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 launched a new newspaper collection called, what else, They basically took part of the newspaper database already included in, which is actually from, and began to add more titles. Are we confused yet? The annual fee for unlimited use is $79.95, but 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 is still a work in progress. Wait until more titles are added before you decide to subscribe. The best newspaper site is still . 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 . 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 , 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 However, overall the site does not have the extensive genealogy resources offered by

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.

Jun 092012

Here is the last of the “ladies of 1839”. Miss A. R. Mills burst on the magic scene in 1839 but left the business in less than two years. We only know details about her magic career because of the scandal that played out on the front pages of a New York newspaper.  It is a cautionary tale of parental control and abuse all in the name of show business. Here is her story.

It was early July of 1839 and the French magician Mons. Adrien Sr. had just completed a very long and successful run at Peale’s Museum in New York City. He was succeeded by Miss A. R. Mills making her debut as a magician. New York City newspapers carried the following announcement for her engagement at Peale’s Museum:

“NOVELTIES EXTRAORDINARY – Miss A. R. Mills, the accomplished ENCANTADORA or FAIR ENCHANTRESS, whose astonishing powers in the occult arts and sciences, beautiful illusions and scientific illustrations of Magical Chemistry, Philosophical and Natural Magic, illustrative of the marvelous and apparently supernatural feats performed by the ancient Eastern Astrologers and Magicians, and which exceeds anything of the kind that has appeared before the public in modern days…” (Commercial Advertiser, July 11, 1839)

Miss A. R. Mills was just over 16 years old and was described as petit with bright gray eyes and dark brown hair worn in ringlets. On stage she was surrounded with brilliant apparatus and performed such fancifully named effects as the Invisible glove or enchanted fruit; Spanish pin or passing ball; Egyptian pyramids;  and the Coffer of Mahomet.

Miss Mills started to perform at Peale’s Museum in an unadvertised appearance on July 4th sharing the stage with Mons. Adrien. This might have been a trial period, as she was not official advertised until July 11th. There is no record on how Miss Mills learn magic. However, it is possible that Mons. Adrien taught her and supplied the apparatus. He did stay through her try-out before leaving on a long but tragic tour of the eastern and southern United States.

Her father, Mark Mills, was her manager and also performed Italian Fantoccini (marionettes) on the bills with her. He was a harness marker first in Wroksop, England and then in New York City. The family had immigrated to the city around 1830. Mark was married and had three children, the oldest being the subject of this story. It is not known when or where he learned to perform Italian Fantoccini but he did get good reviews with his 10 string puppets.

Miss Mills was an immediate success. She played the rest of the summer at Peale’s Museum and then left for a tour of the east coast. She played Albany, Utica, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, DC, Richmond, Charleston, Savannah, and Black Creek in Florida. Returning to New York City in the summer of 1840, she appeared at the Tivoli Garden and Grand Saloon. This engagement was presented as a “contest of magicians” between Miss Mills and Mons. Addrant, who had just finished performing for a few weeks at Tivoli Garden. All the New York newspapers carried the announcement for the event:

“Mr. Mills the father of Miss Mills, the celebrated Enchantress has given a challenge to Mons. Addrant, the great Wizard, in the sum of $1000, which is deposited in one of our city Banks, for a trial of skill between both on the same evening in feats of Legerdemain and Sleight of Hand. A committee of five gentlemen are appointed to decide on each night.  Miss Mills & Mons. Addrant for three nights only.”

They then traveled to Boston and on October 26th started a very successful six week run at Harrington’s Museum. During this engagement they meet William A. Dame, a young newspaper reporter and the son of a prominent Boston lawyer. He seemed to be very taken by Miss Mills and became friendly with her and her father. William agreed to help manage their tour of local towns around Boston.

On January 7, 1841 the Salem Register had the following advertisement:

Then a few days later on the front page of the January 10, 1841 New York Herald Mr. Mills spun a tale of woo and despair. It told the sad tale of his daughter being seduced and running off with a married man. Here is the whole story that was picked up by a number of newspapers:

An Elopement in Theatrical Life —The “Lady Magician” and a Newspaper Man.

