Morbid Monday: Chung Ling Soo & the Bullet Trick That Went Horribly Wrong - Atlas Obscura
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Morbid Monday: Chung Ling Soo & the Bullet Trick That Went Horribly Wrong

Bullet Catch Trick

On the evening of March 23, 1918, the famous Chinese illusionist Chung Ling Soo shocked his audience when he suddenly called out in perfect English “Oh my God. Something’s happened. Lower the curtain.” Chung Ling Soo also known as William Ellsworth Robinson died the following day from the bullet wound he received on stage during a trick gone horribly wrong.

The trick in question, named “Condemned to Death by the Boxers*” was notoriously dangerous. In it, two assistants fired a gun at the magician point blank, which he then appeared to pluck right out of the air, sometimes with his teeth. What could possibly go wrong?

Lots of things, obviously.

The trick itself dates back all the way to the early 1600s, and has a history of performers being shot if not actually killed during the trick. The illusion relies on a combination of a trick gun designed to fire only blanks and a slight of hand “catch” by the magician.

On the fateful night, it was Robinson’s own fault. He had failed to properly clean and maintain the trick gun, resulting in a deadly accidental firing of an actual bullet, which hit him in the chest. The request to lower the curtain was the first time he had spoken on stage. He had so carefully maintained his act as the mysterious Chung Ling Soo that few, if anyone, in the audience knew that he was in fact an American vaudeville performer. He had modeled himself on a real Chinese magician called Ching Ling Foo, and in this form he found the success found the success that had eluded him as “Robinson, the Man of Mystery”, however short lived it turned out to be.

*The Boxers in question were his assistants, dressed as members of the “Righteous Fists of Harmony”, the Chinese opposition to the British in the Boxer Rebellion

Further Reading:

The Bullet Catch Illusion

The Death of Chung Ling Soo, from the book “The Glorious Deception”

Swiped the name & act from this guy

More bad ideas

Thrilling flaming barrel rides - OR - a 55 gallon methanol bomb? Same-same. 

“Light brown, about the size of a pencil eraser, and crumbling” The museum display that launched a smallpox scare 

“Families watch as human cannonball plunges to his death when safety net fails” 

Remember: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”

The Murphy behind Murphy’s law: Edward Aloysius Jr. American aerospace engineer
 

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Previously:

Morbid Monday: Welsh Edition

Morbid Monday: Clemente Susini and his Anatomical Venus

Morbid Monday: Egypt Edition

Morbid Monday: Mad Monks & Bullet-Proof Corsets

Morbid Monday: The Unhappy Prince and the Dead Baroness

Morbid Monday: Deadly Beauty

Morbid Monday: Space Dogs, Traveling Cats, and a Sad Story About Elephant