Now You See Them,
Now You Don't!

By Justin Japitana

It isn’t just the secret to the rabbit in the hat that ties so many of world’s top magicians together. Most of them know the secret Masonic grip, too. In fact, all but one of the magicians to have worn the “Mantle of Magic,” or the special cape worn by the recognized top magician in the field, have been Masons. Here, a few of the most notable master Mason-magicians and experts of the two crafts.

Harry Kellar

1849 – 1922

Known as the Dean of American Magicians, Harry Keller was one of the most popular and successful performers in the world in the early 1900s. His famous “Levitation of Princess Karnac” trick involved having a woman miraculously rise off a couch and vanish into thin air. In addition to serving as a mentor for Harry Houdini, Kellar was the founder of the Royal Dynasty of American Magicians, which he began during a farewell performance in which he named Howard Thurston as his official successor. Kellar was made a Mason in 1875 at Lodge Fraternidad y Home in Pelotas, Brazil. He also received the Scottish Rite degrees at Triple Esperance Lodge in Port Luis, Mauritius.

Alexander Herrmann

1844 – 1896

Alexander Herrmann, also known as Herrmann the Great, was the youngest of 15 siblings born into a famous family of magicians. By age nine, he was already touring across Europe. In 1862, Herrmann, with his famous waxy hair, goatee, and tailcoat (the model for so many subsequent magicians), began a three-year gig at the Egyptian Hall in London, as well as world tours across the U.S., South America, and Russia. One of his most notable tricks involved shattering a large mirror belonging to Czar Alexander III of Russia, covering the shards with a cloth, and then restoring it back to flawless condition. A member of Munn 203 in New York, Hermann received a Masonic funeral in 1896.

Lee Grabel

1919 – 2015

Recognized as one of the last greats in the tradition of Hermann, Keller, and Thurston, Lee Grabel was known for his signature illusion, a variation of Keller’s famous levitating-piano trick. Grabel inherited the “mantle of magic” from Harry Jansen (Dante the Magician) in 1954.

After touring the country in the postwar years, Grabel settled in the East Bay town of Alamo, where he joined Alamo № 122 (now Orinda № 122) and later the Society of American Magicians’ Diablo Assembly № 112, as well as the Invisible Lodge International.

Harry Houdini

1874 – 1926

Much can be said about Harry Houdini, born Erich Weisz, from his humble Hungarian roots to his notorious escape artistry and stunt performances. What’s less widely known about him was that Houdini was a very involved Mason. He was initiated in St. Cecile Lodge 568 in New York on July 17, 1923 and raised August 21. 

Houdini also gave back to the Masonic fraternity, including hosting a benefit performance for the Valley of New York that filled the 4,000-seat Scottish Rite Cathedral and that raised thousands of dollars. In 1926, he became a Shriner in Mecca Temple, in New York.

Howard Thurston

1869 – 1936

The successor to Kellar as the top magician in the county, Thurston was one of the last great Vaudeville performers, producing lavish shows that blended humor and color, whereast Kellar had hosted more formal presentations. 

During shows, Thurston was known to use “Hiram Abiff ” as his magic word, a subtle wink to his fellow Masons in the crowd. Thurston belonged to Manitou Lodge 106 in New York City.

Maurice Raymond

1877 – 1948

A skilled showman and famed escape artist known as the “handcuff king,” Maurice Raymond (the Great Raymond), began his career performing on the Vaudeville circuit, but found greater success overseas, playing venues from South America to England to Japan, the Philip- pines, and China. He would go on to perform his show in as many as seven languages.

One of his famous tricks was the “Mytempsicosis,” the fastest trunk escape in the world, which he performed with his wife. Like his career, his Masonic membership had an international flavor, as he was a member of Perseverance Lodge 338 in Bombay, India; a Royal Arch chapter in Calcutta; the Royal and Select Council and Commandery, K.T. in Balboa, of the Canal Zone; and obtained his 32nd degree in the Scottish Rite in Los Angeles on April 13, 1932. After retiring, he toured the United States lecturing at Masonic temples about his career in magic.

Wikimedia CCPD
McCord Stewart Museum
Katy Grabel

More from this issue: