In 1918, at the New York Hippodrome, legendary magician and Harry Houdini made an 8-foot, 6,000 pound elephant disappear. A crowd of over 5,000 packed the auditorium to watch Houdini’s latest stunt: the “world’s most incredible” conjuring illusion.
The pachyderm would proudly and graciously appear upon Houdini’s introduction, with a raising of her trunk to the audience as a greeting, before being placed into a brightly colored, massive box on wheels. The doors of the box were then closed on Jennie, followed by the inevitable and highly charged drum roll, and then the doors were reopened to reveal an empty box…no Jennie.
“You can plainly see, the animal is completely gone,” declared Houdini to the mystified crowd.
Billed as the “The Vanishing Elephant,” it quickly became a sensation. Houdini performed the trick numerous times to sold-out houses all over the world. Again and again, it baffled the millions who viewed the disappearing Jennie, not shrewd to a magician’s abracadabra.
However, the trick went beyond the usual, run-of-the-mill illusion in that it not only baffled the average spectator but fellow magicians were equally baffled. For over 90 years, not one magician was able to solve one of Harry Houdini’s most studied illusions…one that he never invented.
The credit for The Vanishing Elephant goes to an Englishman named Charles Morritt. As reported by Mail Online (July 2007), author/ magician Jim Steinmeyer and Norman Allen, Morritt’s great-nephew, revealed the magician behind the magician. Not nearly as gifted nor as charismatic as Houdini, he was possibly a much more inventive magician. One of his tricks, The Disappearing Donkey, a crowd favorite in England, brought him to the attention of Houdini and made his magic, if not his name, immortal.
Already a celebrated escapologist, the ever ambitious Houdini always desired to be an equally successful magician. Morritt sold him the secrets to several of his illusions, including the Disappearing Donkey. One evening he told Houdini, “If you really want to make headlines with your magic, you shouldn’t bother with little tricks like rabbits and pigeons. Make an elephant disappear.”
At first, Houdini dismissed the idea as being impractical; the necessary stage equipment could never be devised. Nevertheless, Morritt finally sold him on an “efficient way” to perform the trick:
When Jennie the elephant entered the box, her trainer hid her behind a large mirror that ran diagonally from the corner nearest the audience to the middle of the doors at the back. Once she was in place and the doors were re-opened, the audience thought they were seeing an empty box. Instead they were looking at one half of the interior, and its reflection.
While Houdini may have staged (and ultimately took credit for) this heavy illusion, Morritt had masterminded it; that which Houdini purported to be his own was in itself an illusion.
Source: Mail Online
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