Sep 242014
 

 

effie lorraine photoWhen Houdini opened in Boston at the end of February 1906 his performances became the talk of the town (1). Over the next 6 weeks Houdini escaped from handcuffs, ropes, packing cases, paper bags, wicker hampers, straight jackets, and even a witch’s chair. He even made the front page with his escape from a jail cell in Boston’s famous Tombs Prison. There was so much interest in seeing Houdini’s performances that standing room only crowds occupied part of the stage. The Houdini craze was on.

Two weeks after Houdini closed, Austin and Stone’s Museum announced that Mons. and Mme. Bellyea would introduce “ ‘The Missing Princess’ a la Houdini” (2). In the advertisements the billing was “Bellyea, King of Cards”, with no mention of Mme. Bellyea.

May 6 1906 boston herald first time

That changed the next week. Mme. Bellyea’s performances must have been the highlight of the act as the billing changed to “Bellyea and Effie Lorraine introducing the most Marvelous Trunk Mystery.” Their main effect was Lorraine escaping from a box, placed inside of a trunk and locked within a wooden crate (3). She did this within 26 seconds. Bellyea and Lorraine performed again at the Museum in August.

The novelty of the act was not so much the escape but the escapee. One critic stated she is large, fair and distinctly feminine. She tips the scale at over 200 lb and is very light on her feet.” (4) Another wrote after describing her box escape; “It should be borne in mind that she is twice as large as any performer doing any similar feat.” (5). Lorraine was not Bess Houdini.

Houdini returned to Boston at the beginning of January 1907 and again had a long and very successful run, leaving the city in mid-February (6, 7). Soon after he left a
Boston newspaper reported that (8):

“Effie Lorraine, a recent arrival from Europe, will tonight allow herself to be locked in the old bank vault of the Winthrop Bank building and says she expects to be able to release herself in a very short time. Miss Lorraine claims to attempt the feats of Houdini.”

The next day the Boston newspapers all carried the story of the escape. Here is one example (10):

“There was a sensation in the old Winthrop Bank Building at 2169 Washington street yesterday noon, when Effie Lorraine, a 200-pound Venus, out Houdinied Houdini by escaping in 18 minutes after being securely locked in the old bank vault.

Miss Lorraine is a Roxbury girl, and as fair as she is big.

Miss Lorraine was carefully searched, and was then ushered into her temporary prison. The office was then closed and the crowd waited without.

In a few minutes the office door opened and out walked the young woman. A careful inspection revealed the vault still locked, apparently just as before.

Miss Lorraine has been engaged to show some of her similar stunts at Austin and Stone’s Museum. The principle claim made for her is that while Houdini is a lithe, well-built man, Miss Lorraine is an unusually large woman, yet has all the poise and grace of a ballet dancer.”

Since this was not a challenge there was amble time for Bellyea and Lorraine to work out a way to escape from this unused 60+ year old vault (11).

Bellyea and Lorraine revamped the act and performed 5 feature escapes at the Austin and Stone’s Museum (12):march 3 1907 boston herald list of effects

They received great reviews that were headlined: “The ‘Female Houdini’ Rivals Her Namesake” and “Female Houdini in Starting Feats” (13, 14).

The magic community first heard about Effie Lorraine in the March, 1907 issue of Houdini’s Conjurers’ Monthly Magazine. Frederick Roche reporting in his Boston Bits column discussed Lorrain’s escape from a bank vault and her upcoming appearance at the Museum where she would escape from a box and hamper. He thought it would be a tight fit (13). In the April issue Roche must have witnessed a performance and gives a rather negative description of one effect (16):

“While at Austin & Stone’s museum, Miss Effie Lorraine presented a box mystery. A large heavy base on legs was shown first the sides of quarter-inch wood, were placed upon the base, the Venus entered and the top was strapped down, not nailed. The complete box was placed in a crate which was locked with several locks. This particular escape is evidently meant for a deaf audience judging by the amount of noise made by the lady escape artist in getting out, which great feat she accomplished in about five minutes. She was assisted by Prof. Bellyea. “

