The Miracle Mongers, an Exposé - Harry Houdini - ebook

The Miracle Mongers, an Exposé ebook

Harry Houdini

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Titel: The Miracle Mongers, an Exposé

von Scott Hemphill, L. M. Montgomery, L. Frank Baum, John Milton, René Descartes, Baroness Emmuska Orczy Orczy, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Unknown, Norman F. Joly, Norman Coombs, David Slowinski, Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau, Stephen Crane, John Goodwin, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Winn Schwartau, Odd De Presno, Sir Walter Scott, Jules Verne, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, United States. Central Intelligence Agency, United States, Canada, Willa Sibert Cather, Anthony Hope, Edwin Abbott Abbott, Charles Dickens, Frederick Douglass, William Shakespeare, Bruce Sterling, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Gene Stratton-Porter, Richard McGowan, Frances Hodgson Burnett, United States. Bureau of the Census, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Robert Louis Stevenson, Anonymous, Jerry Bonnell, Robert Nemiroff, Andrew Lang, G. K. Chesterton, John Bunyan, Sunzi 6th cent. B.C., Harold Frederic, Mary Wollstonecraft, Victor Hugo, René Doumic, Upton Sinclair, Virginia Woolf, George Eliot, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, Plato, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Ruth M. Sprague, William Dean Howells, Wilkie Collins, Jean Webster, H. G. Wells, Kate Chopin, Mark Eliot Laxer, Louisa May Alcott, Frank Norris, Edith Wharton, S. D. Humphrey, Henry Hunt Snelling, William Morris, Mrs. Susanna Rowson, Christopher Morley, Sax Rohmer, Oscar Wilde, Gaston Leroux, Henry James, Project Gutenberg, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Various, Robert W. Service, A. B. Paterson, Henry Lawson, Jack London, Laozi, D. H. Lawrence, Julius Caesar, Joseph Conrad, W. Somerset Maugham, George MacDonald, Marcus Tullius Cicero, Virgil, Theodore Dreiser, Giuseppe Salza, Rudyard Kipling, ca. 50 BCE-16 BCE Sextus Propertius, Robert A. Harris, William Wells Brown, graf Leo Tolstoy, Omar Khayyám, Michael Hart, Library of Congress. Copyright Office, Coalition for Networked Information, Geoffrey Chaucer, Adam Lindsay Gordon, Hiram Corson, Robert Browning, Amy Lowell, Rupert Brooke, Joyce Kilmer, John Gower, Saki, Kenneth Grahame, Anna Sewell, Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, National Atomic Museum, Alexander William Kinglake, Charles John Cutcliffe Wright Hyne, Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr, James Branch Cabell, Bayard Taylor, Horatio Alger, Booth Tarkington, Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen, Michael Husted, Émile Gaboriau, Jerome K. Jerome, Stephen Vincent Benét, Edwin Arlington Robinson, J. Frank Dobie, Joseph Rodman Drake, Eliot Gregory, John Fox, John Muir, Richard Harding Davis, Edgar A. Guest, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Thomas Nelson Page, Sir Walter Alexander Raleigh, Rebecca Harding Davis, Charles Alexander Eastman, Zitkala-Sa, Marie L. McLaughlin, J. M. Barrie, Bram Stoker, Hesiod, Edna Ferber, John McCrae, Anna Howard Shaw, Elizabeth Garver Jordan, Frances Jenkins Olcott, P.-J. Proudhon, Eleanor H. Porter, Mary Hunter Austin, Sarah Orne Jewett, Russell Herman Conwell, Daniel Defoe, Henry Benjamin Wheatley, Ambrose Bierce, Nettie Garmer Barker, Martí Joan de Galba, Joanot Martorell, Oliver Goldsmith, Zane Grey, Winston Churchill, Arthur Machen, L. Cranmer-Byng, Torquato Tasso, H. De Vere Stacpoole, Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, Frank Richard Stockton, Rutherford Hayes Platt, Sara Teasdale, Samuel Smiles, W. E. B. Du Bois, Phillis Wheatley, Elbert Hubbard, Richard Jefferies, George Henry Borrow, Sherwood Anderson, Vachel Lindsay, David Graham Phillips, Harry Houdini

ISBN 978-3-7429-0396-9

Alle Rechte vorbehalten.

MIRACLE MONGERS AND THEIR METHODS

A COMPLETE EXPOSE' OF THE MODUS OPERANDI OF FIRE EATERS, HEAT RESISTERS, POISON EATERS, VENOMOUS REPTILE DEFIERS, SWORD SWALLOWERS, HUMAN OSTRICHES, STRONG MEN, ETC.

