Bob Lund’s passion in life was the unsung magician who was out there every day slugging it out performing magic as much as possible and never making the big-time. It was the unknown performer that Bob thought of as the heroes of magic, not the Thurstons or Blackstones of the world. Bob would love the subject of this week’s blog.
Frank Pierson was born in February of 1864 in Morristown, New Jersey. He married his wife Agnes on Oct.15 of 1890. Frank had a love of magic since childhood but it was the marriage that launched him into his performing career as a magician. First records as a performing magician from his scrapbook are from 1891. I am surmising that the need to make a living drove him to venture out into a new career. He was referred to as the amateur in 1891 but immediately after that rave reviews as the professional from 1892 forward.
It is interesting to note how magicians are repeatedly on the edge of every new technology. Frank, it turned out, was a 50 miler. Actually, in his day it was likely more of a 20 miler as those miles were covered by horse instead of horsepower. The model T was 17 years away. Frank was an “electrician” and an inventor as such. Frank worked for the Independent Hose Company. It took me a few minutes to realize that is a fire department in today’s terms. The Headline in the Morris County Chronicles on June 21, 1895 read “Bed Clothing and Mosquito Canopies”. So how does this tie into the hero of our story Frank Pierson? I am glad you asked. Frank had rigged a contraption that when a night alarm was registered in the city two weights dropped. One removed the cover from Oscar, the company horse, getting him ready for the fire run and the other raising the “bed clothing” from the cots in the dormitory in which the “hoseboys” slept to the ceiling. “When the hoseboy awakens to find the bed clothes (or mosquito net in the summer) which were nicely tucked in all around him suspended from the ceiling, there was only one thing to do: jump into his duty togs, slide down the pole and run as the horse is loosened and the doors opened to make the fire run”.
Folks I can’t make this stuff up. It is all true. Does that sound like a magician or what?
Franks performances were many times with his brother who was a “Japanese Juggler”. By all accounts they were very good. Their presentations included Sleight of hand from Frank, Japanese Juggling from Gus, Shadowgraphs from both. Frank ended with the spiritualistic Seance Exposure. It is also widely reported in most every performance that the final effect was two volunteers from the audience tying Frank from head to toe with rope and him making his escape in about 3 minutes. This guy hit every high spot of magic at the turn of the century.
Frank loved magic. He was an original charter member of the Society of American Magician’s and held card number 36. You could find him hanging out at Martinka’s on the weekend when he wasn’t installing and checking fire alarms in Morristown.
Frank died on March 9th, 1925 (wrongly reported in the Sphinx as March 19th). He never made the big time but had still quite a career as evidenced by his scrapbook which covered 1891 through 1896. Some of the show takes were as much as $250 so Frank was more than the guy next door who did magic.
OK that is all very nice you say, but how does this apply to the topic “A Few of My Favorite Things”.
Well, I had the pleasure of acquiring a number of Frank’s pieces of apparatus and one of them is very special. It is a Martinka Spirit Clock like no other I have ever seen. The hands and clock face look the part of Martinka. In fact, they match exactly some of the Martinka spirit clocks of the day. The base is something different and also what endears me to this item. It is simply magnificent! Everything came in wooden protective boxes. The other props I have of Frank’s were Martinka as well.
I know that Frank loved this prop as much as I do. That is Frank Pierson in the photo with the big grin and the clock that we now both treasure(d) behind him. I display the clock at the same number Frank had it set at in the photo. I also have Frank’s picture on display with the clock. It is the least I could do to show my respect for this lover of magic who performed hundreds of shows basically for the love of magic. I think Bob Lund would approve.