Black Herman

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Black Herman
BornBenjamin Rucker
1892
Amherst, Virginia
DiedApril ?, 1934
Louisville, Kentucky
Resting placeWoodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York

Black Herman (1892-1934), born Benjamin Rucker in Amherst, Virginia, was an American stage magician. He was the most prominent African American magician of his time.

Biography

Black Herman learned the art of staged illusions from a performer called Prince Herman, who was first his teacher and later his partner. The two sold patent medicine as well as performing prestidigitation, making their act as much a medicine show as a stage show. When Prince Herman died, in 1909, Rucker, then only 17 years old, took the name Black Herman in his friend's honor and continued to tour, focusing on the stage act and dropping the medicine show aspects of his performance.

Eventually, Herman made Harlem his home base. Jim Crow policies were in effect at that time, so in the Northern states he could perform before racially-mixed audiences, but when he traveled through the South, often with his own tent show, segregation laws kept his audiences primarily Black. His specialties included the "Asrah levitation," the production of rabbits, release from knots tied by audience members, and a "buried alive" act which began with his interment in an outdoor area called "Black Herman's Private Graveyard" and continued three days later with his exhumation, revival and a walk to the stage venue, where he performed the rest of his show.

His famous advertising statement was: "Be sure to see the show, Black Herman comes thru only once every seven years!", referring to Herman's pattern of returning to venues on a regular basis

Herman was the author of "Secrets of Magic, Mystery, and Legerdemain," a book published in 1925 and sold at his performances. It contains his semi-fictionalized autobiography, directions for simple illusions suitable to the novice stage magician, advice on astrology and lucky numbers, and a sampling of African American hoodoo folk magic customs and practices. An announcement on the book's title page - "Black Herman Comes Through Every Seven Years" However, Herman was not the actual author of this work; rather, internal evidence establishes that it was ghost-written by a Mr. Young, who is also thought to be the author of books on occultism published under the pseudonym Henri Gamache and, possibly, Lewis de Claremont.

In October 1929, when the stock market crashed which ushered in the Great Depression, Herman's career and businesses were largely unaffected. In such a time of hardships, the people needed the help that only a fortune-teller could offer.

Black Herman died in Louisville, Kentucky in April, 1934 after collapsing on stage, presumably the result of a heart attack. Due to the fame of his "buried alive" act, many people in the audience refused to believe he was really dead, and thus it came about that his assistant, Washington Reeves, charged admission to view Rucker's corpse in the funeral home, bringing a dramatic close to a life spent in showmanship. He was buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in New York City.

A number of other African American magicians subsequently performed as "Black Herman", including Washington Reeves, who billed himself as "The Original Black Herman".

Books

  • "Secrets of Magic, Mystery, and Legerdemain"(1925)

References

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