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Blackstone, Harry, Jr. (30 June 1934–14 May 1997), magician, was born Harry Bouton Blackstone, Jr., in Three Rivers, Michigan, the son of Harry Blackstone, a noted magician, and Mildred Phinney Blackstone, who assisted her husband in his shows. The younger Blackstone allegedly made his stage debut as an infant, carried on by his mother when she was unable to find a babysitter. By the age of four he was appearing regularly onstage as his parents toured the country, and like the children of most magicians he learned his father's tricks. He enjoyed performing, and it seemed natural that he, too, would become a magician; but throughout his childhood his father made it clear that young Harry was to get a formal education and prepare himself for a “real” profession....

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Harry Blackstone, Jr. In front of a portrait of his father, Harry Blackstone. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Blackstone, Harry (27 September 1885–16 November 1965), magician, was born Harry Boughton in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Alfred Boughton, a florist and baker, and Barbara Degan. He began his career as a cabinetmaker, a skill applied later to the making of magic apparatus. Blackstone decided to become a magician when, at the age of 13, he was held spellbound by a performance by ...

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Ira Davenport [left to right] Ira Davenport and Harry Houdini, c. 1910. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-66398).

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Davenport, Ira Erastus (17 September 1839–08 July 1911), and William Henry Harrison Davenport (01 February 1841–01 July 1877), mediums and stage magicians, were born in Buffalo, New York, the sons of Ira Davenport, a police officer, and Virtue Honeysett. Following publicity about ...

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See Davenport, Ira Erastus

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Patricia Fox-Sheinwold

Goldin, Horace (17 December 1873–22 August 1939), magician, was born Hirsh Goldstein in Vilna, Poland (at that time part of Russia), the son of a fruit grower and cantor; his parents’ names are unknown. Goldin, who was eight years old when his father immigrated to the United States, remained for eight more years in Poland, where he studied music, hoping for a career as a concert violinist, and practiced magic tricks. When Goldin arrived in the United States, he joined his family in Nashville, Tennessee, where he worked in his father and uncle’s general store and attracted customers with his magic tricks. These sleight-of-hand demonstrations had fascinated him ever since, at about twelve years of age, he had watched a gypsy magician at a country fair. Goldin depended even more on magic to draw customers when he became a traveling salesman, selling jewelry made by an uncle....

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Harry Houdini Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-112386).

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Houdini, Harry (24 March 1874–31 October 1926), magician and escape artist, was born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest, Hungary, the son of Rabbi Mayer Samuel Weiss and Cecelia Steiner. In 1878 the family immigrated to Appleton, Wisconsin. The town’s small Jewish congregation hired Mayer Samuel as its rabbi but released him after four years. He began a hapless twelve-year search for a settled rabbinical post to support his wife and seven children and was reduced to accepting provisions from a relief society and selling part of his scholarly library. Young Ehrich once ran away from home and later recalled the period as “hard and cruel years when I rarely had the bare necessities of life.”...

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Harry Kellar [left to right] Harry Kellar and Harry Houdini, c. 1912. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-112406).

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Kellar, Harry (11 July 1849–10 March 1922), magician, was born Heinrich Keller in Erie, Pennsylvania, the son of German immigrants. He had little formal schooling and worked at a young age to assist his family. At the age of ten he hopped a train and traveled about the country, eventually earning his living selling newspapers in Manhattan. Robert Harcourt, a British-born clergyman, took him under his wing, taking Kellar to Canandaigua, New York. He began his career after seeing a performance by I. H. Hughes, known as the Fakir of Ava. Soon afterward Kellar became Hughes’s assistant at the age of eleven. When he was sixteen, he attempted to succeed with his own show but failed, returning to Hughes after a short period of time....

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Howard Thurston. With a look-alike and two woman assisting in the performance of a magic trick. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109536).

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Thurston, Howard (20 July 1869–13 April 1936), magician, was born Howard Franklin Thurston in Columbus, Ohio, the son of William H. Thurston, a carriage maker, and Margaret Claude. He was first enthralled at the age of seven by Herrmann the Great when he saw him perform in Columbus. Shortly thereafter, as a result of the depression of 1873, Thurston dropped out of school to earn money in a variety of jobs to help support his family. At the age of thirteen he hopped a freight car, became a hobo, and spent several years working concession sales at race tracks. He returned home at the age of sixteen. A year later he was arrested when he tried to steal a nickel from a train conductor because he did not have the fare. He was interviewed by relatives of a prison reformer, ...