A Year: Day to Day Men: 27th of September, Solar Year 2018

Flesh and Silver Claws

September 27, 1885 was the birthdate of magician Harry Blackstone, Sr.

Born Harry Bouton in Chicago, Illinois, Harry Blackstone was a famed magician and illusionist. He was in the model of courtly, elegant predecessors such as Howard Thurston and Harry Keller, and the last of that group in America. Blackstone customarily wore white tie and tails while performing, and traveled with a sizable cast of assistants and large-scale illusions. His stage show was presented to the accompaniment of a pit orchestra.

One of Blackstone Senior’s especially effective illusions was called the Kellar Levitation billed as “The Dream of Princess Karnac”. A woman would lay on a couch, uncovered unlike other magicians’ versions, and rise up in the air. In another illusion,  a woman stepped into a cabinet in front of many tubular incandescent bulbs. Blackstone would suddenly push the perforated front of the cabinet backwood so the bulbs protruded through the holes in the front of the box. The cabinet was then revolved, revealing the woman impaled by the blinding filaments.

His “Sawing a Woman in Half” illusion involved an electric circular saw some three to four feet in diameter mounted in an open frame. Blackstone demonstrated the efficacy of the device by sawing noisily through a piece of lumber. Then a female assistant was placed on the saw table in full view, as wide metal restraints were clamped upon her midsection. The saw table was pulled by a motor through the saw blade.The blade whirred and appeared to pass through her body. As ripping sounds were heard, the woman shrieked, and particles were scattered by the whirring blade. When the blade stopped she, of course, rose unharmed.

“The Floating Light Bulb”, was perhaps Blackstone’s signature piece. In a darkened theatre, Blackstone would take a lighted bulb from a lamp and float it, still glowing, through a small hoop. He would then come down from the stage and the lamp would float out over the heads of the audience. This illusion was passed to Blackstone’s son, also Harry Blackstone, and then after his son’s death to the Dutch illusionist Hans Klok.

Harry Blackstone Sr. spent the last years of his life performing at the Magic Castle, a magical attraction in Hollywood, California. He died at the age of 80 in Hollywood on November 16, 1965. Blackstone was interred In Colon, Michigan where the main street was renamed Blackstone Avenue in his honor.

In 1985, on the 100th anniversary of his father’s birth, Harry Blackstone Jr. donated to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. the original floating light bulb, which Thomas Edison diesigned and built, and the original Casadega Cabinet, used in the “Dancing Handkerchief” illusion. This was the first ever donation accepted by the Smithsonian in the field of magic.

Chung Ling Soo

Artist Unknown, “Chung Ling Soo”, 1908 Advertising Poster

This rare 1908 poster advertised a tour of the talented magician Chung Ling Soo. It is one of eight different known posters of the magician’s tours.

Born William Ellsworth Robinson in Westchester County, New York in 1861,Chung Ling Soo was a behind-the-scenes designer of magic tricks for headliners Harry Keller and Alexander Herrmann before he struck out on his own. Around 1900, while in Europe, he adopted the Chung Ling Soo persona.

Robinson went to great lengths to preserve the illusion, limiting his speech on stage to the occasional bit of broken English and relying on an interpreter to talk to journalists. Robinson in his persona of Chung Ling Soo performed a bullet catch trick at a show in London, England in 1918; it was one of the big theatrical showpieces of his performances. Instead of catching the bullet on a plate, the bullet hit his chest. Robinson died a few days later at the age of 56.

Kellar the Magician

Keller the Magician Poster, “Levitation”, 1900-1909

Harry Kellar was an American magician, a predecessor of Harry Houdini and a successor of Robert Heller and Isaiah Hughes, under whom he apprenticed. Referred to as the “Dean of American Magicians”, he is shown here performing one his most memorable stage illusions, the “Levitation of Princess Karnac”.