Temple of Benares (aka Temple of Angee)
Designer: Jack Gwynne
A beautiful miniature replica of an Indian temple is wheeled out onstage. The magician opens the roof and his lovely assistant enters the cabinet. The roof is closed and then ten shiny polished swords are inserted into the cabinet, penetrating the sides and roof. Two swords even penetrate the back of the cabinet, and all has seemingly sealed the fate of the young lady. The magician then opens the front doors of the illusion and the lady has vanished! Swords criss-cross about throughout the cabinet, but the lady herself is not seen. The cabinet is then wheeled completely around to show she is not hiding anywhere behind the prop. The magician removes the swords, opens the cabinet, and his assistant makes her appearance once again.
When Jack Gwynne first created the illusion in 1935, he called it the Temple of Angee (his wife and partner being named Anne G). He combined the Doll House illusion with a sword box and came up with the idea for the Temple of Angee.
An interesting point is that Varanasi (aka Benares) is the spiritual capital of India and is known as the “City of Temples.” Hindus believe that death at Varanasi brings salvation. Perhaps this is why Abbott’s updated the name in the 1940s.
John A. Moehring (former Editor of MAGIC magazine) wrote in The Magical Life of Marshall Brodien that Jack Gwynne sold his one-of-a-kind illusion to figure skater Robin Nelson c1955/1956 because of declining health that was forcing Jack’s retirement. Nelson realized that ice shows were more entertaining when combining skating with magic. In 1962, Marshall Brodien found out Nelson used a Temple of Benares and asked if he got it from Abbott’s. When Nelson replied, “No, I bought it from Jack Gwynne,” Brodien couldn’t believe his ears! Abbott’s had started manufacturing the Temple of Benares in the 1940s without permission from Gwynne. But Brodien wanted to perform the original temple and didn’t want to buy a knockoff from Abbott’s, so he asked Nelson to sell the original. Nelson said it had quite a few scratches and ice-skate nicks because of using it in the ice show; but when he asked for $100, it was a done deal.