The Summer 2010 Issue of Gibecière is available!
For our spectacular tenth issue, we hear from a familiar voice, welcome a celebrated new contributor, and unearth a centuries-old manuscript that turns the entire timeline of magic history on its ear.
First, Barry Wiley chronicles the remarkable Nellie Bly, considered the first female journalist, and her shrewd exposure of fraudulent supernatural performers in early 20th Century America.
Next we hear from the prolific Joshua Jay, who gives us a morbidly fascinating catalog of magicians who have met with tragic ends in the pursuit of their art. Chung Ling Soo’s death is well-chronicled, but these magicians’ stories are equally (and just as eerily) compelling.
Finally, Conjuring Arts has uncovered a 17th Century Italian manuscript whose contents both shed light on and call into question the timeline of many well-known conjuring tricks. Lori Pieper once again provides the English translation, and Stephen Minch and William Kalush give context and commentary.
Street performer David Rosdeitcher has developed a most unusual talent. He has committed ZIP codes and their associated locales to memory and can tell you instantly where you are from when given the ZIP code. His initial street performing talent was juggling, and he developed the ZIP code memory feat when he moved to Boulder, Colorado, and found, since there were already some very talented jugglers performing in the area, he needed something new to help set him apart from the other entertainers.
Mr. Rosdeitcher’s earlier street performing had brought him to many different towns around the United States, and he was able to use his knowledge of the landscape to help him remember all the different ZIP codes, aided by the fact that they do have some logic to the way they are designated, i.e. the numbers start low on the East Coast and get higher as you move West. As the act proved successful, he started spending more and more time memorizing ZIP codes as well as pertinent facts about each location. Mr. Rosdeitcher has also taken to traveling abroad in order to expand his repertoire and currently can even perform the feat with many foreign countries’ postal codes and even say something in the person’s native language!
Our director, Bill Kalush, was on hand to witness one of Mr. Rosdeitcher’s performances. Bill was sure that he was going to see the Zipcode Man stumped, as he was in the company of Lennart Green, one of the premier masters of magic in the known and unknown universe and also a resident of Sweden. Both were shocked when Mr. Rosdeitcher, immediately upon hearing Lennart’s ZIP code, correctly guessed the magician’s place of residence (Gothenburg).
Here we have a young man performing a feat of water spouting on par with the Bellagio’s fountains! Okay, maybe not quite, but just as impressive considering the considerable differences in technological requirements. He showcases his novel ability in a couple of splendid feats including a complete brushing of his teeth, sans sink and faucet.
There is a traveling exhibit of magic related art roaming around England called Magic Show. Check it out to see if it interests you and then see if it is possible for you to see it in person. One of the curators and artists is Jonathan Allen who, in 2007, guest edited an issue of Cabinet magazine devoted to magic. There are more than 20 artists represented, and it looks like a very fascinating affair. In particular, the Center for Tactical Magic sounds like a most glorious addition to any venture so, perhaps, pay particular attention to their shenanigans if you get the opportunity.
Find more information on this event here.
Additionally, there is a catalog available for the exhibition which might prove a suitable substitute for the actual experience if need be: catalog.
A surprisingly beautiful demonstration of the esoteric art of sand painting by Kseniya Simonova, performed for Ukraine’s Got Talent. It’s a wonderful piece fluid and graceful. The morphing of one image into the next can be startling and rather magical. In fact, sand painting and magic share some history, as there have been numerous performers who featured both in their acts.
One of these was S. S. Henry, known for his “Vanishing Goat”, who, in addition to sand painting and magic, featured rag painting, smoke pictures, and chalk cartoons. Incidentally, Henry taught sand painting to Melba Dew, wife of magician Danny Dew, and the two of them performed an act together showcasing both of their talents.
For those of you that are interested, and can travel through time, here is an Abbott’s advertisement from the Sphinx purporting to give all the secrets away for just $3! (click image)
A new piece of Houdini memorabilia has been kind enough to grace the library with its presence. It is a reproduction of a bust that Houdini gave to Jim Bard in the early 1900s which is quite striking. Since only two busts of Houdini are known to have survived, the Houdini-Bard and one sold at the Sidney Radner auction, the reproductions are a welcome addition.
