Melvin Burkhart

The Man, the Magician, the Anatomical Wonder & Much More!

 

A Sound Tribute Part 7

by Richard Mullin


The rare recording from which this transcription came was made in 1973 at Slim Kelley’s “Museum of Natural Mistakes” on the Strates’ midway. This transcript is dedicated to showman Melvin Burkhart (1907-2001)


Carnival midway showman Ward Hall said of him: “Melvin was a great guy.  I never heard him say a bad word about anyone and I never heard anyone ever say a bad word of him.  A remarkable, wonderful way to go through life.”

 


Mr. Burkhart Guides some Volunteer Youngsters through the Electric Chair Illusion....

 

Mr. Burkhart guides some volunteer youngsters through the Electric Chair Illusion, but first, he’s got to get somebody up on the stage:

“Hey! Right here will be next, boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen.

 

I’m going to take two minutes of time to present a very clever novelty – if I could get a young lady to come up and help me out of the audience – and a young man.  Sure, come up and have a little fun. 

 

That’s all in the world we do here – entertain boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen… Come on up, don’t be chicken!

 

Help me out -- just have a little fun that’s all in the world you have to do…  

 

There’s a young man that will come up and help me too. 

 

Want to come up young fella?

 

 My goodness, come on, all we do is try to entertain the boys and girls and ladies and gentlemen. 

 

Now anybody with any intelligence at all would know that we would do nothing mean or bad. 

 

What we do is try to make you laugh or smile – or entertain you in any way we can. 

 

I don’t know this young lady… or this young man… they don’t know me… probably don’t want to know me… don’t answer that!

 

One thing that I do know, you came out to the carnival to have a little fun and that’s all this is. 

 

Stand right over here young lady. {Little girl: ‘Will we get shocked?’} Certainly not. 

 

Young man come right over here and sit in the chair. Now boys and girls, this is a trick to entertain you – not a trick to play on the young man who was good enough to help me.

 

Look!  All I want you to do is to tell the truth – the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you… so help you, look, you do not feel a thing when I do that, do you, young man? {He turns the power switch on and off a few times.}

 

Not a thing!

 

It is not that kind of a trick.

 

We call it the electric chair illusion, because I just ‘electricated’ that young man.  He will tell you the truth -- he did not feel a thing, even though he was full of electricity – from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet.

 

(He asks the boy…} Do you believe that?

 

{‘Yes.’} He’s a believer!

 

{He asks the girl…} Do you believe that? {‘I don’t know.’} I don’t know? 

 

Here, hold this in your hand, right here, young fella, just like this. 

 

You hold it with this hand, young lady, right like that.

 

Just turn a little so that they can all see, there.  Now, young man, you did agree to tell the truth, didn’t you?

 

 

Look, when I do this you’ll agree, you did not feel a thing, did you?

 

Even though he was full of electricity.  In fact, once the electricity enters the tube from his hand, it causes the tube to glow with light.

 

Now they’re going to tell you the truth, they do not feel a thing. Right? 

 

It’s not that kind of a trick. However, it is amazing to watch how… come over and hold this up high for me, young man, right there, would you?

 

 

 

Now they’re going to tell you the truth, they do not feel a thing. Right? 

 

It’s not that kind of a trick. However, it is amazing to watch how… come over and hold this up high for me, young man, right there, would you?

 

Thank you, young fella.

 

Now, young lady, take your left hand and hold his right hand -- just like you were going steady, you know? 

 

Now hold that over here right now.  I said like you were going steady.  Now, the electricity coming from his hand, and I hope he doesn’t have a shocking personality…” {At auctioneer speed, he double talks his way through an unintelligible explanation of how the electricity gets to the tube – it includes: ‘will go down your left arm, down your left leg, up your right leg,’ -- but the rest is gibberish!}

 

“Watch that tube!

 

Notice how it glows and lights – the electricity going right through that young lady. Now you can’t feel it – can’t hurt or harm her in any way, but here is an amazing thing. Look!  We can charge her up like a storage battery… Hold onto her arm. Don’t let go, but when I tell you to let go of his hand, let go and hold your hand in front of me, like that, OK?

 

Now watch the tube.

 

The tube will remain lit.  Watch as we get her charged up. {He turns the power switch on and off a few times.}

 

Now, the tube is now lit. Now let go of his hand.  Notice the tube is still lit. Hold your hand in front of me. But, when I pull her middle finger, watch the light in the tube go out… The light is gone!

 

Young lady, you won’t tell anybody how we did that, will you?

Keep it a secret.”

 

“Now, watch this.

 

Look!

 

Stand back over there, young lady. Hold this in your hand. We’re not through yet, young man. Hold this in your hand young fella. We’re going to make a human sparkplug out of this young man.  That doesn’t mean anything bad, I assure you. 

 

Look!

 

I take a torch and I dip it in some gasoline.  When I touch the young man to the gasoline soaked torch, he’ll burst into flame. 

 

No, no, the torch will burst into flame!

 

A little spark comes out and lights that torch, as you see. 

 

A lot of times people who see that and are confused.  They think that it has to be some sort of trick – a fake – a humbug, but you do it young lady.  It’ll work the same for you, as it does for me.

 

Watch!

 

A little spark comes right out and lights it.

 

Hold it real close without touching. 

 

The spark… there you are!

 

I’ll bet that’s the first thing he’s lit with that finger today… hottest finger in town! 

 

I’ll prove to you the electricity goes right through this young man.  Hold your head up just like that. Now young lady, hold your left hand over the top of his, real close, without touching. You’ll feel the pulsation of electricity between your two hands.

 

Can you feel it?

 

You have… don’t touch him.  Here I’ll show you differently. Hold out your hand, young man.  Anything he holds is full of electricity, because that young man is electricated. 

 

And now, as our young friends leave the stage, please reward their bravery with a nice round of applause. 

 

Thank you, young fella and little lady and thank you, ladies and gentlemen!

 

{And that’s where we end our carnival midway visit. The original tapes of this performance are presently kept in the archives of The American Dime Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.} (Mr. Burkhart passed away November 8, 2001 )

 

To be continued

 

Images, from a banner painted for John Robinson by Toni-Lee Sangastiano

 


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