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The Miracle Mongers, An Expose'

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It is a question of a simple application
of the elementary principles of the laws
of mechanics, chapter of equilibrium.

We propose to point out here a certain
number of such artifices and to describe
a few of the experiments, utilizing for this
purpose the data furnished by Mr. Perry,
as well as those resulting from our own

One of the experiments consists in having
a man or several men hold a cane or
a billiard cue horizontally above the head,
as shown in Fig. 1. On pushing with one
hand, the girl forces back two or three
men, who, in unstable equilibrium and
under the oblique action of the thrust
exerted, are obliged to fall back. This
first experiment is so elementary and
infantile that it is not necessary to dwell upon
it. In order to show the relative sizes of
the persons, the artist has supposed the
little girl to be standing on a platform in
the first experiment, but in the experiment
that we witnessed this platform was
rendered useless by the fact that the girl
who performed them was of sufficient
height to reach the cue by extending her
arms and standing on tiptoes.

Next we have a second and more complex
experiment, less easily explained at
first sight.

Two men (Fig. 2) take a stick about
three feet in length, and are asked to hold
it firmly in a vertical position. The girl
places her hand against the lower end of
the stick, in the position shown, and the
two men are invited to make the latter
slide vertically in the girl's hand, which
they are unable to do, in spite of their
conscientious and oft-repeated attempts.

Mr. Perry explains this exercise as
follows: The men are requested to place
themselves parallel to each other, and the
girl, who stands opposite them, places the
palm of her hand against the stick and
turned toward her. She takes care to
place her hand as far as possible from the
hands of the two men, so as to give herself
a certain leverage. She then begins
to slide her hand along the stick, gently
at first, and then with an increasing pressure,
as if she wished to better the contact
between the stick and her hand. She
thus moves it from the perpendicular and
asks the two men to hold it in a vertical

This they do under very disadvantageous
conditions, seeing the difference in the
length of the arms of the lever. The stress
exerted by the girl is very feeble, because,
on the one hand, she has the lever arm
to herself, and, on the other, the action
upon her lever arm is a simple traction.
When she feels that the pressure
exerted is great enough, she directs the
two men to exert a vertical stress strong
enough to cause the stick to descend. They
then imagine that they are exerting a
VERTICAL stress, while in reality their
stresses are HORIZONTAL and tend to keep
the stick in a vertical position in order to
react against the pressure exerted at the
lower end of the stick.

There is evidently a certain vertical
component that tends to cause the stick to
descend, but the lateral pressure produces
a sufficient friction between the hand and
the stick to support this vertical force
without difficulty. Mr. Perry performed
the experiment by placing himself upon
a spring balance and assuming the role
of the girl, with two very strong men as
adversaries. All the efforts made to cause
the stick to slide in the open hand failed,
and the excess of weight due to the vertical
force always remained less than twenty-
five pounds, despite the very determined
and sincere stresses of the two men, who,
unbeknown to themselves, were exerting
their strength in a HORIZONTAL direction.

In the experiment represented in Fig.
3, which recalls to mind the first one (Fig.
1), the two men are requested to hold the
stick firmly and immovable, but the slightest
pressure upon the extremity suffices to
move the arms and body of the subject.
Such pressure in the first place is exerted
but slightly, and the stresses are gradually
increased. Then, all at once, when the
force exerted horizontally is as great as
possible, and the men are exerting their
strength in the opposite direction in order
to resist it, the girl abruptly ceases the
pressure WITHOUT WARNING and exerts it in
the OPPOSITE DIRECTION. Unprepared for
this change, the victims lose their equilibrium
and find themselves at the mercy
of the girl, and so much the more so in
proportion as they are stronger and their
efforts are greater. The experiment
succeeds still better with three than with two
men, or with one man.

The experiment represented in Fig. 4,
where it concerns the easy lifting of a
very heavy person, the trick is no less
simple. Out of a hundred persons submitted
to the experiment, ninety-nine,
knowing that the experimenter wishes to
lift them and cause them to fall forward,
grasp the seat or arms of the chair, and,
in endeavoring to resist, make the whole
weight of their body bear upon their feet.
If they do not do so at the first instant,
they do so when they are conscious of the
attempts of the girl to raise the seat, and
they help therein unconsciously. The
experimenter, therefore, needs only to exert
a horizontal thrust, without doing any
lifting, and such horizontal thrust is
facilitated by taking the knees as points of
support for her elbows. As soon as a
slight movement is effected, the hardest
part of the work is over, for it is only
necessary for the girl to cease to exert
her stresses in order to have the chair fall
back or move laterally in one direction or
the other. At all events, the equilibrium
is destroyed, and, before it is established
again, it requires but little dexterity to
move the subject about in all directions
without a great expenditure of energy.
The difficulty is not increased on seating
two men, or three men, upon each other's
knees (as shown in Fig. 4), since, in the
latter case, the third acts as a true counter-
poise to the first, and the whole pretty well
resembles an apparatus of unstable equilibrium,
whose centre of gravity is very
high and, consequently, so much more
easily displaced.

All these experiments require some
little skill and practice, but are attended
with no difficulty, and, upon the whole, do
not merit the enthusiastic articles that
have given the ``electric'' or ``magnetic''
girl her European reputation.

Strong people, whether tricksters or genuine
athletes, or both, we shall probably have
always with us. But with the gradual refinement
of the public taste, the demand for such
exhibitions as fire-eating, sword-swallowing,
glass-chewing, and the whole repertoire of the
so-called Human Ostrich, steadily declined,
and I recall only one engagement of a performer
of this type at a first-class theater in
this country during the present generation,
and that date was not played.

There was still a considerable demand for
these people in the dime museums, until the
enormous increase in the number of such
houses created a demand for freaks that was
far in excess of the supply, and many houses
were obliged to close because no freaks were
obtainable, even at the enormous increase in
salaries then in vogue. The small price of
admission, and the fact that feature curios
like Laloo or the Tocci Twins drew down seven
or eight hundred dollars a week, show that
these houses catered to a multitude of people;
and not a few of the leading managers
of to-day's vaudeville, owe their start in life
to the dime museum.

Among the museums that were veritable
gold mines, I might mention Epstein's of
Chicago; Brandenberg's of Philadelphia;
Moore's of Detroit and Rochester; The Sackett
and Wiggins Tour; Kohl and Middleton's;
Austin and Stone's of Boston; Robinson
of Buffalo; Ans Huber's, Globe, Harlem,
Worth's, and the Gayety of New York.

The dime museum is but a memory now, and
in three generations it will, in all probability,
be utterly forgotten. A few of the acts had
sufficient intrinsic worth to follow the managers
into vaudeville, but these have no part
in this chronicle, which has been written rather
to commemorate some forms of entertainment
over which oblivion threatens to stretch her
darkening wings.

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