When we think of the world’s greatest magicians, we tend to narrow down that list to one name – Harry Houdini. Like any other craft, even the greatest magician of all time was inspired by a predecessor or two. In the case of Houdini, one of his muses was an illusionist by the name of Harry Keller (1849 – 1922), also known as “The Dean of American Magicians.” Going back even further, Keller had his own mystic guides. It was Isaiah Harris Hughes (1813 – 1891), widely heralded as The Fakir of Ava, who was a role model for Keller. Therefore, we can readily establish that Hughes was a forefather of Houdini.
Hughes was also a Buffalonian, and is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery. The magician’s grave is a source of illumination for ambitious magicians, who still seek out the mystical mastermind.
In its heyday, Buffalo was chock full of internationally recognized celebrities and performers, including one very notable magician, who has been mostly forgotten over time.
As with any great talent, there are always disciples who search out the innovators and trailblazers. In the mid to late 1800s, before the advent of modern day technologies, people relied upon live stage shows as popular forms of entertainment.
Hughes was considered one of the best at the time, by not only inventing sensational slights of hand, he also introduced a number of unprecedented gimmicks that proved to be valuable business practices. Hughes is best known for his “giveaways.” Upon entering the show, attendees would be given all sorts of “door prizes,” mainly inexpensive trinkets. It is this type of “sensationalism” that contributed so much to his unrelenting showmanship. His “generosity” not only made him a fortune, it also allowed him to live up to his full stage name and title of “The Fakir of Ava, Chief of Staff of Conjurors to His Sublime Greatness the Nanka of Aristaphae.”
The Fakir of Ava is buried in Forest Lawn in Buffalo, Section 7 | Memorial ID 13530970