The Year in Review, 1926

1926-Johnson Smith Co. Ad

To All our Magic Friends, We Wish You a Happy New Year!

2019 is upon us and we thought it would nice to look back on 1926.  We intend for this to be a yearly feature but didn’t think of it until now so we are starting with earlier years and working our way up to the present day.  We figure by the time the sun burns out, we will have matched the year in review with the previous year.  We’re happy that we will have completed our task but a little melancholy about the end of the universe as we know it.  And we know it as having a heat and energy-radiating center that affects our planet according to the portion of the globe facing the center.

But we began this post with the word “Happy” and we should continue in that vein.

Unfortunately the year 1926 wasn’t good for the magic world.  Harry Houdini died just after 1 pm on October 31st of that year in Detroit.  See the New York Times coverage of the event here. He did not pass performing the Water Torture Cell (aka “Upside Down”) but from a vicious (or as our spellcheck suggested “viscous”) attack in Montreal. His remains were moved to New York for burial days later. Some historians suggested he was being silenced by agents for Spiritualists.  Houdini was intensifying his efforts to expose the fraudulent practitioners.  Others suggested it was an accident, still others believe it was just an an attempt to humiliate Houdini gone wrong.  Whilst talking with the students, Houdini accepted a challenge from one of them to be punched to demonstrate his excellent musculature.  The student punched the great magician before he could get ready and continued punching until Houdini asked him to stop.

The punch(es) may or may not have ruptured an appendix that may or may not already been infected, thus spreading infection through his peritoneum and leading to his eventual death.  He allegedly left an estate worth $6,743,910 in today’s figures. According to a November 1st edition of The Montreal Gazette published ten-years after his death, Houdini’s spirit could not be encountered by séances attended by his wife or brother.

For all things Houdini, we turn always to Jon Cox’ incredible site, Wild About Harry.

So, that was one of the big news magic items during that year.    Earlier in October, 1926, the film The Magician was released.  It was panned for being too gross as one would expect when one is dealing with using the blood of maidens to make life; with the central character being a magician and a surgeon.  Critics have later praised the film for its innovative storytelling and cinematography.  We haven’t seen it yet and understand at least one of the scenes is “unwatchable” for the gruesome transformation of a character bitten by a venomous snake.  We’re not big on watching others in pain, so we might fast forward through this section and determine later whether it is essential to the plot.  The movie had nothing to do with Houdini – who scrupulously avoided drinking or obtaining blood from maidens and stuff.

Carter the Great published one of his greatest posters, “Carter Accused of Witchcraft.”  The poster is remarkable and dark.  It features the gallows on which he will be executed and text giving us hope that the great magician will cheat death and perhaps prove he is not using witchcraft.  We would have included the image for you to peruse but the only link we could find was from an eBay auction and we have a policy about endorsing products for sale – especially where we don’t get a cut.

“Professor” Joseph Dunninger published his Popular Magic Book in 1926.  The book cost fifty-cents.  In today’s money that would be $6.78 plus shipping.  Things are not as cheap as they once were.  It used to be we could buy just about everything (except for TVs) cheaper than we can now.  If we had a time machine, we would use it to go buy things in 1926 and tell Houdini to avoid Montreal.  We would sell the things we brought back through the time vortex and feel good that we helped Houdini live a long and valuable life.

But we digress.

Joe Dunninger went on to perform everywhere – including the radio.  He, with the ghost writing help of Walter Gibson, wrote at least ten more books, including the infamous The Complete Encyclopedia of Magic that taught young, impressionable magicians to use the dangerous and flammable compound based on potassium in just about every trick.  We studied the book hard and determined there was only one trick we could do without major reconstruction of our parents’ home, the purchase of dangerous chemical compounds, collection of various flammable gasses and mercury.  Perhaps his books in between the Popular Magic Book and the Complete Encyclopedia had different – less potentially deadly – effects.

The Johnston Smith & Co. in Racine, Wisconsin published some of their newest items in the 1926 catalog such as the “Musical Cigar,”(a cigar that produces music and promises “no end of fun and amusement”;  the “Jumping Sore Finger Joke” (where a bandage flies a considerable distance to strike a friend who asks about your finger); and of course loaded cigarettes and cigars (wherein your friend has his / her cigarette explode shortly after lighting and is temporarily blinded and rethinks his friendship with you).

Finally, we note that  Jackie Flosso  née Jack Levinson was born and later (when he grew up and could stand on his own) worked in his father’s magic store, Flosso-Hornmann Magic in New York.  According to an obituary in The New York Times, “Jackie learned to live by the store’s motto, Mundus Vult Deipi Decipiatur, ‘The world wants to be deceived, let it be deceived,’ but only to a point. Like his father, he made sure every youngster left with at least enough money to take the subway home.”

As we look back on 1926, we realize we weren’t there and not aware of all that was happening in the world of magic at the time.  We don’t want to make that mistake for 2019.

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