Magician Harry Kellar with Cane. Tote Bag
An advertising poster depicting Harry Kellar with his cane. Harry Kellar (July 11, 1849 – March 3, 1922) was an American magician who presented large stage shows during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Kellar was the predecessor of Harry Houdini and the successor of Robert Heller. He was often referred to as the "Dean of American Magicians" and performed extensively on five continents. One of his most memorable stage illusions was the levitation of a girl advertised as the "Levitation of Princess Karnack" (invented by John Nevil Maskelyne). Kellar was a longtime customer of the famous Martinka Magic Company. They built many illusions for him, including the "Blue Room". In 1869, Kellar took a job with "The Davenport Brothers and Fay". "The Davenport Brothers and Fay" was a group of stage spirtualists made up of Ira Erastus Davenport, William Henry Davenport and William Fay. Kellar spent several years working with them, until 1873, when he left the Davenports accompanied with Fay. They started on a "world tour" through Central and South America. In Mexico, they were able to make $10,000 ($188 thousand in today’s figures). In 1875, the tour ended in Rio de Janeiro and with an appearance before Emperor Dom Pedro II. On their way to a tour in England, the ship Kellar and Fay were sailing on, the Boyne, sank in the Bay of Biscay. Lost in the wreckage was Keller's show, clothes, as well as the ship's cargo of gold, silver and uncut diamonds. After the shipwreck, Keller was left with only the clothes on his back and a diamond ring he was wearing. Even worse, his bankers in New York cabled him telling him that his bank had failed. Desperate for money, Kellar sold his ring, while Fay left to rejoin the Davenports. After visiting John Nevil Maskelyne's and George Alfred Cooke's theatre, called Egyptian Hall, Keller was inspired and like the idea of performing in one spot. He loved the illusions Maskelyne and Cook performed and spent his remaining money to buy the trick from them. Kellar borrowed $500 from Junius Spencer Morgan (father of J.P. Morgan) and returned to the United States to try and retrieve his funds from bank transation from when he was in Brazil. Knowing that mail from Brazil was slow, he was able to recover all of the $3,500. With the money, Kellar started a "troupe" based on Masekylne's and Cooke's in England, even go so far as naming his theater Egyptian Hall. In 1878, Kellar returned to England and invested $12,000 in new equipment, one of them being a version Maskelyne's whist-playing automaton "Psycho". After a disappointing tour in South America, Kellar cancelled his remaining shows and returned to New York. Shortly before arriving, Kellar was told of the death of magician Robert Heller. The New York Sun accused Kellar of pirating Heller's name, saying that "Heller is scarcely dead before we read of 'Kellar the Wizard'." The article goes on to say, "Of course 'Kellar' aims to profit by the reputation that Heller left, by adopting a close imitation of Heller's name. This is not an uncommon practice." Kellar attempted to prove that his name was always Keller with an "e" and had changed it years ago, so as to not be confused with Heller. He also pointed out that Heller had changed his name from William Henry Palmer. The public was still unreceptive to him, causing Kellar to eventually cancel his upcoming shows in the United States and headed back to Brazil. After making another world tour in 1882, Kellar was performing again in Melbourne, Australia and met a fan, Eva Lydia Medley, who came backstage to get his autograph. Kellar promised to send postcards and letters on the road. They exchanged letters for the next five years. Kellar started his version of Egyptian Hall in December 1884, after renting out an old Masonic temple on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After 264 performances, Kellar closed the theater on June 24, 1885. The theater was renamed Temple Theatre and, shortly after Kellar left, burned down. While Kellar was performing in America, Medley arrived a few weeks before his next appearance in Erie. She played the cornet in the show and started to learn about the magic business. Kellar and Medley were married on November 1, 1887 at a church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She played an important role in Kellar's shows in the coming years. Not only did she play part in many of his upcoming illusions, but she also provided the music. Kellar returned to Philadelphia in October 1891 and opened his second Egyptian Hall at Concert Hall, located also on Chestnut Street. On April 30, 1892, Kellar ended a successful seven month run at his second Egyptian Hall. Kellar decided to return to the road. During the times Kellar was abroad, another magician, Alexander Herrmann, had become famous and came into competition with Kellar when Kellar returned to the United States. Herrmann often criticized Kellar's lack of sleight of hand, who preferred to use mechanical tricks instead. While Kellar lacked sleight of hand, he was so good in using misdirection, that Kellar supposedly that a "...brass band playing at full blast can march openly across the stage behind me, followed by a herd of elephants, yet no one will realize that they went by." Herrmann died on December 17, 1896. "The Levitation of Princess Karnac" Kellar supposedly developed this trick by walking on stage during a show by Maskelyne, saw what he wanted, then left. Unable to duplicate it, Kellar hired another magician to help build another, but eventually designed a new trick with the help of the Otis Elevator Company. Another version built by Kellar was purchased by Harry Blackstone, Sr., who used the trick for many years. The Buffalo writer John Northern Hilliard wrote that the levitation was a marvel of the twentieth century and "the crowning achievement of Mr. Kellar's long and brilliant career." Levitation (from Latin levitas "lightness") is the process by which an object is suspended against gravity, in a stable position, without physical contact. It is also a conjuring trick, apparently raising a human being (or other object) without any physical aid. The illusion can be produced by clever mechanics, lighting arrangements and other means.