I have recently been encouraged to post publicly some previously unpublished critiques of THE MAN WHO WAS ERDNASE (TMWWE). Let me begin by saying that I truly consider TMWWE to be a fantastic book which every student of Erdnase should own and study. This discussion assumes you have the book and can look up the references in it. It may make little sense if you do not have access to a copy. The good news is that it is still in print and available at a reasonable price from several dealers including the publisher.
TMWWE is basically a chronicle of the life of Milton Franklin Andrews (MFA, 1872-1905) and a history of Erdnase (the book and the author), arguing persuasively that MFA was Erdnase. This theory was first published by Martin Gardner, who developed information supplied to him by Edgar Pratt, a magician originally from Providence, Rhode Island, but living in Philadelphia when Gardner corresponded with him (at the suggestion of Walter Gibson) beginning in 1947. Gardner later met him several times. Gardners evidence (on this and other Erdnase theories) was further developed by Jeff Busby and then Bart Whaley. Thus the book is credited to Bart Whaley (who did most of the writing and much of the background research) with Jeff Busby and Martin Gardner. In addition to his research, Gardner contributed a foreword and Busby, who published the book in 1991, contributed not only research but several important chapters.
Let me begin with one of the very first artifacts presented in the book: a frontispiece photo opposite the title page of a handsome young man from the turn of the century. The photo is captioned Milton Franklin Andrews. When Martin Gardner received his first copy of the book, he was struck by the photo, which he had never seen. His initial response was Thats not Milton! as it was so unlike the photos of MFA with which he was familiar. Indeed, Thomas Sawyer in his critique ERDNASE: ANOTHER VIEW (possibly still available from Aladdin Books in Fullerton California) makes the same point. The morgue photo of MFA (p. 37) is clearly not the same man shown in the frontispiece photo (compare the shape of the noses: one is convex, one is concave, check the relative distances between the chin and lips, lips and eyes etc. Not the same man.). If the frontispiece photo is not MFA, who is it? One of the wonderful things about TMWWE is the extensive endnoting of source material. The first endnote in the book (p. 383) tells us that this photo, now in the collection of Howard Flint, is unique and still in the original photographers studio frame (Rose & Sands of Providence RI and NY) and that pencilled lightly on the back, likely in Edgar Pratts handwriting, it says Age 24 [corrected from 23], August 7, 1900. The photograph was purchased by Flint from Bob Little, who obtained it from Philadelphia magic dealer Mitchell (Mike) Kanter, who had obtained it, along with several other materials supposedly relating to MFA and Erdnase, from Pratt.
The first thing worth noting is that the photo is not unique. This was pointed out in T. A. Waters review of TMWWE in GENII, as he knew of the existence of at least one other copy. Flint had sold that copy to a well known magic personality and close friend of Waters, and Waters review implies that Busby/Whaley had knowledge of this. Bob Little did not know that he had sold Flint two photos stuck together, and it is likely that neither Kanter nor Pratt realized it as well. Since MFA was 27 on the date pencilled in on the photo, Whaley conjectures that it is likely a photo of MFA at age 24, given to Pratt when MFA was 27. Now Pratts correspondence and interviews with Gardner never claim that he knew MFA well, only that MFA was on friendly terms with Pratts childhood friends, the Taylor brothers and that what MFA showed them, the Taylor boys would share with Pratt (Pratts 4 letters to Gardner are reprinted in Darwin Ortizs wonderful ANNOTATED ERDNASE, also still in print and highly recommended to all interested in this topic). Why would Pratt even have a photo of MFA, whom he barely knew, and why would he keep it for nearly 50 years? Intrigued by this mystery, I went through the Providence city directories (available on microfilm at the Family History Library of the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City) covering a period of about 30 years researching Pratt, the Taylor brothers and, relevant to the case at hand, the Rose & Sands photography studio. Philip Rose founded the studio in the 1870s, at which time it was simply The Rose Studio. For one year, and one year only --1900-- he partnered with an ex-employee named Sands who had moved to NY and together they operated under the name Rose & Sands. By 1901, the partnership had broken up and The Rose Studio was back in business (Sands eventually moved back to Providence and opened a competing studio under his own name). This allows us to date the photos frame with some certainty as from 1900, and it seems most reasonable that the photo itself also dates from that period, as indicated by the pencilled notation. So who is it?
As it turns out, Edgar Pratt had an older brother William Pratt who turned 24 (from 23!) on August 6, 1900. I cannot prove, but would be willing to bet that the frontispiece photo of TMWWE is a photo of William Pratt, taken to commerate his 24th birthday. Pratt told Gardner that his brother died a few years later, and it makes sense to me that he would both have and hold onto a photo of his deceased brother for many years, selling it to Kanter only when poverty forced him to do so (Gardner tells us that Pratt was living in empoverished circumstances when they met).
One of the things Pratt sold Kanter, apparently on the same occasion (along with two letters from Gardner) was the copy of the AMERICAN WEEKLY article, THE MALTED MILK MURDERER published on May 20, 1945. This is reproduced on page 264 of TMWWE. Even with a strong magnifying glass, the article (which is missing several pieces) is difficult to read, but I have since been able to purchase several copies online. Everything Pratt told Gardner about MFA that can be verified is in that article, as are several things he told Gardner about MFA that are incorrect. Pratt, at that time, would not tell Gardner who Erdnase was. Later, when Gardner found the MFA murder/suicide story by following up on Pratts leads, and told Pratt that MFAs story had seen print several times (Pratt claimed to be protecting his friends identity to avoid scandalizing the Andrews family), Pratt claimed he did not know anything had ever been published on this topic--this just a few years after THE MALTED MILK MURDERER article. It is my belief that Pratt, whatever his relationship with MFA (I am inclinded to believe he did not know him at all, from the many mistatements he made regarding him), knew about the Andrews=Erdnases real name theory (which was published in THE SPHINX by Leo Rullman in February 1929 as though it was already well known at that time) and conjectured that MFA was Erdnase based on the MALTED MILK MURDERER article. And perhaps he was correct in doing so: MFA remains the only candidate named Andrews who is known to have had some of the skills required of the books author (knowledge of card cheating methods and card tricks). The fact that he died in 1905 conveniently explains why the author who clearly took pride in his work never came forward to identify himself, once the book became a commercial success.
Gardner, even after cracking the MFA theory, remained skeptical because of Pratts strange behavior. But he followed up Pratts lead that James Harto had collaborated with the author and found independent evidence of this, which he found compelling. I have done considerable research on Harto, as well as on Hugh Johnston and Del Aldephia, who, along with Albertie Minkley, MFAs sister-in-law, are cited in TMWWE in support of the MFA theory. Should there be sufficient interest, I would be happy to post some of my findings on this board as time permits.