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Fire has always been and, seemingly, will always remain, the most terrible of the elements. To the early tribes it must also have been the most mysterious; for, while earth and air and water were always in evidence, fire came and went in a manner which must have been quite unaccountable to them.
Miracle Mongers and Their Methods PDF Book by Harry Houdini
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Thus it naturally followed that the custom of deifying all things which the primitive mind was unable to grasp, led in direct line to the fire-worship of later days. That fire could be produced through friction finally came into the knowledge of man, but the early methods entailed much labor.
Consequently our ease-loving forebears cast about for a method to “keep the home fires burning” and hit upon the plan of appointing a person in each community who should at all times carry a burning brand. This arrangement had many faults, however, and after a while it was superseded by the expedient of a fire kept continually burning in a building erected for the purpose.
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The Greeks worshiped at an altar of this kind which they called the Altar of Hestia and which the Romans called the Altar of Vesta. The sacred fire itself was known as Vesta, and its burning was considered a proof of the presence of the goddess. The Persians had such a building in each town and village; and the Egyptians, such a fire in every temple; while the Mexicans.
Natches, Peruvians and Mayas kept their “national fires” burning upon great pyramids. Eventually the keeping of such fires became a sacred rite, and the “Eternal Lamps” kept burning in synagogues and in Byzantine and Catholic churches may be a survival of these customs. There is a theory that all architecture, public and private, sacred and profane, began with the erection of sheds to protect the sacred fire.
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This naturally led men to build for their own protection as well, and thus the family hearth had its genesis. Another theory holds that the keepers of the sacred fires were the first public servants, and that from this small beginning sprang the intricate public service of the present. The worship of the fire itself had been a legacy from the earliest tribes.
But it remained for the Rosicrucians and the fire philosophers of the Sixteenth Century under the lead of Paracelsus to establish a concrete religious belief on that basis, finding in the Scriptures what seemed to them ample proof that fire was the symbol of the actual presence of God, as in all cases where He is said to have visited this earth.
He came either in a flame of fire, or surrounded with glory, which they conceived to mean the same thing. The earliest mention I have found of a public fire-eater in England is in the correspondence of Sir Henry Watton, under date of June 3rd, 1633. He speaks of an Englishman “like some swabber of a ship, come from the Indies, where he has learned to eat fire as familiarly as ever I saw any eat cakes. Miracle Mongers and Their Methods PDF Book
Even whole glowing brands, which he will crush with his teeth and swallow.” This was shown in London for two pence. The first to attract the attention of the upper classes, however, was one Richardson, who appeared in France in the year 1667 and enjoyed a vogue sufficient to justify the record of his promise in the Journal des Savants.
Later on he came to London, and John Evelyn, in his diary, mentions him under date of October 8th, 1672, as follows: I took leave of my Lady Sunderland, who was going to Paris to my Lord, now Ambassador there. She made me stay dinner at Leicester House, and afterwards sent for Richardson, the famous fire-eater.
He devoured brimstone on glowing coals before us, chewing and swallowing them; he melted a beere-glass and eate it quite up; then taking a live coale on his tongue he put on it a raw oyster; the coal was blown on with bellows till it flamed and sparkled in his mouthe, and so remained until the oyster gaped and was quite boil’d. Miracle Mongers and Their Methods PDF Book
Then he melted pitch and wax with sulphur, which he drank down as it flamed: I saw it flaming in his mouthe a good while; he also took up a thick piece of iron, such as laundresses use to put in their smoothing-boxes, when it was fiery hot, held it between his teeth, then in his hand, and threw it about like a stone; but this I observ’d he cared not to hold very long.
Then he stoode on a small pot, and, bending his body, tooke a glowing iron with his mouthe from betweene his feete, without touching the pot or ground with his hands, with divers other prodigious feats. The secret methods employed by Richardson were disclosed by his servant, and this publicity seems to have brought his career to a sudden close; at least I have found no record of his subsequent movements.
