No. 458
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
January 27, 2020

A Magical Duet on the Guitar.

An extraordinary account of a mathematician, mechanician, and musician named Alix.
January 8, 2018
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Chapter 2
As regular readers of my blog (all three of you) may have noticed, I have, without really intending to, built a subcategory of stories of people who are found strangely, inexplicably dead. All these cases are puzzling, but there are few that top the end of an otherwise completely normal man named Zigmund Adamski. In fact, some will tell you his death was positively otherworldly. Zigmund
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Strange Company - 1/27/2020


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(Click image to enlarge) new quote attributed to bad man "Soapy" Smith Discovered in an edition of the Alaska Mining Record, April 5, 1899. ______________________ The sensational press of the east are now engaging in some real pipe dreams of their own, and allow a column or two of Canadian and American fights on the Atlin and Porcupine border to creep into their paper. One
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 1/16/2020
Never heard of “Raisin Street” in Greenwich Village? If you lived in the nascent city of New York in the early years of the 19th century, you might have traversed it. The rise and demise of this little street has a curious backstory. “Raisin Street” was a corruption of “Reason Street,” the name given to […]
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Ephemeral New York - 1/27/2020

Beginning on January 1st, W&W will begin featuring fascinating short clippings from the Fall River papers and other newspapers from …

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Lizzie Borden : Warps & Wefts - 12/29/2019
The Rogers family were early settlers in Blue Lick Springs, Kentucky, having fought a bloody battle with Indians to secure their homestead. They never lost their frontier zeal for violence as a tool for solving problems, even for family disputes which, apparently, were frequent and quite intense. In the 1880s, Willis Rogers had eight children, five boys and three girls. In the heat of an
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Murder by Gaslight - 1/25/2020
Blood accumulates upon us. Verily, it does seem that the reins of justice have been loosely thrown to the devil, and that we are all driving at breakneck speed in the same direction. -Nashville Banner (via) On this date in 1866, four youths employed as teamsters in the Army corrals of Union-occupied Nashville were hanged […]
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ExecutedToday.com - 1/26/2020
[Editor’s note: Guest writer, Peter Dickson, lives in West Sussex, England and has been working with microfilm copies of The Duncan Campbell Papers from the State Library of NSW, Sydney, Australia. The following are some of his analyses of what he has discovered from reading these papers. Dickson has contributed many transcriptions to the Jamaica Family […]
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Early American Crime - 2/7/2019
The New Rule at the Post-Office. | Afloat on a Cake of Ice.

A Magical Duet on the Guitar.

Magical Duet on Guitar

An extraordinary account of a mathematician, mechanician, and musician named Alix. [more]

So many wondrous stories are told by the ancient writes of magic and mechanism that ordinary belief is entirely at fault. If we are to believe what we read of the mechanics and learned men of the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, the little of chemistry or mechanical invention that we know in these times, but was then familiar to learned men, but was suppressed, either by monkish intolerance or noble ignorance. That much of these clams are true we must admit, from the fact that many wonderful inventions have come down to us, among which we can only mention gunpowder and watches as an example.

Among the wonderful stories of this kind is one told by Bonnet in his “Historie de la Musique,” where he gives the following extraordinary account of a mathematician, mechanician, and musician named Alix, who lived at Aix, in Provance about the middle of the 17th century:

“Alix, after many years’ study and labor, succeeded in constructing an automaton figure, having the shape of a human skeleton, which, by means of a concealed mechanism, played, or had the appearance of playing on the guitar. The artist after having turned in perfect unison two guitars, placed on in the hands of the skeleton, in the position proper for playing, and on a calm summer evening, having thrown open the window of his apartment he fixed the skeleton, with the guitar in its hands, in a position where it could be seen form the street. He then, taking the other instrument seated himself in an obscure corner of the room and commenced playing a piece of music, the passages of which were faithfully repeated or echoed by the guitar held by the skeleton, at the same time that the movement of its wooden fingers ,as if really executing the music completed the illusion.

“This strange musical feat drew crows around the house of the ill-fated artist; this sentiment was soon changed in the minds of the ignorant multitude into the most superstitions dread. A rumor rose that Alix was a sorcerer, and in league with the devil. He was arrested by order of the Parliament of Provence, and sent before the court, La Chambre de la Tournelle, to be tried on the capital charge of magic or witchcraft. In vain the ingenious, but unfortunate artist sought to convince his judges hat the only means used to give the apparent vitality to the fingers of the skeleton were wheels, springs, pulleys, and other equally unmagical contrivances, and that the marvelous result produced wat nothing more criminal than the solution of a problem in mechanics.

“His explanation and demonstrations were either not understood, or failed to convince his stupid and bigoted judges, and he was condemned as a sorcerer and magician. The iniquitous judgment was confirmed by the Parliament of Provence, which sentenced him to be burned alive in the principal square of the city, together with the equally innocent automaton figure, the supposed accomplice in his magical practices. This infamous sentence was carried into execution in the year 1644, to the great satisfaction and edification of all the faithful and devout inhabitants of Aix.”


Reprinted from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, December 16, 1865.