BY

HOUDINI

AUTHOR OF "THE UNMASKING OF ROBERT HOUDIN," ETC.

AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED TO MY LIFE'S HELPMATE, WHO STARVED AND STARRED WITH ME DURING THE YEARS WE SPENT AMONG "MIRACLE MONGERS" My Wife

PREFACE

"All wonder," said Samuel Johnson, "is the effect of novelty on ignorance." Yet we are so created that without something to wonder at we should find life scarcely worth living. That fact does not make ignorance bliss, or make it "folly to be wise." For the wisest man never gets beyond the reach of novelty, nor can ever make it his boast that there is nothing he is ignorant of; on the contrary, the wiser he becomes the more clearly he sees how much there is of which he remains in ignorance. The more he knows, the more he will find to wonder at.

My professional life has been a constant record of disillusion, and many things that seem wonderful to most men are the every-day commonplaces of my business. But I have never been without some seeming marvel to pique my curiosity and challenge my investigation. In this book I have set down some of the stories of strange folk and unusual performers that I have gathered in many years of such research.

Much has been written about the feats of miracle-mongers, and not a little in the way of explaining them. Chaucer was by no means the first to turn shrewd eyes upon wonder-workers and show the clay feet of these popular idols. And since his time innumerable marvels, held to be supernatural, have been exposed for the tricks they were. Yet to-day, if a mystifier lack the ingenuity to invent a new and startling stunt, he can safely fall back upon a trick that has been the favorite of pressagents the world over in all ages. He can imitate the Hindoo fakir who, having thrown a rope high into the air, has a boy climb it until he is lost to view. He can even have the feat photographed. The camera will click; nothing will appear on the developed film; and this, the performer will glibly explain, "proves" that the whole company of onlookers was hypnotized! And he can be certain of a very profitable following to defend and advertise him.

So I do not feel that I need to apologize for adding another volume to the shelves of works dealing with the marvels of the miracle-mongers. My business has given me an intimate knowledge of stage illusions, together with many years of experience among show people of all types. My familiarity with the former, and what I have learned of the psychology of the latter, has placed me at a certain advantage in uncovering the natural explanation of feats that to the ignorant have seemed supernatural. And even if my readers are too well informed to be interested in my descriptions of the methods of the various performers who have seemed to me worthy of attention in these pages, I hope they will find some amusement in following the fortunes and misfortunes of all manner of strange folk who once bewildered the wise men of their day. If I have accomplished that much, I shall feel amply repaid for my labor.

HOUDINI.

CONTENTS

CHAPTER

I. Fire worship.—Fire eating and heat resistance.—The Middle Ages.—Among the Navajo Indians.—Fire-walkers of Japan.—The Fiery Ordeal of Fiji

II. Watton's Ship-swabber from the Indies.-Richardson, 1667.—De Heiterkeit, 1713.—Robert Powell, 1718-1780.—Dufour, 1783.—Quackensalber, 1794

III. The nineteenth century.—A "Wonderful Phenomenon."—"The Incombustible Spaniard, Senor Lionetto," 1803.—Josephine Girardelli, 1814.—John Brooks, 1817.—W. C. Houghton, 1832.—J. A. B. Chylinski, 1841.—Chamouni, the Russian Salamander, 1869.—Professor Rel Maeub, 1876. Rivelli (died 1900)

IV. The Master—Chabert, 1792-1859

V. Fire-eating magicians. Ching Ling Foo and Chung Ling Soo.—Fire-eaters employed by magicians: The Man-Salamander, 1816.-Mr. Carlton, Professor of Chemistry, 1818.—Miss Cassillis, aged nine, 1820. The African Wonder, 1843.—Ling Look and Yamadeva die in China during Kellar's world tour, 1877.—Ling Look's double, 1879.—Electrical effects, The Salambos.—Bueno Core.—Del Kano.—Barnello.—Edwin Forrest as a heat-resister—The Elder Sothern as a fire-eater.—The Twilight of the Art

VI. The Arcana of the fire-eaters: The formula of Albertus Magnus.—Of Hocus Pocus.—Richardson's method.—Philopyraphagus Ashburniensis.—To breathe forth sparks, smoke and flames.—To spout natural gas.—Professor Sementini's discoveries.—To bite off red-hot iron.—To cook in a burning cage.—Chabert's oven.—To eat coals of fire.—To drink burning oil.—To chew molten lead.—To chew burning brimstone.—To wreathe the face in flames.—To ignite paper with the breath.—To drink boiling liquor and eat flaming wax

VII. The spheroidal condition of liquids.—Why the hand may be dipped in molten metals.—Principles of heat resistance put to practical uses: Aldini, 1829.—In early fire-fighting.—Temperatures the body can endure

VIII. Sword-swallowers: Cliquot, Delno Fritz, Deodota, a razor-swallower, an umbrella-swallower, William Dempster, John Cumming, Edith Clifford, Victorina

IX. Stone-eaters: A Silesian in Prague, 1006; Francois Battalia, ca. 1641; Platerus' beggar boy; Father Paulian's lithophagus of Avignon, 1760; "The Only One in the World," London, 1788; Spaniards in London, 1790; a secret for two and six; Japanese training.—Frog-swallowers: Norton; English Jack; Bosco; the snake-eater; Billington's prescription for hangmen; Captain Veitro.—Water spouters; Blaise Manfrede, ca. 1650; Floram Marchand, 1650

X. Defiers of poisonous reptiles: Thardo; Mrs. Learn, dealer in rattle-snakes.—Sir Arthur Thurlow Cunynghame on antidotes for snake-bite.—Jack the Viper.—William Oliver, 1735.—The advice of Cornelius Heinrich Agrippa, (1480-1535).—An Australian snake story.—Antidotes for various poisons

XI. Strongmen of the eighteenth century: Thomas Topham (died, 1749); Joyce, 1703; Van Eskeberg, 1718; Barsabas and his sister; The Italian Female Sampson, 1724; The "little woman from Geneva," 1751; Belzoni, 1778-1823

XII. Contemporary strong people: Charles Jefferson; Louis Cyr; John Grun Marx; William Le Roy.—The Nail King, The Human Claw-hammer; Alexander Weyer; Mexican Billy Wells; A foolhardy Italian; Wilson; Herman; Sampson; Sandow; Yucca; La Blanche; Lulu Hurst.—The Georgia Magnet, The Electric Girl, etc.; Annie Abbott; Mattie Lee Price.—The Twilight of the Freaks.—The dime museums

CHAPTER ONE

FIRE WORSHIP.—FIRE EATING AND HEAT RESISTANCE.—IN THE MIDDLE AGES.—AMONG THE NAVAJO INDIANS.—FIRE-WALKERS OF JAPAN.—THE FIERY ORDEAL OF FIJI.

Fire has always been and, seemingly, will always remain, the most terrible of the elements. To the early tribes it must also have been the most mysterious; for, while earth and air and water were always in evidence, fire came and went in a manner which must have been quite unaccountable to them. Thus it naturally followed that the custom of deifying all things which the primitive mind was unable to grasp, led in direct line to the fire-worship of later days.

That fire could be produced through friction finally came into the knowledge of man, but the early methods entailed much labor. Consequently our ease-loving forebears cast about for a method to "keep the home fires burning" and hit upon the plan of appointing a person in each community who should at all times carry a burning brand. This arrangement had many faults, however, and after a while it was superseded by the expedient of a fire kept continually burning in a building erected for the purpose.

The Greeks worshiped at an altar of this kind which they called the Altar of Hestia and which the Romans called the Altar of Vesta. The sacred fire itself was known as Vesta, and its burning was considered a proof of the presence of the goddess. The Persians had such a building in each town and village; and the Egyptians, such a fire in every temple; while the Mexicans, Natches, Peruvians and Mayas kept their "national fires" burning upon great pyramids. Eventually the keeping of such fires became a sacred rite, and the "Eternal Lamps" kept burning in synagogues and in Byzantine and Catholic churches may be a survival of these customs.

There is a theory that all architecture, public and private, sacred and profane, began with the erection of sheds to protect the sacred fire. This naturally led men to build for their own protection as well, and thus the family hearth had its genesis.

Another theory holds that the keepers of the sacred fires were the first public servants, and that from this small beginning sprang the intricate public service of the present.

The worship of the fire itself had been a legacy from the earliest tribes; but it remained for the Rosicrucians and the fire philosophers of the Sixteenth Century under the lead of Paracelsus to establish a concrete religious belief on that basis, finding in the Scriptures what seemed to them ample proof that fire was the symbol of the actual presence of God, as in all cases where He is said to have visited this earth. He came either in a flame of fire, or surrounded with glory, which they conceived to mean the same thing.

For example: when God appeared on Mount Sinai (Exod. xix, 18) "The Lord descended upon it in fire." Moses, repeating this history, said: "The Lord spake unto you out of the midst of fire" (Deut. iv, 12). Again, when the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses out of the flaming bush, "the bush burned with fire and the bush was not consumed" (Exod. iii, 3). Fire from the Lord consumed the burnt offering of Aaron (Lev. ix, 24), the sacrifice of Gideon (Judg. vi, 21), the burnt offering of David (1 Chron. xxxi, 26), and that at the dedication of King Solomon's temple (Chron. vii, 1). And when Elijah made his sacrifice to prove that Baal was not God, "the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust and the water that was in the trench." (1 Kings, xviii, 38.)

Since sacrifice had from the earliest days been considered as food offered to the gods, it was quite logical to argue that when fire from Heaven fell upon the offering, God himself was present and consumed His own. Thus the Paracelsists and other fire believers sought, and as they believed found, high authority for continuing a part of the fire worship of the early tribes.

The Theosophists, according to Hargrave Jennings in "The Rosicrucians," called the soul a fire taken from the eternal ocean of light, and in common with other Fire-Philosophers believed that all knowable things, both of the soul and the body, were evolved out of fire and finally resolvable into it; and that fire was the last and only-to-be-known God.

In passing I might call attention to the fact that the Devil is supposed to dwell in the same element.

Some of the secrets of heat resistance as practiced by the dime-museum and sideshow performers of our time, secrets grouped under the general title of "Fire-eating," must have been known in very early times. To quote from Chambers' "Book of Days": "In ancient history we find several examples of people who possessed the art of touching fire without being burned. The Priestesses of Diana, at Castabala, in Cappadocia, commanded public veneration by walking over red-hot iron. The Herpi, a people of Etruria, walked among glowing embers at an annual festival held on Mount Soracte, and thus proved their sacred character, receiving certain privileges, among others, exemption from military service, from the Roman Senate. One of the most astounding stories of antiquity is related in the 'Zenda-Vesta,' to the effect that Zoroaster, to confute his calumniators, allowed fluid lead to be poured over his body, without receiving any injury."

To me the "astounding" part of this story is not in the feat itself, for that is extremely easy to accomplish, but in the fact that the secret was known at such an early date, which the best authorities place at 500 to 1000 B.C.

It is said that the earliest recorded instance, in our era, of ordeal by fire was in the fourth century. Simplicius, Bishop of Autun, who had been married before his promotion, continued to live with his wife, and in order to demonstrate the Platonic purity of their intercourse placed burning coals upon their flesh without injury.

That the clergy of the Middle Ages, who caused accused persons to walk blindfold among red-hot plowshares, or hold heated irons in their hands, were in possession of the secret of the trick, is shown by the fact that after trial by ordeal had been abolished the secret of their methods was published by Albert, Count of Bollstadt, usually called Albertus Magnus but sometimes Albertus Teutonicus, a man distinguished by the range of his inquiries and his efforts for the spread of knowledge.

These secrets will be fully explained in the section of this history devoted to the Arcana of the Fire-Eaters (Chapter Six).

I take the following from the New York Clipper-Annual of 1885:

The famous fire dance of the Navajo Indians, often described as though it involved some sort of genuine necromancy, is explained by a matter-of-fact spectator. It is true, he says, that the naked worshipers cavort round a big bonfire, with blazing faggots in their hands, and dash the flames over their own and their fellows' bodies, all in a most picturesque and maniacal fashion; but their skins are first so thickly coated with a clay paint that they cannot easily be burned.

An illustrated article entitled Rites of the Firewalking Fanatics of Japan, by W. C. Jameson Reid, in the Chicago Sunday Inter-Ocean of September 27th, 1903, reveals so splendid an example of the gullibility of the well-informed when the most ordinary trick is cleverly presented and surrounded with the atmosphere of the occult, that I am impelled to place before my readers a few illuminating excerpts from Mr. Reid's narrative. This man would, in all probability, scorn to spend a dime to witness the performance of a fire-eater in a circus sideshow; but after traveling half round the world he pays a dollar and spends an hour's time watching the fanatical incantations of the solemn little Japanese priests for the sake of seeing the "Hi-Wattarai"—which is merely the stunt of walking over hot coals—and he then writes it down as the "eighth wonder of the world," while if he had taken the trouble to give the matter even the most superficial investigation, he could have discovered that the secret of the trick had been made public centuries before.