About 1713 a fire-eater named De Heiterkeit, a native of Annivi, in Savoy, flourished for a time in London. He performed five times a day at the Duke of Marlborough’s Head, in Fleet Street, the prices being half-a-crown, eighteen pence and one shilling. According to London Tit-Bits, “De Heiterkeit had the honor of exhibiting before Louis XIV. Miracle Mongers and Their Methods PDF Book
The Emperor of Austria, the King of Sicily and the Doge of Venice, and his name having reached the Inquisition, that holy office proposed experimenting on him to find out whether he was fireproof externally as well as internally. He was preserved from this unwelcome ordeal, however, by the interference of the Duchess Royal, Regent of Savoy.”
His programme did not differ materially from that of his predecessor, Richardson, who had antedated him by nearly fifty years. By far the most famous of the early fire-eaters was Robert Powell, whose public career extended over a period of nearly sixty years, and who was patronized by the English peerage. It was mainly through the instrumentality of Sir Hans Sloane that, in 1751.
The Royal Society presented Powell a purse of gold and a large silver medal. Lounger’s Commonplace Book says of Powell: “Such is his passion for this terrible element, that if he were to come hungry into your kitchen, while a sirloin was roasting, he would eat up the fire and leave the beef. Miracle Mongers and Their Methods PDF Book
It is somewhat surprising that the friends of REAL MERIT have not yet promoted him, living as we do in an age favorable to men of genius. Obliged to wander from place to place, instead of indulging himself in private with his favorite dish, he is under the uncomfortable necessity of eating in public, and helping himself from the kitchen fire of some paltry ale-house in the country.”
Many of our most noted magicians have considered it not beneath their dignity to introduce fire-eating into their programmes, either in their own work or by the employment of a “Fire Artist.” Although seldom presenting it in his recent performances, Ching Ling Foo is a fire-eater of the highest type, refining the effect with the same subtle artistry that marks all the work of this super-magician.
Of Foo’s thousand imitators the only positively successful one was William E. Robinson, whose tragic death while in the performance of the bullet-catching trick is the latest addition to the long list of casualties chargeable to that ill-omened juggle. He carried the imitation even as far as the name, calling himself Chung Ling Soo. Miracle Mongers and Their Methods PDF Book
Robinson was very successful in the classic trick of apparently eating large quantities of cotton and blowing smoke and sparks from the mouth. His teeth were finally quite destroyed by the continued performance of this trick, the method of which may be found in Chapter Six. The employment of fire-eaters by magicians began a century ago.
For in 1816 the magician Sieur Boaz, K. C., featured a performer who was billed as the “Man-Salamander.” The fact that Boaz gave him a place on his programme is proof that this man was clever, but the effects there listed show nothing original. In 1818 a Mr. Carlton, Professor of Chemistry, toured England in company with Rae, the Bartholomew Fair magician.
As will be seen by the handbill reproduced here, Carlton promised to explain the “Deceptive Part” of the performance, “when there is a sufficient company.” In 1820 a Mr. Cassillis toured England with a juvenile company, one of the features of which was Miss Cassillis, aged nine years, whose act was a complete reproduction of the programme of Boaz, concluding her performance with the “Chinese Fire Trick.” Miracle Mongers and Their Methods PDF Book Download
A Negro, Carlo Alberto, appeared in a benefit performance given by Herr Julian, who styled himself the “Wizard of the South,” in London, on November 28th, 1843. Alberto was billed as the “Great African Wonder, the Fire King” and it was promised that he would “go through part of his wonderful performance as given by him in the principal theaters in America, in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, etc.”
A later number on the same bill reads: “The African Wonder, Carlo Alberto, will sing several new and popular Negro melodies.” Collectors of minstrel data please take notice! In more recent times there have been a number of Negro fire-eaters, but none seems to have risen to noticeable prominence.
