Julius Zancig and Partners: Mentalists

March 7 is the birthday of famed mentalist Julius Zancig (Juius Jorgenson, 1857-1929).

Zancig was an iron smelter from Copenhagen who developed an elaborate verbal code with his wife Agnes (Agnes Claussen, c. 1850s-1916) that made it appear that Julius could read Agnes’s mind. (When finally revealed to the public it became known as the Zancig Code within the industry). At its most basic, the code allowed Agnes to convey to Julius the identity of an object he could not see by the manner in which she posed a question (i.e., the word order she employed, the choice of phrase, intonation, etc.) With this code as their secret weapon, the Zancig’s launched an awe-inspiring mind reading act in the U.S. in the 1880s. They styled themselves “Professor Zancig” and “Madame Zancig”. Around the turn of the century, Zancig began publishing articles and books, such as 20th Century Guide to Palmistry (1920), New Complete Palmistry (1902), How to Tell Fortunes By Cards (1903), and the one that would thenceforth become the title of their act as well, Two Minds with But a Single Thought (1907).

The Zancigs circled the entire globe with this act, and fooled famous people like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and W.T. Stead into thinking their abilities were proof of psychic phenomenon. Houdini considered them the greatest in the Second Sight line. In 1916, Agnes died, and Julius replaced her with various partners over the years: his second wife Ada, “Henry” (Paul Vučić a.k.a. Paul Rosini), and a young David Bamberg.

In the 1920s, the Zancigs retired from public performance but continued to give private readings for wealthy clients, mixing palmistry, astrology, crystal balls, and tea leaves. In 1924, Julius revealed the secret of their code in an article, although the fact that he was a member of the Society of Magicians should have tipped people off. That year he also published the book Adventures in Many Lands (1924). His last book was Crystal Gazing, The Unseen World: A Treatise on Concentration (1926).

I can think of another book that owes something to Zancig. The act, though surely not the characters, in Nightmare Alley is surely a nod to him and his partners.

To learn more about vaudeville and major stars like the Zancigs consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,