Each chapter of "Lives of the Conjurers" is a biography of a notable magician, illusionist, prestidigitator, or fraudulent medium of the past. The masters of deception!
HENRY SLADE - Was he a medium or a magician?
CAGLIOSTRO - The Mystery Man of Europe
KATTERFELTO - Lecturer, conjurer, and quack
SERVAISLEROY - He levitated a pianist and her piano
C.W. STARR - His vanishing act was for sheriffs
TORRINI - His greatest illusion was himself
SIGNOR BLITZ - What he pulled from a hat one night kept a family together
CHARLES MORRITT - His masterpiece was the Disappearing Donkey
THE BOTTLE CONJURER - How was he going to jump into a bottle?
MAELZEL - There was more to his Chess-playing Automaton than met the eye
ROBERT HELLER - His mindreading act mystified audiences
THE BANG SISTERS - Both the spirits and the police visited their parlor
OTTO MAURER - His magic shop in a Bowery basement was spooky
The man known as the Count De Cagliostro died in a dungeon—a solitary cell in the Castle of San Leo. He had been imprisoned by the Inquisition for the crime of heresy.
A century later, Henry Ridgely Evans was in Paris, and attended a performance by a latter-day Cagliostro:
In the summer of 1893, a conjurer calling himself “Cagliostro” was astonishing Paris with his feats of fin-de-siècle magic. Being a student of occultism generally, but more particularly of natural magic and legerdemain, I went to see the nineteenth-century necromancer exhibit his marvels. I saw some very clever illusions performed during the evening, but nothing that excited my especial interest as a devotee of the weird and wonderful, until the prestidigitator came to his pièce de résistance—the Mask of Balsamo.
The conjurer brought out a mask—a waxen face resembling a death-mask. Descending from the stage, he passed it about for examination. Then he placed the mask on a small, undraped table in the center aisle of the theatre.
“Messieurs et mesdames,” said the professor of magic and mystery, “this mask is a perfect likeness of Joseph Balsamo, Count de Cagliostro, the famous sorcerer of the eighteenth century. It is a reproduction of a death-mask which is con- tained in the secret museum of the Vatican at Rome. Behold! I lay the mask upon this table in your midst. Ask any question you will of Balsamo, and he will respond.”
The mask rocked to and fro with weird effect at the bidding of the conjurer, rapping out frequent answers to queries put by the spectators.