In 135 BC a Syrian named Eunios stopped a rebellion of Sicilian slaves with a spectacular display of breathing fire. He claimed a goddess had made him immune to fire. Historian Florus recorded that Eunios actually stored the flammable substance inside nutshells in his mouth. Sorcerers, wizards and magicians have used science to fool folks before and ever since Eunios.
Throughout history, men have believed in magic and magicians. They have employed wizards, soothsayers, sorcerers and witch doctors to cast spells, speak with the gods and grant supernatural favors. The Egyptians and Romans believed in Magic. Egyptians carried amulets and magic figures and the Romans went to priests called Oracles.
Sadly, even today psychics flourish and prosper, as the unenlightened believe these people possess some special power that enables them to foretell the future or speak to the dead. Since the witch of Endor, and even before, people’s desire to believe in these paranormal powers has made them easy prey for the hucksters.
The history of magic as entertainment may have started with Chevalier Joseph Pinetti. In 1782 Pinetti wowed audiences with his repertoire of tricks.
He produced a blossoming orange tree on stage that bore fruit. His wife assisted him in both escape and mentalist tricks. Billed as the "Professor of Natural Magic," his magic clearly belonged to the new modern magic.
As the 1800’s brought new science advancements, magicians were quick to incorporate them into their acts. Special lighting, electric devices and mechanical wonders were used to create great illusions and change the face of stage magic.
Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin used an electric magnet to deceive a rebel army into surrendering.
Alexander Herrmann, known as Hermann the Great used live animals and did both levitation and vanishing as a varied menu in his shows. Harry Kellar, an American, took center stage as the most popular magician for over a decade. T. Nelson Downs, a vaudevillian, billed as the "King of Koins" and Howard Thurston, master card manipulator rose to prominence. Thurston created a magic show, which dominated the American magic scene for twenty-five years.
Harry Houdini started as a card magician, but gained fame for his spectacular escapes from handcuffs, straight-jackets and more.. One of his most sensational escapes was his own creation, the "Chinese Water Torture Cell," a large tank of water into which he was immersed head downward after his feet were secured in stocks. Houdini, also created the illusion of "Walking Through a Brick Wall" and "The Vanishing Elephant," both of which have been recreated by David Copperfield. Copperfield has walked through the Great Wall of China and Made the Statue of Liberty disappear.
Today, magicians like David Copperfield and Lance Burton continue to entertain with their stage magic wonders. A new generation of magicians though is arising, using rock videos, laser light shows, and other modern entertainment devises and technology to create new and unique shows and illusions.
There is no reason to believe that people’s fascination with the “impossible” will ever fade, only that new and old methods will be combined to create new effects as technology and society change.