The second volume of "Lives of the Conjurers" by Professor Solomon. This free ebook contains the biographies of sixteen exponents of their particular craft:
ICARDINI He seemed bewildered by his own magic
BLACKSTONE "The Last of the Great Magicians"
LEON MANDRAKE He wore a turban or a top hat -- depending on the gig
DUNNINGER Was it true that the renowned mindreader couldn't read the mind of a gnat?
DAVENPORT BROTHERS Their spirit cabinet brought them fame. But were they mediums or magicians?
PROFESSOR NEUMAN He had misread a mind -- and the police hauled him away!
THE GREAT LESTER Did he have the exclusive rights to that name?
GEORGES M?LI?S A magician who transformed himself into a filmmaker.
CHARLIER No one knew where he came from -- or where he finally went.
MAX MALINI He learned his trade as a youth, in a bar on the Bowery.
MYRUS THE MENTALIST An ordinary fellow with extraordinary powers?
JOHN CALVERT At the age of a hundred he was still performing.
DE SARAK Was he a Tibetan adept, with psychic powers, or an egregious fraud?
THE BANANA MAN From the pockets of his coat he pulled hundreds of bananas.
PROFESSOR SOLOMON As promised, he produced an elephant (or at least its trunk)
DANTINI THE MAGNIFICENT Magician-in-residence at a Baltimore bar.
The Bowery (originally an Indian footpath, then the road to the outlying farms, or bouwerijen, of the Dutch) was once Manhattan’s most fashionable street. Arrayed along it, during the early years of the republic, were mansions, fine shops, banks, and theatres. The well-to-do resided, shopped, and attended plays on the Bowery.
But by 1888—the year Max Katz, age fifteen, became a waiter at a Bowery saloon—its character had radically changed. The theatre district had moved further uptown, as had the shops; the mansions had been replaced by tenements; and an elevated train now rumbled over a concourse of thriving but less-than-genteel entertainments. (“The livest mile on the face of the globe,” it was called.) Among the entertainments were dime museums; and the most popular of these was the Globe. Visitors to the Globe could roam about and explore its miscellany of attractions. They could peer at the curiosities (often fake) in display cases; at the waxwork figures; at Chang the Chinese Giant and other human exhibits. They could listen to the mechanical music of the Orchestrion. And they could file into the Globe’s theatre to watch a puppet show or a magic act.
Arrayed along the Bowery now were dime museums, dance halls, pool halls, concert halls (with food, drink, and bawdy shows), faro halls (faro was a popular card game), vaudeville houses, shooting galleries, and German beer gardens. For sailors there were tattoo parlors; for newcomers to the city, lodging houses; for the jobless, employment agen- cies and pawn shops. Brothels operated with impunity. There was not a single church—only the Bowery Mission (still in operation today).
And there were saloons—nearly a hundred of them—with nickel beers and rowdy companionship. The best known was Steve Brodie’s at 114 Bowery. Brodie was famous for having jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, on a bet, and sur- vived (though he may have faked the jump with a dummy). On display at his saloon were a painting of the stunt and an affidavit from the barge captain who had pulled him from the water. Gombossy’s, at 294 Bowery, was a hangout for crooks. Paddy Martin’s, at 9 Bowery, had an opium den in the basement. And Seiden’s had singing waiters—one of whom was Max Katz.
Seiden’s was run by Professor Seiden, a magician who had won the saloon in a poker game. Seiden (who was also a ventriloquist and ﬁre-eater) billed himself as “the modern Mephistopheles.” His catch-phrase was “Watch the Professor!” And no one watched him more closely than young Katz. For “Ketzele,” as his employer called him, had become Seiden’s pupil. When not serving beers, he was learning sleight of hand, misdirection, and other skills from his men-tor. He would practice them on the patrons in the saloon.
For an aspiring magician it was the best education imag-inable—an apprenticeship with a veteran performer. During his time at Seiden’s saloon, Katz developed both his conjur-ing skills and his self-conﬁdence. With a captive (and inebri-ated) audience, he perfected routines; learned how to handle himself; and developed a style. Eventually, he began to perform elsewhere on the Bowery. Going from saloon to saloon, he would entertain with tricks and pass the hat - a barroom busker.