The New York World/March 25, 1894
Nellie Bly Sees Through the Pretended Supernatural Wonders of the Nible-Fingered Jugglers
The Basket Trick Explained
A Private Séance with the Oriental Magicians Who Mystified Visitors to the Midway Plaisance
Their Very Clever Legerdemain
But the Wily Hindoos Insist that Their Tricks Are the Miracles of the Sun God “Ramswamy”
Pathetic Scenes at the Food and Shelter Home in Front Street—Exorbitant Charges by the Booths for the Salvation Bonnets and Books—The Good They Do
There were Seyid Jamal, Sheik Jamel, Sheik Luil, Sultan Meah and Mohamed Khan, not to speak of the tum-tum, the stuffed god and the bagpipe. And I went to see what these Hindoo magicians could do with the aid of their god Ramswamy last summer, and now they are in town giving private exhibitions.
They are from Rudyard Kipling’s land—India, and they are all jugglers, even the tum-tum, the stuffed god and the bagpipe.
I confess with grief that my faith in all things is weak and my curiosity of an investigating turn, but having been told to sit still and look on, I tried to curb my natural impulses and to believe that the Sun God of India would work wonders to behold through these pajamaed jugglers.
It is the fashion to call anything partly or unusually clad “picturesque,” so I suppose the jugglers in their white muslin pajamas and enormous turbans and their copper-colored, bare feet were picturesque.
The half-dozen that composed the audience sat down and gazed on the jugglers, every face wearing a ludicrous look of responsibility. All except my own. I was not permitted to investigate, but I could be amused.
Sultan Meah and Sheik Lail perched themselves upon the edge of a table and played an overture on the “hooduk” and “dhole,” that if I had not been informed was music, I should have believed the most ear-splitting noise I had ever heard. Sultan and Sheik looked notable and the audience important, so I made up my mind to stay as long as the others would.
Mohamed Khan is the dude of the jugglers. He is the smallest man of the troupe, and wears a salmon-pink turban and an enormous hoop earring set with semi-precious stones. He has a sweet smile, and besides doing a lot of drinking, does odd jobs for the stars.
He brought forth a carpetbag, a stuffed rag baby, an antique bagpipe and two strings of sleigh bells and laid them upon the floor before us.
While Mohamed was thus engaged, Sheik Jamal proceeded to dress himself for his part. Around his thin brown legs were folded his white muslin pajamas, and he fastened them with a string of sleigh bells. Then he was ready for business.
Taking up the “tumdl,” he joined in, regardless of time or place, with the other musicians; but failing to outdo them in noise, dropped to his knees on the floor, searching the carpetbag and uttering a continuous string of something that sounded like “Yuh-yoh-yoh-yoh.”
“Ramswamy!” he said, picking up the rag doll and handing it to me. “Sun god of India. Much good help.”
Gently and gingerly I took Ramswamy into my hands. He was a marvel to behold. It may be that the son of India had shone too generously upon his ungodlike form, and he had suffered from a fever that had played roguish pranks with his make-up.
However that may be, I must truthfully state that Ramswamy, the Sun God of India, has baby-blue zephyr-yarn hair that stands upright in a way that suggests the tail of a cat at an accidental and unexpected meeting with a strange dog.
Ramswamy is more than twenty. He has whiskers. They grow all around his neck and are strangely like a bit of rabbit’s skin, but I suppose, being a Hindoo God, Ramswamy is allowed to be original in the way of whiskers. Ramswamy’s arms are of stuffed green silk, and, Like Pacquetette’s, reach all the way around his body, which is also a stuffed bit of cloth, probably a good long and two inches through, narrowing down to a point at the feet.
The jugglers claim that it is by Ramswamy’s aid alone they are enabled to perform their feats of “marvel,” the manager explained, as the sun God was handed back.
The music grew quieter as Sheik produced a bit of stone that transformed within his hands into two silver dollars. These are thrown upon the floor to prove that they were genuine.
He picked up the money, asked “How many? How many?” and closed his hands upon them. Immediately he reopened the tawny hands, and, of course, the money was not there. Then he closed his hands separately and asked in which the money would be found.
It was not found in either. Then he suddenly cried out with a pain in his nose, pretended to blow it, and the silver dollars fell to the floor.
“Much big nose!” Sheik said in tones of satisfaction.
Of course, if Ramswamy and his standing baby-blue hair had not been lying right before Sheik I should have sworn that it was simply a sleight-of-hand trick that any one with nimble fingers could perform. But then it would be so impolite to doubt the power of a stuffed Sun God, especially one with standing baby-blue hair. Ramswamy, through Sheik, could do more with money, so we found. One of the men in the small audience was asked to hold two silver dollars very tightly within his closed hands. Ramswamy was placed on his head, and then the young man blew very hard on his hands, while Sheik played madly upon the “tumdl,” and Lail and Meah on the “hooduk” and “dhole.”
Suddenly the music ceased.
