The Hudson River Museum in Westchester County, New York, sits high above the Hudson River on the northern edge of Yonkers. In addition to their permanent collections, the museum features special exhibitions. Recently the “Gilded Age Magic” exhibit featured items from the collections of Rory Feldman and Bjorn Hanson. Visitors to the Hudson River Museum were struck by a huge twenty-sheet billboard of Howard Thurston, Kellar and Thurston memorabilia, and several large black-and-white photo enlargements that tied the displays to the reality of Thurston’s “Wonder Show of the Universe,” a show that played to sold-out crowds from 1900 till his death in 1936.
A year ago, magic collectors and historians attending the acclaimed Los Angeles Conference of Magic History were treated to a display of early twentieth century costumes worn by Howard Thurston and several of his assistants. Earlier that year, magician, historian, and collector Feldman mounted a handsome display at the Magi-Fest 2011, and two years before that the equally acclaimed Yankee Gathering displayed close to one hundred items from Feldman’s remarkable collection of Thurston memorabilia. A trip to The Museum of Magic website provides the visitor with a glance into Feldman’s vision of what he is determined will one day be the nation’s premiere display of the history of magic in America.
Wishful thinking? No more so than the early days of Facebook, Google, iMacs, and iPads, when youngsters in their teens and twenties kick-started those remarkable success stories. Google co-founder Larry Page was the first kid in his elementary school to use a word processor, and by the time he was twelve he knew that he would start a company one day. In his early teens Rory Feldman was buying and selling magic collectibles on his way to financing the world’s largest Thurston collection, with over 30,000 items and still counting. Wishful thinking? Perhaps not!
During the prosperous 1920s, American entertainment exploded. Every city of any size had at least one vaudeville stage as well as a cinema where silent films gave way to that new phenomenon, the talkies. It was the Jazz Age, and the emergence of network radio made it possible for people everywhere to be a part of it, dancing the Charleston to the tunes of Duke Ellington and Paul Whiteman. But the sound was scratchy and the broadcast sometimes faded. The airwaves were not the same as being there. In town auditoriums and rural tents, Chautauqua and Lyceum acts drew packed houses, as did local community concerts and plays.
Thousands crowded city streets at mid-day to cheer as Harry Houdini wriggled free from a strait-jacket while suspended upside down like a trout on a hook, and Harry Blackstone escaped from a sealed packing crate dumped into the local river or bay. People wanted to be a part of the performance. There was nothing quite like live entertainment. The traveling circus and stage magic shows epitomized the public enthusiasm for live entertainment. When these two institutions came to town every bare wall and fence became a stunning display of the lithographer’s craft. Circus and magic posters were a highly effective, and artistic, form of advertising and consistently drew audiences to tents and auditoriums. What set the stage magic show apart from the circus, and other forms of entertainment, was the magician.
Throughout the show the magician was the focus of both attention and adoration. He was responsible for every miracle. The magician exercised “more than skill, more than deftness of [his] clever hand, more than the trick which seemed to do [his] will. The magician ‘banished care and pain,’ and ‘touched old hearts, leaving youngsters there.’”
“Mrs. Feldman,” said Rory Feldman’s sixth grade teacher at a parent-teacher conference in 1992. “Rory gave a wonderful performance of magic for show-and-tell. However, you probably should talk with him about his overactive imagination. He told his classmates that his equipment, the top hat and the colorful tube, belonged to Howard Thurston, the greatest magician in the world.” Mrs. Feldman replied with a smile and a sigh, perhaps anticipating this to be the first of many such explanations in years to come, “They did belong to Howard Thurston, Mrs. Stone.”
Read the entire article by David Goodsell in the November 2012 issue of MUM Magazine by Clicking HERE
No Comments Yet
You can be the first to comment!
Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.