Each bust is handcrafted using methods and materials faithful to those used a hundred years ago when the original was made. The bust is just over a foot tall and the detailing is impeccable. Only 100 were made, so we feel very fortunate to have obtained the copy we did. Mr. Bard obtained the bust directly from Houdini as a gift. Later on, a young Jim Baldauf befriended Mr. Bard, who was then in his eighties, and was given this rare artifact as a gift. Additionally, he also received some other memorabilia, including a stage coat designed, made, and worn by Bess Houdini. It is through Mr. Baldauf that these spectacular reproductions are being offered.
The Secret Life of Houdini was one of the factors inspiring Mr. Baldauf to take on the task of reproducing these fascinating pieces due to the references to Jim Bard, and he has been kind enough to donate part of the proceeds from the sale of these to the Conjuring Arts Research Center.
Greetings from Conjuring Arts! Our intrepid internet explorer, Steve Cuiffo, recently discovered that some other people, scientists, have discovered a way to levitate objects: with sound. Watch the fascinating video here or read the article first at: Acoustic Levitation.
I recently had a spirited conversation with a group of magic collectors over the pros and cons of our very own database: Alexander – The Computer That Knows. Some suggested that any publisher who allowed his books to be scanned and uploaded onto the data base, was diluting the value of his books. The thinking being, if the information is available on line, why would anyone purchase a hard copy of the book? Others believed that the availability of this wealth of information far outweighed the potential loss of revenue to the publisher. As the owner of a niche publishing house myself (Mike Caveney’s Magic Words) it might surprise some to learn that I came down firmly in favor of the fattest possible Alexander. To my way of thinking, it’s a no brainer.
Fortunately for me, people who collect books on magic have an inherent flaw: they like the way books feel in their hands. Of course they enjoy the information these books contain but they also like the dust jacket, the gold stamping, the printed end sheets, the feel of the paper, and they enjoy seeing the spine of that book as is sits on their bookshelf. All elements that are not provided by a database. The fact that every word of these books is now on line does not change the fact that they enjoy holding that bound volume in their hands.
You might also say that with the advent of the Alexander database, I can take my entire collection of periodicals to the paper mill and have them pulped. Why not, its all on line anyway. Think of the space you’d save.
The truth is that Alexander has made my periodical collection even more valuable to me. There is nothing I enjoy more than finding numerous obscure references to some arcane subject on the Alexander database, then walking downstairs, pulling the original magazines off the shelf and settling into a comfortable chair to peruse magic history in its original form. Alexander has directed me to magazines that I haven’t peeked into for years and for that he has my undying gratitude.
And lastly, the number of people who are willing to join the Conjuring Arts Research Center so they can gain access to our wonderful pool of knowledge is not that large. I imagine they are mainly people actively engaged in the writing of a book or article about a subject that I will most likely enjoy reading. If having my books included in this pool of knowledge assists them in their task, and ultimately results in a more complete article, then we all win. And if that researcher finds him or her self reading a digitized book filled with interesting text, they might just decide to buy a copy. All of a sudden, instead of losing a customer, I just gained a new one.
If there is a down side to the Computer that Knows, I just don’t see it.
Having been studying and writing about magic history for over 30 years now, it has been remarkable to witness the changes that technology has brought to the task of research.
As a teenager, in about 1975 B.C. (Before Computers) I would spend hours in the downtown Seattle Public Library pouring over old copies of the New York Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer, looking for ads and stories about the great magicians of the past. In those days, the Periodical Desk at the library would hand you huge bound volumes containing real, honest-to-goodness copies of the newspapers. I remember well the musty smell of ancient newsprint. I also remember reading the stories about the death of Houdini, looking at the same newspaper that someone else had, a half century before me. A few years later, when the library converted their files to microfilm, all of these wonderful bound volumes of newspapers vanished. Visits to the library were never quite the same again for me. I missed the smell of history.