“Do you feel the money?” cried Sheik. “Have you my $2 fast tight?”
“Yes!” answered the subject in a “you-can’t-fool-me-I’ll-hold-on-to-this-money-and-see-your-trick” tone that made my courage almost bubble over.
Sheik took Ramswamy from his perch upon the young man’s head, uttering “Goo! goo! goo! goo!” as rapidly as he could, and making all sorts of pauses and signs with the bilious sun god. Suddenly the god was cast upon the floor, the closed hands were knocked asunder, and out fell two copper cents, the size of the silver dollars.
Everybody said “Ah!” with a great deal of feeling, and Sheik raised a howl.
“My moneys! My two dollar” he cried, in distress. “Give my money.”
“I haven’t got it,” the young man said very earnestly and gravely. “You see I haven’t got it.”
“You take my money. I get policeman,” Sheik threatened, adding angrily:
“You no got my money? See!” He pulled the young man’s nose and the money went dashing to the floor, Of course, Ramswamy did it all, but it wasn’t a pretty trick to play upon a stranger, especially when he’s bashful.
The little stone that turned into money made its appearance a second time. Sheik brought it from the bag and, after showing it to us, pretended to swallow it. He grunted and groaned when it went down, just as any of us would do if the victim of a similar mishap.
Then he invoked the aid of Ramswamy, and soon he groaned again.
This time he promised to do with the stone as the whale did with Jonah, and we watched in apprehensive silence for what we were about to gaze upon. I didn’t think it was a nice thing to do in company and felt like suggesting that Sheik might retire to an adjoining room, but I recalled that I had been told to remain silent, so I waited shudderingly for the final moment when I would gaze upon what Sheik had seen at luncheon.
Catching himself by the waist and apparently in greatest agony, Sheik’s mouth was seen to fill until he could keep it closed no longer, and opening it, he began to unload that which was therein.
He grabbed something. It proved to be a piece of yarn. He began to pull and pull. We gazed, thunderstruck, ,upon the many colored yarn as it came from within his mouth, yard after yard, until a goodly pile of it lay upon the floor before him.
“Goo! Goo! Goo!” he shouted, and the tumtum thumped in devilish glee.
Sheik picked up the bunch of yarn to show us; it was too big to go into his mouth again, when horrors upon horrors, he gave another groan, and it was seen that something more was there.
His brown cheeks bulged and his black eyes distended until his mouth opened slowly, to show a handful of nails about an inch and a half in length. Nails followed nails, until it seemed as if Ramswamy had started a nail factory in Sheik’s internal arrangement.
There was a breath of relief when the last nail came, and Sheik picked up a flannel cloth to wipe his tongue, when a volume of smoke shot from his mouth. Ramswamy seemed to be raising Cain in Sheik’s insides.
“Much smoke! Much smoke!” Sheik cried, gleefully, and he blew hard, but no result followed. He had to take the flannel cloth and wipe his mouth a second time before he could make the sparks fly.
But they did fly at last, and everybody was lost in amazement.
Of course if it hadn’t been for Ramswamy and his standing baby-blue hair, I should have declared that sheik put a small ball of yarn in his mouth instead of the stone, and that when the yarn was unwound it naturally looked but was not in reality too large to go back again.
And when he pretended to show us that it would go back, he slipped the nails into his mouth, putting some in every time he took some out, and when he wiped his mouth with the flannel rag it contained something that could be blown into smoke and sparks.
Of course Ramswamy with his standing baby-blue hair precluded any suggestion of how the thing was done. One must be polite in the presence of a Sun God even if his whiskers are not up to date.
The Sheik, having done all these things, made his little bow and changed stage dress with Seyid Jamal—that is, he took off his sleigh bells and Seyid tied them around his own ankles. Besides his pajamas, Seyid wore a big canary yellow turban and black whiskers.
Seyid, besides being the largest man among the jugglers, is the only one, excepting Ramswamy, who boasts of whiskers. Seyid seems very sure of himself. There was a look in his eye when he put on the sleigh bells that seemed to say: “Well, you have seen the other, but just wait till you see me.”
So Sheik Lail and Sultan Meah played upon the “dhole” and “hooduk,” and Seyid Jamal took up the “turndl,” the mother of bag-pipes—a gourd with two reeds in it—and began to play and dance. As he danced he turned hs toes up—or maybe Ramswamy did it for him—but it was very funny.
When the music was over, Seyid showed up a small ear of corn.
He shelled some of the corn and handed it around so that we might see it was genuine. The remainder he shelled and threw into a breadth of calico from two to three yards in length, which was held by two men. Seyid showed the corn in the calico, He then passed the marvelous Ramswamy over it, blew upon the bag-pipe and, taking up a basket-like arrangement, rattled with great rapidity the corn in the calico.
Lo and before our eyes appeared popcorn!
With a smile of triumph Seyid passed some popcorn around so that the audience might taste of it, and thereby be convinced.
