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The Amazing Harry Kellar:
Great American Magician

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)


WHO WAS 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.


Kellar and Houdini in 1908.

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.


Kellar used the Spirit Cabinet throughout his long career.



WHAT ILLUSIONS AND TRICKS DID KELLAR PERFORM?

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.
When Kellar did it, a live bird was in the 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.



FIND OUT MORE ABOUT MAGIC!

YouTube

  • Search among the many videos of magicians performing.

  • Watch Kellar and Harry Houdini together in two short film clips: The famous rope trick and in a car.

How to Do Magic Tricks


  • Some of Kellar’s posters hinted
    at a connection between magical
    power and the supernatural.
    In reality, his magic performances
    were the result of hard work,
    detailed preparation, and skill.

    Magic: Stage Illusions and Scientific Diversions Including Trick Photography, Edited by Albert A. Hopkins.
    bit.ly/KjLevw
    Read this book -- first published in 1897-- at Google Books to find out how Kellar and other magicians of his day pulled off some of their tricks and illusions. One chapter explains how automatons work.


  • Illusionioneering.
    www.illusioneering.org
    Magician-scientists demonstrate amazing magic tricks and explain the math and science behind them. Download instructions for each trick.

  • “Learn Magic” by Wayne Kawamoto. Magic & Illusion, About.com.
    magic.about.com/od/beginningmagic/u/learnmagic.htm
    Learn to do easy magic tricks by following simple instructions illustrated with photographs.


  • “Magic.” Activity TV.
    xfin.tv/1p6cvWh
    Magician Ryan Oakes performs fun magic tricks and reveals how to do them. Site includes printable instructions.

Magician Organizations

DVDs

  • Grand Illusions: The Story of Magic, Parts One and Two. Produced and directed by Wilson Coneybeare and Mitchell T. Ness. Paragon Productions, 1998.
    Find out about the history of magic and great magicians, including Harry Kellar, Alexander Herrmann, John Nevil Maskelyne, and Harry Houdini. The documentary includes interviews and footage of magic performances.

  • The Illusionist. Written and directed by Neil Burger. Bull’s Eye Entertainment, 2006. Rated PG-13.
    Watch an award-winning film about a fictional magician in Vienna, Austria, in the early 1900s. The film depicts theaters and stage magic from Kellar’s era and shows the popularity of spiritualism. It features sleight-of-hand tricks and stage illusions, many of which Kellar performed. Professional magicians assisted with the production.

Magic Posters

  • Kellar and other magicians advertised their shows with colorful posters like the ones shown here.
    See more at the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs site. www.loc.gov/pictures (Search “Magic Posters”)


> Posters and Kellar/Houdini photo from Library of Congress. Photograph of Kellar from State Library of Victoria, Australia.

 

   

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