Mr. Reid is authority for the statement that the Shintoist priests' fire-walking rites have "long been one of the puzzling mysteries of the scientific world," and adds "If you ever are in Tokio, and can find a few minutes to spare, by all means do not neglect witnessing at least one performance of 'Hi-Wattarai' (fire walking, and that is really what takes place), for, if you are of that incredulous nature which laughs with scorn at so-called Eastern mysticism, you will come away, as has many a visitor before you, with an impression sufficient to last through an ordinary lifetime." Further on he says "If you do not come away convinced that you have been witness of a spectacle which makes you disbelieve the evidence of your own eyes and your most matter-of-fact judgment, then you are a man of stone." All of which proves nothing more than that Mr. Reid was inclined to make positive statements about subjects in which he knew little or nothing.

He tells us further that formerly this rite was performed only in the spring and fall, when, beside the gratuities of the foreigners, the native worshipers brought "gifts of wine, large trays of fish, fruit, rice cakes, loaves, vegetables, and candies." Evidently the combination of box-office receipts with donation parties proved extremely tempting to the thrifty priests, for they now give what might be termed a "continuous performance."

Those who have read the foregoing pages will apply a liberal sprinkling of salt to the solemn assurance of Mr. Reid, advanced on the authority of Jinrikisha boys, that "for days beforehand the priests connected with the temple devote themselves to fasting and prayer to prepare for the ordeal. . . . The performance itself usually takes place in the late afternoon during twilight in the temple court, the preceding three hours being spent by the priests in final outbursts of prayer before the unveiled altar in the inner sanctuary of the little matted temple, and during these invocations no visitors are allowed to enter the sacred precincts."

Mr. Reid's description of the fire walking itself may not be out of place; it will show that the Japs had nothing new to offer aside from the ritualistic ceremonials with which they camouflaged the hocus-pocus of the performance, which is merely a survival of the ordeal by fire of earlier religions.

"Shortly before 5 o'clock the priests filed from before the altar into some interior apartments, where they were to change their beautiful robes for the coarser dress worn during the fire walking. In the meantime coolies had been set to work in the courtyard to ignite the great bed of charcoal, which had already been laid. The dimensions of this bed were about twelve feet by four, and, perhaps, a foot deep. On the top was a quantity of straw and kindling wood, which was lighted, and soon burst into a roaring blaze. The charcoal became more and more thoroughly ignited until the whole mass glowed in the uncertain gloom, like some gigantic and demoniacal eye of a modern Prometheus. As soon as the mass of charcoal was thoroughly ignited from top to bottom, a small gong in the temple gave notice that the wonderful spectacle of 'Hi-Wattarai' was about to begin.

"Soon two of the priests came out, said prayers of almost interminable length at a tiny shrine in the corner of the enclosure, and turned their attention to the fire. Taking long poles and fans from the coolies, they poked and encouraged the blaze till it could plainly be seen that the coal was ignited throughout. The whole bed was a glowing mass, and the heat which rose from it was so intense that we found it uncomfortable to sit fifteen feet away from it without screening our faces with fans. Then they began to pound it down more solidly along the middle; as far as possible inequalities in its surface were beaten down, and the coals which protruded were brushed aside."

There follows a long and detailed description of further ceremonies, the receiving of gifts, etc., which need not be repeated here. Now for the trick itself.

"One of the priests held a pile of white powder on a small wooden stand. This was said to be salt—which in Japan is credited with great cleansing properties—but as far as could be ascertained by superficial examination it was a mixture of alum and salt. He stood at one end of the fire-bed and poised the wooden tray over his head, and then sprinkled a handful of it on the ground before the glowing bed of coals. At the same time another priest who stood by him chanted a weird recitative of invocation and struck sparks from flint and steel which he held in his hands. This same process was repeated by both the priests at the other end, at the two sides, and at the corners.

"Ten minutes, more or less, was spent in various movements and incantations about the bed of coals. At the end of that time two small pieces of wet matting were brought out and placed at either end and a quantity of the white mixture was placed upon them. At a signal from the head priest, who acted as master of ceremonies during the curious succeeding function, the ascetics who were to perform the first exhibition of fire-walking gathered at one end of the bed of coals, which by this time was a fierce and glowing furnace.

"Having raised both his hands and prostrated himself to render thanks to the god who had taken out the 'soul' of the fire, the priest about to undergo the ordeal stood upon the wet matting, wiped his feet lightly in the white mixture, and while we held our breaths, and our eyes almost leaped from their sockets in awe-struck astonishment, he walked over the glowing mass as unconcernedly as if treading on a carpet in a drawing-room, his feet coming in contact with the white hot coals at every step. He did not hurry or take long steps, but sauntered along with almost incredible sang-froid, and before he reached the opposite side he turned around and sauntered as carelessly back to the mat from which he had started."