An interesting article about Lorraine appeared in the Boston Journal describing her escape from a large camera, about four foot square, at a local photography studio. Lorraine was placed inside, a plate was inserted and the shutter was closed. The journalist then left the room. Trapped within the body of the camera she was able to escape in less than eight minutes, appearing in the outer office “wearing a rosy flush and her hair was out of place – that was all.” The camera was then examined and further the plate developed and showed that “not a ray of light had touched its sensitive surface. There was no hint at how Lorraine had escaped. The article proclaimed that Effie Lorraine has stepped into the limelight as Houdini’s most dangerous rival. (4)

Huber MuseumTheir success, or at least some good press, must have secured a run at Huber’s Museum in New York City in June of 1907. The interesting thing is that they were performing opposite Houdini. The New York newspapers carried advertisements for both performers (17). Houdini must not have been very happy.

Bellyea and Lorraine returned to performing in Boston. They would periodically perform at Austin & Stone’s Museum, Theatre Premier, Howard Athenaeum and Bowdoin Sq. Theatre for the rest of 1907 and 1908 (18-21).  Sometimes Bellyea would also perform his card manipulation routine on the bill.

In June 1909 they were again performing for a month long run at Austin & Stone’ Museum (20). However, on June 21st Lorraine was replaced by Pearl Abbott for one week, then the billing changed to Bellyea and Arnold for the last week (22, 23). This was the last time that Bellyea or Effie Lorraine were ever mentioned in the press.

Now what happened to Effie Lorraine? There is no conclusive proof, but here is one possible scenario. She may have had some health problems, which lead her to stop performing. In late June Boston experiencing a heat wave and June 25th set new records with many deaths and prostrations. The June 26, 1909 Boston Journal reported that:

“Mrs. Effie Loraine, 39 year old, was prostrated by the heat at her home, 83 Williams street, Roxbury, yesterday afternoon.  A physician who attended her advised her to go to the hospital, but she refused to leave her home.”

She may have not been well enough to perform and that was why substitutes were used for the last two weeks of the run. Effie must have used “Lorraine” as a stage name.

Interestingly an Effie Loraine in the mid-1890s to around early 1900s was active in traveling burlesque shows (25-27). She used Lorraine and as her stage name, as did our Effie. According to the 1900 Census she was born in Cleveland, OH on October 1874, which would make her 36 in 1907 (26). Close to the age mentioned in the article. So could this be our Effie? There is no conclusive evidence, but for now she is the best candidate. The search goes on.

Hope you enjoyed and good hunting.

References:

  1. Boston Herald, February 25, 1906, Boston, MA
  2. Boston Herald, February 29, 1906, Boston, MA
  3. Boston Herald, May 6, 1906, Boston, MA
  4. Boston Journal, March 27, 1907, Boston, MA
  5. Boston Herald, September 29, 1908, Boston, MA
  6. Boston Herald, January 7, 1907, Boston, MA
  7. Boston Herald, February 16, 1907, Boston, MA
  8. Boston Herald, February 26, 1907, Boston, MA
  9. Boston Post, February 27, 1907, Boston, MA
  10. Undated clipping from a Boston Newspaper, ca. February 27, 1907
  11. Norfolk Democrate, May 7, 1841, Dedham, MA
  12. Boston Herald, March 3, 1907, Boston, MA
  13. Boston Herald, March 5, 1907, Boston, MA
  14. Boston Herald, March 12, 1907, Boston, MA
  15. Conjurers’ Monthly Magazine, March, 1907
  16. Conjurers’ Monthly Magazine, April, 1907
  17. Sun, June 9, 1907, New York, NY
  18. Boston Herald, November 24, 1907, Boston, MA
  19. Boston Herald, May 19, 1908, Boston, MA
  20. Boston Herald, September 27, 1908, Boston, MA
  21. Boston Herald, October 18, 1908, Boston, MA
  22. Boston Herald, June 6, 1909, Boston, MA
  23. Boston Herald, June 20, 1909, Boston, MA
  24. Boston Herald, June 29, 1909, Boston, MA
  25. Buffalo Courier, November 11, 1895, Buffalo, NY
  26. Constitution, January 5, 1896, Atlanta, GA
  27. Cincinnati Post, October 26, 1894, Cincinnati, OH
  28. 1900 United States Census, June 14, 1900, New York, NY
Sep 232014
 

Herrmann the GreatThe Harry Ransom Collection at the University of Texas at Austin has put scans of scrapbooks and posters from the Houdini Collection on their site. So do check out the Houdini Scrapbook Collection and the Magic Posters and Playbills Collection. Most of the scrapbooks were assembled by other magicians. The most amazing one is simply titled “Magician’s Scrapbook”. Do check it out, and please no drooling on the keyboard…. you have been warned. One word of caution, while the scans of the scrapbooks and posters are very high quality, the site only allows low quality images to be downloaded. So if you need a good quality image you can purchase one from the Library for a reasonable fee, I have done this a number of times, or take a screen shot.

