Instead, we would have been entertained by any number of live shows — musicals, dramatic plays, comedy shows, etc. One of the most attention-getting shows for a few years either side of 1900 was THE WONDERFUL BOONE-YAKI COMPANY, as it was advertised.
The star of the show was a “Professor Boone the Great,” who claimed to be able to hypnotize thousands, heal the sick and restore the dead to life, and to possess the highest powers of extra-sensory perception. He shows up in Norfolk, Va. in 1897; Hillsboro, Ohio in 1899; in Defiance, Ohio, 1900; and Johnson City, Tenn. in 1901. No doubt he was on regular tour much of the time, and in 1904, we find him scheduled to perform at the Gilger Theatre on West Monroe Street in Norwalk.
In every town, he would promise (and then do it) to hypnotize a local young woman in a store window, have her sleep there for a day and then would awaken her the next evening during his theater performance. On the day of his show, he would drive a horse and buggy while blindfolded through the streets of whatever town he was in and would not hit any other person or vehicle. Further, he had prominent citizens hide articles, and he’d then find them unerringly while blindfolded. Letters would be written and placed in a certain delivery box at the post office, and Professor Boone would lead a delegation to the box and retrieve the letters.
His performances were enhanced by his son Douglas, who was billed as the youngest mind reader in the world. Ads for the show promised “three hours of science, mystery and fun,” the public being assured that they would “laugh, roar and scream.” An added attraction was $5,000 worth of oriental costuming and stage settings brought from India.
Professor Boone’s first appearance in Norwalk didn’t draw a packed house, but he did return the following month and performed this trick in advance of his evening show. He had a local citizen hide two items — a candle from a drug store and a padlock from a hardware store. Both were placed in one of the Norwalk banks, and Professor Boone went there blindfolded, retrieved the articles and returned them to their proper place in each store.
I was unable to learn anything more about Professor Boone and whether or not that was even his real name. About the same time there was a clergyman named Elijah Boone living in Fort Worth, Texas, with a son named Douglas. This Douglas would have been about 17 in 1904. Perhaps these are the people I seek, but I cannot imagine that a clergyman would leave his church work to perform the “Mystifying Marvels” I’ve described. We’ll see what we find out later.
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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at New Directions Design, 20 W. Main St., in downtown Norwalk. These contain my earlier columns fully indexed and in permanent book form.
Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.