All our reads must remember a very pretty little English girl, named Mills, then a little more than sixteen years of age, who made her debut as a “Lady Magician,” at Peale’s Museum, July 4, 1839. She was rather short in stature, well made, with English form and features, bright grey eyes, and wore her dark brown hair in ringlets.This young lady was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Mills, respectable English people, who arrived in this country about 10 or 12 years since, with a family of three children, all of whom are still living. After playing with great success at Peale’s Museum for several weeks, she went to Philadelphia with her father, a worthy old gentlemen, and played there; thence south to Baltimore, Washington, Richmond, Charleston, Savannah, and finally to Florida, where she played with great success at Black Creek. After travelling nearly all over the Union, her father returned with her to New York, where she again appeared, and finally about ten weeks since, she went to Boston to play for the first time.In Boston she drew crowded audiences at Hannington’s Museum, where she played with credit and emolument to herself for about six weeks. The father and daughter, it appears, took private apartments at the Handover House; up to this period the conduct and character of the young lady had been pure, faultless and unexceptionable; or to use the words of her bereaved, fond and doating father, she was “the most virtuous and prudent girl that ever lived.”Unfortunately for the peace of several families, in an evil hour, the editor of one of the Boston daily newspapers introduced to Mr. Mills and his daughter, a young man about 27 years of age, named W. A. Dame, who is or has been a sort of attaché to several newspaper establishments in Boston.  This Dame stands about 5 feet 9 inches, light complexion, now rather homely looking, with remarkably dirty teeth. He is the son of a very respectable attorney in Boston, still living, was educated at Harvard college, became one of the clique of fashionable young literati in Boston, (of whom we have one or two samples here in New York,) used to drive out, dance attendance on young ladies, and became simultaneously a swell, a small litterateur, a roué, and a rogue. Between two and three years since, he came on to New York and married a very respectable young lady here, whom he took to Boston, but whom he treated so badly that his father has had to support herself and child, and she is now on the eve of her second confinement.Miss Mills, being the first lady whoever appeared in that capacity, her admirers styled her the Queen of Magicians. Her performances consisted of magical deceptions, illusions, necromantic and physical experiments, metamorphises and illusions, etc., embracing all of the principal features of manual dexterity with rings, money, sorcerers, banquet, etc. etc. She used to appear on the stage surrounded by a brilliant and costly apparatus, and introduced her incantations, or the philosophy of magic, and among others, a variety of new experiments, such as the Invisible glove or enchanted fruit; enhanced cups and seed; flying money or specific payment; Spanish pin or passing ball; deceptive bottle and handkerchiefs; cookery for the ladies, or enchanted cylinder; magic egg and card; sacred fire; magic plume; Egyptian pyramids; magic balls; coffer of Mahomet; miraculous globe, or flying handkerchief; obedient cards or card rack; enchanted time piece or Wizzard in his gown; mysterious bottle or ribbon factory; and other experiments, too numerous to mention, with living animals, such as dogs, cats, rabbits, pigeons, and living fish.Soon after Dame was introduced to Mr. Mills and his daughter, he became very assiduous in his attentions to her; wrote puffs to be inserted in the newspapers there, undertook to do all the drudgery of a regular Peter Funk, to and the cause of magic and belle lettres, boasted of his extensive acquaintance and influence with the newspapers, and soon induced Mr. and Mr. Mills to believe that he was a valuable acquaintance, a charming companion, a disinterested friend, a delightful fellow, and altogether a remarkably “nice young man.”Dame soon became as familiar as one of the family – and after Miss Mills and her father had played for six weeks in Boston, he proposed to them to visit professionally Salem, Lynn, and other towns in Massachusetts; told them they could realize large sums there; that he was well known and had great influence all round the country; that he would go on ahead, engage rooms, and arrange everything for them, to save time; that he wished no remuneration except his expenses paid; that his health required that he should travel; that it would be an amusement to him, and that he would play the piano at their exhibitions. All this was acceded to, and he went with Mr. and Miss Mills to Salem. Here the daughter played a few nights, and according to custom, her father gave her all of the money to take care of – At last Dame volunteered to take the money at the door; he took $100 the first night, and the next morning ran away from Salem, and persuaded the unfortunate and infatuated girl to accompany him. And all this time his wife was lying sick at his father’s, being near her second confinement.He not only ran away with the $100 and the old man’s daughter, but he took all the clothes belonging to Mr. Mills, and all the money previously taken, leaving the poor heart-broken father merely what he stood upright in, and $6 in his pocket. The old gentleman pursued them to Lynn, and thence to Boston, where he lost all trace of them. He then returned to Salem, and found that all of his machinery, scenery apparatus. &c. &c. which cost him $400, had been attached by the sheriff for about $30 expenses; and not having the money to pay, he left it there. Since then, the father has been wandering up and down the country heart broken in search of his daughter, without success; and yesterday he reach our office, and told us his tale of woe.

