THE MAN WHO CAN TELL?

 

William John Hilliar (November 27, 1876 - November 15, 1936), born in England. He was a professional magician that performed in vaudeville. Wrote Novel Hand Shadows (1900). In the January 1901 issue of Mahatma, it was announced that he would start to contribute a column of interesting ideas to the paper beginning with the next issue. The first article would be devoted to shadow pictures. He moved to the United States in 1902. Founded Sphinx magazine in March 1902. He ghost-wrote Howard "Thurston's Card Tricks" (1901) He also ghost-wrote T. Nelson Down's book "Modern Coin Manipulation" and wrote his own book "Modern Magician's Hand Book" (1902). and wrote the column on magic for The Billboard magazine. He once performed, in disguise, as Howard Thurston while Thurston was sick and got a standing ovation. For many years he was with the Barnum and Bailey Circus and other large circuses in charge of the side shows.

 

Mentalist and fortune tellers were all the rage at the turn of the 20th century. Even the Great Houdini found interest in this area and because of his training in magic, set about in the 1920's on a crusade to debunk practicing spiritualist as frauds. ( a practice that cost him his friendship with the great writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle )


Shows like these provided entertainment that delighted the rather naive crowds of that period.
They should not be confused with fortune telling "Mitt Camps" which promised to tell your future by reading the palm of your hand or the bumps on your head but were often nothing more than 'clip joints' and run by pickpockets and bunco artist.


This rather grainy photo of the Great Hilliar's mentalist show was taken sometime in the early 1900's I wish I could buy a ticket to go see it today...

 

Hilliar committed suicide by shooting himself just before his 60th birthday.

 


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