Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Famous Indian Rope Trick

The Indian rope trick, some say it is just a myth, others say it is nothing more than mass hypnosis, still others profess a belief that it was really magic. The trick, involving a coil of rope extended skyward, has yet to be replicated by modern day magicians despite centuries of exhaustive study by scholars and expert magicians. Is it real magic or something else…

In the classic account a fakir tosses a rope skyward and it proceeds to stand straight up. The fakir's assistant, always a young boy, begins to climb the rope. In one early account from India in the 14th century, tells of a magician using a coil of rope with a large wooden ball tied to one end. The magician tossed the wooden ball high into the air. Instead of returning to the ground, it rose higher and higher until the rope disappeared into the clouds. A small boy (the magician's assistant) jumped to the rope and began climbing hand over hand until he too disappeared into the clouds. After a few minutes the magician called the boy - no reply. The frustrated mystic grasped a scimitar or similar weapon, and began climbing skyward. Moments later the crowd began hearing screams of pain and a small object fell to the ground. The boy's apparently severed limbs are what dropped to the ground, covered with blood. After a few seconds the fakir descends and tosses the limbs into a basket. The man strikes the basket with his stick an the boy, now miraculously restored, jumped to his feet with glee.
The trick continued to astound onlookers well into the early 1930's. Many of the world's greatest magicians traveled to India in hopes of tracing the origin of the effect but to no avail. For a time it seemed that the trick was destined to remain eternally out of reach.

In 1955, a Indian guru named Sadju Vadramakrishna came forward and announced he had performed the trick himself. He claimed that the trick, when performed at night, owed much of its success to the blinding torches placed around the perimeter of the audience. The torches he explained, allowed the crowd to see no more than 15 feet into the sky. Beforehand, he had placed a thin wire, tied between 2 strong trees about 20 feet off of the ground. The wooden ball, fitted with a large hook, grappled the wire making the rope appear to be suspended in mid air. He and his assistant were both skilled acrobats who could easily remain perched atop the wire. The body parts? Concealed in his cloak were the remains of a dead monkey which he slowly tossed to the ground. Upon returning to the ground, his assistant, also hidden under his cloak, would magically appear culminating this remarkable act of deception.
Although Vadramakrishna's vague explanation served to satisfy most casual listeners, others had their doubts. What he failed to explain and what thousands of eyewitnesses reported, was how the trick was performed from the 14th century onward in broad daylight.
An early account of the rope trick appeared in the Chicago Tribune in 1890 under the byline Fred S. Ellmore. The story gained worldwide notoriety, and numerous similar accounts appeared over the years. But no one could ever come up with a convincing eyewitness account, photographs, etc. Nor was there a satisfactory response to the reward offered by a British magicians' association for an actual performance. Then a few years ago University of Edinburgh researcher Peter Lamont took a closer look at that 1890 Tribune article. Four months later, he found, the editors had confessed in print that the whole thing was a hoax to sell more newspapers--Fred S. Ellmore, get it? This may not be the last word on the subject--when last heard from, Lamont was traveling to India to see what more he could learn.

So, magic or a total fake? I am not really sure, just file this one away in the ‘we need more info’ file!

I’m Average Joe

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