The Amazing Harry Kellar:
Strolling through a bustling New York City market in March 1889, Harry Kellar wore a high silk hat and an expensive coat. He stopped at a vegetable stand and grabbed a bystander by his coat. “Look here, my man,” he said, “you shouldn’t do a thing like that.” Then he pulled a carrot from the man’s pocket.
Next Kellar lifted another man’s hat. Onions fell to the ground. He pulled sausages from a gentleman’s coat and coins from a butcher’s nose. He even yanked a clucking chicken from under a policeman’s uniform.
By the time Harry Kellar left the market, several hundred people were following him, eager to see what magic he would do next.
(Excerpt from The Amazing Harry Kellar)
Kellar was America’s greatest magician and illusionist from the 1890s to his retirement in 1908—a real-life wizard. His two-hour stage show dazzled and mystified his audiences. When The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published in 1900, readers recognized the wizard. He looked and acted like the bald, good-natured Kellar.
Kellar was adored by his fans and respected by fellow conjurers. The Society of American Magicians named him its first “Dean of American Magicians.” Kellar became a mentor and friend to Harry Houdini, who was 25 years younger.
HOW DID KELLAR BECOME A MAGICIAN?
Henry Keller was born to German immigrants in Erie, Pennsylvania, on July 11, 1849. After young Henry’s chemistry experiment blew up the Erie drugstore where he was an apprentice, he jumped a train and ran away. He worked as a newsboy in New York City for a time.
One day Henry saw his first magic show, and he was mesmerized. When a traveling magician advertised for an assistant, Henry applied for the job and was hired. He and the magician spent the Civil War years traveling from town to town throughout the North. Henry learned how to perform in front of an audience. He practiced basic magic tricks until he could do them without thinking.
As a young man, he changed his name to Harry and took a job with the famous Davenport Brothers, who claimed to communicate with ghosts. Harry learned the secret of the brothers’ “Spirit Cabinet” and rope escapes. Using this knowledge and his magic skills, Harry set off to travel around the world with his own show. For nearly twelve years, he performed on five continents as Harry Kellar.
A popular trick from Kellar’s early career was The Flying Cage. Watch it performed by a magician here: http://geniimagazine.com/magicpedia/Vanishing_Bird_Cage.
In 1884, Harry Kellar brought his show home to the United States. For nine months of the year, he and his troupe traveled by train from town to town. His show included sleight-of-hand tricks, illusions, mind-reading, and several automatons. Harry’s wife, Eva, assisted him. In the Queen of Roses illusion, Eva suddenly appeared out of thin air, surrounded by flowers, in the middle of the stage.
Kellar’s illusions were elaborate and stunning. He was famous for his levitation, in which he floated a woman in the air.
In Fly-To, Kellar made a woman fly from an onstage cabinet to a cage hanging from the ceiling.
One illusion that horrified audiences was Kellar’s Self-Decapitation. The conjurer sat in the middle of the stage. He lifted his head from his body. As his head floated away, it smiled and nodded. Then it disappeared.
After he retired in 1908, Harry Kellar settled in California. In 1922, he died at age 72. He is interred at Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery, Los Angeles.
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