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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Grand illusion » » Hercat's Mystery of She (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

JMYaga
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I'm currently researching the history of the Cremation illusion, which led to R.D. Chater (Hercat)'s 19th Century illusion The Mystery of She.
The widely circulated image of it is attached - by vintage illusion bill standards it looks like a pretty plausible illustration of the setup without too much hyperbole. The descriptions I've found suggest it as a production illusion rather than a cremation, although the pillar of fire scene from H. Rider Haggard's source novel is all about the destruction of the titular character. In one of the Will Goldston handbooks, a method for the cremation waxes lyrical about Haggard's pillar of fire scene as the primary inspiration - Goldston wasn't exactly fascidious at crediting the effects he put in his books, but this hints heavily at Hercat's signature, even though the actual illusion depicted looks more like a witch burning.

Probably both elements were represented, Méliès' 1899 silent film The Pillar of Fire from the same source material fits most descriptions of the illusion. I'd be interested to know how close that film is to Hercat's presentation.

Does anyone know of any good sources on Hercat's She, or of anyone who has set out to faithfully recreate it?

Click here to view attached image.
FrankFindley
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There is an article in Magic Circular Vol. 69, 1975. It contains details including illustrations.

Here is a brief excerpt describing it:

"The idea came to him while
reading the novel, in which Ayesha was destroyed
in " The Flame of Life "; she should be resus-
citated in fire. Hercat says:
" My invention was as follows: A platform
about six feet square, standing on legs two feet
high, was placed on the stage, at the back and
sides of which were stood solid red leather screens,
to show there were no bridges from the back
scene. A pole was thrust under the platform to
prove the non-existence of mirrors. A brass frame,
consisting of four uprights, six feet high was erec-
ted in the centre of the platform, and over this
was thrown a handsome Indian canopy which had
previously been examined, and under it was placed
an imitation of the bowl referred to in the novel,
bearing Greek lettering. In my " patter " I referred
to Rider Haggard's story, and told my audience
that, having ascertained its details were true, I had
at great expense sent to the Plains of Kor and
obtained the ashes of the cremated lady. A salver
containing ashes was brought on by an attendant
and emptied into the bowl; fire was applied; they
ignited and burst into flames, out of which rose
from the bowl a young lady attired to correspond
in every detail with the costume of Ayesha. . . .
She stepped out on the platform, and after enquir-
ing in vain for her Killikrates, she elected to return
to her ashes. She stepped back into the bowl, fire
was applied, and ' She' disappeared in ' The
Flame of Life'.

" The critics of the London press were unani-
mous in pronouncing ' The Mystery of She' by
far the best illusion of the kind they had ever seen.
The modus operandi baffled them..."
FrankFindley
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A similar article with the same material can be found in Genii Vol. 65 No. 3 2002.

According to The magic circular Vol. 111 No. 1213 August 2017, The Magician Seaton created a pirated copy of the illusion he originally called 'Egyptian Queen' but then redubbed it 'She'.
JMYaga
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That's excellent, many thanks! Smile
Bill Hegbli
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Because you mentioned that you were interested in a Cremation illusion, you might take a look at Abbott's Magic Burned Alive illusion. Created by Percy Abbott for Howard Thurston he presented in his touring illusion shows.

https://www.abbottmagic.com/Burned-Alive......nali.htm
JMYaga
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I’ve been having a good look at that one as it became the standard cremation effect used by modern illusionists. I didn’t know whether Thurston, Abbot, the two between them or somebody else entirely designed that illusion, so thank-you for clearing that up. I also recall a story of a touring magician using the effect to escape from a clingy foreign potentate - it might have been in Jim Steinmeyer’s biography of Thurston, but I have mislaid my copy of that book so can’t check.

Lester Lake had a Burned Alive effect, but his was more of an endurance feat along the lines of the 19th Century heat resistors.
JMYaga
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I have posted up my article on the subject at https://jackieyaga.wordpress.com/2020/08/02/into-the-fire/ , thank-you both for your assistance. I have given you credits at the end of the blog post, please let me know if you have homepages you'd like me to link to.
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