Thursday, February 17, 2011

17 February 1922: Six Chances to See Pitroff the Miracle Man at the Palace

On this day in 1922, the Athens Daily Banner ran the following advertisement:

The previous week, the Colonial Theatre had featured a magician, but not one who did this particularly startling new illusion of sawing a woman in half. The performance was offered as a bonus feature to the real attraction, a comedy-romance silent movie titled Lessons in Love starring actress Constance Talmadge.

The Daily Banner included an article republished from a national weekly about "Pitroff, the Miracle Man," that began

Magic--the Black Art--never seemed any blacker than when Pitroff, master of bewildering mysteries declared that without sheding [sic] any blood he could cut a person in half and put him together again--alive, none the worse for the experience.  People gasped and mumbled their astonishment. Was he crazy? Surely the law would intervene.

The piece goes on to describe Pitroff's selection of a young woman from the audience, gaining her permission to saw her in half, promising to pay her nearest relative $10,000 if she were killed during the illusion. 

Pitroff likely did not have $10,000 to give anyone. He had started out as an escape artist vaudevillian, similar to Harry Houdini, but on a much smaller scale. As vaudeville gave way to moving pictures, there were fewer opportunities for his style of entertainment. The "sawing in half" illusion was not his invention. It was first done publicly in the United States in 1921 by magician Horace Goldin, who later patented his method for the trick.

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