Kellar. Thurston. Carter. These names are forgotten to us, but once they motivated throngs of people to attend their mystical performances of occult hoodoo and magic. Their posters are models of the seductive appeal, with their bold names and strange images of impossible creatures. The prominence of the name in these posters is far from accidental—only after years of painstaking labor rising up through the ranks might a magician become one of the select handful whose name alone could draw crowds.
Harry Kellar was called the “Dean of American Magicians” and one of his main illusions was the “Levitation of Princess Karnack,” which trick he pilfered from a rival magician by bribing a member of the other guy’s theater staff. He also had a trick that involved decapitating his own head, which would then levitate over the stage.
Howard Thurston (it does sound more alluring without the “Howard,” doesn’t it?) was a partner of Kellar’s, a master of tricks involving playing cards. You can see that one of the posters says “THURSTON: KELLAR’S SUCCESSOR.” Thurston eventually did become the best-known magician in America.
Charles Joseph Carter perfected the classic “sawing a woman in half” illusion and also had an especially macabre trick in which his shrouded body would vanish just as it dropped from the end of a hangman’s noose.
Some of you might remember a diverting 2001 novel called Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold, a thriller, somewhat like Caleb Carr’s The Alienist, about a fictionalized version of Carter.
via So Bad So Good