A Carter Elephant Vanish Poster

Carter’s Elephant illusion is a favorite of those who decorate restaurants with movie posters.

– Robinson, Ben. “Disappearing and Appearing Elephants” in Osborne, Paul. Illusions: The Evolution and the Revolution of the Magic Box. Illusion Systems Publishing: Dallas. 1995. Pp. 111-134. Cover | Full Title.

As if proving Ben Robinson’s proclamation, I nearly walked past this Carter the Great poster, as I was walking out of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Newark, NJ.

Carter the Great's Vanishing Elephant Poster

Carter the Great’s Vanishing Elephant Poster

This 8-sheet was printed by Otis Lithograph around 1926.

The Elephant eight-sheet you have made into a money-getter. I am sure as soon as my multitudinous friends around the world put their peepers on this sheet and the others, they will run posthaste to my box office with their golden elusive shekels, entreating me in suppliant cajolery to relieve them of their coin in exchange of feasting their senses on my many new mysteries which your painstaking efforts on my behalf have so graphically and seductively emblazoned forth in myriad greens and reds and purples royal.

– Charles Carter to Carl Moellmann of the Otis Lithograph Co.

As published in Caveney, Mike. Carter the Great. Pasadena: Mike Caveney’s Magic Words. 1995. P. 226. Limited edition of 1,000 copies. Cover | Full Title.

Of the trick itself, Milbourne Christopher describes the illusion thusly:

Remembering Houdini’s success with “The Vanishing Elephant.” Carter decided to build a similar illusion. Models were constructed for several ingenious cabinets, none of which met with his approval. He tried a different approach. As he visualized the feat, an elephant would stand on a platform; curtains would be lowered around it; then platform and elephant would be hauled into the air. The curtains would be raised just enough for the audience to see the pachyderm’s feet; then they would be dropped to the level of the platform. A pistol shot from the illusionist would cause the elephant to disappear. Carter built the apparatus, bought an elephant, and began to rehearse. There was an unexpected complication; the elephant would not cooperate. She bolted from the platform as it was being raised. The show opened at His Majesty’s Theatre in Brisbane in 1927 with four girls (“The Disappearing Flappers”) vanishing on the platform instead of the elephant.

– Christopher, Milbourne. The Illustrated History of Magic. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company. 1973. P. 324.  Cover | Full Title

According to Caveney’s Carter the Great book, Carter placed an initial order of 1,248 copies at a cost of 52¢ per poster. Today, you can by unmounted copies for $500 or $625, or with regularity at auction. The comparatively low price, presumably, because no one has the ceiling height to display it…



I subscribe to the Oxford English Dictionary word of the day e-mail.  “Alakazam” was the word selected for March 1.

 alakazam, int.

[‘Used as an exclamation imparting supposed magical power, as when performing a trick. Hence in extended use, connoting any sudden transformation or happening. Cf. abracadabra int.’]

Pronunciation: Brit. /ˌaləkəˈzam/,  U.S. /ˌæləkəˈzæm/

Forms:  19– alagazam,   19– alakazam,   19– alakazap,   19– alakazoo,   19– alakazoop,   19– alakazot.

Etymology:Apparently an arbitrary formation, invented to sound like a word in an unspecified foreign language, with the intention of creating an air of exoticism and mystery. In use as a magical exclamation perhaps approximately suggested by abracadabra n., although compare discussion below.

Earlier currency is suggested by the following (facetious) use in a street name:

1881 Daily Evening Bull. (San Francisco) 6 Aug. 1/5 Camp Capitola. Description of a New Seaside Resort in Santa Cruz County… The party who laid out the streets..gave vent to his facetious bent in naming them. Glancing at the names..are seen Fishbone avenue, Alagazam street, Rat Tail alley and Soda Water avenue.

Compare also the following earlier examples, in which this expression (in various spellings) is used facetiously with relation to the use of foreign words and phrases in English linguistic contexts with the intention to impress or to create an air of sophistication:

1884 Hawaiian Monthly May 119/2 At this point the conversation was interrupted by the tones of a deep, rich bass voice belonging to a gentleman, who sat directly behind the alagazam idiot: ‘Asinus, asini, asiniorum’.

1896 N.Y. Tribune 24 May 17/6, I ain’t had a square meal sence Been fillin’ up on Charley horse rusies, sooflay de allakazam, an’ all them French dishes.