For many years the above scrapbooks and posters were only accessible through Victorian Popular Culture. This is an expensive subscription database available only through university libraries. However, it is now available as part of the subscription to Ask Alexander! This makes the small subscription price of only $9.99 a month a real steal. Victorian Popular Culture covers magic, spiritualism, circuses, sideshows, music halls, early cinema and much more. It draws on collections from the Harry Ransom Collection, Harry Price Library of Magical Literature, National Fairground Archive, UK National Archives and many others. Go to Victorian Popular Culture to find out more about the collection.…..and then join Ask Alexander…..you will never regret it….except when you find yourself sleep deprived.

Hope you enjoyed and good hunting.

Sep 222014
 

Search many of the free historical newspaper databases at Elephind.com. This site searches over 2,600 newspapers from 20 newspaper collections. Most of the newspapers date from the mid to late 1800’s. The largest collections are from the Library of Congress and the National Library of Australia. For some reason the issues of the New  York Clipper (1853-1924), Player (1911-1913) and Vaudeville News (1920-1929) are no longer included. You can search these from the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection at the University of Illinois.

Hope you enjoyed and good hunting.

Sep 212014
 

An interesting site is the Digital Public Library of America. This is a visionary effort to bring together the digital resources from libraries, universities, archives, and museums across America. The digital library aggregates information and thumbnails for millions of photographs, manuscripts, books, sounds, moving images, and more. This effort is being funded by a wide range of foundations and is based at the Boston Library. There are currently just a few magic related items but this will grow as more collections are added. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to search collections across the country in one place? This is what the internet is all about.  Try searching for Adelaide Herrmann and see some wonderful photos from the Billy Rose Collection at the New York Public Library. By the way a number of other countries have been doing this for years. The National Library of Australia’s Trove is one of the best examples.

Hope you enjoyed and good hunting.

May 302013
 

Even the most experienced magicians can make a mistake. This is a story about what happens when an untrained assistant is used in a potentially dangerous illusion. Fortunately quick  action by the magician prevented a more serious injury. The magician is Alexander Herrmann and the assistant is Adelaide Herrmann’s maid. The article is from the the New York Herald-Tribune, April 29, 1889.

1889-04-29 New York Herald-Tribune

Hope you enjoyed and good hunting.

May 202013
 

Robert A. Whitehand, known to everyone as Bob, was a well-known Washington D.C. silversmith, engraver, craftsman, and dealer/collector of curiosities. His business was named the “Old Curiosity Shop,” but was known to everyone as the Ark. The little shop was filled to the brim with unique and rare antiques and relics. Whitehand even had the purported bloody shirt that Steve Brodie wore when he jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge and a short length of the transatlantic cable. He was 55 years old at the time of his death in 1896.

What the public did not know was that he also built and repaired apparatus for many of the major professional magicians of his time. The following article from the January 9, 1897 issue of the “Evening Star” gives a small insight into his endeavors.

 ‘The late Bob Whitehand, the silversmith, will be much missed by magicians,” remarked an attaché of a professional magician, “for he could always be depended upon to fix up our properties and apparatus and to keep the secret of their operation to himself. He was very, very clever at tinkering with metal, as many in our business found to our satisfaction. Whitehand made much of the apparatus with which Heller started on the road as a magician. Heller, you may not remember, was named Palmer when he originally resided in this city, when he was the organist at Epiphany Church. He did nearly all his practicing in the room over the drug store at the corner of 13th and F streets. As he thought out the apparatus he needed he gave his orders to Whitehand, who put them into shape. The latter did many hundred dollars of work for Heller then and afterward. Whitehand also did considerable jobbing during the past twenty-five years for the late Prof. Herrmann, and Prof. Wyman, the father of magicians, and Prof. Anderson, the wizard of the north, who was such an attraction years ago.

