Harry Houdini, David Copperfield, Doug Henning . . . Albert Walker? The first three names are well-known magicians. But who is Albert Walker?
Albert was born in Glastonbury, Connecticut, in 1836 to Nathaniel and Polly Walker. He was a many-faceted person: he made cigars, worked in a factory in the Curtisville section of Glastonbury that made spoons and forks, helped his father with farm work like cradling oats and gathering hay, painted and repaired wagons, buggies and sleighs, and repaired and cleaned clocks. For entertainment he fiddled at or attended local dances, saw ventriloquists and magicians who came to Hartford, and went to horse races.
Albert Walker would never have been remembered outside of his family if it weren’t for his fascination with magic and ventriloquism. For generations, his family kept his magic trunk and props, his Punch and Judy puppets, his diaries, and other memorabilia from his life, which came to light in 2007, more than 100 years after his death.
In the 1850s, as a young man, Walker performed throughout the Hartford area. Fliers for his performances advertised “Nose Amputation” and feats of “legerdemain”. He made most of his equipment, including the trunk, some of the props, and the puppets. Among his props are linking rings, card tricks, cup and ball tricks, magician’s wands, and a magic funnel. All are tools of the trade that modern magicians can easily recognize and probably use in their own performances today.
Humanity has always had a fascination with the unknown, with magic spells and wizards (think Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, etc.) and historically humans have explained unusual phenomena as magic. Albert Walker shared this fascination, and left the evidence of his brief career as a magician for us to discover decades later. Items from Walker’s magic trunk are on view at the Connecticut Historical Society in the ongoing exhibition, Making Connecticut. The exhibition is open Tuesday through Friday 12-5 and Saturday 9-5. Also on view through September 13 is Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen.