The famous stage illusion sawing a lady in half, has now celebrated 100 years since its first public performance. The first performance was by P.T. Selbit at the Finsbury Park Empire Theatre in London on January 17, 1921. The original illusion was a little different from what we are used to seeing today. The assistant was placed into a crate like box, and a saw was passed through her. However, after the sawing through, the two sides were not opened up. The effect was essentially a penetration of a saw through a person rather than an illusion of sawing the person in half. Horace Goldin in the USA heard about Selbit’s effect and had not seen it. He invented a version where after the saw had penetrated the assistant, the boxes could be opened to show the person had been clearly cut into two halves. Marketing ploys were used to create additional interest in the danger of the illusion including parking an ambulance with medical staff outside the theatre in case anything went wrong during the performance.
Through the decades the illusion has evolved, but has never gone out of fashion. For example, Richiardi Jr performed a very gory version of the effect. David Copperfield’s Death Saw illusion takes the illusion further where the magician himself is in full view and is cut in half and then restores himself. I am certain the illusion will continue to evolve and will still be performed regularly in another 100 years.