Was Houdini aware of the Centre Tear?

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Richard Stokes
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Was Houdini aware of the Centre Tear?

Postby Richard Stokes » June 26th, 2020, 4:40 am

I am a member of the Cambridge Pentacle Club. We celebrated our centenary last year.
Due to the obligatory quarantine, we now meet online using Zoom software.

A couple of years ago at the Event (London) Max Maven gave a very interesting lecture on the origins of the CT (centre tear).

Max based his research mainly on Al Mann’s The Purloined Thought (1990).

This book contains interesting correspondence about the origins of the CT and also includes a copy of the pamphlet released by Annemann.

There was an important transfer of information about this move when Sid Lorraine visited Cambridge (UK). An American student Garrus showed the technique to Lorraine.
Garrus in turn had learned the move from Professor Wyman from Boston (USA).
Wyman had found out about this move from an unnamed Medium.

Lorraine seems to be the first person in magic to document this move.

Lorraine later informed Annemann of this technique.

Mann thinks that Dunninger (1915?) and Reese (1924?) were aware of the CT move.
Note: no specific references are cited though to back up this claim.

Most seem to think that the CT originated from psychic mediums in the 19th century.
Again, a reasonable hypothesis, but I’d like to see more evidence.

I've since discovered that there was a Leland C. Wyman who later specialised in studying the Navajo Indians.
He was born in 1897. He gained a Doctorate at Harvard in 1922.
This Wyman was a 'Doctor' and an anthropologist and lived in Boston.
So the information matches, but if anyone could independently confirm this, I would appreciate it.

Wyman only passed away in 1988! Did anyone ever interview him about his earlier explorations into mentalism and the occult?
I don't know if his early notebooks/correspondence survive.

As to what happened to Garrus, I do not know.

Last month at our Zoom gathering I mentioned this research to present day members of the Pentacle Club. To my surprise, many were not aware of their Club's CT connection.

The question I would like to ask is did Houdini know about the move?
He famously investigated spiritualists and built a reputation for debunking their claims.

So, surely he would have known about the centre tear?

And yet I can’t recall coming across a shred of evidence that he did know about this move.
Can anyone shed light on this mystery?

If Houdini did not know about the move, why was this the case? Were there limits to his technical knowledge?

Note: I originally put these questions to John Cox, a Houdini scholar in early April this year.
I was disappointed that he did not respond to my query.

Joe Mckay
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Re: Was Houdini aware of the Centre Tear?

Postby Joe Mckay » June 26th, 2020, 7:04 am

Ask Alexander has a collection of unpublished files and correspondence belonging to Sid Lorraine.

I remember it seemed to be a collection of files of tricks he liked from different magazines. But there may be more stuff in there as well. Perhaps some of it is related to the Centre Tear?

I had no idea about this history. So thanks a lot for sharing this fascinating information.

It is always interesting when techniques are discovered by non-magicians and then become widespread in the magic community. The $100 Bill Switch was another example of this. Sometimes the opposite happens. Apparently the Zarrow shuffle is the only magic move to ever become very popular amongst card cheats.

Aparently Teller is an expert in the area of billets. So he may be a good person to ask about this.

Max Maven
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Re: Was Houdini aware of the Centre Tear?

Postby Max Maven » June 26th, 2020, 7:08 am

Richard Stokes, it would appear that you didn’t pay attention to my lecture.

Several of your questions were, in fact, addressed in my lecture.

While I gave Al Mann deserved credit for his published research, it was filled with errors and false assumptions.

Q. Kumber
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Re: Was Houdini aware of the Centre Tear?

Postby Q. Kumber » June 26th, 2020, 8:38 am

Richard Stokes wrote: Last month at our Zoom gathering I mentioned this research to present day members of the Pentacle Club. To my surprise, many were not aware of their Club's CT connection.


Sadly this does not surprise me in the least. The knowledge of any kind of magical history in contemporary magicians (of the internet age) is appalling. Fortunately there are exceptions but they are remarkably few.

Max Maven wrote:Richard Stokes, it would appear that you didn’t pay attention to my lecture.


Naughty Richard! ;)

Richard Stokes
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Re: Was Houdini aware of the Centre Tear?

Postby Richard Stokes » June 26th, 2020, 6:28 pm

I find it hard to take detailed accurate notes especially in a darkened theatre. but I do I try to follow the gist of somebody's presentation.

My recollection is that Max did not provide any notes for the attendees which is a pity as this would ensure his arguments are captured accurately for posterity.

I don’t recall him going into any detail about Wyman. He certainly mentioned him but did not present any new material on him.

