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Howard Thurston

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Howard Thurston
1914 promotional poster
Born(1869-07-20)July 20, 1869
Columbus, Ohio, United States
DiedApril 13, 1936(1936-04-13) (aged 66)
Miami, Florida, United States

Howard Thurston (July 20, 1869 – April 13, 1936) was a stage magician from Columbus, Ohio, United States. As a child, he ran away to join the circus, where his future partner Harry Kellar also performed. Thurston was deeply impressed after he attended magician Alexander Herrmann's magic show and was determined to equal his work. He eventually became the most famous magician of his time. Thurston's traveling magic show was the biggest one of all; it was so large that it needed eight train cars to transport his road show.[1]

Early life[edit]

Howard Thurston was born July 20, 1869, in Columbus, Ohio. He was the middle son of William and Margaret Thurston. His father William Henry Thurston was a wheelwright and carriage maker who served briefly as a private during the Civil War in the Third Ohio Regiment. His mother Margaret (Cloude), was the daughter of an Ohio farmer.[2] He attended Mount Hermon School for Boys in Northfield, Massachusetts, class of 1893. Among his fellow students were Lee de Forest, "The Father of American Radio," and musical humorist Charles Ross Taggart, "The Old Country Fiddler."[3]

When he was a child, Thurston practiced sleight of hand, but his mother viewed this as "devil's work".[4]: 113  She later sent Thurston away to undertake Bible studies.[4]: 113  Eventually, Thurston saw one of Alexander Hermann's shows, which led to Thurston's decision to begin his career as a magician.[4]: 113 


Thurston said, "The historian of magic can trace an unbroken line of succession from the Fakir of Ava in 1830 to my own entertainment."

The King of Cards[edit]

He is still famous for his work with playing cards. According to legend, a Mexican magician appeared at a magic shop owned by Otto Maurer in New York City. The enigmatic magician demonstrated how he could make cards disappear, one by one, at his fingertips.[5]

Maurer showed Thurston the move, which he would later feature in his act. He added the "Rising Cards" trick from Professor Hoffman's Modern Magic, the book from which Thurston had learned the rudiments of magic. For this trick, he would walk into the audience and ask several people to choose cards from a deck of cards. The deck was shuffled and placed into a clear glass. Thurston would then call for the chosen cards. One by one the cards would rise up to the top of the deck.

Thurston arranged an impromptu audition with Leon Herrmann, nephew of Alexander Herrmann. His performance fooled Leon. From that point on he called himself "The man that fooled Herrmann" and used the publicity to get booked into top vaudeville houses in the U.S. and Europe, billing himself as the King of Cards.[6]

Levitation illusion[edit]

Thurston became well known for performing a floating lady illusion known as the "Levitation of Princess Karnac". The illusion was originally performed by John Nevil Maskelyne and most famously by Harry Kellar.[7][8]

Magic historian Jim Steinmeyer has written that "In Thurston's hands, the Levitation of Princess Karnac became a masterpiece. The beautiful trick was perfectly suited to Thurston's lyrical baritone."[9] By 1908, the levitation illusion was sought by famous magicians. It was duplicated by Charles Joseph Carter on a world tour and had interested the magician Chung Ling Soo.[9]

Later years[edit]

Thurston continued presenting the Thurston–Kellar Show following the retirement of Kellar. He continued presenting for about thirty-five years until, on March 30, 1936, he suffered a stroke from a cerebral hemorrhage. He died on April 13 at his Oceanside apartment in Miami Beach, Florida. His death was attributed to pneumonia.[10][11][12] He is entombed at Green Lawn Abbey, a mausoleum in Columbus, Ohio,[13] which opened again to the public in 2021 after more than fifty years.[14]


Thurston is quoted as a subject matter expert in Dale Carnegie's book How to Win Friends and Influence People. He appears in Part Two, Chapter One ("Do This and You'll Be Welcome Anywhere"), on pages 67–68 of the original text.[15]

A poster for Thurston can be seen in many episodes of the TV show The Magicians hanging on the wall of the protagonists student house, known as 'the physical kids' dorm, so named because the magic they perform is physical, as opposed to say, psychic, or illusion based magic. The poster’s placement in the show would lead viewers to believe that Thurston was possibly a student of the school, and thus his performances used "real" magic.


Thurston performing a levitation illusion.



See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sevilla, Julio. "Howard Thurston (1869-1936)". All about magicians.com. Archived from the original on March 18, 2014. Retrieved April 17, 2012.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  2. ^ Steinmeyer, Jim (2011). "The Last Great Magician in the World: Howard Thurston versus Houdini & the battles of the American wizards". New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, a member of Penguin Group.
  3. ^ Boyce, Adam R. The Man from Vermont: Charlie Taggart, the Old Country Fiddler. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2013. ISBN 9781626192119. Google Books. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  4. ^ a b c Randi, James (1992). Conjuring. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-08634-2. OCLC 26162991.
  5. ^ Steinmeyer, Jim (2004). Hiding the Elephant. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-7867-1401-8.
  6. ^ "Howard Thurston (1869–1936)."[usurped] www.all-about-magicians.com. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  7. ^ Pritchard, William Thomas. (1958). This is Magic: Secrets of the Conjurer's Craft. Citadel Press. p. 98 "In America, the Maskelyne Levitation was staged by Harry Kellar, who entitled it "The Levitation of Princess Karnac." Later, the illusion passed to Howard Thurston, who brought it back to England when he toured this country."
  8. ^ Price, David. (1985). Magic: A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theater. Cornwall Books. p. 147. ISBN 978-0845347386
  9. ^ a b Steinmeyer, Jim. (2006). The Glorious Deception: The Double Life of William Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo, the Marvelous Chinese Conjurer. Da Capo Press. p. 346. ISBN 978-0786717705
  10. ^ "Leading American Illusionist Had Vast Repertoire, but Liked Card Tricks Best. Headed Last Big Show of Kind Played Before Royalty. Studied for Ministry". New York Times. April 14, 1936. Retrieved 2009-02-22.
  11. ^ "Thurston Dies Of Pneumonia At Miami Beach". Washington Post. April 14, 1936. Archived from the original on 2012-10-19. Retrieved 2009-02-22.
  12. ^ "Thurston, Peer of Magic, Dies in Miami". Chicago Tribune. April 14, 1936. Archived from the original on 2012-10-19. Retrieved 2009-02-22.
  13. ^ Myers, David; Walker, Elise Meyers. (2015). Wicked Columbus, Ohio. The History Press. p. 77. ISBN 978-1626199224
  14. ^ Hasson, Audrey (8 February 2021). "Green Lawn Abbey opens to the public for first time in 50+ years". WCMH-TV. Retrieved 11 February 2021.
  15. ^ Carnegie, Dale (2015-01-01). How to win friends and influence people. Magdalene Press. ISBN 9781897384558. OCLC 936559159.

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