighted lamp or a bowl of goldfish or anything else he pleases. During his first week here he produced his little almond-eyed two year old daughter from under the cloth but the Gerry Society shut down on this, one of the most surprising and effective features of his performance.

Ching also has a wonderful fire-eating trick, which is so difficult that he does it only twice a week, as it is very rough on the throat and breathing apparatus. In this performance he fills his mouth with sawdust until his cheeks bulge out. He then lights some Chinese punk and eats it, after which he drinks a glass of water. He then proceeds to blow immense clouds of smoke and flashes of flame from this mouth, and at intervals spits out balls of fire. After that he calmly proceeds to draw from this mouth several yards of tissue paper, which is entirely unharmed by the fire. As a climax he spits a big lump of fire into a tin box filled with fire crackers, which go off with loud reports, brings his great act to a noisy finish.

The interpreter told the MIRROR man that there was a time, when Ching was younger and stronger, when he could produce a bowl twice the size of the one he is now using and which held four pails of water. Whether that is strictly true or not, the fact remains that Ching Ling Foo is one of the most interesting and accomplished conjurors that have ever appeared in New York.

He is assisted in his entertainment by a Chinese comedian who knows a few slang expressions and uses them to advantage. This man does some extraordinary juggling with a very heavy earthenware bowl, and is also generally useful. Ching’s wife, a pretty Chinese woman whose feet measure only four inches in length, and his son, who does some interesting acrobatic and juggling tricks, are also members of the company, whose entertainment is so novel that it has become the talk of the town.

The Chinese characters under the picture above read: “Pekin, China, Ching Ling Foo.”

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