I was asked a most curious question, one that I even put to my husband because of his knowledge of stage magic. The question was this:
“Dear Ms. Q,
I have heard of a powerful hoodoo worker called Black Herman, I’ve only heard his name but I don’t know who he is, and I’ve seen for sale ‘Black Herman oil’. Who is Black Herman and what does his oil do?”
When I read that name a light-bulb went off in my head, but I have to admit the light was sort of dim, so I turned to my Hubby who not only is a retired DOD Officer but is also a retired magician, so I asked my Hubby if he knew of a magician by that name and once I asked him he was off and running on what he knew.
And since here in the United States it’s Black History Month this maybe a good time to post about this interesting man.
Black Herman was the stage name of Benjamin Rucker who was a very prominent African-American magician of his time which was from about 1910 to when he died in 1934. He was first and foremost a brilliant stage magician and was often referred to as the Black Houdini but as he got older he included in his act bits of reference to Hoodoo or Conjure especially in a pamphlet that he had published and sold at the theaters where he was performing at. So he, in a way crossed both lines of stage magic as well as spiritual magic.
To make sure of my facts on this gentleman I had to research a number of sites which I’m going to first list here to give those authors and web sites credit, Wikipedia, Denise M. Alvarado at ConjureDoctors.com, MagicTricks.com., MagicExhibit.Org, CabinetMagazine.Org, MagicPedia sponsored by Genii Magazine, California Science Center (2000), iUniverse news article Oct 06, 2009 referring to fictional book “Black Jack” by George Patton, and Erica Taylor on The Tom Joyner Morning Show, If anyone is interested in looking at these sites for more in-depth information, please do so.
He was born as Benjamin Rucker in Amherst, Virginia on June 6, 1889, Rucker got his start in magic working for a magician named Prince Herman who was a stage illusionist, Rucker first worked for Prince Herman then later became his partner in the magic/medicine show act.
The two ran a medicine show, performing magic tricks to attract customers for their "Secret African Remedy", a tonic that was mostly alcohol with some common spices added for good measure. When Prince Herman died in 1909, Rucker, then only 17 years old, continued to travel with the show, focusing on the magic and dropping the medicine show side of it.
Creating his own stage persona, Rucker took the name "Black Herman", partially in honor of Prince Herman, and partly as an homage to Alonzo Moore, the famous African-American magician who was known as the "Black Herrmann". (two r’s and two n’s)
Eventually, Herman made Harlem, New York City his home base. Jim Crow policies were in effect at that time, so in the Northern states he could perform before racially mixed audiences, but when he traveled through the South, often with his own tent show, segregation laws kept his audiences primarily Black.
His specialties included the Asrah levitation, the production of rabbits, release from knots tied by audience members, and a "buried alive" act which began with his interment in an outdoor area called "Black Herman's Private Graveyard" and continued three days later with his exhumation, revival and a walk to the stage venue, where he performed the rest of his show.
Black Herman was an ethnic nationalist, a contemporary of activists Marcus Garvey and Booker T. Washington. Increasingly throughout his career, his shows promoted the message of Black pride.
The truly unique aspect of Black Herman's act was that he played to his African heritage, shared by most of his audience. His tricks were "secrets taught by Zulu witch doctors". He did imitations of bird sounds heard in the rural South and in Africa. A number of magic tricks were compared to miracles from the Bible. He even narrated his rope escape routine by explaining that he used the methods that Africans used to escape the slave traders.
Black Herman also capitalized on his audience's superstitions. At times, he would use his brother, Andrew Rucker, and his assistant, Washington Reeves, as confederates in the audience. Either man would suddenly jump up, seemingly possessed by demons. Black Herman would cast out the demon (usually represented by a small snake or lizard which was released into the crowd to cause great commotion), then give the man some special tonic (which was, of course, for sale after the show), and also offer a private psychic reading to the man to further uncover the man's "problems". Reading were also available to any audience member who wanted to pay for one.
Black Herman included mentalism in his act even making a prediction, prior to the Black Friday Wall Street Crash of 1929, his prediction labeled him as a visionary, the illusionist was remembered for warning people not to invest in stocks and bonds shortly before the Great Depression. Herman advised people in the audience to stop buying stocks and to stop investing because he could see an economic crash was coming, when it did happen some months later, people said that Herman could truly see into the future. The Wall Street Crash did not affect Herman financially, as a matter of fact many people had need of a person who could see into the future, and his prediction garnered even more fame for the magician.
