little-known secrets behind the men & women who shaped
Ehrich Weiss could make an elephant disappear right
before your eyes
By Paul Niemann
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[November 20, 2008]
Erik Weisz was born in Budapest, Hungary, in
1874. When he came to the United States with his family, immigration
officials changed his name to Ehrich Weiss. His family often called
him "Ehrie," which rhymes with "Harry" and was a nickname derived
from his first name. The Hungarian-born boy claimed Appleton, Wis.,
as his new hometown.
Weiss was a world-famous performer, but most people have only
heard of him by his stage name. In fact, Funk & Wagnall's dictionary
even listed his stage name as a verb.
He made his debut as a magician at age 9 in a local circus, where he
billed himself as "Ehrich, the Prince of the Air." OK, so his title
wasn't all that impressive, but what were you doing at age 9?
He performed with his four brothers early in his career and
continued to work with his brother Theo for a while. When Ehrich got
married, he replaced Theo with Bess, his new bride.
Around 1900, vaudeville was the top form of entertainment, and
Weiss was becoming a star performing his tricks on stage rather than
working as a vaudeville performer. Along the way, one of the people
he knew on the vaudeville circuit was Joseph Keaton. It was Weiss
who gave Keaton the nickname of "Buster."
Around the turn of the century, the place to be in the
entertainment industry was in Europe, not America. So in 1900,
Ehrich and Bess left for Europe and spent the next five years there.
One of Ehrich's greatest tricks was making an elephant disappear
on stage. Unlike other performers, he would perform many of his
tricks in full view of the audience.
In 1910, he became the first person to fly over Australia. But it
wasn't his aviation skills for which he is remembered.
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His experience with magic enabled him to expose many of the
fraudulent "spiritualists" and so-called psychics who tried to
convince their audiences that they could communicate with the
deceased. He was friends with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of
Sherlock Holmes, until Weiss exposed Doyle's friend -- Boston's
famed Mina "Margery" Crandon -- as a fraud.
Weiss' career, which later included a number of movies in which
he starred, lasted for nearly 30 years. He died on Halloween in 1926
at age 52, and his wife tried unsuccessfully to contact him every
Halloween for the next 10 years through sťances that she conducted.
Why did she fail in her efforts to reach him?
Because not even the wife of Harry Houdini, aka Ehrich Weiss,
could do that.
Paul Niemann's column is syndicated
to more than 70 newspapers. He is the author of the "Invention
Mysteries" series of books. He can be reached at
Copyright Paul Niemann 2008