Magic (Ellis Stanyon)/Chapter 10

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CHAPTER X


STAGE TRICKS


This is a chapter devoted to stage illusions, dependent mainly for their effects upon ingenious mechanical appliances, and not to skilful manipulation of the performer. Most conjuring exhibitions conclude with some large illusion. They add zest to the entertainment. One of our leading conjurers, Kellar, makes a specialty of them. He presents them with fine scenic effects.


Aërial Suspension.—The trick of the aërial suspension, presented by Herrmann under the name of the "Slave Girl's Dream," has been, and still remains a great favorite with many conjurers. In this experiment a lady floats in the air with no apparent support but that afforded by a pole upon which her right arm rests. While suspended in this fashion she is draped in various pleasing costumes, finally awakening from her pretended mesmeric trance under the passes of the magician, and bowing herself off the stage. The explanation is as follows:—The lady's body is encased in a strong framework of finely tempered steel, into a socket of which the pole enters and is rigidly fixed.


Figure 59 very correctly represents the harness
Fig. 59.—The Harness
worn by the lady in performing this trick and the manner in which it is attached to the rigid pole. This frame is composed of the finest steel, and when belted and strapped on the body makes it perfectly rigid, so far as any side motion is concerned. At A is a hinge, which is operated by ratchet and paul, and this bears nearly the whole strain of the lady's weight, which, in a horizontal position, is about ten times the actual weight. At the centre of the curved steel bar is a plain hinge. This is intended to allow the lady to use her right thigh and knee in walking on and off the stage.

Figure 60 shows the position of harness and poles after being adjusted, the drapery being dispensed with in order to show the working of the trick. The upright pole on which rests the lady's right hand is a substantial affair, and is
Fig. 60.—Harness Adjusted
securely fitted into a hole in the platform. On the top there is a hole, into which fits a stout slot in the short bar, as shown in Fig. 59. This short bar is concealed by a sort of flap, which appears to be a portion of the lady's costume, tacked on at the shoulder. The pole at her left has nothing to do with the trick, and is only introduced to distract the attention of the audience. The left-hand pole and stool are removed, and the beautiful slave girl is suspended, as shown in Fig. 61, the whole strain coming on the pole and the steel work of the harness.

The performer now lifts the lady into a horizontal position (Fig. 61), where she is maintained
Fig. 61.—Girl Suspended
by a check which drops into one of the teeth of the ratchet at A. While in this aerial sleep she is adorned in various costumes. Finally she is placed in the first position, and awakes from her supposed mesmeric slumber. Herrmann improved this apparatus by causing the lady to assume the horizontal position without his intervention. This was accomplished by machinery beneath the stage, a sort of windlass affair worked by a stage assistant. The well-known Fakir of Ooloo still further improved this trick by knocking both poles away. Says Arprey Vere on this subject: "What, then, will you ask, becomes of all the machinery? The two poles were seemingly taken away. The poles used consisted of brass bars. The calcium light beamed upon the figure of the
Fig. 62 Magic Stanyon.jpg

Fig. 62.—Girl in Horizontal Position

sleeping lady, while the rest of the stage was comparatively dark. Thus, when the conjurer apparently took away the only support the figure had, the audience did not and could not perceive that he really took away the brass case of the secured pole, leaving another, the actual pole on which the framework was fixed, and which was of the same color as the drapery of the stage. It was for the purpose of deceiving the eyes of the audience that the pole was encased in a brass shell in the first instance. He refixed the case before the stage was relit, and the lady woke up from her sham mesmeric trance."


New Vanishing Performer Illusion.—The writer is indebted to Mr. William E. Robinson, for many years assistant to the late Alexander Herrmann, for this simple but remarkably effective illusion called by him the "Vanishing Performer." The effect of the trick is as follows: The performer standing upon a stool, placed in front of a screen, holds up a shawl in front of himself. Hey presto! a pistol is fired, the shawl is dropped, and the magician is seen to have melted away into thin air, as it were. Presently he comes running down the centre aisle of the theatre.

The principal requisite in the arrangement of this trick is a large screen, which should be decorated in panels on each fold, and be a threefold one. In the centre fold the panel must be hinged, so as to open, and made to fit nicely the better to conceal its existence from the audience. This panel must be about twelve inches above the base of the screen, and if possible have spring hinges. This screen should be preferably of a dark color.

