100 Years Ago in The Sphinx—October 1906

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Postby Dustin Stinett » 09/27/06 01:41 PM

Here is the installment of 100 Years Ago in The Sphinx that did not make it into the October 2006 Genii. This is also the last of the installments. There simply is not enough space in Genii. I want to thank those of you who supported my efforts and offered kind words over these last few months; its truly appreciated.


By October 1906, The Sphinx had new competition: Volume 1, Number 1 of Harry Houdinis paper called the Conjurers Monthly Magazine was issued the previous September. In fact, Dr. Wilson had run an ad taken out by Houdini in the August issue of The Sphinx announcing the arrival of this new journal. What Wilson probably hadnt expected was the escape artists verbal attack on The Sphinxand virtually every other magazine in magicin that first issue. Though Houdini first claimed to have no axes to grind in his Salutatory opening, he went on to say that he had no knowledge of any Magicians paper that is a newspaper for the craft. Houdini then ran down a near complete list of current journals that he felt were, to one degree or another, nothing more than compromised grafting catalogues. [T]he Sphinx, wrote Houdini, has at certain times gone out of the way a wee bit. One can only imagine how Dr. Wilson felt when he first read these words.

Issue: October 1906, Volume 5, Number 8
On the Cover: David P. Abbott

Dr. Wilson opens the issue acknowledging that he is celebrating the third year of ownership of the magazine. As promised the previous month, this issue is dedicated to the work of David P. Abbott. The vast majority of the magazine is taken up by Abbotts piece, Some Modern Sorcery. Dr. Wilson urges that his readers:

Read it carefully. It is the very best thing on spiritualistic phenomena ever published in any periodical, magical or general. I have no apology to offer for publishing the article in full and thus talking up so much space, for it should be read at one sitting, and then re-read until thoroughly mastered in every detail.

I trust my correspondents will pardon the omission or curtailment of their current items, as the length of Mr. Abbott's article necessitated economizing space.

Then Dr. Wilson wasted no more time in answering his would-be competitors statements with some subtle commentary of his own:

Brethren, pardon me for all I have said in praise of The Sphinx as a magicians paper. I find that I have been laboring under the hallucination of a disordered cerebrum. I did not discover my grievous error, until by chance, the first copy of the new magical magazine fell into my hands, the editor of which states emphatically, that We have no hesitation in making the statement that up to the present day and date (Saturday, Sept. 15th, 1906) we have no knowledge of any magicians paper that is a newspaper for the craft. Brethren, I have no comment to make on such ignorance, I leave the matter to your judgment as to whether The Sphinx is a newspaper for the craft or not.

Dr. Wilson had little else to say, preferring instead to print on this opening page the first of three tricks that appear in the issue that do not belong to David Abbott: S. Bradford Shermans aptly titled Good Finale to the Rising Card Trick in which any one of the three selections that had just arose from the deck magically appears on the center of a small sheet of glass suspended above the performers table.

Cover subject David P. Abbotts Biographical section takes up six paragraphs (better than a quarter of the page; slightly more than average for The Sphinx during this period). Besides magic, we are told, Abbotts interests include music (it is noted that he plays several different instruments), science, philosophy, astronomy (he possesses the largest astronomical telescope in the state of Nebraska), as well as fine art. Apparently Abbotts love of fine art mingled with his love for the occult: The walls of his residence are covered with works of fine art and strange, weird paintings that fit in well with his sances of mystery.

Abbotts fascination with the occult dates back to his youth and, by this time, his relentless investigations of spiritualist mediums were famous. It is one of these investigationsand his own talentsfrom which Abbott draws the material that makes up the huge article, Some Modern Sorcery which immediately follows the biography. Besides the remainder of this page, it takes up an additional four full pages; the text appearing without a single graphic illustration or photograph (and no advertisements appear within these pages as well).

The 6,800-plus word article is a four-part expos of a visit Abbott madeon the behest of a friendto a traveling spirit medium. His friend hoped that Abbott might assist in investigating a most strange and marvelous case of psychic phenomena since his friend could find no evidence of trickery of any kind. Furthermore, Abbotts friend was inclined to believe that this strange being really possessed the power of vision without the use of human eyes as he certainly read sealed missives, of which he could in no secret manner have obtained knowledge.

In Part One, Abbott describes three public meetings he attended. Initially he details the entrance of the Seer at the first meeting who made his appearance, taking his seat on the stage. He was a very slender personage, with long hair and a particularly ghostly look. He describes in detail the sealed envelope reading experiments that had made the medium the wonder of the town. The medium used different proceduresthus methodseach night. In part two, Abbott details the methods used by the medium to perform his wonders. In Part Three, Abbott describes the method he uses in his own Mediumistic Reading of Sealed Writings at his home performances.

Part Four has Abbott recounting a private meeting he had with the medium the day following the third public show. At this private sitting, the medium executed a very fine slate writingwhich is really one of the best in existence. Abbott should know, as by this time he was already recognized as one of the most knowledgeable men in this bit of chicanery. Abbott was effusive in his praise of the mediums technique:

I must acknowledge that the effect of this experiment was very startling, and that it must be very convincing with persons who are not performers. The truth is that it is one of the best of slate tricks for a single person, and is used by only a few of the very best mediums in the country.

