Alexander Herrmann : biography
Alexander Herrmann (February 10, 1844 – December 17, 1896)"Magician Herrmann Dead" (Dec 18, 1896) The New York Times was a French magician, better known as Herrmann the Great.
The bullet catch
One of the most dangerous magic tricks is the bullet catch. The bullet catch is a trick in which a magician has a spectator mark a bullet and load it into a gun. Then the spectator fires directly at the magician, who appears to catch the bullet—often in his mouth, sometimes in his hand.Randi, James. Conjuring. St. Martin’s Press (1992). pp. 73-77. ISBN 0-312-09771-9 In their patter, magicians often refer to the legend of 12 magicians that have died doing the trick. ("Will I be number 13?") Even though most things magicians utter is hyperbole, there is real danger associated with the bullet catch.
A version of the act was designed by Hermann the Great with the help of his assistant, Billy Robinson. (Years later, Billy, as Chung Ling Soo, would be killed with the same style gun.)
Old fashioned muzzle-loaders were used for the act. The so-called bullet was actually a lead ball rammed into the gun together with a small charge of gunpowder. When the firing mechanism was activated, the gunpowder exploded and caused the lead ball to project forward down the barrel like a miniature cannon shot. In truth, most versions of the trick had either a fake bullet inserted into the gun, or had the ball secretly removed immediately before discharge. What came out the gun’s muzzle was just a flash of fire, giving the illusion of an exiting projectile.
Herrmann the Great performed his own version of the bullet catch. The bullet was still marked, but the danger of the trick was avoided. The gunpowder never came near the firing mechanism, with the result that the bullet never left the gun. The trick was safe—or so Herrmann thought; he would never live long enough to see his one-time assistant die from it.
However, he did make the most of the trick. Not a normal part of his act, the trick would be presented on special occasions. Herrmann announced in May 1896 that he would attempt the bullet catch for the seventh time on the stage of the Olympia Theatre as part of a fundraiser for the Sick Babies Fund.
A female reporter was dispatched to interview Madame Herrmann. She went to the Herrmann Manor at Whitestone Landing for the interview. As she walked in she was greeted with a voice that said, "What do you want?" She turned around and saw a black bird sitting on a perch. Just then an animated skeleton sprung out at her. She shrieked, which brought a maid from down the hall. She found the Herrmanns waiting for her.
Madame Herrmann said, "I lock myself into my dressing room whenever Alexander faces a firing squad".
"Nonsense", Herrmann the Great said, "I have already caught bullets successfully six times. Seven, you know, is a lucky number". He mentioned that he had applied for a life insurance plan with Connecticut Indemnity Association, but that the plan would not be in effect for the trick. Apparently he had not mentioned the bullet-catching stunt when he applied for it.
On the day of the performance, Herrmann looked somber. He wore a white shirt with frills on the sleeves. He had five muzzle loaders marked and loaded. They aimed their rifles at him. Madame Herrmann was nowhere to be seen. Herrmann held a china plate in front of him like a target. When he gave the orders, the gun was fired and he caught the bullets on the plate. Calmly he handed the bullets out for examination; they appeared to be the very same bullets.
In 1885 Herrmann returned to America, receiving the best terms given to any star on the road. He lost a lot of money to outside investments. For the upcoming season, he estimated he would make $85,000 to $95,000 profit (about $2 million in today’s money).
The Herrmann legacy
Alexander Herrmann, known to the world as Herrmann the Great, was mourned the next day. The obituary that announced his death was the most extensive obituary ever for a magician. There was a commotion in the little town of Ellicottville. Herrmann’s company sent wires to New York theatrical agents seeking new jobs. Herrmann’s body was taken to New York for burial services. Thousands attended and tried unsuccessfully to get close to the coffin. He was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York.