Ling Look, one of the best of contemporary fire performers, was with Dean Harry Kellar when the latter made his famous trip around the world in 1877. Look combined fireeating and sword-swallowing in a rather startling manner. His best effect was the swallowing of a red-hot sword. Another thriller consisted in fastening a long sword to the stock of a musket. Miracle Mongers and Their Methods PDF Book Download
When he had swallowed about half the length of the blade, he discharged the gun and the recoil drove the sword suddenly down his throat to the very hilt. Although Look always appeared in a Chinese make-up, Dean Kellar told me that he thought his right name was Dave Gueter, and that he was born in Buda Pesth. Yamadeva, a brother of Ling Look.
Was also with the Kellar Company, doing cabinet manifestations and rope escapes. Both brothers died in China during this engagement, and a strange incident occurred in connection with their deaths. Just before they were to sail from Shanghai on the P. & O. steamer Khiva for Hong Kong, Yamadeva and Kellar visited the bowling alley of The Hermitage, a pleasure resort on the Bubbling Well Road.
They were watching a husky sea captain, who was using a huge ball and making a “double spare” at every roll, when Yamadeva suddenly remarked, “I can handle one as heavy as that big loafer can.” Suiting the action to the word, he seized one of the largest balls and drove it down the alley with all his might; but he had misjudged his own strength. Miracle Mongers and Their Methods PDF Book Download
And he paid for the foolhardy act with his life, for he had no sooner delivered the ball than he grasped his side and moaned with pain. He had hardly sufficient strength to get back to the ship, where he went immediately to bed and died shortly afterward. An examination showed that he had ruptured an artery.
Kellar and Ling Look had much difficulty in persuading the captain to take the body to Hong Kong, but he finally consented. On the way down the Yang Tse Kiang River, Look was greatly depressed; but all at once he became strangely excited, and said that his brother was not dead, for he had just heard the peculiar whistle with which they had always called each other.
The whistle was several times repeated, and was heard by all on board. Finally the captain, convinced that something was wrong, had the lid removed from the coffin, but the body of Yamadeva gave no indication of life, and all save Ling Look decided that they must have been mistaken. Miracle Mongers and Their Methods PDF Book Free
Melt these together. When the metal has cooled, a piece the size of a silver quarter can be melted and taken into the mouth and held there until it hardens. This alloy will melt in boiling water. Robert-Houdin calls it Arcet’s metal, but I cannot find the name elsewhere. The eating of burning brimstone is an entirely fake performance.
A number of small pieces of brimstone are shown, and then wrapped in cotton which has been saturated with a half-and-half mixture of kerosene and gasoline, the surplus oil having been squeezed out so there shall be NO DRIP. When these are lighted they may be held in the palm of any hand which has been anointed with one of the fire mixtures described in this chapter.
Then throw back the head, place the burning ball in the mouth, and a freshly extinguished candle can be lighted from the flame. Close the lips firmly, which will extinguish the flame, then chew and pretend to swallow the brimstone, which can afterwards be removed under cover of a handkerchief. Observe that the brimstone has not been burned at all, and that the cotton protects the teeth. Miracle Mongers and Their Methods PDF Book Free
To add to the effect, a small piece of brimstone may be dropped into the furnace, a very small piece will suffice to convince all that it is the genuine article that is being eaten. To cause the face to appear in a mass of flame make use of the following: mix together thoroughly petroleum, lard, mutton tallow and quick lime.
Distill this over a charcoal fire, and the liquid which results can be burned on the face without harm. To set paper on fire by blowing upon it, small pieces of wet phosphorus are taken into the mouth, and a sheet of tissue paper is held about a foot from the lips. While the paper is being blown upon the phosphorus is ejected on it, although this passes unnoticed by the spectators.
And as soon as the continued blowing has dried the phosphorus it will ignite the paper. Drinking boiling liquor is accomplished by using a cup with a false bottom, under which the liquor is retained. Miracle Mongers and Their Methods PDF Book Free