An Audience with the Chevalier Ernest Thorn

Today we bow before the Chevalier Ernest Thorn (Moses Abraham Thorn, 1853-1928).

The “Chevalier” was a genuine title, a French knighthood bestowed upon him by King Norodom I of Cambodia (the ability to confer such distinctions must have been one of the perks of presiding over what was then a French colony). Thorn, however, was from a town called Jauroslau, in Gallicia, then part of Austria-Hungary, now located in Poland. He was inspired to become a magician at age 10 by a performance by one “Simonelli”. He apprenticed under Samuel Bellachini and by the age of 16 was performing across the country as a professional with his brother Henry (later billed as Henry Darvin or often just Darvin). Austria-Hungary was much larger than its name implies. Those two nations co-ruled the empire, but the actual territory comprised a much larger hunk of Eastern and Southern Europe, territory which now belongs to some ten or a dozen countries.

From there, a natural place to jump was the neighboring Ottoman Empire, which took Thorn fully into the “Mysterious East”. Thorn next toured extensively through South Asia, finally getting so far East he wound up in Hawaii, which led to San Franciso, which led to a tour of American vaudeville all the way to New York, after which he went East again and back to Europe. He was famous for an act he called “Traumland”, or “Dreamland” in English, consisting of many illusions bearing themes and concepts he had borrowed from Asia: Cremation, the Floating Yogi, the Caliph of Bagdad, the Sarcophagus, et al. He retired in the 1920s.

As it happens, the official historian of Major League Baseball, John Thorn is the good Chevalier’s great grandson, and he has written the ultimate article on the famous magician. I refer you now to him.

For more on magic, vaudeville and show business history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,