The form Alagazam is also attested earlier in popular music, earliest as the title of composition first released as a ragtime piano score and subsequently published with lyrics:

1902  A. Holzmann ‘Alagazam!’ Cake Walk, March and Two Step 3 The theme and title of this composition suggested itself to the writer during a trip to the South where he saw a colored regiment, who, while marking time during drill..were uttering a peculiar refrain which sounded like—Alagazam! Alagazam! Alagazam! Zam! Zam!

1903  A. Holzmann Alagazam. Song. 5 Zam Zam Zam was the title they gave him Zam Zam Zam our mighty Alagazam.

With the explanation given by Holzmann for the title of his piece compare the later composition by Harry von Tilzer and Andrew B. Sterling entitled Alagazam to the Music of the Band (1915). With forms showing apparently arbitrary variation in the final syllable (as alakazoop, alakazoo, etc.), compare the following comic song, where a different alteration of Alakazam (apparently presented as though the name of a foreign country, state, or city) features in each successive verse (The Countess of Alagazoop, The Countess of Alagazip, etc.).

1904  R. Cole Countess of Alagazam 3 They christen’d a girl somewhere in the world, The Countess of Alagazam.

It has been suggested that the expression arose in the medicine shows that toured America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, although contemporary evidence to confirm this appears to be lacking.

Used as an exclamation imparting supposed magical power, as when performing a trick. Hence in extended use, connoting any sudden transformation or happening. Cf. abracadabra int.

In quot. 1902 as part of an extended magical formula.

1902 Sun (Baltimore) 30 Mar. 12/1 It was a wishing-spell, and whoever repeated it could be anywhere or do anything he desired… It read like this: ‘Alakazam Bazazza Ki! Hickory Dickory Dock. Omega Om Opeeka Pi? O Donnerwetter Hoch!’

1904 Philadelphia Inquirer 28 Apr. 9/5 ‘Alagazam’—To make your eyebrows heavier apply daily with a small brush a lotion of olive oil..bay rum..quinine.

1920 El Paso (Texas) Herald 10 July (Comic Section, Katzenjammer Kids), I am Professaire Dopo Ze Hypnoteest! I get your lettaire!.. Alakazam! You sleep! When you wake up you are good leetle boys!

1930 Daily News (N.Y.) 2 Mar. (Final ed.) 35/1 ‘Alagazam’..is a term in wide use among members of a profession which has long sickened reputable physicians and honest druggists, not to mention the general public.

1951  in Newslet. Amer. Dial. Soc. Sept. 22/1 The whirlwind courtship of Elmer Sitts… With Elmer and Gladys it was just slam, bam, Alakazam! Timber! This is it!

1988 N.Y. Post 21 Oct. 10/1 Sit down with these guys and—alakazam!—you’re in the Broadway world most folks thought was long gone.

2009 N.Y. Times (National ed.) 30 Oct. a23/1 He is unlikely to be judged kindly by subway and bus riders if they do not see—alakazam!—quick improvement in fraying service.

Most of these first uses have little to do with magic until 1902. Interestingly, the spelling is predominantly “alagazam”. Presumably, Magician Mark Wilson cemented the alternate spelling into common use due to his  marketing strategy of his show sponsor.  In his words:

Here is how the name “Allakazam” came about. Certainly, the tie-in with the “Wizard of Oats,” who magically created All Stars, was a natural for a magic show. To strengthen that association, “Allakazam” was incorporated into the show’s name. The word Allakazam itself has a magical connotation. The Wizard sang in the commercials …”Kelloggs All Stars, Allakazam. What a wonderful wizard I am.” Now that was a direct tie-in with that new product. Even more specifically, Allikazam was written with two lower case “l”s. This was to position the “K” as the center letter … AllaKazam. In that way, whenever the word AllaKazam was seen graphically, such as when it appeared at the top of the street sign-post on our primary set, it had the giant Kelloggs “K” logo as the middle letter.

– Wilson, Mark. “The Inside Story. Number 5.” In Genii. October 2003/Vol. 66, #10. P. 24. Ask Alexander (login required).

