Pioneers of the Paranormal

Pioneers of the Paranormal

from The Conjurer of Three Kings to Harry Houdini and Beyond


People from nearly every walk of life are notable in paranormal history, as you can see from the following list. It’s been organized by the year of birth because that allows you to follow the course the study and knowledge of the paranormal took, and who influenced whom.

Louis Apollinaire Christien Emmanuel Comte (1788-1859) “The Conjurer of the Three Kings” (Louis XVIII, Charles X, and Louis-Philippe)

Jean Robert-Houdin (1805-1871) credited as the “Father of modern magic”, Robert-Houdin is noted as one of the first magicians to attribute his magic to the natural as opposed to the supernatural. Robert-Houdin was also the first magician to use electromagnetic effects in his performance.

Johann Nepomuk Hofzinser (1806-1875) a specialist in card tricks and inventor of several card manipulations, which magicians still use today.

Hamilton (1812-1877) French magician, Pierre Etienne Chocat, was the brother-in-law,
assistant and successor to Jean Robert-Houdin.

John Henry Anderson (1814-1874) born in Scotland, the “Great Wizard of the North” brought magic from the streets into the theaters.

John Nevil Maskelyne (1839-1917) an English stage magician, the patriarch of the Maskelyne Family, father to magician Nevil (1863-1924) and grandfather to Nevil’s son, Jasper (1902-1973). Also a debunker of fraudulent spiritualists.

Alexander Herrmann (1844-1896) “Herrmann the Great”, a member of the famous Herrmann Family, whose appearance with wavy hair, moustache, goatee, and tailcoat became the model for other magicians.

Kate and Margaret Fox (March 31, 1848 recognized as the beginning of the Spiritualist Movement) – Sisters from Hydesville, New York, reported that they had made contact with the spirit of a murdered peddler. The spirit communicated through rapping noises, audible to onlookers. The evidence of the senses appealed to practically minded Americans, and the Fox sisters became a sensation.

Harry Kellar (1849-1942) most remembered for the “Levitation of Princess Karnak”.

Ching Ling Foo (1854-1922) the first modern Oriental magician to achieve world fame.

Julius Zancig (1857-1929) born Julius Jörgensen, with his wife, Agnes, Zancig was a stage magician most noted for a spectacular mentalism act during the late 19th and early 20th centuries wherein they used an elaborate code called the “Zancig Code”.

Carl Hertz (1859-1924) noted for the “Phoenix” where his wife would enter a furnace and emerge unharmed.

Servais Le Roy (1865-1953) famous for the development of the Asrah Levitation.

Thomas Nelson Downs (1867-1938) the “King of Koins” was a master of manipulation.

David Devant (1868-1941) the creator of the “disappearing moth woman” Devant was renowned as a master of grand illusion and platform magic.

Howard Thurston (1869-1936) called himself the “King of Cards” and was billed as “World’s Famous Magician”. Most notable for having the largest traveling Vaudeville magic show in his time, transporting his props in eight train cars.

Charles Hoy Fort (1874 -1932) – American Researcher and paranormal enthusiast, author of “The book of the Damned” in 1919. Fort was the first to publish writings that popularized the investigation of so-called “anomalous phenomena.”

Charles Joseph Carter (1874-1936) “Carter the Great”

Eugene Laurant (1874-1944) born Eugene Lawrence Greenleaf Frank Van Hoven (1886-1929) a burlesque magician who found success by blending comedy with magic. His signature was “The Man Who Made Ice Famous” from the trick where he had an audience member hold a block of ice while he attempted to make a silk scarf appear inside of it.

Harry Houdini (1874-1926) is the name that defines “escape artist”. Born Erich Weiss, Houdini derived his name from that of idolized magician, Jean Robert-Houdin. Houdini is also noted as a ferocious debunker of fraudulent “mystics” .

Tobias “Theo” Leendert Bamberg (1875-1963) performed under “Okito, the Mystic”.

Carl Gustav (CG) Jung (1875 -1961) – Swiss psychiatrist, an influential thinker, and the founder of analytical psychiatry. Also known for collective unconscious theory.