It is to be hoped that this scoundrel Dame will be caught and punished. He had on, when he ran away, a shabby brown frock coat, and a very valuable blue cloth cloak, lined with silk velvet. The girl had a handsome gold watch and chain, was dressed in a purple silk cottage bonnet, white ostrich feather, a rich silk velvet shawl trimmed with fur, coming down to a point behind, and a blue or a green silk frock. It is to be hoped that she will fly from the society of such a wretch, and return to the arms of her aged parents in this city, who still doat on her, and are anxious to receive her with kindness, and to forgive the past. Dame’s wife, on hearing the story, was prematurely confined, and is not likely to live.

William Dame’s answer to this letter appeared on the front page of the New York Herald (February 4, 1841) and told a completely different story.

Miss Mills, the Enchantress, and Young Dame – Tother Side of the Story

We annex the following statement of W. A. Dame, explaining his connection with Miss Mille, a different version of which, on the authority of Mr. Mills, was published in the Herald.Mr. Dame certainly makes his case quite clear, and turns the tables entirely on his accuser. We have also a letter from the elder Mr. Dame, a highly respectable gentleman of Boston, assuring us that his son’s moral character in this transaction has been untarnished. We are glad of it – but it is always a delicate business for young married men to show too much sympathy for young and pretty ladies, or to be travelling around the country with them in any shape.

Boston, Feb 1, 1841

Mr. J. G. Bennett –

Sir – I take this, my first opportunity since my return to Boston, of writing you in explanation or rather in contradiction of an article which appeared in your paper of the 16th ult. implicating me in no very desirable a connection with Miss A. R. Mills, the quandam Lady Magician.

I write you therefore, at this time with no feelings of anger, but rather as one conscious of having been deeply wronged, yet innocently on your part, and feeling assured that, with the feelings of upright independence, for which your journal is esteemed, you will readily, and at once do me all the reparation you think due under the circumstances, by expressing a conviction that you were imposed upon by Mr. Mills, and that  your article, consequently, did injustice to the parties implicated, through inadvertently on your part.

In the Daily Mail, of Saturday last, you may have noticed a card from Miss Mills, and my appeal to the public, in which the facts are briefly set forth. Mr. Mills, sir, is, I assure you, a miserable drunkard, and during the ten weeks he was in this vicinity, was, I venture to say, beastly intoxicated two thirds of the time, and had, in consequence, a violent attack of the delirium tremens, while at the Hanover House. – So far from my volunteering my services to travel, he offered me one third of the gross receipts, if I would accompany him and manage his business, assigning as a cause, that his habitual intemperance entirely incapacitated him for business. I consented to go, but he having previously told me that his wife and family at home had not money enough to keep a fire in the coldest days, I replied, “that I would go with  him, but he needed the money that was made more than I did, and I wished no remuneration.”

You have always expressed yourself Mr. Bennett as a friend to the fairer sex, and I feel sure therefore that you would be the last man in the world to defend or assist that brute, (I will not say fellow creature) who would wantonly beat with his clenched fists, a woman – that too his own daughter, submitting to an humiliating employment totally unbecoming her sex, for the mere support of a destitute family. I can easily conjecture the probability of a man of tender feelings being excited in behalf of a man abused and even robbed, as he represented to you his case, but when the tables are turned, and an unoffending daughter is weekly, daily, and I might say hourly assaulted in word and deed, those feelings I should judge, would be aroused with ten fold ardor, and the misplaced sympathy be at once transferred from the offender to the injured party.

