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Journal of No. 118

February 18th, 2011

The Miracle Mongers by Harry Houdini @ 01:48 pm

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There are lots of etexts of this floating about, and it has the feeble distinction of being the first book I read in its entirety on the kindle. It's also kind of a feeble book. It's clear Lovecraft did no ghost-writing on this work by Houdini. Though I expect a ghostwriter/researcher was involved, who laboriously tracked down references to heat-resisters, fire-eaters, sideshow strongmen and the like, which forms the topic of the book (where A Magician Among the Spirits tackles mediums). Some of the historical details are interesting, but naturally the juicy stuff is when he reveals how the feats were accomplished. Certainly many of these individuals were naturally gifted (like the strongmen) but were not above a little additional help. Some of these people may not have been impervious to fire, but they certainly had nerves of steel:

The mystery of the burning cage, in which the Fire King remains while a steak is thoroughly cooked, is explained by Barnello as follows:

"Have a large iron cage constructed about 4 x 6 feet, the bottom made of heavy sheet iron. The cage should stand on iron legs or horses. Wrap each of the bars of the cage with cotton batting saturated with oil. Now take a raw beefsteak in your hand and enter the cage, which is now set on fire. Remain in the cage until the fire has burned out, then issue from the cage with the steak burned to a crisp.

Explanation: On entering the cage the performer places the steak on a large iron hook which is fastened in one of the upper corners. The dress worn is of asbestos cloth with a hood that completely covers the head and neck. There is a small hole over the mouth through which he breathes.

As soon as the fire starts the smoke and flames completely hide the performer from the spectators, and he immediately lies down on the bottom of the cage, placing the mouth over one of the small air holes in the floor of the same.

Heat always goes up and will soon cook the steak."

I deduce from the above that the performer arises and recovers the steak when the fire slackens but while there is still sufficient flame and smoke to mask his action.

Piece of cake! Er, steak!
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Journal of No. 118