Today is the birthday of Alfred Sylvester, Sr. (1813-1886), billed in variety halls as the Fakir of Oolu.
Sylvester started his professional career in his native England as an assistant to inventor John Henry Pepper, who devised a method of creating illusions like ghosts and moving statues on stage. Soon after going off on his own Sylvester was stopped by the authorities from using a pirated form of the ghost illusion. From here he developed his own stunt, the Aerial Suspension Illusion: dressed in mystic, Hindu-looking robe and turban he would remove the supporting props from underneath a reclining audience member or assistant and they would seem to float in the air. This trick continues to be performed by headlining magicians all over the world to this day. Sylvester died while touring Australia and New Zealand, but his son and grandson, both named Alfred, each in turn continued to perform his act billed as the Fakir of Oolu.
To find out more about the variety of arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc