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Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The amazing Chung Lee Soo

Chung Lee Soo, born 1855 Peking, China, died 1981 Manhattan, New York.

The amazing Chung Lee Soo as he was described by audiences who flocked to see his show that toured the world from the early 1900s to the late 1920s, was in his first years in the U.S more simply known as 'the quiet Chinese fellow' who runs the magic shop.
Chung Lee Soo arrived in New York City sometime in the early 1890s, although there is no record of him having come through Ellis Island or any other immigration control point on the continental U.S. However there is no doubt based on substantial anecdotal evidence that Chung Lee Soo had established an Occult bookstore and curio emporium in Manhattan's Chinatown by 1895. Although the store had a small but devoted clientele, including escape artist and magician Harry Houdini, it struggled for years to remain financially viable and finally shut down in 1905 before being reopened in a different location by another operator in 1941.
Chung Lee Soo though did not remain within the shadows of his closed store for long. That same year he performed his first demonstration of his magical mystery device at Bial's Music Hall. Audiences that had paid only a penny to see that first performance were soon paying $5 or more as Chung Lee Soo with his amazing machine was the talk of New York, London and Paris.
Reportedly some observers in the audience that first evening at Bial's Music Hall suspected Chung Lee Soo's machine was hardly magical and that it was nothing but a cheap trick he performed by secretly working with his friend and collaborator Chester Elliot. 
As Chung Lee Soo began his first tour across the eastern and southern U.S newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst hired reporters to try and uncover the 'trick' behind Chung Lee Soo's magical machine. Not to be outdone by his competitor Joseph Pulitzer sent a reporter from the New York World that would be, he advertised in the World "disappeared and then returned to our earthly plane so that he may write on his experiences for our readers." The event went off without a hitch much to Hearst's chagrin and the New York World's glowing reviews added to Chung Lee's fame as he set off on his European tour.
By the 1930s Chung Lee Soo had retreated into private life and was rarely heard from again until his death in 1981. There are rumours he assisted the U.S and its allies in the fight against Hitler in World War II but those rumours have never been substantiated. 

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