What did we do over our summer vacation at Inside Magic?
We didn’t perform except for our poor family members who watched and noted each time our second deal was obvious. We also had them watch the Twisting the Aces over and over. They feigned interest for a couple of weeks and then found reasons to not be in the same room with us and any four cards – aces or not.
We read wonderful books on magic and our favorite topics, late 1800 through early 1900s spiritualism and magicians of the same era.
The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln’s Ghost by Peter Manseau is one heck of a good book if you are into spirit photography; and we certainly are. He takes his time and provides background on the man that brought spirit photography into its own at the very start of Spiritualism and photography.
Lisa Morton’s Calling the Spirits: A History of Seances is similarly captivating. It asks, “Why do we need Seances” especially in light of the reality that they are very often (if not always) fraud. Sometimes the fraud is practiced by those who genuinely believe they are reaching through this mortal veil; and sometimes by those who are looking to take from the believing. She is thoughtful in her exposition of the phenomenon, its followers, its victims, the hope and devastation felt by those for whom the experiment has failed.
Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man is not so much about Spiritualism as it is about the victims of confidence men (or a single man – no spoiler here) who plied their / his craft on a riverboat. The writing is so wonderful and the scenes are so real. There is no magic or swindle mechanisms explained but the notion of a person who can have a victim put confidence in a perfect stranger is explored completely.
Christine Garwood’s Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea provides a riveting history of individuals who believe against all science to the contrary that the earth, a globe, is flat. Their belief is true to them although not true. We don’t want to spoil the ending, but the earth is, in fact, round.
Finally, Ching Ling Foo: America’s First Chinese Superstar by Samuel Porteous is a different kind of book. It takes the reader through the history of Ching Ling Foo’s well-deserved ascension to superstar status in US theaters. He and his troupe made more money in a week than entire villages did in a year. But the book takes you through every stop along the way. Literally. The reader is treated to virtually every theater engagement, the songs sung by his young phenomenon, Chee Tai. She could mimic fellow vaudeville acts with perfection and soon became a star separate from the troupe. There are great posters, images, letters and headlines included in the book. It is at time longish but worth the read if you are a fan of this incredibly inventive magician.
We love reading and so while our performance opportunities were limited to non-existent, we filled our mind with the magic of wonderfully written books.
That’s what we did on our summer vacation here at Inside Magic.