I just finished reading Hiding the Elephant, a very enjoyable book on the history of large-scale vanishes (yes, I recognize I'm behind in my reading). Steinmeyer does a wonderful job with the book, crafting the story in an interesting and compelling way.
The book reminded me of one of the best discussions appearing in the early days of alt.magic.history -- those of you who participated back then will remember those carefree times when we engaged in magic scholarship before the alt. world was taken over by purveyors of Viagra and chain letter scams. It was a thread we wrote on the "Big Vanish" and it is similar in concept to Mr. Steinmeyer's book. I've reproduced part of it below.
Please note that I'm citing this just by way of interest -- and not suggesting that Mr. Steinmeyer got his idea from this discussion. But I do think it interesting that the group recognized that this aspect of magic history provided a compelling story, one that Steinmeyer relates effectively to a much larger audience.
From: Gary Brown - view profile
Date: Sun, Jan 19 1997 12:00 am
Email: Gary Brown <gbr...@tribeca.ios.com>
Here's something for you consideration. I've been thinking about
the "Big Vanish" that has become the staple of so many television
specials. Copperfield did the Statue of Liberty -- probably one of the
most famous effects ever performed. WGM had the space shuttle. Lance
Burton did the elephant herd. And there have been others.
My question: what are the historical antecedents of this modern
day "Big Vanish"? A review of Hopkins 1898 treatise on stage illusions
reveals that most large vanishes involved the disappearance of an
assistant -- e.g. the "Gone Chair", DeKolta's Vanishing Assistant, etc.
Perhaps the most famous large scale disappearance from the Golden Age is
Houdini's Elephant Trick at the Hippodrome, which, if Prof. Silverman is
to be believed (and indeed he should) was something less than the grand
illusion Houdini held it out to be. Of course, Thurston showcased a
number of large disappearances -- his vanishing horse, and the
disappearing Whippet (a car, not a dog). Following Thurston's lead, I
recently learned from an old postcard, Kalanag made another small 50's car
disappear. And Horace Goldin did some work on a disappearing donkey.
Of course, all of these examples -- at least in magnitude -- pale
in comparison to the modern day vanishes. Putting aside Jasper
Maskelyne's work in the military, during which time he made the Suez Canal
"disappear" -- can anyone think of classic large scale vanishes which I
From: neamde - view profile
Date: Mon, Jan 20 1997 12:00 am
In a previous article Gary Brown <gbr...@tribeca.ios.com> writes:
> Here's something for you consideration. I've been thinking about
>the "Big Vanish" that has become the staple of so many television
>specials. Copperfield did the Statue of Liberty -- probably one of the
>most famous effects ever performed. WGM had the space shuttle. Lance
>Burton did the elephant heard. And there have been others.
>My question: what are the historical antecedents of this modern
>day "Big Vanish"?
Gary then goes on to suggest some examples from magic's history. I
thought it might be helpful to put each of these illustrations in their
own historical context. I look forward to reading what others have to add
to this very interesting thread.
Gary begins by noting:
> A review of Hopkins 1898 treatise on stage illusions
>reveals that most large vanishes involved the disappearance of an
>assistant -- e.g. the "Gone Chair", DeKolta's Vanishing Assistant, etc.
I believe that we once had a fairly long discussion on alt.magic about the
development of Buatier de Kolta's "Vanishing Lady" or "L'Escamotage de
Personne Vivante." While magicians had been making assistants disappear
for centuries, at the time this was considered "the most perfect and
startling stage trick which has ever been produced." This illusion was
first performed by de Kolta (Joseph Buatier) in St. Peterburg in March of
1886. Charles Bertram -- with de Kolta's permission -- subsequently
introduced the illusion for John Nevil Maskelyne at Egyptian Hall on
August 7 of that year. The most thorough history of this illusion can be
found in Peter Warlock's Buatier de Kolta: Genius of Illusion (Magical
Publications, 1993), although a rather complete explanation can be found
in a wide range of books dating back to Professor Hoffmann's More Magic.
Gary goes on to note that:
>Perhaps the most famous large scale disappearance from the Golden Age is
>Houdini's Elephant Trick at the Hippodrome, which, if Prof. Silverman is
>to be believed (and indeed he should) was something less than the grand
>illusion Houdini held it out to be.
Credit for Harry Houdini's vanishing elephant is generally ascribed to
Houdini's friend, Charles Morritt -- whose own "Disappear Donkey" was a
major illusion of the period and later used by Howard Thurston. Morritt
-- who with Maskelyne had also created the wonderful disappearance of an
assistant (Oh!) -- sold the worldwide performing rights to The Vanishing
Elephant to Houdini. First performed by Houdini on the New York Hippodrome
stage in January of 1918, the illusion was billed as "the largest trick in
the world." Silverman is not alone in being less than impressed with the
effect...but it was sensational enough for other magicians to either want
to copy it or claim to be its creator. Even Harry Blackstone claimed to be
the originator of the trick.
> Of course, Thurston [Gary Brown notes] showcased a
>number of large disappearances -- his vanishing horse, and the
>disappearing Whippet (a car, not a dog).