That your sympathy, and that of every man of honor, is needed in this case, I admit, but Miss Mills, not her father is the proper object. “Damned *** – bloody*** – five point**” (excuse such expressions,) were his constant epithets, and his kindest language to her; and I pledge you my word, sir, that as often as every fourth-eight hours, he outrageously assaulted her.  At Albany, Syracuse, and Utica, New York State, his abuse was beyond endurance. At Savannah he was committed to jail for attempting to shoot her and in fact at ever place South, East or West, where she performed, his conduct to her was outrageous. This our southern and western contemporaries will corroborate.

Mr. Mills’ real name is Mark Rainy, originally a saddle and harness marker at Worksop, England; but on removing to this country some nine years since he assumed the name of Mills, which was his wife’s maiden name. His vile habits of intemperance and abuse of his family, are well known to Mr. McPake, grocer, corner of Wooster and Grand streets, (his landlord,) to Mr. George Baldwin, cab proprietor, Mercer street, rear of Brower’s, and to Mrs. Wilson, a milliner in Canal street, of whom Miss M. learnt her trade. The two last persons have repeatedly advised her to leave him, and he treats his wife I am told, even worse than his daughter. As one instance, I will state that but a day or two before he left New York for Boston the last time, he broke every chair, table, and article of crockery Mrs. Mills owned, and came to Boston, leaving her in that situation.

In this vicinity he was turned away from several hotels for his abuse to his daughter. At Cambridge he threw a pot of hot tea at her. At Charleston loaded a pistol and tried to shoot her; and at Watertown was in the act of throwing a hammer at her, when it was wrested from his grasp.

Most of these attacks I myself witnessed, but to all there were witnesses, and I have undoubted evidence of them.

About Salem you were entirely misinformed, and I beg to set you right. We went there on Wednesday morning, Jan. 6th, and she performed there that evening to $12. After returning to the hotel he wanted supper, which was cooked, but he would not taste it. In her room, in presence of the confederate, a bill poster, and another individual, he struck her twice in the face with his fist, and threw a brass lamp at her, which hit me. The next morning he knocked her down and kicked her, when I complained of him at the police office. The event of the trial I gave in the Mail. This was Thursday, and the same evening she performed to $18; and after the performance he assaulted her in the street. This $18 was paid to the bar-keeper for board, and the $12 together with $5 cash in hand on arrival, Mr. Mills had in his possession.

By advice of Mrs. Leavitt, the wife of the landlord, and a most worthy lady, Miss M—left Salem on Friday morning, at 11 o’clock. I accompanied her to a hotel, in the vicinity of Boston, gave the landlord my address, and explained to him her name and situation. I visited Boston daily – my family knew where we were – and Mr. Mills’ threats alone, publicly made, that he would shoot her, (for which purpose he bought, in Salem, a pair of pistols, for $7, and loaded each with two balls) kept us in seclusion. As soon as we learnt he had left Boston we returned to the city, and Miss M—has again left to take a situation which promises to be alike profitable and honorable. I am at my father’s, and my wife has never been ill, or the least alarmed concerning me, as she knew where I was.

I trust this explanation will convince you of the character of Mr. Mills, and that he grossly deceived you in his statement. I have been at some trouble to procure evidence to satisfy the editors of the Mail that Mr. M—misrepresented the facts to you, which they announced editorially on Saturday last.

I feel sure you will be disposed to do Miss M—and myself ample justice, and subscribe myself.

Very obediently yours,

W. A. Dame.

This sad tale ends with a small advertisement in a Boston newspaper about nine months later (Daily Atlas, October 21, 1841):

Sheriff’s Sale

Fantoccini or Magical Dancing Figures

Taken on Execution and will be sold, by consent of parties, on Saturday next, at 12 o’clock, at Cunningham’s Auction Room,

All the Fantoccini or Magical Dancing Figures and Apparatus, as formerly exhibited by Mr. and Miss. Mills.

