The two greatest Victorian-era illusions . . .

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby Tom Sawyer » 08/13/12 08:06 PM

Hi All,

On one of my blogs, I once had a brief discussion of the two greatest Victorian-era illusions. The two illusions are so great, so far above all the others, that it would be superfluous to name them here.

Nonetheless, for the benefit of the neonates among us, I will name them.

They are, first, the --

But just a minute!

Maybe some of you, for fun, want to decide what you think are the two greatest illusions of the Victorian-era.

Because I do not want to influence you, I will wait a while, at least a few hours, before naming them.

--Tom Sawyer
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Postby Brad Henderson » 08/13/12 09:21 PM

I would have to vote for the sphinx illusion, if not for the original illusion itself (have not seen it performed as per the original) but for the principle and it's impact on magic.
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Postby Brad Henderson » 08/13/12 09:24 PM

I also find the many false automata relevant as they echoed the cultural preoccupation with the idea if what constitutes/comprises life. Are we just the sum of our parts? I would love to be able to have seen these wonderful machines with the eye of someone from that era.
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Postby Andrew Pinard » 08/13/12 10:55 PM

I will echo Brad on the Sphinx and would follow through with Pepper's Ghost (impractical though it may be)...

ajp
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Postby Tom Sawyer » 08/13/12 11:51 PM

Hi All,

Brad and Andrew, great comments on this topic. Thanks for getting involved!

I agree with Brad and Andrew regarding the naming of The Spinx, which I think was the greatest.

Second greatest, in my opinion, was The Vanishing Lady (De Kolta).

But "Pepper's Ghost" definitely would be very near the top.

I guess the topic of "pseudo-automata" covers a pretty wide range, but many of them (for example, those of John Nevil Maskelyne) must have been truly amazing, even though they may not strictly be "illusions."

In re-looking at my relevant post on one of my blogs, I see that there I was really addressing the two illusions which best represent Victorian-age conjuring. That may (or may not) be a significantly different issue! If anything, it may make the above answers stronger.

For instance, someone might say that "The Aerial Suspension" was a "great" illusion, but I tend to think that it doesn't well "represent" the Victorian era. But "The Sphinx" and "Pepper's Ghost" sure do!

--Tom Sawyer
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Postby Brad Henderson » 08/14/12 12:35 AM

The vanishing lady was also a culturally important illusion with numerous literary and 'pop' cultural references. I recall seeing a few political cartoons featuring the illusion. Clearly a relevant and important magical milestone. I could easily agree with that as a key Victorian era illusion.
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Postby Doug Thornton » 08/14/12 01:11 AM

Blooming rosebush ?
Smiles all around
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Postby Q. Kumber » 08/14/12 07:09 AM

Not sure when he invented it, but if it were prior to 1901, then Maskelyne's Levitation should be on the list.
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Postby Bill Mullins » 08/14/12 09:10 AM

In terms of real-world impact, Robert-Houdin's performances Light and Heavy Chest and The Bullet Catch should be considered. Those were the effects he used to impress the Arabs who were in revolt against French colonial rule.
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Postby Q. Kumber » 08/14/12 09:25 AM

Bill Mullins wrote:In terms of real-world impact, Robert-Houdin's performances Light and Heavy Chest and The Bullet Catch should be considered. Those were the effects he used to impress the Arabs who were in revolt against French colonial rule.


Maybe we should send Criss Angel to Afghanistan.
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Postby Gary Hunt » 08/14/12 10:12 PM

Tom,
Good question. The problem with selecting just two illusions is that the Victorian Era lasted 64 years and in that time magic underwent a huge evolution. Anyway, for help with the answer I turned to my favorite Victorian Era magic writer, and yours too I suspect, Professor Hoffmann. In Modern Magic he picked just a few stage illusions to describe. These include the Sphinx, the Indian Basket and the Aerial Suspension. The Sphinx and Suspension deserve to be on the list. I would also add the Spirit Cabinet as done by the Davenport Brothers and all of their competitors.
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