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Courtesy of the Ricky Jay collection

The Phantasmagoria, Ă la M. Henry, London, c. 1820s


G ere ··· i b e c i` >   Journal of The Conjuring Arts Research Center    ?

VTCVMQVE NEW YORK MMXII


The Conjuring Arts Research Center Board of Directors William Kalush Dr. David Singmaster Steve Cuiffo Philip Varricchio David Blaine

This issue sponsored by Bella Mondo Gourmet Food available from Whole Foods Market and fine grocers nation-wide. www.bellamondo.biz

Š 2012 Printed in China. ISSN 1558-8149 Gibecière is published semi-annually by The Conjuring Arts Research Center 11 West 30th, 5th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10001 212-594-1033 www.conjuringarts.org


Contents Pocket Notes—Stephen Minch 7 Suffering Hyperbole— Ricky Jay  9 Andrew Oehler’s Myths of Old Mexico— Enrique Jiménez-Martínez  19 Dear Orville–The Hugard Letters—  89 Introduction to the Hugard Letters: 1938–1958— Stephen Minch  91 The Story Behind Hugard’s Letters to Orville Meyer— Ted Lesley  93 The Letters— Jean Hugard 95 Furthermore... 213 Contributors 217 Volume 7 ‹› Number 1 • 5


Pocket Notes It can be said with fair certainty that Jean Hugard never expected to be connected with the Spanish Inquisition. But then, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” 1 That connection happens in this issue. The Spanish Inquisition is very much center stage in the studies by Ricky Jay and Enrique Jiménez-Martínez that explode several myths in magic’s history, including the sustained persecution of conjurers by organized religion and the incarceration of Andrew Oehler in a dungeon 150 feet underground in punishment for his performance of a Phantasmagoria show in Mexico City. The depth of that dungeon alone should have raised suspicion, but oddly, Oehler’s claims in his 1811 autobiography, The life, adventures, and unparalleled sufferings of Andrew Oehler, went unquestioned by conjuring historians in general for almost two centuries. Enrique Jiménez-Martínez exposes the falsity of Oehler’s claims in a detail that leaves no ground for doubt. Another matter this study opens is the question of the degree of persecution conjurers experienced during the 1400s through the 1800s. Over the past few decades, the impression of this period has been radically reevaluated. It seems that the intolerance of the church was greatly exaggerated, and study of historical records of the time tells a story at variance with that widely believed. Executions for witchcraft, while still horrifying in their number, were far fewer than thought; and executions of conjurers for a performance of magic were uncommon. Enrique, in his article does much to correct the romantic notion commonly held by magicians. The second half of this issue airs a fascinating collection of letters written by Jean Hugard to Orville Meyer from 1938 through 1958. What these letters deliver is a fine snapshot of Hugard during his most prolific period, and his account of the conjuring scene in the New York area Volume 7 ‹› Number 1 • 7


Gibecière d­ uring a time when that city was the hub of magic in the USA. Along the way we hear Hugard’s candid opinions of the prominent magicians of the time, the books and tricks then current, his problems in writing and editing such classics as Greater Magic and Keith Clark’s Encyclopedia of Cigarette Tricks, and even a few views on political matters in magic and outside it, which show how little some things change. It is hard to imagine a better voice for this period in American magic than Jean Hugard, and we are lucky to have it, thanks to the thoughtfulness and generosity of two past magicians, Orville Meyer and Ted Lesley. You will also find a new feature in this issue, “Furthermore...” From the inception of Gibecière, we have hoped for feedback on the material published here. To our surprise, we’ve received very little. In “Furthermore...” we present new information sent us by readers, concerning previous articles. We hope to make this a regular feature, but it depends entirely on our receiving additions and corrections from you. So let us know what you know. • Stephen Minch editor Note 1. Monty Python’s Flying Circus, episode 15, 1970.

8 • Gibecière ‹› Winter 2012


•­Suffering Hyperbole•


Courtesy of the Ricky Jay collection

A fantastic representation of the Phantasmagoria from Juegos de manos by Pablo Miguet, 1857


SUFFERING HYPERBOLE • RICKY JAY

I

have, I confess, been intrigued by The life, adventures, and unparalleled sufferings of Andrew Oehler since I read of it as a young man with a burgeoning interest in the history of magic. The reasons, I think, were threefold. I found the peripatetic misfortunes of the protagonist amusingly romantic, I was seduced by the book’s rarity, and I just loved, loved, the title. Mostly, however, I was captivated by the thought of a magic show so dangerously compelling that it resulted in the imprisonment of its performer. At the time I was completely persuaded by this tale as it was recounted in the histories of conjuring that I read. I now believe that the book is very largely fictional, that it expresses a strong anti-Catholic bias (also anti-Spanish and anti-Mexican), and that it is not rare (scarce, yes, but not rare). In addition, I now appreciate that the phrase “unparalleled sufferings” was a standard bit of hyperbole, used by many before Oehler. According to his account, Oehler staged in Mexico City the first successful balloon ascension, and to repay the plaudits he received, he staged a Phantasmagoria ghost-show as an entertainment for the Mexican governor and his party. The favor went unappreciated, to say the least: the presentation was so frightening that Oehler was accused of diabolic agency, arrested, and incarcerated in a dungeon 150 feet below the ground. There he languished for six months until an enlightened visitor from Spain explained that such shows were Volume 7 ‹› Number 1 • 11

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