 Among the odds and ends recently sold at auction in Whitehand’s old curiosity shop – and it sold for old metal, by the pound – was the plans for one of Heller’s famous tricks. It never worked satisfactorily, and was sent back to Whitehand to be remade. It was nearly completed when word was received here that Heller had died. It was the apparatus by which Heller apparently grew a tree of oranges from a pot located in the midst of the audience. The flower pot was filled with tubes, attached to the end of which was a rubber balloon bag, which when blown up resembled in color and size an orange. The growing was done by pumping air into the rubber oranges until they were sufficiently large. The pump was a bellows at the bottom of the pot, the magician using the bellows. Whitehand had done over hundred dollars’ worth of work on the apparatus.”

 After Whiteshead’s death the contents of the shop were sold to Mr. H. E. Rafferty of Alexandria, VA for just $100.

orange treeI always thought the idea of inflating balloons to imitate growing oranges was a fanciful explanation of the Orange Tree. So I was surprised that Heller used a pneumatic method.   This was first described by Henri Decremps in his “exposure” of Pinetti’s effects in La Magie Blanche Devoilee, 1784. The figure shows an pneumatic example described in Wiegleb’s “Die Natuerliche Magie” published in 1794 and reprinted in Houdini’s “The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin.” The more familiar mechanical method was perfected by Robert-Houdin in the mid-1800s.

Hope you enjoyed and good hunting.

May 182013
 

A mature looking woman walked unannounced into a Denver Police Headquarters and boasted she could escape from any pair of handcuffs they had….and she did. Here is the event as described in a June 19, 1899 article in the Denver Evening Post:

Woman Mystifies the Police

 ClementineHandcuffs, shackles and patent belts which officers use in conveying prisoners have been shown to be as worthless as so much paper.

Mlle. Clementina Starr was the demonstrator and she was so successful that the detectives at police headquarters are thinking of selling their handcuffs for scrap iron.

Mlle. Starr is a large and fleshy 45 years old. She has discovered a way to unlock any lock, but she makes a specialty of handcuffs and leg-irons. She arrived in Denver Thursday and at once went to police headquarters where she told of what she could do. She was only laughed at.

“I can prove to you that all your handcuffs are absolutely useless if you will only give me a chance,” and Mlle. Starr to the detectives, and it was then arranged for her to come to the station and perform what she termed her wonderful feats. When she left the station it was said that she would never come back and she was forgotten.

However, mademoiselle appeared again and said she was ready to prove her former statements were correct. The detectives, captains and sergeants were all called into the room to witness the act, and a pair of common handcuffs, were placed upon her wrists.

The secrets she has she guards carefully and will not perform the act in the presence of anyone. She was allowed to go into the next room, where she opened the cuffs in a few seconds. That seemed easy and another and much better pair was placed upon her wrists and were opened just as skillfully. Then the belt around the waist, the cuffs holding the hands down to the side. This belt is considered the best of the kind made and is used in handling the worst criminals in the country.

She does not slip out of the cuffs, but unlocks them and leaves them open. She does not do this with keys, as there are only two keys that will fit one pair of handcuffs, and the cuffs used were the property of the detectives who had the keys in their possession all the time. When she got through with her exhibition the detectives were convinced that she has made a great discovery.

“If the thieves knew that secret we could no more get them to prison than we could fly,” said an old time detective as he threw a pair of “invincibles” that had been opened by the mysterious woman into a drawer and locked them up.”

This is the earliest mention of a female escape artist in the press I have yet found.

Clementine, or Clementina as she sometimes used, was born about 1858 and grew up on farms around Marshalltown, Iowa. Her first marriage ended in divorce and she was left with a daughter born about 1879. She named her daughter after herself, a real bane to any researcher. She remarried in 1880 and vanishes until she shows up in Denver almost 20 years later.

How she got into the escape business is unknown. She may have performed in museums, small vaudeville theaters, burlesque or touring companies. So she was under the notice of most newspapers and trade publications. There is a wonderfully ornate letterhead in one of Houdini’s scrapbooks for the trio: Neptune “The Water King”; Clementine “You Cannot Keep Her Handcuffed”; and Bertina “The Wonderful Magnetic Girl”. The photograph on the letterhead shows three mature, and a bit worn, performers.

