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Magicians Honor 100th Year of 'Most Famous Illusion' Ever

Join in the centennial celebration of sawing people in half
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 15, 2021 9:20 AM CST

(Newser) – Just a few days after Siegfried Fischbacher did his final disappearing act, the world of magic celebrates a happier occasion. Per Reuters, it was 100 years ago on Sunday when magician PT Selbit (real name Percy Thomas Tibbles) sliced through a wooden box and sawed a woman in half on a London stage, a trick that "took off and became the most influential and the most famous illusion ... there's ever been," magician and historian Mike Caveney tells Reuters. When Selbit first performed the trick, it looked a little different: The woman's head and feet didn't protrude from the box, which he laboriously sawed his way through. "It would have been quite a lengthy process," one magician tells the Guardian. "I suspect attention spans would be slightly different today."

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Magicians have been performing the illusion to great applause for decades since, with modifications like pulling the box's resulting two halves apart. Not that everyone has escaped unscathed: David Copperfield reveals he's had his own close calls in his version, in which he is the one sliced in half by a saw. "I got cut a few times by the blade because the blade was a little bit off," he says. "Stages are different [in] every theater." Magic Circle, a UK group dedicated to the art of magic, is planning a livestreamed online celebration on Sunday to honor the milestone, including an appearance by Debbie McGee, the stage partner and wife of late magician Paul Daniels. "Debbie has been sliced, diced, cremated, crushed, divided, and decapitated more than most, so has a great story to tell," Magic Circle president Noel Britten tells the Guardian. (Check Magic Circle's Facebook page for updates on its event.)

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