Howard Thurston's equine vanish "Beauty" was introduced in 1925-26. In
this illusion as originally presented, "Beauty, Thurston's Arabian steed,
vanishes from midair" -- the horse actually disappeared from a platform
raised above the stage. Thurston soon changed the illusion (some say
because of the danger of a large horse on a narrow platform raised off the
ground; some say because the illusion wasn't as strong as Thurston had
hoped)....the next year he billed it as "The largest illusion in the
world, requiring a special baggage card for its transportation (Presented
for the first time in an entirely different manner from last season)"
Thurston introduced "The Vanishing Whippet" in 1928 as the closing number
for his show. He billed IT as "the largest and most baffling illusion
ever presented on any stage." But -- you no doubt are thinking -- while a
car might be as large as a horse, the Whippet model of of a
Willys-Overland automobile couldn't possibly be as large as Houdini's
elephant, Jenny. No, but Thurston not only vanished the car but seven lady
passengers as well. BTW, automotive equipment certainly had been vanished
before. David Devant gave the magic world "Biff" in 1915 or so...his
on-stage vanish of a running motorcycle and its rider.
> Following Thurston's lead, I [Gary Brown]
>recently learned from an old postcard, Kalanag made another small 50's
I believe Kalanag's Vanishing Automobile illusion was really the same as
Thurston's Vanishing Whippet. Kalanag (Helmut Schreiber) used various
models of cars for this trick, relying on local dealers for his autos.
Just some thoughts.
From: neamde - view profile
Date: Mon, Jan 20 1997 12:00 am
In article <19970119174500.MAA04...@ladder01.news.aol.com>,
erikama...@aol.com (Erikamarlo) writes:
> MacDonald Birch featured a vanishing pony. (Princess?)
You're quite right, Erika. George McDonald Birch featured "Princess the
Vanishing Pony" in his act with great success.
> And maybe the most unusual "large evanishment" of all: The famous
>story about Blackstone, Sr. making his audience "vanish" from a burning
This is truly one of the great stories in magic history. On September 2,
1942, Blackstone was appearing at the Lincoln Theater in Decatur,
Illinois. The matinee was packed with children. A fire in the basement
next door -- and the fumes from deadly chemicals now alight -- posed a
terrible threat to this young audience. Blackstone, knowing the necessity
of averting panic yet knowing the theater had to be cleared immediately,
strode onto the stage and calmly announced "Boys and girls, today I'm
going to do the most spectacular trick ever seen, and it is so big you
will have to step outside to see it!" He carefully instructed the
children to leave row by row..and to bring their parents with them. Within
a few minutes, the auditorium was empty...and the audience was safe.
From: Bob Loomis - view profile
Date: Sat, Jan 25 1997 12:00 am
Email: loo...@aims-magic.org (Bob Loomis)
>> ......And maybe the most unusual "large evanishment" of all: The famous
>>story about Blackstone, Sr. making his audience "vanish" from a burning
>This is truly one of the great stories in magic history.
Yes Michael, I couldn't resist commenting on the vanish of an
audience. Many magi make audiences vanish by means of doing a poor
show, but one magus actually regularly vanished a group of real
audience members, on the stage, during his show.
The magician was Alois Kassner of Germany. You can find his picture on
page 245 of David Price's book (which was recently the subject of a
thread in this newsgroup). We will be featuring his trick in a future
issue of our newsletter, The Magical Spectator. My question for this
group is regarding his posters. He had many beautiful posters
lithographed by Friedlander of Hamburg. Would anyone out there be able
to send me a photocopy of the section of his poster that depicted the
spectators being vanished (a .gif or .jpg attached to an E-mail would
be excellent)? The poster in question was the one showing all his
major tricks and, of course, the audience vanish was one of them.
P.S. Kassner also vanished an elephant in a much more realistic manner
than Houdini's trick.
Pres, Sec, Treas, Scribe and Tea boy.
Association of International Magical Spectators ( A.I.M.S.)
From: NEAMDE - view profile
Date: Sun, Jan 26 1997 12:00 am
Email: nea...@aol.com (NEAMDE)
In a previous message loo...@aims-magic.org (Bob Loomis) wrote:
>> Kassner also vanished an elephant in a much more realistic manner than Houdini's trick.
Quite right!!!! Alois Kassner (1887-1970) featured a vanishing elephant
for many years in his sensational full illusion show. This, too, is
featured on a wonderful Friedlander lithograph from 1929: "Kassner Der
Grosse Zauberer...Zeight das Verschwinden des lebenden Tempel-Elefanten
"Toto"" It should be noted that the elephant vanish has not always been
the most succcessful of illusions. Reference has already been made to
Houdini's presentation. Mike Caveney tells of Charles Carter's
tribulations in perfecting his version of the trick. The debut of
Carter's Vanishing Elephant took place on December 4, 1934. His baby
elephant Jumbo disappeared right on cue, but audience members could still
hear Jumbo loudly trumpeting his displeasure at his handlers well after
the curtain fell. By the time Carter had performed the illusion in
Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, Taiping and Penang, he had heard enough
trumpeting from his costar to give up the venture, leave the elephant
behind, and vanish a horse for the remainder of his career.