I also don’t recall him discussing in any depth how far Houdini knew the CT. And speculating on whether Houdini ought to have been aware of the move, given his claims that he knew the methods of miracle-mongers. If I missed this part of the presentation, then I'm sorry.

Yes, The Purloined Thought reads like a messy scrapbook of competing claim by rival mentalists and I'm sure it contains errors.
(John Davenport recently pointed out to me that Garrus was indeed a member of the Pentacle Club but was not the Club’s Secretary.)

I hope Max will enlighten us with answers to the questions raised in my earlier post and clarify any major points I missed.

But here's a suggestion: drop the Demond Llewelyn act.

Thanks.

Kent Blackmore
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Re: Was Houdini aware of the Centre Tear?

Postby Kent Blackmore » June 26th, 2020, 8:57 pm

Richard, speaking of Wyman, it's unclear whether you're aware of John W. Wyman the magician, so I'll just mention his name here.
https://geniimagazine.com/wiki/index.php?title=John_Wyman

MagicbyAlfred
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Re: Was Houdini aware of the Centre Tear?

Postby MagicbyAlfred » June 27th, 2020, 2:08 pm

I don't know of any direct evidence that would prove beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law that Houdini knew of the center tear (e.g. any indication in his writings espousing such knowledge, or of any eyewitness testimony, such as X claiming, "I saw Houdini perform a feat using the center tear." Nor, for that matter am I aware even of any hearsay testimony (e.g. X claiming, "Houdini told me that he knew of the center tear").

And yet, given that Houdini was arguably the greatest expert on fraudulent mediums of all time, that he would have not known of the center tear seems as inconceivable as it would for a chess grandmaster to be oblivious to the Queen's Gambit. In any event, this thread prompted me to revisit and take a close look at one of my books that long has been been gathering the proverbial (and literal) dust on the shelf: Houdini's Paper Magic - The Whole Art of Performing With Paper, Including Paper Tearing, Paper Folding and Paper Puzzles. (I believe it was first published in 1922). Neither the Center Tear, nor any effects using the technique, are mentioned in the book. Why this is the case is a mystery, at least to me, although I suppose there is room on the logical spectrum for the exceedingly unlikely possibility that Houdini was unaware of it. Far more likely, he had a reason for not wanting to tip it in the book.

What I do find fascinating is that, if we are to take him at his word, in his estimation the strongest effect using paper (including, but not limited to mental effects), was "The Pellet Test." Here is his radiantly glowing introduction to his explanation of the effect, from page 43 of Houdini's Paper Magic:

"Of all the tricks ever conceived wherein paper serves as a vehicle, the greatest from every standpoint is the Pellet, or, as it is sometimes called, the Ballot, Test, its names being taken from the terminology of the spirit mediums, who for many years have found it to be a positive gold mine. Fortunes have been built and are still being amassed on this trick alone. In my travels over the face of the earth I have met hundreds of both professional and amateur workers of this marvellous delusion, and I am free to say that no trick that I have ever seen gives such an impression of openness and simplicity in execution and at the same time such startling results. The best amateur performance of the test I ever witnessed was given by John Ringling, of circus fame, and by far the best professional demonstration was by Dr. Reiss.
The usual method of presentation is to distribute a number of slips of paper about the size of cigarette papers and ask the company to write any question they please and then fold the papers into small squares. Sometimes these are collected in a hat and sometimes they are thrown openly on the table; then, without any apparent opportunity of seeing what is written, the medium either repeats or gives some sort of answer to the questions."

I've never tried it - but now I am likely to...

Richard Stokes
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Re: Was Houdini aware of the Centre Tear?

Postby Richard Stokes » June 27th, 2020, 5:24 pm

Thanks Kent and MagicbyAlfred for responding to my questions.

Kent, I checked out the Magicpedia reference you provided. My immediate reaction is that John Wyman does not fit the identity of Doctor Wyman from Boston. Wyman the Wizard has links with Massachusetts, but died in 1881. That is most likely to be several years before Garrus was even born. (Garrus was a student at Cambridge in the 1920s)
And there's no mention of the earlier John Wyman having any links to anthropology or holding a doctorate.

That's a very interesting suggestion, MagicbyAlfred, that Houdini might well have been aware of the CT but did not want to expose the method. That passage you discovered in Paper Magic is intriguing. Well spotted!

Bill Mullins
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Re: Was Houdini aware of the Centre Tear?

Postby Bill Mullins » June 28th, 2020, 2:19 am

Richard Stokes wrote:As to what happened to Garrus, I do not know.

He was born in 1908, came back from England in 1931
He died in Virginia in 1977.


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