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Sawing a woman in half

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Sawing a woman in half (also known as the Divided Woman) illusion is often credited to Horace Goldin, however the first public presentation of this type of illusion was by British Magician P. T. Selbit in 1921.

Goldin presented his own version of the trick a matter of months later. There remains a debate about the origin of the idea, with some sources saying a magician named Torrini may have performed the first version in front of Pope Pius VII in 1809.

David Bamberg, in his book Illusion Show - A Life in Magic, stated that the American circus clowns, the Hanlon Brothers, performed their comedy version of Sawing in Paris in 1878. One clown sawed the other in two and then separated the platform until the head was eighteen feet away from the box containing the feet and legs.

In M-U-M, Vol. 48, No. 1, june 1958, page 29, in his column Random Reflections, Sam Aaronson wrote : "We are indebted to Ed Whitford for this anecdocte, told him directly by Silent Mora (Louis McCord). Back in the early 20's, when Mora was performing Sawing a Woman in Half at the Priscilla Theater in Cleveland, the manager of the theater, Mike Carrig, received a threatening letter from Horace Goldin and the N.V.A., ordering Silent Mora to "cease and desist" from showing the popular illusion. Carrig asked Mora to consult with General Harboard, who handled his legal work. At the General's request, Mora went into detail, explaining just what happened, as the audience saw it and, at the end of his exposition, General Harboard remarked that "the trick is neither yours nor Mr. Goldin's because I saw the same trick performed at the Folies Bergere in Paris in 1878, by the Hanlon Brothers, while I was attending school in Paris."

It has also been suggested that the trick can be traced back to ancient Egypt. However there is a distinct lack of solid evidence for his claim.

Selbit was the first to present the illusion on stage and Goldin achieved a place in history through subsequent technical development and promotion.

Goldin's initial version was claimed as an improvement over Selbit's because the assistant's head, hands and feet remained visible during the sawing whereas Selbit's assistant was totally obscured from view inside a box. Goldin later devised a version that dispensed with a box entirely and used a large buzzsaw.