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Observations placeholder

The Comedian Sothern – Immunity from flame



Type of Spiritual Experience


Houdini implies this is a trick, but gives no explanation, which he wouldn’t, because if it is a trick, the secret needs to be kept and if it isn’t then it cannot be explained ‘physically’.

A description of the experience

From Miracle Mongers And Their Methods By Houdini

The second concerns an equally popular actor, a comedian this time, the elder Sothern (1826-1881). On March 20, 1878, a writer in the Chicago Inter-Ocean communicated to that paper the following curiously descriptive article:

Is Mr. Sothern a medium?

This is the question that fifteen puzzled investigators are asking themselves this morning, after witnessing a number of astounding manifestations at a private seance given by Mr. Sothern last night.

It lacked a few minutes of 12 when a number of Mr. Sothern's friends, who had been given to understand that something remarkable was to be performed, assembled in the former's room at the Sherman House and took seats around a marble-top table, which was placed in the center of the apartment. On the table were a number of glasses, two very large bottles, and five lemons. A sprightly young gentleman attempted to crack a joke about spirits being confined in bottles, but the company frowned him down, and for once Mr. Sothern had a sober audience to begin with.

There was a good deal of curiosity regarding the object of the gathering, but no one was able to explain. Each gentleman testified to the fact Mr. Sothern's agent had waited upon him, and solicited his presence at a little exhibition to be given by the actor, NOT of a comical nature.

Mr. Sothern himself soon after appeared, and, after shaking hands with the party, thus addressed them:

"Gentlemen, I have invited you here this evening to witness a few manifestations, demonstrations, tests, or whatever you choose to call them, which I have accidentally discovered that I am able to perform.

"I am a fire-eater, as it were. (Applause).

"I used to DREAD the fire, having been scorched once when an innocent child. (A laugh.)

Mr. Sothern (severely)—"I HOPE there will be no levity here, and I wish to say now that demonstrations of any kind are liable to upset me, while demonstrations of a particular kind may upset the audience."

Silence and decorum being restored, Mr. Sothern thus continued:

"Thirteen weeks ago, while walking up Greenwich Street, in New York, I stepped into a store to buy a cigar. To show you there is no trick about it, here are cigars out of the same box from which I selected the one I that day lighted." (Here Mr. Sothern passed around a box of tolerable cigars.)

"Well, I stepped to the little hanging gas-jet to light it, and, having done so, stood contemplatively holding the gas-jet and the cigar in either hand, thinking what a saving it would be to smoke a pipe, when, in my absent-mindedness, I dropped the cigar and put the gas-jet into my mouth. Strange as it may appear, I felt no pain, and stood there holding the thing in my mouth and puffing till the man in charge yelled out to me that I was swallowing his gas. Then I looked up, and, sure enough, there I was pulling away at the slender flame that came from the glass tube.

"I dropped it instantly, and felt of my mouth, but noticed no inconvenience or unpleasant sensation whatever.

"'What do you mean by it?' said the proprietor.

"As I didn't know what I meant by it I couldn't answer, so I picked up my cigar and went home. Once there I tried the experiment again, and in doing so I found that not only my mouth, but my hands and face, indeed, all of my body, was proof against fire. I called on a physician, and he examined me, and reported nothing wrong with my flesh, which appeared to be in normal condition. I said nothing about it publicly, but the fact greatly surprised me, and I have invited you here to-night to witness a few experiments."

Saying this, Mr. Sothern, who had lit a cigar while pausing in his speech, turned the fire end into his mouth and sat down, smoking unconcernedly.

"I suppose you wish to give us the fire-test," remarked one of the company.

Mr. Sothern nodded.

There was probably never a gathering more dumbfounded than that present in the room. A few questions were asked, and then five gentlemen were appointed to examine Mr. Sothern's hands, etc., before he began his experiments. Having thoroughly washed the parts that he proposed to subject to the flames, Mr. Sothern began by burning his arm, and passing it through the gas-jet very slowly, twice stopping the motion and holding it still in the flames. He then picked up a poker with a sort of hook on the end, and proceeded to fish a small coil of wire from the grate. The wire came out fairly white with the heat. Mr. Sothern took the coil in his hands and cooly proceeded to wrap it round his left leg to the knee. Having done so, he stood on the table in the center of the circle and requested the committee to examine the wrappings and the leg and report if both were there. The committee did so and reported in the affirmative.

While this was going on, there was a smile, almost seraphic in its beauty, on Mr. Sothern's face.

After this an enormous hot iron, in the shape of a horseshoe, was placed on Mr. Sothern's body, where it cooled, without leaving a sign of a burn.

As a final test, a tailor's goose was put on the coals, and, after being thoroughly heated, was placed on Mr. Sothern's chair. The latter lighted a fresh cigar, and then coolly took a seat on the goose without the least seeming inconvenience. During the last experiment Mr. Sothern sang in an excellent tone and voice, "I'm Sitting on the Stile, Mary."

The question now is, were the fifteen auditors of Mr. Sothern fooled and deceived, or was this a genuine manifestation of extraordinary power? Sothern is such an inveterate joker that he may have put the thing upon the boys for his own amusement; but if so, it was one of the nicest tricks ever witnessed by yours truly,


P. S.—What is equally marvellous to me is that the fire didn't burn his clothes where it touched them, any more than his flesh. P. C.

(There is nothing new in this. Mr. Sothern has long been known as one of the most expert jugglers in the profession. Some years ago he gained the soubriquet of the "Fire King!" He frequently amuses his friends by eating fire, though he long ago ceased to give public exhibitions. Probably the success of the experiments last night were largely owing to the lemons present. There is a good deal of trickery in those same lemons.—Editor Inter-Ocean.)

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