Oh! (aka The Mahatmas Outdone)
Designer: Charles Morritt and Nevil Maskelyne
“Oh!” is a stage illusion that is similar to a spirit cabinet setup. The illusion has a simple “frame” that basically consists of 4 poles that run to the ground. The top part has curtains drawn up around it. These curtains can be lowered with a rope, fully covering all 4 sides of the frame. With the curtains up to start, the audience can see through the top and sides of the frame. An assistant is bound to a chair. The curtains are lowered and then raised showing the assistant has vanished. The assistant could then later appear in the auditorium.
British Illusionist Paul Daniels performed the illusion as follows (a video is available on YouTube). Inside the frame, resting on the floor is a large wooden chair and footrest. A girl sits in the chair and places her feet on the footrest. Her left wrist is placed tightly in a loop connected to a pulley that runs outside of the illusion. A volunteer from the audience holds the end of the rope and pulls up and down effectively raising and lowering the girl’s arm during the performance, proving she is still in place. Next, the girl’s right arm is strapped to the chair, her hand extending through a slit in the curtains which are then dropped to about 1 foot above the floor so that the audience can see the legs of the chair and footrest, but not the girl herself except for her hand. The girl is given a ring to hold at the front of the curtain and a second volunteer holds onto the other end of the ring. A third volunteer is given control over the rope that raises and lowers the curtain and holds it in place slightly above the floor. A metal plate is then place under the chair. Lastly, the magician counts to 3 and the curtain is drawn quickly up revealing the girl has completely vanished!
Devant’s My Magic Life claims the public debut of the illusion was September 27, 1891 at the Egyptian Hall (where it was subsequently performed for years after that). Maskelyne and Devant used it in their tour of Sydney Australia in 1908.
The Egyptian Hall had a writeup as follows:
THE SENSATION OF 1892
THE MAHATMAS OUTDONE.
A Human Being apparently disintegrated and precipitated invisibly through space whilst held by a Committee elected by the Audience.
THE MOST STARTLING MYSTERY EVER PRESENTED TO THE PUBLIC
Fauteuils, 5s.; Reserved Seats, 3s.; Area, 2s.; Balcony, 1s.
Children Half-price (Balcony excepted). Babies, Ten Guineas each.
Photo Credit: The British Library Board (Evan 408)