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Marriott, William S. (ca. 1910)

Marriott, William S. (ca. 1910)

British professional magician and illusionist who investigated and exposed fake mediumship. His stage name was "Dr. Wilmar." One of his noted illusions was the production of apparently paranormal paintings, duplicating the claimed psychic phenomena of the Chicago mediums, the Bangs sisters. The illusion was presented as "Dr. Wilmar's Spirit Painting" and so impressed fellow magician P. T. Selbit that he agreed to pay Marriott a weekly royalty for the use of the illusion. However, Marriott himself was not entirely straightforward in claiming rights on the illusion, since he had obtained the secret from David P. Abbott, an amateur magician. When Selbit presented the illusion at the Orpheum Theatre in Omaha in 1911, Abbott saw the show and visited Selbit backstage, when he learned that Selbit had already paid Marriott some $10,000 in royalties.

Marriott performed a valuable role in locating and publicizing a rare catalog of fake medium equipment titled Gambols with the Ghosts: Mind Reading, Spiritualistic Effects, Mental and Psychical Phenomena, and Horoscopy, issued in 1901 by Ralph E. Sylvestre of Chicago. This catalog was designed for private circulation among fake mediums, on the understanding that it would be returned to Sylvestre when tricks had been selected from it.

The catalog had an introductory note that stated:

"Our experience during the past thirty years in supplying mediums and others with the peculiar effects in this line enable us to place before you only those which are practical and of use, nothing that you have to experiment with. We wish you to thoroughly appreciate that, while we do not, for obvious reasons, mention the names of our clients and their work (they being kept in strict confidence, the same as a physician treats his patients), we can furnish you with the explanation and, where necessary, the material for the production of any known public 'tests' or 'phenomena' not mentioned in this, our latest list. You are aware that our effects are being used by nearly all prominent mediums of the entire world."

This infamous catalog included equipment for fake slate-writing, self-playing guitars, self-rapping tables, materializations, and a "Complete Spiritualistic Séance." Marriott obtained a number of these illusions and had himself photographed posing with them. Marriott also successfully exposed fake "spirit photographs," obliging that champion of Spiritualism, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to state ruefully: "Mr. Marriott has clearly proved one point, which is that a trained conjurer can, under the close inspection of three pairs of critical eyes, put a false image upon a plate. We must unreservedly admit it."

A copy of Gambols with the Ghosts was obtained by psychic researcher Harry Price and is now in the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature at the University of London, England.

Sources:

Sylvestre, Ralph E. Gambols with the Ghosts: Mind Reading, Spiritualistic Effects, Mental and Psychical Phenomena, and Horos-copy. Chicago: privately printed, 1901.

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