When the magician steps on the stool he outstretches his arms and hooks the shawl on a fine thread, which is placed across the stage at the right height. He leaves the shawl suspended so that the ends hang over, giving the appearance of the performer's fingers being under them. Under this cover he quickly steps off the stool and goes through the panel in the screen at the back. As the shawl does not reach to the ground, the performer's legs and shoes would be seen by the audience. To obviate this a piece of stuff the same color as the screen is used as a kind of carpet on which the affair takes place, and when this reaches to about twelve inches from the screen, the edge is turned up about twelve inches. The conjurer in getting off the stool steps down behind this carpet. A pistol is fired, and the performer, or his assistant, pulls the end of the thread, which thus breaks and causes the shawl to drop, as if first let go from the hands. The shawl should be about six feet square. It should rest about nine inches from the stage when hung up. Practice to let as few seconds as possible elapse between the moment of suspending the shawl and dropping it. The reappearance of the performer is easily accounted for.


The Blue Room.—One of the cleverest illusions performed with the aid of mirrors is that known as the "Blue Room," which has been exhibited in this country by Kellar. It is the joint invention of Prof. John Henry Pepper, of Ghost illusion fame, and James J. Walker, both of England. It was patented in the United States by the inventors. The object of the apparatus is to render an actor, or some inanimate thing, such as a chair, table, suit of armor, etc., visible or invisible at will. "It is also designed," says the specification in the patent office, "to substitute for an object in sight of the audience the image of another similar object hidden from direct vision without the audience being aware that any such substitution has been made. For this purpose employ a large mirror—either an ordinary mirror or for some purposes, by preference, a large plate of plate-glass—which is transparent at one end, and more and more densely silvered in passing from this toward the other end. Mount this mirror or plate so that it can, at pleasure, be placed diagonally
Fig. 63.—Graduated Mirror
across the stage or platform. As it advances the glass obscures the view of the
Fig. 64.—Diagram for Blue Room
actor or object in front of which it passes, and substitutes the reflection of an object in front of the glass, but suitably concealed from the direct view of the audience.

"When the two objects or sets of objects thus successively presented to the view are properly placed and sufficiently alike, the audience will be unaware that any change has been made. In some cases, in place of a single sheet of glass, two or more sheets may be employed.

"In the drawings, Fig. 63 represents a plan view, and Fig. 64 an elevation, of a portion of the mirror, designed to show its graduated opacity.

"a is a stage. It may be in a lecture-room or theater. b b are the seats for the audience in front of the stage. c c is a small room—eight or ten feet square and eight high will often be sufficiently large; but it may be of any size. It may advantageously be raised and approached by two or three steps from the stage a.

"d is a vertical mirror, passing diagonally across the chamber c and dividing it into two parts, which are exact counterparts the one of the other. The mirror d is so mounted that it can be rapidly and noiselessly moved diagonally across the chamber in the path represented by the dotted line d′ and be withdrawn whenever desired. This can conveniently be done by running it in guides and upon rollers to and from a position where it is hidden by a screen, e, which limits the view of the audience in this direction.

"In consequence of the exact correspondence of the two parts of the chamber c, that in front and that behind the mirror, the audience will observe no change in appearance when the mirror is passed across.

"The front of the chamber is partially closed at cx by a shield or short partition-wall, either permanently or whenever required. This is done in order to hide from direct view any object, which may be at or about the position c.

"The illusions may be performed in various ways—as, for example, an object may, in the sight of the audience, be passed from the stage to the position c², near the rear short wall or counterpart shield f, diagonally opposite to and corresponding with the front corner shield cx, and there be changed for some other. This is done by providing beforehand a dummy at c′, closely resembling the object at c². Then when the object is in its place, the mirror is passed across without causing any apparent change. The object, when hidden, is changed for another object externally resembling the first, the mirror is withdrawn, and the audience may then be shown in any convenient way that the object now before them differs from that which their eyesight would lead them to suppose it to be.

"We prefer, in many cases, not to use an ordinary mirror, d, but one of graduated opacity. This may be produced by removing the silvering from the glass in lines; or, if the glass be silvered by chemical deposition, causing the silver to be deposited upon it in lines, somewhat as represented by Fig. 63. Near one side of the glass the lines are made fine and open, and progressively in passing toward the other side they become bolder and closer until a completely-silvered surface is reached. Other means for obtaining a graduated opacity and reflecting power may be resorted to.

"By passing such a graduated mirror between the object at c² and the audience, the object may be made to fade from the sight, or gradually to resolve itself into another form."

Hopkins in his fine work on "Magic, stage illusions, etc.," thus describes one of the many effects which can be produced by the Blue Room apparatus. The curtain rises, showing "the stage set as an artist's studio. Through the centre of the rear drop scene is seen a small chamber in which is a suit of armor standing upright. The floor of this apartment is raised above the level of the stage and is approached by a short flight of steps. When the curtain is raised a servant makes his appearance and begins to dust and clean the apartments. He finally comes to the suit of armor, taking it apart, cleans and dusts it, and finally reunites it. No sooner is the suit of armor perfectly articulated than the soulless mailed figure deals the servant a blow. The domestic, with a cry of fear, drops his duster, flies down the steps into the large room, the suit of armor pursuing him, wrestling with him, and kicking him all over the stage. When the suit of armor considers that it has punished the servant sufficiently, it returns to its original position in the small chamber, just as the master of the house enters, brought there by the noise and cries of the servant, from whom he demands an explanation of the commotion. Upon being told, he derides the servant's fear, and, to prove that he was mistaken, takes the suit of armor apart, throwing it piece by piece upon the floor."