By the order of the Sheriff.

I do not know what became of Miss A. R. Mills. One   can only hope she escaped her father and found happiness. William Dame followed in his father’s footsteps and went on to have a long career as a lawyer. As for Mr. Mills, there is a special place in Hell for father’s like him.
Hope you enjoyed and good hunting.
May 142012

What would a tabloid be without some celebrity talking trash about their competition. So here are some excerpts from an interview with Robert Heller (1826-1878) given when he played Baltimore in October, 1878. In the interview Heller takes aim at both his contemporaries and some of the greats that were still in the public’s mind.

Compars Herrmann (1816-1887) and Antonio Blitz (1810-1877)
“Take for instance, Blitz or Hermann. With them it was oranges, money, a glass of water, and a couple of eggs, and so on, and then it was a couple of eggs, a glass of water, money and oranges. On these they played an ever-changing tune, until the thing became monotonous. Blitz was the most clever plate-spinner I ever saw, and his canary birds were remarkably well trained. The good old man catered particularly to children. He was their idol. But, bless my soul, you can buy today, for a couple of dollars, in any big toyshop, all the tricks that the Signor ever performed.”

Alexander Herrmann (1844-1896)
“Then Hermann who is now playing – a brother of Theodore and the young man who formerly acted as his assistant – is exceedingly clever with eggs, oranges, watches and all that sort of thing, but the minute he opens his mouth he actually ruins the entertainment. He has no stage presence, and he is the best of the class.” (Note: Alexander Herrmann’s older brother was Compars and not Theodore as stated above)

John Henry Anderson (1814-1874)
“Then there was Professor Anderson, the ‘Wizard of the North.’ His great trouble was gin. He never performed without a glass of water by his side, from which he frequently drank. The audience, of course knew that it was water, but this illusion vanished when he stepped down among them and they got a scent of the raw gin he had been imbibing.”

Wiljalba Frikell (1818-1903)
“Frikell, a Pole, who travel through England was also famed in modern times. He belonged to the severe school of legerdemain – and the proper school, too – in which the performer relies rather upon his own natural skill than upon ingeniously constructed apparatus. Frikell was very clever with his hands, and he made a fortune in the profession, but he has got into financial difficulties lately, and there is some talk of his returning to the platform.”

Bernard Marius Cazeneuve (1839-1913)
“We must not forget the dapper little Frenchman. As a public performer he was a failure. Fred Zimmerman the incomparable manager, lost a large amount of money upon him. He could not talk the English language, and, with a few exceptions, his tricks were not intended for a large hall. As a parlor performer he would create a sensation. His card tricks are simply marvelous – they cannot be equaled.”

“He went from here to Havana, and from there he went back to Toulouse. From Havana he sent me the medal of the Order of Progress, a sort of association composed entirely of artists and others who advanced their interests. Cazeneuve is the chief, and from that position he deserves his title of ‘Le Commandeur.’ He is a very vain little fellow.”

“One evening he and his wife took supper with me and my sister in the Fifth Avenue hotel in New York. His anxiety to show his skill even before us was very amusing. The moment he entered the room he picked a pack of cards from the mantel and began manipulating them. Just then a servant announced dinner and we all walked out, but Cazeneuve would not give up the cards.”

“At the dinner table, between mouthfuls of soup, he flirted these cards in every way, and when his mouth was filled with his mouth was filled with fowl he would drop and his knife and fork and, still masticating, perform some wonderful tricks. He wanted to show his skill, but still he was very entertaining. The only trick he performed outside of cards is the trunk or Indian Mail mystery, and the tying cabinet trick. The latter he has publically expose in all its simplicity, and the trunk trick which he advertises as his own, really belongs to Maskelyn & Cooke, spiritual entertainers, of Egyptian Hall, London…..To return to Cazeneuve’s imitation of Maskelyn & Cooke’s trick; I must say that he manages it very clumsily. Several minutes intervene from the time the trunk is bound until Madame Cazeneuve is found concealed in it. Will show a similar trick here, and from the time my sister appears on the stage until she is discovered in the box thirty-five seconds intervene.”