We do know Clementine left Chicago and arrived alone in Denver about two months before her appearance at Police Headquarters. Her successful escapes and the generated publicity did not lead to any work in the area, though she and her daughter soon settled down in Denver.  Around this time a publicity shot was made by a Denver photographer. It was titled “Clementine” and shows a mature woman standing next to a small locked cage containing a younger handcuffed woman. This is probably Clementine and her daughter. The act was being passed onto the next generation.

In June of 1902 it was announced that a high-class vaudeville tent show would be presented at Colorado Springs’ Prospect Lake and Mlle. Clementine would be the headliner. Problems ensued when it was discovered such performances were banned under the terms of the contact Prospect Lake’s management had with the city. So the tent was moved to property adjoining park. However, as Clementine was performing her act, the sheriff was arresting the vaudeville company’s manager for trespassing and trying to close down the show. It seems that Prospect Lake’s management had not actually gotten a lease for the land.

Not letting this stop her the next month Clementine headlined a vaudeville company playing at Colorado Springs’ Bott’s Park. She also did a challenge handcuff escape at the sheriff’s office to publicize the show.

A “Ventia Starr” with her handcuff mysteries appeared for a week beginning August 24, 1903 at Denver’s Rocky Mountain Lake. This could have been Clementine’s daughter. She had listed her vocation as actress in a Denver City Directory.

The Denver Post on June 18, 1903 announced the marriage of Clementine Starr with William Woodman of Chicago. Sadly, the same paper announced their divorce just three years later. Soon Clementine moved to Colorado Springs, eventually owning and managing a farm outside the city.  She married Samuel Irvin in 1913 and since both were busy on their farms they had to get the marriage license through the mail.

Clementine Starr last shows up in the 1920 Census. She owns a farm in Jasper, Texas and was a widow. After this date she escapes from written history.

Hope you enjoyed and good hunting.

Apr 212013
 

Ancestory.com launched a new newspaper collection called, what else, Newspapers.com. They basically took part of the newspaper database already included in Ancestory.com, which is actually from Newspaperarchive.com, and began to add more titles. Are we confused yet? The annual fee for unlimited use is $79.95, but Ancestory.com members get a 50% discount. There are also monthly plans.

The major issue I have with the site is that the images are in jpg format. This can be a real pain to view and manage. All of the other major newspaper collections use pdf format. The interface is busy and really needs some redesign. Hope this will improve over time.

Bottom line is that Newspapers.com is still a work in progress. Wait until more titles are added before you decide to subscribe. The best newspaper site is still Genealogybank.com . Nice interface, has the largest collection on the internet, is rapidly growing, and has a lot of 19th Century newspapers. An annual subscription is just $56. So if you want to subscribe to a newspaper collection, I would recommend this one.

Hope you enjoyed and good hunting.

Dec 272012
 

The British Library has a new partner in digitizing their extensive newspaper collection. The on-line collection “19th Century British Library Newspapers”, produced in conjunction with Gale and funded by JISC, has been removed from public access. It has been replaced with a database being developed by Brightsolid Publishing under a 10 year agreement with the British Library. The goal of this public/private partnership is to digitize up to 40 million newspaper pages covering the years 1700 to 1999. The database will contain most of the volumes from the earlier digital collection, and thousands of new pages are being added daily. It does include The ERA, good news for magic researchers.

“The British Newspaper Archive” can be searched for free at http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk . However, depending on the package purchased there is a cost of £0.01 to £0.07 per page to view and print the results. An unlimited plan is available for £79.95 per year.

The collection can also be accessed through www.findmypast.com , which is owned by Brightsolid Publications. The membership fee is £109.95 per year, but shorter term memberships are available. The site also contains the 1841-1911 English censuses, along with other genealogical records. The census data, especially for 1911, is much better than can be obtained through Ancestory.com. However, overall the site does not have the extensive genealogy resources offered by Ancestory.com.

The old “19th Century British Library Newspapers” collection can still be accessed through Universities who have subscriptions through Gale.

Do take a look…and get a cup coffee. You will need it. Happy hunting.