I would swear, if it were not impolite, that Ramswamy was not guilty of that trick, or if he was, it was a shabby one to play upon his own follower.
The popped corn was concealed in the basket lid, but not so well that I did not see it before it was shaken out. Of course, the first corn did not pop at all, but it was hidden by the popped corn, not so well though that I did not see it when the trick was done.
One can’t blame Seyid. He believes in Ramswamy, and if Ramswamy gets tired and plays prankish tricks upon his faithful worshipper, hiding popped corn in the basket lid because he was too lazy to pop it at the right time, why one can only say it’s shabby in Ramswamy and extend one’s condolence to Seyid.
Ramswamy did better with the turban trick. It is a pretty thing, and must have cost that brain beneath the sun god’s standing baby-blue hair some tall thinking before he accomplished it.
Seyid produced a strip of red cloth probably fifteen feet long. It was a turban as it appears before it is twisted around the head.
He asked a man in the audience to cut it, and thirteen pieces were taken off the end and thrown down upon the floor.
The cloth was then folded, and holding it in his hands Seyid requested the man to cut again. He did so.
“How many pieces now?” asked Seyid.
“Fifteen!” was the reply.
Once again the cloth was folded and once again cut.
“How many pieces?” Seyid asked again, and the reply was “Seventeen.”
This long piece that had apparently been cut was not released from Seyid’s hands. We only thought it was cut because of the way he folded it.
After all this was done, and it was said that the long cloth had been cut into thirteen small and four large pieces, Seyid gathered them all into a lump, the cut ends protruding from his hands, and had the man strike a match and set fire to the cloth. It burned slowly, but it did burn real fire, and was at last crushed out and rolled up quickly in a little wad and placed in the young man’s hands.
“Hold tight! Hold tight!” Seyid commanded, and the young man obeyed.
Seyid did a little humorous decorating then. He placed Ramswamy on the young man’s head, and on his lightly clasped hands a little red-wooded object without legs, which he said was…
“India Billy-goat, not ’Merican Billy-goat!”
This being done, Seyid played upon the lamdl and invoked the aid of the blue-haired Ramswamy to make the cut and burnt turban whole again.
Ramswamy was good. Seyid jerked the cloth from the young man’s hands, and lo and behold, it was neither burnt nor cut!
Of course, if we hadn’t been told that Ramswamy, he of the standing blue hair, had power to do all this,k I would have called their attention to a little worldly matter-of-fact thing—that the red cloth was at least two feet shorter!
But then, maybe Ramswamy is not exact as to measurement. One can’t expect a Sun God to attend to all such little details. I confess, as I have before, my great failing of disbelief.
Still, Ramswamy, with his standing blue hair, can afford to scorn doubting scoffers.
That Sun God was yet to show greater power than we had yet witnessed.
Seyid Jamal said he would put sultan Meah into a basket and that Ramswamy would take away the material and leave only the astral body.
The basket, a large willow affair, with sloping sides, was submitted to an examination. Everybody pronounced it whole, with no openings except the usual one at the top.
Then a net bag was passed around, and we all examined it. Sultan was then put into the net, and the rope that drew it together at the top was tied into many knots, first by some of the audience and then by Seyid himself.
Seyid lifted the net-imprisoned Sultan into the basket and, with seeming effort, crushed him partly down, put on the lid and covered the entire thing with a sheet.
Then they played music and made a great deal of noise, and Ramswamy was invoked to take Sultan’s physical body away.
They said he did. At least, the net in which Sultan was confined, holding nothing but the gay, yellow turban, came flying out and fell on my knee.
“There he goes! There he goes!” the jugglers all shouted, pointing beyond us.
“Why didn’t you hold him?” they asked me, but I had nothing to say. That uncontrollable disbelief of mine would not admit that Sultan was out of the basket.
I wanted to get up and stand on the other side of the basket, but these honest followers of Ramswamy declared I would interfere with the workings of the Sun God, so I was forced to retain my place. To convince us that the basket was empty Seyid took a stick and jabbed into it, but when I offered to do a little jabbing with that stick they refused to permit it.
Those jugglers are so particular when it comes to jabbing an astral spirit in a covered basket.
Once again the basket was covered up and the music set going, while Ramswamy was invoked to unit the physical body to its astral in the basket.
Ramswamy did it—that we know. If we didn’t we would say that Sultan untied the net bag, tied the knots in the rope again, and then curled himself down around the edge of the basket. The jabbing was done above him.
By putting one of our own men upon the floor in the position sultan must have assumed, we found the basket covered him, and he had on his boots and hat, while Sultan had only his pajamas between him and Comstock.
It’s an unpleasant thing to doubt, but if it hadn’t been for Ramswamy and his standing baby-blue hair, I declare I would have thought the hindoo jugglers nothing but tricksters, and very poor ones at that.
All hail, Ramswamy!
(Source: Nellie Bly Online, http://www.nellieblyonline.com/herwriting)
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