The logo in question can be seen at 1:00 and 1:26 here:

Monster’s Inc. Ride

I thought I would continue with the last posts’ Disneyland theme.  While The Haunted Mansion is a bit too obvious of a magic tie-in, there are other bits of video-reflected Pepper’s Ghosts hidden in the Sleeping Beauty’s Disneyland Castle Walkthru, in Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, and others.

However my pick for best use is hidden in the middle of the Monster’s Inc ride.

See 1:30 in this video

Alternate footage here – jump to 2:10

Or quickly in HD at 1:47 here:

Here the restricted viewing angle (and even symmetric periphery) is perfectly justified by its placement within a shower room scene. The setup is almost a “Blue Room” arrangement, though the effect is definitely Pepper’s Ghost.  Equally, it’s disappearance perfectly motivated by the chameleon character being, well, a chameleon.

Disneyland Magic Shop windows

Houdini Magic's
Disneyland magic shopI recently revisited the
Disneyland Magic Shop in California and snapped some photos of the
gorgeous window display that Houdini
has erected. Ostensibly an exploded view of
Houdini’s traveling trunk – the focus is on Houdini memorabilia.
However, conjuring books comprise a good portion of the
display.  You can spot copies of titles such as:

  • Jasper
    White Magic: The Story
    of the Maskelyne’s
  • Hoffmann’s
  • Houdini’s Book of
    Magic and Party Pastimes
  • Hopkins’
    Magic: Stage Illusions
    & Scientific Diversions including Trick
  • Henry
    Ridgely Evans’
    The Spirit World

Other nice touches I

  • A
    handkerchief, tied and awaiting performance of The Dancing
  • A
    hidden mickey subtly created
    from an Ace of Clubs
  • One
    volume eponymously titled “Munari” after store owner (and likely
    display designer) Geno Munari 

The Orange County Register included a brief history of
the Disneyland magic shop in this
article written shortly before Houdini Magic Shop’s

Magic shops have a long
tradition in Disneyland. The first one — Merlin’s Magic Shop —
opened near the Sleeping Beauty Castle on the park’s first day
in 1955. The Main Street Magic Shop opened two years later. After
Merlin’s closed in 1983, the Main Street location remained. Actor
Steve Martin got his start at Merlin’s and briefly worked at the
Main Street shop. While Disneyland has run the Main Street shop
since 1965, it was previously run by an outside operator. Houdini’s
was selected because of its strong reputation and the fact that it
holds rights to key magic tricks, said David Gill, a Disneyland
spokesman. Plus, Houdini’s will employ certified magicians to do
tricks for guests inside the shop.

article with additional photos can be found here.
The photos Disneyland MS 7 Disneyland MS 6 Disneyland MS 5 Disneyland MS 4 Disneyland MS 3 Disneyland MS 2 Disneyland MS 1

Willard on the Jersey Shore

This past summer, I ran into this original Willard ad for sale outside a Bay Head, NJ antiques store.

Advertising for sale in a Bay Head antiques store

Advertising for sale in a Bay Head antiques store

Not much to go on, but I had a hunch it was local advertising for a travelling magician at the turn of the century known as “Willard the Wizard“.

Unfortunately, I expect this advertising it has been ruined by Hurricane Sandy. I doubt the building itself even still standing.

Upon returning home from vacation (without purchasing), I turned to David Charvet’s 2008 Willard book to compare to that itinerant magician’s advertising.  Compare to this window card on p. 238.

P. 238 of Charvet, David with Frances Willard, Madeline Willard and Eugene Willard. Willard. A Life Under Canvas

P. 238 of Charvet, David with Frances Willard, Madeline Willard and Eugene Willard. Willard. A Life Under Canvas

It’s not quite the same. There are not many other examples in that book, or in Bergeron’s 1978 Willard book, for that matter.

So I dug up David Charvet’s e-mail address and showed him the sign. He quickly clarified the matter:

It’s Willard Warnkessel, who worked around the NE states as “Willard the Magician.” No relation to Harry Willard “The Wizard.”

So, here then are two books having absolutely nothing to do with this Willard sign (that likely no longer exists):

  • Charvet, David with Frances Willard, Madeline Willard and Eugene Willard. Willard. A Life Under Canvas. Mike Caveney’s Magic Words: Pasadena. 2008. 370 pp. Cover | Full Title
  • Bergeron, Bev. Willard the Wizard. Lake Cane Publications: np. 1978. 156 pp. Cover | Full Title