Most serious magic historians own complete files of Sphinx, Genii and other periodicals, as well as libraries filled with the most popular books on the subject from the past 130 years (if one uses Hoffmann’s Modern Magic as the starting point for popular magic literature.) While that great smell of history is there, the real key in research is in finding the material when you need it.
Jack Potter made the Herculean effort to index and cross reference every popular trick and effect published roughly from 1876 through the early 1960’s, sharing his results serially as Potter’s Bar in the Linking Ring, and later as a series of volumes from Micky Hades. Potter’s index was an amazing feat in itself during those pre-computer days. However, Potter was interested only in documenting references to tricks and methods, not news and personalities from the magic world. This was in keeping with the times, when most magicians were primarily interested in the techniques and not the people who made the magic.
The magic historian was left with the task of sorting through thousands of pages in books and magazines, literally one line at a time. Hour upon hour could be spent searching for one reference. At times it was akin to looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.
With the advent of the computer age, and the OCR software necessary to scan printed pages and convert them to pixels, a whole new world has opened for the magic researcher. Bill Kalush and Conjuring Arts have certainly led the way in our field.
No longer is it necessary to sit cloistered in a library. Now, with a laptop computer and an internet connection, one can relax at their local Starbucks with a cup of coffee and watch as the history of magic unfolds before them.
My latest project is writing the definitive biography of Harry Willard, and the saga of those who performed as “Willard The Wizard.” While I have accumulated many great stories about Willard, due to the nature of his traveling life many of the dates and places of those events have fallen through the cracks. So recently, I called upon the Ask Alexander database for help. Within seconds of typing “Willard The Wizard” on my keyboard, the search engine found 152 references to Willard among 62 documents in the Conjuring Arts collection.
Besides the usual magic publications, it was interesting to find references from non-hobby sources, such as The Billboard magazine. For example, in his January 17, 1948 Magic column, Bill Sachs wrote: “Caught Willard the Wizard in Carmine, Texas. He carries seven people and 16 illusions and gives a two-hour show. Well timed and perfect.” Sachs was a seasoned theatrical reporter, who had seen all of the greats of the era, which makes this short notice especially interesting. Two weeks later, in the January 31st column, Virgil wrote to Sachs: “One who has never caught Willard’s performance can’t conceive of the magnitude of the show. Willard has most all of the big illusions that have been done by other magicians plus a few of his own creation. The numerous trucks and trailers he uses give his show the appearance of a circus.” These notices are just two examples of the type of material that one could have previously spent days searching for, but is now available in just seconds via AskAlexander.org.
So what does this technology hold for the magic historians of the future? Much like television was in 1948, we are just beginning to unravel the potential of internet-based research tools. No doubt new research could be done on just about any figure in the history of magic and today you’d find more information than even one year ago, thanks to the databases now available. For the first time to the magic historian, the future is starting to look as interesting as the past. Now if they could just bring back that great musty smell….
Here is the untold true story of the Willard family and the four men who toured rural America as Willard the Wizard. Besides scouring old magazines, newspapers, letters, scrapbooks and photographs, author David Charvet had the full cooperation of Eugene, Madeline and Frances Willard who grew up backstage on the Willard the Wizard show. Here is the ultimate behind-the-scenes story of a traveling tent show as told by those who lived it. Willard – A Life Under Canvas is number 14 in our series of Magical Pro-Files. It contains 370 pages with 276 photographs and because the entire book is printed in two colors, many of the photos appear in duotone, giving them the feel of a hot, dusty tent show. Eight pages of full color show Harry Willard in action along with some beautiful portraits of his well-worn apparatus.This edition is limited to 1,000 hand-numbered copies. Price $85 plus $5 postage.
DELUXE EDITION features a tipped-in, hand-tinted portrait of Harry Willard along with an extra page with a color photograph of Eugene, Madeline and Frances Willard. Each of them, along with the author David Charvet, has signed this page. The book is housed in a matching slipcase stamped in two colors. Only 150 copies of this hand-numbered, deluxe edition have been produced.