It is needless, perhaps, to explain that the suit of armor which becomes endowed with life has a man inside of it. When the curtain rises a suit of armor is seen in the Blue Room, at H, (Fig. 65). At I is a second suit of armor, concealed behind the proscenium. It is the duplicate of the visible one. When the mirror G is shoved diagonally across the room, the armor at H becomes invisible, but the mirror reflects the armor concealed at I, making it appear to the spectators that the suit at H is still in position. An actor dressed in armor now enters behind the mirror, removes the suit of armor at H, and assumes its place. When the mirror is again withdrawn, the armor at H becomes endowed with life. Again the mirror is shoved across the apartment, and
Fig. 65.—Diagram of Blue Room
the actor replaces the original suit of armor at H. It is this latter suit which the master of the house takes to pieces and casts upon the floor, in order to quiet the fears of the servant. This most ingenious apparatus is capable of many novel effects. Those who have witnessed Prof. Kellar's performances will bear witness to the statement. When the illusion was first produced in England, a sketch was written for it by the famous Burnand, editor of "Punch." It was entitled "Curried Prawns." A plethoric old gentleman who had been indulging in a midnight dish of curried prawns goes to bed, and is visited by a soul-terrifying nightmare. Mephistopheles suddenly appears to him, and introduces him to the mysteries of the nether world.


Levitation.—The performer places a board on the tops of two chairs. A lady is laid on the
Fig. 66 Magic Stanyon.jpg

Fig. 66.—Levitation Act

board, and pretended mesmeric passes made over her by the magician. The chairs are now removed one after the other, and the lady is seen floating in the air (Fig, 66). The performer then walks completely around her. In order to show still more conclusively that she is not supported by any arrangement of wires, etc., he passes a large solid iron hoop, previously given for inspection to the spectators, over her; beginning
Fig. 67.—Top View of Apparatus
at her head. This seeming miracle, vaunted as a Hindoo mystery, is accomplished in the following manner: The board, A, A (Fig. 67), upon which the lady reclines, is about three feet
Fig. 68.—Side View of Apparatus
distant from the back scene. This background is provided with a slit through which an assistant pushes three iron rods (c, d, e), beneath the board. Another important part of the apparatus is a small car, to which the rods are attached, the construction of which is explained in Fig. 67 and Fig. 68, which gives a side view of the car. Nos. 1 and 2 are the wheels on which the car is propelled. The iron bars, of which only one is shown in the diagram, run in front over a roller, 3, and at the back between two rollers, 4 and 5, so that the assistant can easily push the bars under the board, c, which holds the lady. The extreme ends of the bars, at the back, are counterbalanced in order to equalize the weight. To enable the performer to go behind the floating lady, also to pass the hoop about her, the assistant pulls away the iron bar at one end. As soon as the performer and the hoop have cleared the first bar, it is pushed back into place again, and the next bar

withdrawn, allowing free passage to the third bar, which is also withdrawn, after the centre bar has been pushed back. The arms of the lady overhanging the board and her dress conceal effectually the iron bars from view of the audience.


The Saratoga Trunk Mystery.—A lady is put into a bag and locked in a trunk, on top of which a gentleman takes a seat. Two assistants hold a cloth in front of the trunk for a few seconds. On taking away the cloth the lady is seen sitting on the trunk while inside of it, after unlocking the same, is found the gentleman tied in the bag.

The actors in this illusion have to work with extreme quickness.


Fig. 69.—Section of Trunk
The bag in which the lady is tied has at the bottom a false seam, made of wide stitches, so that when one end of the thread is pulled the whole comes out easily leaving the bottom of bag open.

In this way the lady escapes from the bag without
Fig. 70.—Frame of Trunk
injuring the ties in any way. The lid of the trunk is prepared so that one section of it opens inward (Fig. 69 h). The frame (Fig. 70) is solid, whereas the strip F which runs across the top can be pushed sideways. To open the trunk the strip F is pushed aside, which releases a concealed mechanism that keeps the false panel shut. The gentleman opens the panel, in the manner above described, whereupon the lady gets out of the trunk. She assists the gentleman to get into the bag, and closing the panel, takes her seat on the top of the trunk.