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7 Magic Tricks That Went Horribly Wrong

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trialsanderrors, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Done right, magic tricks can fill us with a sense of childlike wonderment: From a clever card trick to a mullet-era David Copperfield illusion, we love to be fooled. Unfortunately, not all magicians escape their dramatic scenarios unscathed. Take a look at seven illusionists who didn’t have enough up their sleeves to avoid being mangled.

1. Charles Rowan and the Speeding Car

In magic, tension is everything. While a performer may be holding his or her breath underwater, the audience is holding theirs, waiting for signs of life. South African Charles Rowan understood the appeal of melodrama, which is why he repeatedly consented to being secured in a straitjacket while a car sped toward him at 45 miles per hour. Rowan performed this stunt many times, but it only needed to go awry once. While appearing in front of a sizable crowd in 1930, Rowan failed to dislodge himself in time; the car ran right over him, virtually severing his leg and ending his life. Prior to the stunt, Rowan wrote a letter of exoneration for the driver in case something went wrong.  

2. Princess Tenko and the Swords

This Japanese performer, known for her outlandish costumes, was onstage in the city of Sabae in 2007 when her show devolved into a Grand Guignol spectacle. Tenko was stuffed into a box where she was to become a pincushion for ten incoming swords if she didn’t escape in time. She did not, and the swords wound up breaking several ribs and her cheekbone. Amazingly, the Princess finished her performance before seeking medical attention.

3. Joe Burrus and the Cement

Comparing himself to the famed Harry Houdini, Joseph Burrus arranged for a Halloween night spectacle in 1990 where he would settle into a glass coffin and have nine tons of dirt and cement poured over him. The performance took place at Blackbeard’s Family Fun Center in Fresno, California. After being lowered seven feet into the ground, a chained-up Burrus waited while assistants directed a cement truck to unload its contents over the coffin. After one false start—the chain around his neck was too tight—Burrus made a second attempt. The cement crushed the coffin, suffocating him. It was a morbid homage to Houdini: He had also died on Halloween night.  

4. Genesta and the Milk Can

Houdini had made his name in part from the milk can escape, an often-imitated trick in which the magician is stuffed into an oversized container full of water, locked in, and given only moments to escape before drowning. Royden Joseph Gilbert Raison de la Genesta, or simply “Genesta,” was among those paying tribute to the illusion in a 1930 performance. The secret of the trick was that the neck of the container could come off, so locking on a lid made little difference. What Genesta didn’t realize is that the prop had been dropped during transit, creating a dent that sealed the neck and prevented it from moving. Though he was roused briefly at the hospital, Genesta died as a result of the accident.

5. George Lalonde and the Back-Stabbing Audience Member

Most sensible people regard illusions for what they are: bits of misdirection. But Henry Howard, who sat in the audience of a show in Montreal in 1936, became agitated when stage magician George Lalonde prepared to saw his assistant in half. Howard rushed the stage, grabbed a sword, and plunged it into Lalonde’s neck in what he perceived as an act of heroism. Lalonde survived, while Howard told police he “couldn’t bear to see a woman cut in two.”

6. Balabrega and the Flaming Moths

Swedish conjurer Balabrega was fascinated by an elaborate deception involving six assistants dressed as moths who would appear before being "consumed" by flames. After purchasing the rights to perform the illusion, he traveled to Brazil in June 1900 for a tour. The trick required a supply of gas for the flame, but the theater wasn’t set up for it. Instead, Balabrega substituted acetylene, which immediately ignited during preparation and literally blew the magician and a nearby assistant to pieces.  

7. The Chinese Impostor and the Bullet Catch

Williams Ellsworth Robinson was a turn-of-the-century vaudeville veteran who achieved tremendous fame and success in Europe by pretending to be established Chinese performer Chung Ling Soo. Robinson professed to speak no English, as his exotic routines and persona captivated audiences. Occasionally, Robinson would perform a trick where two rifles were aimed at him and fired. The barrels were supposed to be rigged to not fire real bullets, but his last performance was an anomaly, and the rifles discharged actual ammunition. Only then did audiences understand the extent of his ruse: In perfect English, he shouted, “I’ve been shot!”