He then proceeds to explain the method in detail bringing this mammoth piece (by Sphinx standards) to a close. In the September issue, Dr Wilson promised $200 worth of secrets and, through David P. Abbott, he delivered.

Henry Hattons third installment of Looking Backward continues with more of his recollections of Robert Hellers stellar career. He shares two particularly amusing anecdotes, the first during a failed performance of The Pistol Trick:

[H]e was unable to extract the bullet. Walking down to the footlights he coolly [sic] addressed the audience: Ladies and Gentlemen, he said, if I should attempt to go on with this trick, you would see in the morning papers, Bullet-in. Heller Killed, and to avoid that I'll stop here.

In the second, Heller had a poorly timed backstage argument with his wife who was about to take the stage for their Second Sight performance. She refused to go on creating an uncomfortable stage-wait for Heller:

Then he came forward, and said: This is the part of the programme where Miss Heller should come on for Second Sight. Miss Heller says she will not come. Let us wait and see. He seated himself on the couch which was on the stage, and began to twirl his thumbs. After a moment or two Miss Heller entered, with fire in her eye. Ah! I thought so! exclaimed heand the performance went on.

The second of the three non-Abbott tricks in the issue is Hear it Break by W.S. Walter, DDS. This is the old stick-match hidden in the hem of the handkerchief dodge where a borrowed match, heard to break within the folds of the handkerchief, is shown no worse for wear. (Is this the first time this trick was printed?) The last is An Improved Aga levitation by Louis N. Miller where the young lady arises from the stage floor instead of a couch.

L. Jerome Mora, Mnfr. (Louis J. McCord, later known as Silent Mora) of 112 Charles Street, Alleghany, Pennsylvania advertises his Any Card Called For Taken From Pocket in a two column-inch ad. Only one dollar (stamps accepted) provides the purchaser with a package that comes complete with instructions. (He also has his usual one column-inch personal ad in the rear of the magazine.)

A. Roterbergs (Chicago) four inch ad catches the eye with the pronouncement NOW READY at its top. What is ready is a Special List of Entirely New Books on Conjuring and Kindred Subjects. Additionally, one can pick up list No. 41 of 350 decided bargains in Magical Apparatus, Both lists [and a free catalogue] sent on receipt of a two cent stamp.

The Passing Show, usually part of the larger Magicians Doings section in the magazine, was relegated to less than a quarter of a page in the back with the ads. It reports that Kellar and Valadon were at Buffalo, N.Y.; Niagara Falls; Erie, Pa.; Ashtabula, O.; Elyria; [and] Youngstown.

Eugene Laurant garnered space and praise as well:

Laurant has made a season full of extra good dates, among which are the Star courses of Philadelphia and Chicago. Laurant has filled three previous engagements on the same course in Philadelphia, which fact speaks in loud praise of his success in that city.

Wilson goes on to mention that a good story on Laurant which will appear in the November Sphinx.

Earlier in the magazine, Wilson noted the untimely passing of Mrs. Ziska, the wife of Mr. Ziska, on August 17 of typhoid. Mr. Ziska is William Griffin who teamed with comic-magician Louis King. While undoubtedly devastated, it is not without some poignancy that the missive the show must go on does prevail as Wilson also reports that:

Ziska & King, with their inimitable magic and comedy, are on the Orpheum circuit and making good at every stand. They were at Omaha; Kansas City; New Orleans; [and] Chicago, (Majestic). Ziska and King are giving a clean burlesque magic act, no exposures, no vulgarity, just straight magic by Ziska and clever comedy by King. They will always find a hearty reception in Kansas City; they made many friends here.
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Postby Joe Pecore » 09/27/06 04:37 PM

I'm going to miss this feature! Would you ever consider posting them here on the Genii Forum on a monthly basis?

- Joe
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Postby Guest » 09/27/06 07:21 PM

Really interesting stuff. Thanks for posting it.

Postby Guest » 09/27/06 09:26 PM

I will miss it too.

Postby Dustin Stinett » 09/28/06 12:05 AM

Originally posted by Joe Pecore:
I'm going to miss this feature! Would you ever consider posting them here on the Genii Forum on a monthly basis?
I havent made a decision on that yet. You can see what a great job Im doing keeping up with the Book of the Month Club! But well see.

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Postby Frank Dudgeon » 09/28/06 02:31 AM

I too will miss the column. Thanks for the research and care you gave this project. Hope it returns in some form.
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Postby Guest » 09/28/06 11:32 PM

I enjoyed it as well as your tell the truth video

reviews.I am someone else who would miss the 100

years ago column.......Mike

Postby Charles McCall » 09/29/06 09:18 AM

Add me to the list of those who will miss your monthly column on early issues of the SPHINX. Since the column's appearence, it has been one of the first things I turned to after reading "Genii Speaks."
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Postby Leonard Hevia » 10/02/06 05:25 PM

I'm also saddened to see this fantastic column vanish from our wonderful journal. I don't have the Sphinx on paper or CD-Rom. It was my only current opportunity to learn about it. I still haven't joined Bill Kalush's website. No room in Genii for this column? It's worth paring down a trick or two in Magicana for it...
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Postby Guest » 10/02/06 06:47 PM

I didn't have any particular dislike for this column, but it wasn't exactly the first thing I read every month either.

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