Herman was the ostensible author of "Secrets of Magic, Mystery, and Legerdemain," a book published in 1925 that contains his semi-fictionalized autobiography, directions for simple illusions suitable to the novice stage magician, advice on astrology and lucky numbers, and a sampling of African-American hoodoo folk magic customs and practices. The book was sold at his performances, although it has been determined that he was not the author that it was “ghost written” by Henry Young, this is the same author under the name of Henri Gamache who wrote the book “the Secrets of Candle Magic”.
Black Herman [Benjamin Rucker]. Secrets of Magic, Mystery, and Legerdemain was published in 1925. Then republished in 1938 first by Empire Publishing, then by Dorene Publishing. Copies can still be found if one looks.
Black Herman’s “Buried Alive” illusion was a key part of his act and it was so believable to many people, that when he died of a heart attack no one believed he really was dead
Now there are two versions as to how Herman died, the most famous and dramatic is that he collapsed on stage in Louisville, Kentucky, in April 15, 1934, he collapsed on stage and died, presumably the result of a heart attack.
But according to an obituary He did not collapse on stage as the legends tell but rather in a home on West Walnut Street. The cause of death was recorded as cardiac failure resulting from a viral inflammation of the heart (chronic myocarditis). Due to the fame of his "buried alive" act, many people in the audience refused to believe he was really dead, and thus it came about that his assistant, Washington Reeves, charged admission to view Rucker's corpse in the funeral home, bringing a dramatic close to a life spent in showmanship. He was buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in New York City.
In 2009 the book “Black Jack” was published by iUniverse, author George Patton tells the story of the great illusionist, mentalist and Harlem Renaissance figure Benjamin "Black Herman" Rucker. The author, George Patton Jr. is the great nephew of Eva and Benjamin Rucker (Black Herman). Born and raised in Manhattan, Mr. Patton graduated from Fairleigh Dickerson University in New Jersey. His fictionalized but very accurate account of the Life of his famous uncle makes for very interesting reading and revived the interest about this famous black magician.
Now I have seen Black Herman oil as offered by Indio Products, I am not sure when Indio started to produce it, according to the website this oil is specially blended to aid your intentions and generate positive energy around you. It is sometimes referred to as Black Herman Protection Guard Oil and also as Black Herman Psychic Oil to help aid in seeing visions psychically.
I’ve also seen at the Magic Wicca web site (magicwicca.com) a 7 Sisters of New Orleans 7 DAY GLASS DRESSED CANDLE TRIPLE STRENGTH BLACK HERMAN BEND OVER – ORANGE candle, according to the web site it Makes others do your bidding and put them under your control. Now this is the direct quote on the web site as to what this candle is allegedly suppose to do “The master wizard my heavenly father has given me this gift to help you, Triple Strength Black Herman Bend Over Candle. For me to work this miracle for you, you must honor me by burning this magnificent candle that bears my name. Now with the power that our heavenly father has given me I shall magnetize you so that the minds of every man or woman of your choosing shall bend over to your way of thinking. Your ideas shall be their ideas, your will shall be the dominant will between you and them. You shall be the master and they will find you irresistible. Anoint Candle daily with three drops of 7 Sisters Bend Over Oil.”
Sounds pretty powerful doesn’t it?
Doc Conjure on his “My Secret Hoodoo” website says “Due to Black Herman's interests in Hoodoo/Conjure, various spiritual products have received his name, such as the oil pictured HERE.(referring to an image of Indio's Black Herman Oil) I'm assuming such products would be used by Hoodoo practitioners when working with the spirit of Black Herman or when they wish to tap into his powers of mentalism, illusion, and for his knack of "escaping death".
I would also have to say revived interest I think thanks to the book “Black Jack”
At the southern heart of segregation, he became an advocate for civil rights and a freedom fighter, holding roundtable meetings at his home in Harlem and planning ways to fight the oppression of African-Americans.
Benjamin “Black Herman” Rucker was at the top of his game when he died in April 1934. The audience, who was used to his graveyard act, didn’t believe he was truly dead. He died at the relatively young age of 45, who knows what he could have done for African-Americans if he lived longer.
Magician, illusionist, mentalist, visionary, fighting for racial equality and crossing over into the spiritual aspect of conjure. He will be remembered in the annals of magic, racial equality and conjure.