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8 of the Weirdest Gallup Polls
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Born in Jefferson, Iowa on November 18, 1901, George Gallup studied journalism and psychology, focusing on how to measure readers’ interest in newspaper and magazine content. In 1935, he founded the American Institute of Public Opinion to scientifically measure public opinions on topics such as government spending, criminal justice, and presidential candidates. Although he died in 1984, The Gallup Poll continues his legacy of trying to determine and report the will of the people in an unbiased, independent way. To celebrate his day of birth, we compiled a list of some of the weirdest, funniest Gallup polls over the years.

1. THREE IN FOUR AMERICANS BELIEVE IN THE PARANORMAL (2005)

According to this Gallup poll, 75 percent of Americans have at least one paranormal belief. Specifically, 41 percent believe in extrasensory perception (ESP), 37 percent believe in haunted houses, and 21 percent believe in witches. What about channeling spirits, you might ask? Only 9 percent of Americans believe that it’s possible to channel a spirit so that it takes temporary control of one's body. Interestingly, believing in paranormal phenomena was relatively similar across people of different genders, races, ages, and education levels.

2. ONE IN FIVE AMERICANS THINK THE SUN REVOLVES AROUND THE EARTH (1999)

In this poll, Gallup tried to determine the popularity of heliocentric versus geocentric views. While 79 percent of Americans correctly stated that the Earth revolves around the sun, 18 percent think the sun revolves around the Earth. Three percent chose to remain indifferent, saying they had no opinion either way.

3. 22 PERCENT OF AMERICANS ARE HESITANT TO SUPPORT A MORMON (2011)

Gallup first measured anti-Mormon sentiment back in 1967, and it was still an issue in 2011, a year before Mormon Mitt Romney ran for president. Approximately 22 percent of Americans said they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate, even if that candidate belonged to their preferred political party. Strangely, Americans’ bias against Mormons has remained stable since the 1960s, despite decreasing bias against African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and women.

4. MISSISSIPPIANS GO TO CHURCH THE MOST; VERMONTERS THE LEAST (2010)

This 2010 poll amusingly confirms the stereotype that southerners are more religious than the rest of the country. Although 42 percent of all Americans attend church regularly (which Gallup defines as weekly or almost weekly), there are large variations based on geography. For example, 63 percent of people in Mississippi attend church regularly, followed by 58 percent in Alabama and 56 percent in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Utah. Rounding out the lowest levels of church attendance, on the other hand, were Vermont, where 23 percent of residents attend church regularly, New Hampshire, at 26 percent, and Maine at 27 percent.

5. ONE IN FOUR AMERICANS DON’T KNOW WHICH COUNTRY AMERICA GAINED INDEPENDENCE FROM (1999)

Although 76 percent of Americans knew that the United States gained independence from Great Britain as a result of the Revolutionary War, 24 percent weren’t so sure. Two percent thought the correct answer was France, 3 percent said a different country (such as Mexico, China, or Russia), and 19 percent had no opinion. Certain groups of people who consider themselves patriotic, including men, older people, and white people (according to Gallup polls), were more likely to know that America gained its independence from Great Britain.

6. ONE THIRD OF AMERICANS BELIEVE IN GHOSTS (2000)

This Halloween-themed Gallup poll asked Americans about their habits and behavior on the last day of October. Predictably, two-thirds of Americans reported that someone in their house planned to give candy to trick-or-treaters and more than three-quarters of parents with kids reported that their kids would wear a costume. More surprisingly, 31 percent of American adults claimed to believe in ghosts, an increase from 1978, when only 11 percent of American adults admitted to a belief in ghosts.

7. 5 PERCENT OF WORKING MILLENNIALS THRIVE IN ALL FIVE ELEMENTS OF WELL-BEING (2016)

This recent Gallup poll is funny in a sad way, as it sheds light on the tragicomic life of a millennial. In this poll, well-being is defined as having purpose, social support, manageable finances, a strong community, and good physical health. Sadly, only 5 percent of working millennials—defined as people born between 1980 and 1996—were thriving in these five indicators of well-being. To counter this lack of well-being, Gallup’s report recommends that managers promote work-life balance and improve their communication with millennial employees.

