.:200/365: The Indian Rope Trick:.

And now, we hit 200 days of this Project 365. It’s almost done! Unbelievable!

This video, taken from Penn and Teller’s Magic and Mystery Tour mini-series, shows a modern performance of a legendary bit of stage, or arguably street magic that has been, at least prior to modern attempts at duplicating the apocryphal descriptions of the routine, a hoax, to begin with.

Historically, the story goes that the Indian Rope Trick consists of a performer who makes a rope go up high into the sky as though it were a pole, while the rope merely comes from a basket in the ground. This rope is upright enough for a young boy to climb up this rope, then disappear from view because of sheer height. From this point on, the performer becomes enraged that the boy doesn’t come down, goes up the rope with a sword, then proceeds to chop the boy into pieces, letting the pieces fall to the ground, and the bloodied performer puts the pieces back into the basket, and from there, miraculously restores the wayward boy, completely unharmed.

Now, the description alone boggles the mind, and bereft of the stage setting in India, it seems utterly inconceivable how this particular illusion is performed – except in time, people discovered that it wasn’t performed, or at least, not at the time, and even in subsequent attempts to duplicate the illusion as described, certainly not in the same manner above.

People never really discovered that the original account of the Indian Rope Trick as depicted by one John Elbert Wilkie in the Chicago Tribune in 1890 was, in reality, a figment of the writer’s imagination. That this routine was described so fantastically certainly elicited a lot of publicity for the paper, but when it turned out that the Indian Rope Trick as described was nothing but pure fabrication, the retraction that followed was not paid much attention to.

Sometimes, it’s good to know that mere ideas for a magic effect become not merely urban legends, but inspirations for industrious magicians to bring the idea into the real world. The Indian Rope Trick holds the reputation of being the world’s best magic trick, even though it didn’t exist at the height of the interest that surrounded the trick in question.