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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Everything old is new again » » Maskelyne, Brooks, and the Weiss SubTrunk Conundrum (2 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

Bryan Gilles
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This is on the origins of "The SubTrunk..."

Houdini's "Metamorphosis" was proceeded by "The Brooks Trunk" which was proceeded by John Nevil Maskelyne's "Box Escape..."

In my research, I have learned Maskelyne was credited in 1865 to performing a "laced up canvas trunk escape" to out-do the Davenport Brothers; however, I can't find any information beyond that - that links John Nevil Maskelyne to Herbert Brooks. Was it passed down ethically, much like trade secrets of Kellar on to Thurston? I'm also speculating that his (Maskelyne's) trunk was built by his cabinet-maker friend George Alfred Cooke (who built a similar Spirit Cabinet to the Davenports).

It is my understanding that the "Brooks Trunk" was rightfully created by Herbert Brooks in 1912. Does this mean that Brooks put his own spin on Maskelyne's method and routine then called it his own? It was performed with a wooden trunk that had a canvas cover as well. I picture the "Covered Trunk Escape" that Abbotts and Owens sold for years with the ringlets and the box is literally laced up all the way around. This version is also the one pictured and described in "The Great Illusions of Magic" by Byron G. Wels. I have read that it might have been performed entirely different and would love someone to point me in the right direction on that as well! In 1913 Brooks had the box fabricated from metal and had some great success with it until later pulling it from his act as not to compete with Houdini.

That brings me to my next question. Where is the connection to Houdini? The only conclusion I've come to is (much like Houdini), Maskelyne set out to disprove the spiritual, supernaturalists, mediums, etc of their day; hence his eagerness to outperform William and Ira Davenport. Somewhere in his research, he learned of the trunk escape John was performing and added it to his act... only to (later) develop the routine we know of now as "Metamorphosis."

Any more information on the above would be greatly apreciated!
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Were Houdini and Bess the first to do the switch standing on top of the box with a cloth? To me that kind of defines the Metamorphosis plot.
Leo H
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No--Harry and Bess did the sub trunk with a traditional curtained cabinet. There's photos of Sigfried and Roy in the Hyla Clark book World's Greatest Magic where they switched standing on the trunk back in the 1970s when they worked cruise ships. They used a large tube cloth to make the exchange.

S & R may have been the first to do the exchange that way.
gregg webb
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David Copperfield has "The Maskelyne Box Trick" in his collection and in his book about his collection, David Copperfield's History of Magic. I keep wondering if the box/trunk is the one from the Charles Reynolds estate. If not, then there were more than one Maskelyne box. A friend of mine is friendly with David and swears he'll ask him if is the same one.

In his History, he only mentions the box used in a play with a gorilla put into the box, and the box put into a cabinet decorated to look like a jail. Will, the Witch, and the Watchman. (Man in a gorilla suit for sure). A canvas covering is not mentioned. At the start of the play, spectators examine the box.
The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Everything old is new again » » Maskelyne, Brooks, and the Weiss SubTrunk Conundrum (2 Likes)
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