Fred Culpitt (1877-1934) Culpitt is credited with inventing several magic tricks that are still regularly used by modern magicians. In addition to the Doll’s House Illusion, the Costume Trunk Illusion and the Silk to Egg Trick, Culpitt is credited with devising methods for the Torn and restored newspaper trick.

Edgar Cayce (1877-1945, pronounced cay-cee) was an American psychic who claimed to be able to channel information on a range of topics, especially health, reincarnation, and astrology. His teachings are still popular, with Edgar Cayce centers in the Untied States and Canada serving thousands of students worldwide

Will Goldston (1878-1948) a popular magician in his time, most notable as the person who cracked the “Zancig Code” used by the Danish illusionists of that name.

Nicola the Great (1880-1946), born William Mozart Nicol (in Burlington, Iowa, USA), toured the world from 1910 to 1939 and was billed as the “World’s Master Magician”.

P. T. Selbit (1881 – 1938) an English magician credited with being the first person to perform the illusion of sawing a woman in half.

Harry Blackstone, Sr. (1885-1965) known as “The Great Blackstone”, his signature piece, “The Floating Lightbulb”, which was designed by Thomas Edison, was the first donated artifact accepted by the Smithsonian Institute in the field of magic.

Joseph Banks Rhine (1895 – 1980) a botanist who pioneered the study of E.S.P., Rhine founded the institutions necessary for parapsychology’s continuing professionalization in the U.S.. This included the establishment of the Journal of Parapsychology and the formation of the Parapsychological Association, and also the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man (FRNM), a precursor to what is today known as the Rhine Research Center.


SPR (British Society for Psychical Research) Formed in February 1882, it was created to bring standards and quality to psychical research. SPR today: publishes the peer reviewed quarterly Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (JSPR), the irregular Proceedings and the magazine Paranormal Review.

Most remembered for its work in investigating mediums, the society included philosophers, scholars, scientists, authors, educators, politicians and more. Some of the known members include:

  • Arthur Balfour (1848 – 1930) A noted politician, Prime Minister of , and past president of SPR. He also studied parapsychology.William Fletcher Barrett (1844 – 1925) An English physicist, founder and past president of SPR.William Crookes (1832 – 1919) English chemist, physicist and a staunch in Spiritualism. He investigated such mediums as Kate Fox, Florence Cook and Daniel Dunglas Home.

    Edmund Gurney (1847 – 1888) English psychologist and psychical researcher. Practiced experiments in the study of telepathy.

    William James (1842 – 1910) American psychologist and philosopher who trained as a medical doctor. He studied associationism and spiritualism. He was the first president of the American branch of SPR.

    C.G. Jung (1875 – 1961) See above for noted history.

    Rufus Osgood Mason (1830 – 1903) American physician, surgeon, teacher, and early researcher in parapsychology and hypnotherapy. Authored the book Telepathy and the Subliminal Mind (1897).

    Frederick W.H Myers (1843 – 1901) Classical scholar, poet, philosopher, and past president of SPR. He coined the word Telepathy.

    Archie Roy (1924) English professor of astronomy. Past president of SPR and founding president of The Scottish Society for Psychical Research.

    Charles Richet (1850 – 1935) French physiologist, past president of SPR, and coined the terms ectoplasm and metaphysics.

    Edmund Dawson Rodgers (1823 – 1910) English journalist, spiritualist, founder of SPR, and the London Spiritualist Alliance.

    Alistair Sim (1900 -1976) Scottish character actor, interested in hypnotism.

    Henry Sidgwick (1838 – 1900) English philosopher, founder and first president of SPR.

    Peter Underwood (1923) English author, broadcaster, and paranormalist. Investigated Borley Rectory, deemed “the most haunted house in England”.

    Alfred Russel Wallace (1823 – 1913) British naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist and biologist. An enthusiast of phrenology, he also studied mesmerism and hypnosis.

    Y.B. Yeats (1865 – 1939) Irish poet and dramatist, interested in mysticism, spiritualism, occultism, and astrology. He was a member of “The Ghost Club” and influenced by the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg.

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