Horace Goldin: First Sawed a Woman in Half


Today, we celebrate the birthday of Horace Goldin (Hyman Goldstein, 1873-1939), the magician who, more than any other, popularized the trick of sawing a woman in half. (The trick was actually invented by P.T. Selbit, but Goldin improved it).

Born in Vilnius, Goldin is said to have learned magic from local Roma before moving to the U.S. (Nashville, to be specific) with his family at age 16. He became a professional in the mid 1890s, and became known as “The Whirlwind Illusionist” because he performed his feats so rapidly and with such flourish.  In promoting his vivisection illusion he became known for driving through town in an ambulance with a sign that said “in case the saw slips”.

To find out more about these variety artists and the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


One comment

  1. My great grandmother worked as an assistant for Horace Goldin. She was, according to her, and family tradition, one of the first ladies he sawed in half. She was also known as the vanishing lady.

    I believe she may have toured with Horace Goldin on his tour to the far East as her diary seems to tie up with this. At some point she started a dance troupe and I wonder if the dance troupe was the reason why she was on the tour. We think that one of the youtube clips may include my great grandmother as it seems to be the spitting image of her. Great Grandma also claimed to have been involved in the first underwater swimming act ( she got very angry when Peter Sellers was ever mentioned.)

    Great Grandma was born somewhere around 1897 although she may have lied about her age. Her maiden name was Rosetta Barsby and her married name, Rosetta Sellers.

    Rosetta began her career riding into the circus ring on the back of an elephant in Lord George Sanger’s circus.

    It is clear in her diary that she was a friend of Horace Goldin and she writes of his death. She was clearly very fond of him. She also, for a time, lived next door to Charlie Chaplin. This was apparently before Charlie Chaplin was famous and my grandfather was on stage with him. I have no idea what in. I believe just to add to the unbelievable but true story, my great grandmother and grandfather did some kind of mind reading trick in the music halls which my father says was all done by signs.

    Obviously, this would all seem very far fetched to anyone who did not know my great grandmother. She was alive until I was five, and has always fascinated me. I believe she also at some point looked after injured canaries – those injured in magic acts, so maybe some of them belonged to Horace Goldin! She finally, as she became older and therefore less glamorous, became a wardrobe mistress to the Tiller girls.

    Rosetta died at the Brinksworth nursing home in the fifties and she is buried in the graveyard they use in ?Streatham. Obviously to have been at Brinksworth at all she would have to have had some kind of stage career.

    If anyone can shed any light on her at all, a list of who Goldin employed or a cast list or a programme with all the cast of his tour on? I would be grateful. In some kind of a fit she destroyed most things related to her, but then re wrote her diary at Brinksworth although that is mostly related to the India tour. My father thinks that in her day, Rosetta was fairly well known but I can find nothing about her.


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