8. THE WORLD IS BECOMING SLIGHTLY MORE NEGATIVE (2014)

If you seem to feel more stress, sadness, anxiety, and pain than ever before, Gallup has the proof that it’s not all in your head. According to the company’s worldwide negative experience index, negative feelings such as stress, sadness, and anger have increased since 2007. Unsurprisingly, people living in war-torn, dangerous parts of the word—Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Syria, and Sierra Leone—reported the highest levels of negative emotions.

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11 Times Mickey Mouse Was Banned
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Despite being one of the world’s most recognizable and beloved characters, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Mickey Mouse, who turns 89 years old today. A number of countries—and even U.S. states—have banned the cartoon rodent at one time or another for reasons both big and small.

1. In 1930, Ohio banned a cartoon called “The Shindig” because Clarabelle Cow was shown reading Three Weeks by Elinor Glyn, the premier romance novelist of the time. Check it out (1:05) and let us know if you’re scandalized:

2. With movies on 10-foot screen being a relatively new thing in Romania in 1935, the government decided to ban Mickey Mouse, concerned that children would be terrified of a monstrous rodent.

3. In 1929, a German censor banned a Mickey Mouse short called “The Barnyard Battle.” The reason? An army of cats wearing pickelhauben, the pointed helmets worn by German military in the 19th and 20th centuries: "The wearing of German military helmets by an army of cats which oppose a militia of mice is offensive to national dignity. Permission to exhibit this production in Germany is refused.”

4. The German dislike for Mickey Mouse continued into the mid-'30s, with one German newspaper wondering why such a small and dirty animal would be idolized by children across the world: "Mickey Mouse is the most miserable ideal ever revealed ... Healthy emotions tell every independent young man and every honorable youth that the dirty and filth-covered vermin, the greatest bacteria carrier in the animal kingdom, cannot be the ideal type of animal.” Mickey was originally banned from Nazi Germany, but eventually the mouse's popularity won out.

5. In 2014, Iran's Organization for Supporting Manufacturers and Consumers announced a ban on school supplies and stationery products featuring “demoralizing images,” including that of Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Sleeping Beauty, and characters from Toy Story.

6. In 1954, East Germany banned Mickey Mouse comics, claiming that Mickey was an “anti-Red rebel.”

7. In 1937, a Mickey Mouse adventure was so similar to real events in Yugoslavia that the comic strip was banned. State police say the comic strip depicted a “Puritan-like revolt” that was a danger to the “Boy King,” Peter II of Yugoslavia, who was just 14 at the time. A journalist who wrote about the ban was consequently escorted out of the country.

8. Though Mussolini banned many cartoons and American influences from Italy in 1938, Mickey Mouse flew under the radar. It’s been said that Mussolini’s children were such Mickey Mouse fans that they were able to convince him to keep the rodent around.

9. Mickey and his friends were banned from the 1988 Seoul Olympics in a roundabout way. As they do with many major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, Disney had contacted American favorites to win in each event to ask them to say the famous “I’m going to Disneyland!” line if they won. When American swimmer Matt Biondi won the 100-meter freestyle, he dutifully complied with the request. After a complaint from the East Germans, the tape was pulled and given to the International Olympic Committee.

10. In 1993, Mickey was banned from a place he shouldn't have been in the first place: Seattle liquor stores. As a wonderful opening sentence from the Associated Press explained, "Mickey Mouse, the Easter Bunny and teddy bears have no business selling booze, the Washington State Liquor Control Board has decided." A handful of stores had painted Mickey and other characters as part of a promotion. A Disney VP said Mickey was "a nondrinker."

11. Let's end with another strike against The Shindig (see #1) and Clarabelle’s bulging udder. Less than a year after the Shindig ban, the Motion Picture Producers and Directors of America announced that they had received a massive number of complaints about the engorged cow udders in various Mickey Mouse cartoons.

From then on, according to a 1931 article in Time magazine, “Cows in Mickey Mouse ... pictures in the future will have small or invisible udders quite unlike the gargantuan organ whose antics of late have shocked some and convulsed others. In a recent picture the udder, besides flying violently to left and right or stretching far out behind when the cow was in motion, heaved with its panting with the cow stood still.”

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