The press covered the tragedy in great detail and a

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The press covered the tragedy in great detail, and astatement was released on behalf of Queen Victoria: “TheQueen is terribly shocked by this awful calamity, and herheart bleeds for the many poor bereaved parents. She praysthat God may support them. Her Majesty is most anxious tohear how the injured children are.”Playing with FireA magician who has lost the spark of life is not a carefulmagician, andis not a magician for long.—Glen David GoldCarter Beatsthe Devil
Conjurers have always wished to appear the masters of fire.Flashes are good misdirection, and flames are intrinsicallydramatic. For escapologists, fire raises the stakes. Magiciansplay with fire, and sometimes they get burned—or, in thecase ofBalabrega, blown up.Born John Miller in Helsingborg, Sweden, Balabrega’sfamily immigrated to the United States in 1868. As a child,he achieved some degree of success as “The Boy Magician.”In January 1900, Balabrega and his wife appeared inBoston, on a bill shared with Houdini. But Balabrega wasrestless for a tour of his own.Balabrega
He booked a tour in Brazil and then purchased “The Mothand the Flame” illusion from fellow performer Harry Rouclere.This pyrotechnic vanish of six women, costumed as moths,into a candle flame required a supply of gas, a commoditynot common in Latin American theaters of the day. Tocompensate, he purchased gas-bags of acetylene, atransportable alternative that would allow him to fuel theillusion on any stage.On June 12, 1900, Balabrega and his assistant,LewBartlettwere setting up his show at the Theatro SantaRoza in João Pessoa, Brazil. An acetylene gas-bagexploded and blew pieces of Balabrega and his assistantall over the surrounding cast and crew. Balabrega’smanager, standing several paces away, was severelyinjured. Balabrega was forty-two years old.In most magic shows, fire appears in the form of a hot,white flash
that burns clean and leaves no ash. The most commonmethod of producing such an effect is flash paper.The July 1928 issue ofThe Sphinxoffers an explanation forbrave readers on how to make the stuff. “You must buy a fewounces of fuming nitric acid,”2it begins, “and a similar quantityof the best commercial sulfuric acid [...] having all this ready athand, put on old clothes and get out to the back yardsomewhere where it will not hurt if you splash the acid [...]”Walter Priceknew the process by heart and was, for a brieftime, America’s premiere flash-paper manufacturer.3Hiscredentials certainly qualified him: Price served as a captain inthe Army’s Chemical Warfare Division. After World War II, hewas discharged in Los Angeles and moved to Winter Park,Florida, with his wife,Margaret. Like many postwar veterans,the Prices wasted no time in procreating. They welcomedMary Tudor Price into their home in 1945.

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Term
Fall
Professor
Amy McGraw

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