You are seated in a parlor at night, with the lights turned low. In front of you, between the parlor and the room back of it, is an upright square of brightly burning lights, surrounding a perfectly black space. The magician stands in front of this, in his shirt sleeves, and after a few words of introduction proceeds to show the wonders of his magic cave.
Showing you plainly that both hands are empty, he points with one finger to the box, where immediately appears a small white china bowl. Holding his empty hand over this bowl, some oranges and apples drop from his empty hand into the bowl. He removes the bowl from the black box, or cave, and hands its contents round to the audience. Receiving the bowl again, he tosses it into the cave, but it never reaches the floor--it disappears in midair.
The illusions he shows you are too many to retail at length. Objects appear and disappear. Heavy metal objects, such as forks, spoons and jackknives, which have been shown to the audience and which can have no strings attached to , fly about in the box at the will of the operator. One thing changes to another and back again, and black art reigns supreme.
Now all this "magic" is very simple and requires no more skill to prepare or execute than any clever boy or girl of fourteen may possess. It is based on the performance of the famous Hermann, and relies on a principle of optics for its success. To prepare such a magic cave, the requisites are a large soap box, a few simple tools, some black paint, some black cloth, and plenty of candles.
The box must be altered first. One end is removed, and a slit, one-third of the length from the remaining end, cut in one side. This slit should be as long as the width of the box and about five inches wide. On either side of the box, half way from open end to closed end, should be cut a hole, just large enough to comfortably admit a hand and arm.
Next, the box should be painted black both inside and out, and finally lined inside with black cloth. This lining must be done neatly-no folds must show and no heads of tacks. The interior must be a dead black. The box is painted black first so that the cloth used need not be very heavy; but if the cloth be sufficiently thick, no painting inside is required. The whole inside is to be cloth-lined, floor, top, sides and end.
Next, the illumination in front must be arranged. If you can have a plumber make you a square frame of gas-piping, with tiny holes all along it for the gas to escape and be lit, and connect this by means of a rubber tube to the gas in the house, so much the better; but a plentiful supply of short candles will do just as well, although a little more trouble. The candles must be close together and arranged on little brackets around the whole front of the "cave" (see small cut), and should have little pieces of bright tin behind , to throw the light toward the audience. The whole function of these candles is to dazzle the eyes of the spectators, heighten the illusion, and prevent them seeing very far into the black box.
Finally, you must have an assistant, who must be provided with either black gloves or black bags to go over his hands and arms, and several black drop curtains, attached to sticks greater in length than the width of the box, which are let down through the slit in the top.
The audience room should have only low lights; the room where the cave is should be dark, and if you can drape portieres between two rooms around the box (which, of course, is on a table) so much the better.
The whole secret of the trick lies in the fact that if light be turned away from anything black, into the eyes of him who looks, the much fainter light reflected from the black surface will not affect the observer's eye. Consequently, if, when the exhibitor puts his hand in the cave, his confederate behind inserts his hand, covered with a black glove and holding a small bag of black cloth, in which are oranges and apples, and pours from the bag into a dish, the audience sees the oranges and apples appear, but does not see the black arm and bag against the black background.
The dish appears by having been placed in position behind a black curtain, which is snatched swiftly away at the proper moment by the assistant. Any article thrown into the cave and caught by the black hand and concealed by a black cloth seems to disappear. Any object not too large can be made to "levitate" by the same means. A picture of anyone present may be made to change into a grinning skeleton by suddenly screening it with a dropped curtain, while another curtain is swiftly removed from over a pasteboard skeleton, which can be made to dance either by strings, or by the black veiled hand holding on to it from behind, and the skeleton can change to a white cat.
But illusions suggest themselves. There is no end to the effects which can be had from this simple apparatus, and if the operators are sufficiently well drilled the result is truly remarkable to the uninitiated. The illusion, as presented by Hermann, was identical with this, only he, of course, had a big stage, and people clothed in black to creep about and do his bidding, while here the power behind the throne is but a black-veiled hand and arm. It can be made even more complicated by having two assistants, one on each side of the box, and this is the reason why it was advised that two holes be cut. This enables an absolutely instantaneous change as one uncovers the object at the moment the second assistant covers and removes the other.
The Magic Cave
It is important that the assistants remain invisible throughout, and if portieres are impossible, a screen must be used. But any boy ingenious enough to follow these simple instructions will not need to be told that the whole success of the exhibition depends upon the absolute failure of the audience to understand that there is more than one concerned in bringing about the curious effects which are seen. The exhibitor should be a boy who can talk; a good "patter" --as the magicians call it -- is often of more value than a whole host of mechanical effects and helpers. It is essential that the exhibitor and his confederate be well drilled, so that the latter can produce the proper effects at the proper cue from the former. Finally, never give an exhibition with the "cave" until you have watched the illusions from the front yourself; so that you can determine whether everything connected with the draping is right, or whether some stray bit of light reveals what you wish to conceal.