This Day in Magic History

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.
Bill Mullins
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This Day in Magic History

Postby Bill Mullins » April 15th, 2017, 12:11 am

Harry Cooke was a 19th century magician and a very early escape artist. Born in 1844, he performed on stage much of his life. He retired in Los Angeles in 1907 and became head of the Los Angeles Society of Magicians. He was a Union soldier in the Civil War and even then showed some facility with being able to escape from being tied up. His diary noted being asked to demonstrate this for the Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and several generals of the Union army in 1864. This talent would prove useful when he was captured by Confederate General John Mosby’s troops while scouting later that fall. As he was scouting out of uniform, he was considered to be a spy, and was due to be executed the following day. He was tied up overnight, and when his guard fell asleep, he loosened his bonds and released himself and his fellow prisoners and they escaped.

By the spring of 1865, he had been removed from combat duty and was a clerk in Alexandria. On April 14th of that year, 152 years ago, he went to the theater in downtown Washington DC. A performance of “Our American Cousin” was on the bill that night.

The play has a slight magic connection. One of the main characters is Lord Dundreary, a dotty, clueless Englishman who, at one point in the play, has convinced himself that he had eleven fingers from unwittingly performing a false count on himself. He counted them backwards, as 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 on one hand, and 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 on the other. He added the count from the first hand as 6 to the 5 fingers on the second hand, and got to 11. Jim Steinmeyer has used variations of this count in several tricks in his Impuzzibilities series. Although more or less forgotten today, the play was very popular during its time. The actor Edward Sothern was typecast in the role, and the image of him cluelessly trying to figure out how many fingers he has became iconic (sheet music, joker).

We do not know if Cooke enjoyed the play. We do know, however, that he didn’t get to see a full performance, because in the third act an actor who had sympathized with the Confederacy and was upset at the recent Union victory, John Wilkes Booth, shot a local politician who was attending the play that night.

Bill Mullins
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Re: This Day in Magic History

Postby Bill Mullins » April 15th, 2017, 12:32 am

Also, on Apr 14 1912, British magician Harry Woodley should have been sailing across the Atlantic as part of his day job working for the White Star Line. He was rescheduled, though, and missed the trip. Magician Charles Carter had tried to book passage on the same vessel, but it was too full to accommodate him and his show. The ship, the Titanic, ended up striking an iceberg late in the evening, and sank early the following morning, taking 1500 lives.
Last edited by Dustin Stinett on April 15th, 2018, 3:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: DS corrected the name of Carter (the magician, not the discoverer of Tuit's tomb) for Mr. Mullins.

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Richard Kaufman
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Re: This Day in Magic History

Postby Richard Kaufman » April 16th, 2017, 11:37 am

Like this!
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Bill Mullins
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Re: This Day in Magic History

Postby Bill Mullins » April 15th, 2018, 3:00 pm

A full year later, I realized a typo above. That should be Charles Carter, not Howard Carter.

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Dustin Stinett
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Re: This Day in Magic History

Postby Dustin Stinett » April 15th, 2018, 3:20 pm

I corrected that post for you. Why have we not seen more of these kinds of things from you (not the error, the cool "Day in Magic History" posts)?

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Brad Jeffers
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Re: This Day in Magic History

Postby Brad Jeffers » April 15th, 2018, 11:06 pm

Let's see if we can find one thing for each day.

April 15, 1934
Benjamin Ruker aka Black Herman dies of a heart attack after collapsing on stage during a performance in Louisville KY.

OK ...

I've done my part. :geek:

Bill Mullins
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Re: This Day in Magic History

Postby Bill Mullins » April 16th, 2018, 12:17 am

Dustin Stinett wrote:I corrected that post for you.

Thanks!
Why have we not seen more of these kinds of things from you (not the error, the cool "Day in Magic History" posts)?

For the same reason I never finished the Kid Canfield article I promised Richard -- fundamentally, I'm a lazy slug.

That post came about because I read something about Harry Cooke mentioning he was at Ford's Theater, on the same evening that I read somewhere else that it was the anniversary of Lincoln's assassination. Which made it convenient to research and put the post together (although you can note that by the time I finally got it up, it was already 4/15 locally -- I justified it because it was still the 14th in California). I already knew the bit about Lord Dundreary, having recently been investigating false counts on the hand (there's at least one way to count your fingers as 9, and 3 ways to count them as 11 -- always looking for more!). So several things came together -- a good story, supplementary facts, and a timely opportunity. The rest, about Woodley and Carter, came from searching "April 14" on AskAlexander and elsewhere.

Bill Mullins
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Re: This Day in Magic History

Postby Bill Mullins » April 16th, 2018, 12:49 am

Brad Jeffers wrote:Let's see if we can find one thing for each day.

April 15, 1934
Benjamin Ruker aka Black Herman dies of a heart attack after collapsing on stage during a performance in Louisville KY.

As did Tommy Cooper, in 1984, live on TV, also on Apr 15.

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Joe Pecore
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Re: This Day in Magic History

Postby Joe Pecore » April 16th, 2018, 7:25 am

Brad Jeffers wrote:Let's see if we can find one thing for each day.

April 15, 1934
Benjamin Ruker aka Black Herman dies of a heart attack after collapsing on stage during a performance in Louisville KY.
OK ...
I've done my part. :geek:


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Amateur magician, screenwriter and film director Cy Endfield dies.
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