Kellar was born Heinrich Keller to German immigrants in Erie, Pennsylvania and constantly experimented in adolescence with games of chicken and with the production of various chemical concoctions. On one occasion, young Heinrich reportedly blew a hole in the floor of his employer's drugstore and rather than confront parental wrath, he stowed away on a train and continued life as a vagabond. It was on the road that he encountered the Fakir of Ava, who inspired his direction into conjuring.
Kellar was probably one of the most meticulous performers of his day, focusing on both his presentation and on his array of magic tricks. Aside from The Kellar Rope Tie, some other memorable illusions were:
- The Vanishing Birdcage, an effect which he originally purchased from its inventor, Buatier De Kolta during the late 1870s, for the incredible reported sum of $750.
- The Vanishing Lamp in Kellar's hands was another memorable effect. Still lit, the lamp would be covered, standing upon a glass-topped table. As the light glowed through the thin cloth, Kellar spoke of the lamp, telling the audience it was a gift from a Brahmin High Priest from India. Each evening, the lamp would be returned to its original owner at a specific time, which was approaching. A bell chimed the current hours of the day as Kellar loaded a pistol and aimed it towards the lamp. At the last chime the pistol was fired. The lamp simply melted away to nothing and vanished, the cloth falling to the stage.
- Kellar's automaton "Psycho", which was a version of the John Algernon Clark idea used in Maskelyne's original card-playing robot, was a popular sensation wherever it played.
- Perhaps one of Kellar's least known advancements in magic would be his modification to the levitation illusion "Princess Karnack. It was later purchased by Harry Blackstone, Sr. from the Kellar estate. Blackstone successfully used the illusion for many years.
Kellar was a longtime customer of the famous Martinka Magic Company. They built many illusions for him, including the "Blue Room".
Kellar retired on May 16, 1908 with his last show at Fords Theater in Baltimore. He handed over the mantle of America's Greatest Magician to Howard Thurston.
On November 11, 1917, Harry Houdini arranged for Kellar to perform once more for a show benefitting families of the men who died when the troop transport vessel Antilles was sunk by a German U-boat. Never one for understatement, Houdini arranged for Kellar to be carried off stage in triumph as six thousand spectators sang Auld Lang Syne. This would end up being Harry Kellar's final public performance.
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