Architecture & Magic
By 1870 our church building was seen by the Congregation as too small for all their needs.
A movement began to enlarge the present 1844 church structure with a transept or wing addition.
This was finally realized in 1898, under Rev. Dr. Demarest, with construction of the Sunday School Annex.
Our Congregation employed an architect, Oscar Schutte Teale, who had designed a Sunday School in Elizabeth N.J. praised by their Pastor, "What a splendid room! So ample, so airy, so cheerful, so well arranged for its manifold purposes!" Teale had worked from the flexible plan developed in Akron, Ohio in 1870 by architect George Kramer from a plan by Lewis Miller, a Sunday School superintendent. It could change from open large public assembly to a score or more of small ones in a moment and without confusion. Church tradition holds that the three-quarter-round theater was modeled on the Globe. It is scaled for human comfort and ease in hearing unamplified voices.
Oscar Schutte Teale
But closer examination reveals yet another layer of meaning. If all those wood and stained-glass panels that fold, or disappear into the walls above, remind you of a magic box it might be because Teale, an architect by trade, was heavily involved in magic.
He was the fourth President of the Society of American Magicians and is in their Hall of Fame.
Harry Houdini prepares to jump into New York's East River in handcuffs.
Oscar Teale is the figure on the bottom, in the center,
just under Houdini
in the straw hat.
He worked as a private secretary for magician Harry Houdini and as an editor, illustrator and ghost writer.
When Houdini's book A Magician Among the Spirits (1924) was published, Teale stated that he had written "the damnable work." It was about Houdini's campaign against faking spiritualists. Spiritualism, communication with the dead, arose as a response to the Civil War's death and destruction. By 1870 it had become a huge cultural current. Evidence suggests that even our Congregant, the tough, shrewd, unbelieving Cornelius Vanderbilt may have attended seances as early as 1864.
Houdini's training in magic allowed him to expose frauds who had successfully fooled many scientists and academics.
He was a member of a
Scientific American committee that offered a cash prize to any medium who could successfully demonstrate supernatural abilities. None was able to
do so, and the prize was never collected.
Houdini demonstrates how a photographer could produce fraudulent "spirit photographs" that appear to be social interaction with the dead.
Teale designed Houdini's tomb. It
was installed at Machpelah Cemetery
in Queens, NY, in October 1916.