Hocus Pocus, or, The Whole Art of Conjuring Made Easy for Young Persons
Published by Turner & Fisher, New York and Philadelphia (c. 1846)
Call number: Rare GV 1547 H63
Hocus Pocus contains 70 pages of timeless tricks and pranks. This rare book from the VHS's
collection is inscribed "Silas Long, his book July 5th 1857." Well-worn from age and use, the booklet
provides instructions for simple magic tricks ("To Pass Balls Through Cups"), astonishing feats
("To Cook An Omelet In A Hat"), and macabre pranks ("How to Cut Your Arm Off, Without Hurt or Danger").
We can only wonder what mischief young Silas wrought on family and friends.
Reproduced here are instructions for creating the illusion of a head on a platter, a perennial
Halloween prank that is as popular today as it apparently was 147 years ago. The instructions
also provide an example of horrific grammar.
HOW TO CUT A MAN’S HEAD OFF
AND PUT IT INTO A PLATTER, A YARD FROM HIS BODY
To show this feat you must cause a board, a cloth, and a platter to be purposely made, and in each
of them must be made holes fit for a boy's neck, the board must be made of two blanks, the longer
and broader the better; there must be left within half a yard of the end of each blank half a hole, that
both blanks being put together, there may remain two holes like the holes in a pair of stocks, there
must be made likewise, a hole in the cloth, a platter, having a hole of the same size in the middle
thereof, must be set directly over it, then sitting, or kneeling under the board, let the head only
remain upon the board, in the frame; to make the sight more dreadful put as little brimstone
into a chafing-dish of coals, and set it before the head of the boy, who must gasp t[w]o or
three times that the smoke may enter his nostrils and mouth, and the head presently will
appear stark dead; and if a little blood be sprinkled on his face, the sight will appear more
dreadful. This is commonly practiced with a boy instructed for that purpose; in the other
end of the table, where the hole is made, another boy of the same size as the other boy must be placed.
Related page: Virginia Creepers: Thrills and Chills from the Collections of the VHS
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