No. 526
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
June 21, 2021

A Magical Duet on the Guitar.

An extraordinary account of a mathematician, mechanician, and musician named Alix.
January 8, 2018
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"Louisville Courier-Journal," May 8, 1881, via Newspapers.comWhen I started this blog, I hoped to focus on the smaller, obscure stories from the past--the long-forgotten bits of random oddities that, when taken together, show just what a strange world we live in.  In short, the "uncommon" is really quite commonplace.One such story is the death of one otherwise completely unmemorable young man. 
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Strange Company - 6/21/2021

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An Ordnance to Cover the Defective Points.Denver Tribune-RepublicanMay 14, 1885(Click image to enlarge)   n order to cover such cases as "Soapy" Smith, the arrest of whom for violating the lottery ordinance"  Note how bad the Xerox copy at the top is. This was shared to my father, by his brother (my uncle) Joseph Jefferson Smith​ (1909-1977). Obviously, the copiers at the time did not do
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 6/13/2021

When railroad baron H.H. Cook decided to build himself a New York City mansion, he didn’t try to squeeze into a plot of land on Fifth Avenue in the 50s—an area that had been colonized by several Vanderbilt heirs and other Gilded Age moneymakers. Instead, he went to the then-hinterlands of Manhattan, purchasing the entire […]
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Ephemeral New York - 6/20/2021
Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately engaged as a carrier of wine, because he and his brother, with the help of […]
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Executed Today - 11/13/2020
Parental hostility drove Fanny Madison out of her home and into the arms of her cousin, Thomas Cluverius. It was not a wise decision.Read the full story here: Kissing Cousins.                                             Pictures from Illustrated Police News, May 2, 1885.
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Murder By Gaslight - 6/19/2021

Producer-director Ric Rebelo has today, in memory of LeeAnn Wilber, former co-owner of the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast, released this award-winning film for public view on Youtube. This was filmed in 2010, some of the participants in the production are no longer with us today. What was recorded in 2010 has not changed much today in 2021, only intensified in fascination.
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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 6/16/2021
[Editor’s note: Guest writer, Peter Dickson, lives in West Sussex, England and has been working with microfilm copies of The Duncan Campbell Papers from the State Library of NSW, Sydney, Australia. The following are some of his analyses of what he has discovered from reading these papers. Dickson has contributed many transcriptions to the Jamaica Family […]
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Early American Crime - 2/7/2019
The New Rule at the Post-Office. | Afloat on a Cake of Ice.

A Magical Duet on the Guitar.

Magical Duet on Guitar

An extraordinary account of a mathematician, mechanician, and musician named Alix. [more]

So many wondrous stories are told by the ancient writes of magic and mechanism that ordinary belief is entirely at fault. If we are to believe what we read of the mechanics and learned men of the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, the little of chemistry or mechanical invention that we know in these times, but was then familiar to learned men, but was suppressed, either by monkish intolerance or noble ignorance. That much of these clams are true we must admit, from the fact that many wonderful inventions have come down to us, among which we can only mention gunpowder and watches as an example.

Among the wonderful stories of this kind is one told by Bonnet in his “Historie de la Musique,” where he gives the following extraordinary account of a mathematician, mechanician, and musician named Alix, who lived at Aix, in Provance about the middle of the 17th century:

“Alix, after many years’ study and labor, succeeded in constructing an automaton figure, having the shape of a human skeleton, which, by means of a concealed mechanism, played, or had the appearance of playing on the guitar. The artist after having turned in perfect unison two guitars, placed on in the hands of the skeleton, in the position proper for playing, and on a calm summer evening, having thrown open the window of his apartment he fixed the skeleton, with the guitar in its hands, in a position where it could be seen form the street. He then, taking the other instrument seated himself in an obscure corner of the room and commenced playing a piece of music, the passages of which were faithfully repeated or echoed by the guitar held by the skeleton, at the same time that the movement of its wooden fingers ,as if really executing the music completed the illusion.

“This strange musical feat drew crows around the house of the ill-fated artist; this sentiment was soon changed in the minds of the ignorant multitude into the most superstitions dread. A rumor rose that Alix was a sorcerer, and in league with the devil. He was arrested by order of the Parliament of Provence, and sent before the court, La Chambre de la Tournelle, to be tried on the capital charge of magic or witchcraft. In vain the ingenious, but unfortunate artist sought to convince his judges hat the only means used to give the apparent vitality to the fingers of the skeleton were wheels, springs, pulleys, and other equally unmagical contrivances, and that the marvelous result produced wat nothing more criminal than the solution of a problem in mechanics.

“His explanation and demonstrations were either not understood, or failed to convince his stupid and bigoted judges, and he was condemned as a sorcerer and magician. The iniquitous judgment was confirmed by the Parliament of Provence, which sentenced him to be burned alive in the principal square of the city, together with the equally innocent automaton figure, the supposed accomplice in his magical practices. This infamous sentence was carried into execution in the year 1644, to the great satisfaction and edification of all the faithful and devout inhabitants of Aix.”


Reprinted from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, December 16, 1865.