David P. Abbott

David P. Abbott (1863-1934), amateur magician and investigator of the paranormal, was born near Falls City but lived most of his life in Omaha. In later life Abbott worked as a money lender but took a great interest in science and philosophy. He also became an amateur magician, inventing and performing many startling feats of magic.

Abbott published widely on psychic subjects. His Behind the Scenes with the Mediums, published in 1916, exposed many techniques of fake spirit mediums. In spite of his skepticism regarding the claims of mediums, however, Abbott did not rule out the possibility of genuine phenomena. He performed as a magician only at his house in Omaha, where he was visited by many famous magicians, including Harry Houdini.

Abbott wrote a second book, which included descriptions of many magical feats which had astounded top professional performers. He died before it could be published, and for some years thereafter the manuscript could not be found. It was rediscovered by Walter Graham and published in 1977 as David P. Abbott’s Book Of Mysteries. In 2005, House of Mystery: The Magic Science of David P. Abbott was published in two volumes. It is a collection of Abbott’s most noted feats, which stumped the greatest minds in magic.

In Behind the Scenes with the Mediums, Abbott described a trumpet séance (during which spirits supposedly spoke through a trumpet) that he had attended eight or ten years before in Lincoln. “The room was bare of furniture, and the guests were seated around the room on chairs holding each other’s hands. The medium sat in this circle, and the trumpet stood in the center of the circle.

“As soon as the lights were out the trumpet apparently floated into the air and from its mouth we were greeted by an ‘Irish Spirit.’ This spirit attempted to be a comedian; but his brogue was unnatural, and his wit was so poor that I felt ashamed for the medium. It, however, seemed to satisfy the majority of the sitters, who appeared to be possessed of only very ordinary mental powers.”

Abbott explained, “I was satisfied that the medium held the trumpet to his mouth and did the talking. I knew that by pointing it rapidly in different directions, the voice would appear to come from the various positions occupied by the bell of the trumpet; and the spirit would thus appear to change places rapidly over our heads. I felt certain that the persons sitting on each side of the medium were his confederates, and that they held the hands of the ones next to them; but, of course, released the medium’s hands so that he could handle the trumpet. . . .

“To me it seemed merely a very cheap and poor trick. I have never fancied any trick where the lights had to be put out. It requires too little skill to perform such tricks. I have always felt that if the spirits of the departed could return to us mortals, they would not require a tin horn to talk through, and the entire absence of light-waves in the room.”


David P. Abbott’s Behind the Scenes with the Mediums, published in 1916, exposed many techniques of fake spirit mediums.

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