Today is the birthday of magician Joseph Michael Hartz (1836-1903). An English native, Hartz was already presenting a full evening of magic in London at age 18, with an act based on that of Robert-Houdin. He then innovated an entirely new act called “Crystal Magic” featuring a bevy of transparent props, and he also worked with automata and other mechanical illusions. From 1861 to 1881 he lived and performed in the United States and operated one of the first magic shops in New York with his brothers Augustus and George (the latter of whom also opened his own shop in Boston). In the 1890s he came up with an 18 minute vaudeville act called “The Devil of a Hat”, in which he produced an impossible number of items from a borrowed top hat: dozens of tumblers and beer mugs and bottles of champagne, yards and yards of fabric, a live canary in a cage, a live goldfish in a bowl full of water, and a bunch of lighted kerosene lamps. After 1881 he was based again in London, but he continued to tour the U.S. and the Continent as well as England.
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, including magicians like Joseph Michael Harts, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.