At previous performances it seemed that Too had miraculously stopped the initialed bullets in midair by catching them on the plate. He would then offer them to the audience for identification. But events took a different course this time.

The Final Curtain: The Performances of a Lifetime

By Mr Ghaz, February 18, 2010

The Final Curtain: The Performances of a Lifetime

On March 23, 1918, the illusionist Chung Ling Soo, “the Marvelous Chinese Conjurer,” appeared in a London theatre to demonstrate the feat that had made him famous: his escape from death at the hands of a firing squad.

A small army of Soo’s assistants, dressed as Boxers (the Chinese nationalists who had rebelled against foreign rule in 1900), marched onto the stage. Wearing magnificent oriental robes, Soo invited two members of the audience to come up and inspect a pair of ancient muzzle-loading rifles.

Meanwhile, Soo’s wife, Suee Seen, went into the auditorium and asked two people to scratch their initials on two lead bullets. She then put the marked bullets in a cup and brought them back to the stage.

After supervising the loading of the buns, the voluntary inspectors shook hands with Soo and returned to their seats. Soo then held a china plate in front of his chest as two of his assistants stepped forward, took the rifles, raised them to their shoulders, and aimed at the magician. At a signal, they opened fire.

Midair Miracle

At previous performances it seemed that Soo had miraculously stopped the initialed bullets in midair by catching them on the plate. He would then offer them to the audience for identification. But events took a different course this time.

When the two deafening shots rang out, the Chinese conjurer crumpled onto the stage floor as blood poured from a bullet wound in his chest. He was rushed to a hospital but died the next day.

Soo’s tragic death gave newspapers sensational headlines. Then rumors began to circulate that he had been murdered, or had even committed suicide, and that the fatal bullets had mysteriously disappeared. The truth, however, was in this case far more mundane.

At the inquest into Soo’s death, Suee Seen explained that her husband always hid the initialed bullets in the palm of one hand; after the guns were fired, he would produce them as if he had caught them. Duplicate bullets were loaded into the guns; a secret mechanism inside prevented them from discharging the bullets. Her husband had never allowed anyone else to inspect the guns; only he knew how the mechanism worked.

Robert Churchill, an expert gunsmith, was called in to investigate, and revealed the secret of Soo’s death-defying act for the first time. The barrel of each rifle had been sealed, making it impossible to ignite the charge that propelled the bullet. Instead, the detonating spark was diverted to the ramrod tube beneath the barrel, where it fired a harmless charge of powder that Soo had secretly placed there.

Fatal Spark

On the fateful night of March 23, however, one of the rifles was so worn that some of the gunpowder in the main barrel came into contact with the percussion cap. As the marksman pulled the trigger, the spark ignited both the blank charge in the ramrod tube and the lethal charge in the barrel. The bullet had then passed through the magician’s body; the police later recovered it from the stage. After assessing the evidence, the coroner returned a verdict of death from misadventure.

Chung Ling Soo was not the first victim of the bullet-catching trick. At least 10 stage illusionists had died performing it in one variation or another, and the entire fraternity of magicians recognized its dangers. The celebrated Harry Houdini once warned Soo; “Be careful with your bullet-catching trick, as your method is certainly daring.” Chung Ling Soon had trusted his luck once too often.

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  • monica55 on Feb 18, 2010

    Interesting read and beautiful pics. Well done. Keep sharing.

  • CHAN LEE PENG on Feb 18, 2010

    I know this person. I read on him somewhere, and this is certainly a great tribute to him.

  • chellsy on Feb 18, 2010

    interesting article

  • Uma Shankari on Feb 18, 2010

    Absolutely fascinating.

  • mikky webs on Feb 18, 2010

    Great share! Thanks for sharing.

  • susan on Feb 18, 2010

    Wonderful story. Thank you.

  • Gone. on Feb 18, 2010

    Great article, MrGhaz!

  • Mark Gordon Brown on Feb 18, 2010

    very cool!

  • Phill Senters on Feb 18, 2010

    Great story Mr G. Sounds like he didn’t get regular updates on his equipment.

  • albert1jemi on Feb 18, 2010

    Great share

  • Inna Tysoe on Feb 18, 2010

    Thanks for that.

  • Razie on Feb 18, 2010

    Great post! fascinating and very interesting stuff. I liked it!

  • LoveDoctor on Feb 19, 2010

    Great post. I really enjoyed it.

  • sambhafusia on Feb 19, 2010

    Great share!! interesting and well expressed…

  • NSMasry on Feb 19, 2010

    Nice one! very interesting article and stunning photographs here. Thanks for sharing. keep it up Mr Ghaz!

  • kycee on Feb 23, 2010

    Very intresting

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