The article was published in the December 14, 1878 issue of the Lowell Daily Citizen and News. It originally appeared in an earlier issue of the Baltimore Sunday News, probably around October 1898 when Heller performed in that city. This was one of the last newspaper interviews given before his death in Philadelphia of pneumonia on November 28, 1898.

May 082012

To continue the tabloid theme here is a story of love found and lost. There are two players in this drama. The first is Frank Van Hoven (1886-1929) the “Dippy Mad Magician” and one of best comedy magicians of his age. In his burlesque “magic act” everything went wrong and it ended with two boys, a block of ice and belly laughs galore. The other is Annie Kent a talented comedienne, singer, song writer and dancer. Her real name was Annie O’Brien and she grew up in show business family playing the northwest and the gold fields of Alaska. Her father was a wrestler of some note and her mother a world champion boxer. You will see that Annie inherited some of her parents athletic skills and was not one to be trifled with.

Frank and Annie first meet when both were touring the east coast around 1911. Love blossomed, but there was a problem…Annie was married. This barrier soon came down and the September 10, 1912 issue of the Oregonian tells the rest of the story.



Actress is Divorced, Wooed and Won in Same Day.

Annie Kent, Appearing at Orpheum, to Wed “Dippy Magician”- Is Well Known Here.

Three hours after receiving a divorce decree in Spokane last week, Annie Kent was proposed to by telegraph, and she answered “yes” by the same means of communication. Upon arriving in Portland yesterday morning to begin her engagement at the Orpheum she received a diamond bracelet and ring from her fiancé, R. F. Van Hoven, who is known in the theatrical world as “the dippy magician.” Van Hoven appeared at the Orpheum last season.

Miss Kent was Mrs. James Kelly, and appeared with her husband under the billing Kelly and Kent, for several seasons. She was in stage harness with him last year in their appearance at the Spokane Orpheum, and it was then that the actress applied for divorce. Upon returning to Spokane last week the allotted legal time had expired and she was awarded a decree, Kelly not contesting the case. She met Van Hoven in the East last season when gracing the same vaudeville bill with him.

While still young, Miss Kent has a stage recorded in the Northwest that extends back 10 years. She was born O’Brien, and when a mere slip of a girl appeared with her father and mother, who were billed in extensive theatrical tours as O’Brien, Jennings and O’Brien. They were particular favorites in the Klondike, at Dawson, Skagway, Juneau and Nome.

Miss Kent is the author of more than one dozen popular songs, and belongs to the writing staff of a song publishing company of New York.

“The initials of my new husband-to-be  are R. F.” said Miss Kent. “That means rapid fire, and in proposing to me he lived up to his billing. I was divorced at noon, telegraphed to him at 1 o’clock, he proposed to me at 3 o’clock, and I telegraphed ‘yes’ immediately.”

Her fiancé is appearing in Hammerstein’s Theater in New York.

Here is the original article: Oregonian September 9, 1912

They both kept touring and in the spring of 1914 there were reports that Frank and Annie were going to produce a new act and successfully tried it out at the Orpheum in San Francisco. However, there marriage was a rocky one. Frank was a bit of a womanizer and drinker and there was even talk about a separation and divorce in the summer of 1914. They seemed to have overcome their problems and both kept touring, though the new act did not materialize. Then Annie hired a private detective  and the resulting scandal ended up on the front page of the February 18, 1915 issue of the New York Herald. (click on the image for a larger view)

The two were soon granted a divorce. Unfortunately they were touring on the same bill and had to fulfill their contracts. It must have not been a pretty scene backstage.

Annie and Frank both had very successful careers. Frank was a headliner right up until his death in 1929 while touring England.  Annie kept touring as a vaudeville headliner for decades to come. As vaudeville declined she turned to revues, nightclubs, burlesque, radio and the like. During the 1940’s Annie appeared in various variety nostalgia shows and was a cast member of Joe Howard’s Gay 90’s radio show. The last mention I found of her was an interview she did with the sports writer for the Fitchburg Sentinel, which was published on May 17, 1951. At the time she lived in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Hope you enjoyed and good hunting.

May 052012

Reading through old newspaper files you soon realize that people will always be people and newspapers tend to cater to their readers more earthy interests. Tabloid like news articles have not changed much over the centuries, you can read about infidelity, spousal abuse, murder, financial problems, scandals, robbery, and the like. Magicians had their personal issues and newspapers were more than happy to write about them. I am a bit of a fan of good old fashion  “tabloid journalism”, those old newspaper reports had a way of turning a phrase that seems to be lost today.

An article from the December 5, 1894 issue of  Cleveland’s Plain Dealer shows a side of the relationship between Harry Kellar and his wife, Eva, that is only hinted at in most magic history publications. Harry was totally devoted to Eva, which might not been easy if the following article was any indication.



Magician Kellar’s Wife

Smites Her Spouse

With a Bottle


A Scene in a Drug Store


The Man of Mystery is Rendered Unconscious by a Soda Bottle in the Hands of His Better Half – The Theory of Hypnotic Influence is Thoroughly Exploded – The Real Skelton in the Closet.


 Indianapolis, Dec. 4 – Magician Kellar and Mrs. Kellar, who assists him in his performances, left the city yesterday on separate trains though it is understood their destinations were the same. Mr. Kellar’s left eye was swollen almost shut and several stitches held together an ugly looking cut on his cheek. Mr. Kellar is a strictly temperate man and during his engagement in Indianapolis had much to contend with, of which the public was entirely ignorant. That Mrs. Kellar is a wonder and a mathematical genius no one who ever witnessed her performances can refuse to admit; but there is always a cloud somewhere on the horizon, and the most brilliant minds like the most faultless days are not without their shadows. The high strung, nervous temperament of Mrs. Kellar demands stimulant and she uses it. This practice is the skeleton in the closet, and it was this with which Mr. Kellar had to contend during nearly the whole of last week. Saturday night after the two had returned to their hotel matters where brought to a climax. Mr. Kellar being called away for an hour, returned to find Mrs. Kellar gone. He found her shortly afterward in a drug store not far away making a purchase. He took in the situation at a glance, and before the clerk had filled the flask the two were in low, but earnest conversation. There were several in the store at the time and one gentleman overheard Mr. Kellar make a bitter charge against his wife.  Like a flash she turned in a fit of rage to the soda water fountain and grabbing up one of the heavy metal holders struck the magician with full force above the eye. He dropped like an ox in the shamble, while Mrs. Kellar ran for the door. Mr. Kellar was picked up in an unconscious condition and it was with some difficulty that he was brought back to consciousness. His eye was badly cut and he was in a bitter frame of mind. Before he had entirely recovered himself he talked freely of his domestic troubles and spoke of this first meeting with Mrs. Kellar in Philadelphia. It was some time before his injuries were properly attended to. In the meantime Mrs. Kellar had run to the hotel office and after trying to get the elevator, which at the moment was at the top floor, she started up the stairs. She was excited and hysterical and it was with considerable difficulty that she was induced to go to her room. Sunday night she was in the drug store and repeated her purchases. Mr. Kellar was amiable to leave his room during the day and it was not until train time that he made this appearance. Mr. Kellar had left on an earlier train, both going to Muncie where they were to appear last night.Among the few who knew the real status of affairs the weird theory of hypnotic trance was received with considerable amusement. Mrs. Kellar interrupted the performance Saturday night and left the stage, complaining of feeling ill. With rare presence of mind Mr. Kellar pretended to be bringing her out of the supposititious trance, but at the same time some rather stern remarks were being addressed to the lady in an undertone. This was the beginning of the trouble which later in the evening resulted so sensationally. Mrs. Kellar’s weakness is said to be the natural result of her peculiar temperament rather than a vicious tendency. She is unfortunate, rather than at fault.


Here is the orgianl article:  December 5, 1894 Plain Dealer

Hope you enjoyed and good hunting.