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The Magician Who Astounded the World by Conjuring Spirits and Talking with Mummies

thurston“Thurston’s popularity also benefited from a growing interest in ghosts and the occult. During the mid-19th century, a religious fad known as Spiritualism gained millions of followers as mediums claiming to contact the dead sprang up all over the country. At a time when new technologies and scientific discoveries introduced seemingly magical concepts into everyday life, everyone was looking for ways to communicate with ghosts—even Thomas Edison worked on a “mechanical medium” to contact the deceased. Archaeological discoveries in Egypt, like the finding of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, furthered the public obsession with the afterlife… Thurston was aware of the profit to be made by exploiting the murky realm of religion, mysticism, and the supernatural.

“In 1907, Thurston paid $7,000 for the rights to magician Harry Kellar’s illusions and props, including the famous Levitation of Princess Karnac. The two magicians toured together for Kellar’s final season, and the following year, Kellar retired and passed Thurston the title of “The World’s Greatest Magician.” One of the few illusions from Kellar’s show that Thurston continued to use was the Spirit Cabinet Illusion. Feldman’s collection includes a later version of the Spirit Cabinet, which resembles a three-sided folding screen with velvet-lined holes for hands to reach through. After a magician or assistant was locked inside, floating instruments such as jangling bells and tambourines would appear above the prop, their cacophony indicating the spirits were present.”

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