Do you still want to know the secret of Doug Henning Vanishing Elephant illusion; how he did it back in 1978 and 1981?
I know many people like to know how do magicians make an elephant disappear.
How does the disappearing elephant trick work?
Remember this elephant disappearing trick revealed is just my opinion based on viewing the two video clips in YouTube.
The first elephant vanish magic trick was an opening act in this “Doug Henning’s World Of Magic II” on NBC TV special back in 1976.
RELATED: In “Dough Henning’s World Of Magic III“, the Canadian illusionist performed “Walking Through Brick Wall” trick.
The host of the show was the late actor Michael Landon who is known for his roles in the TV shows “Bonanza” and “Little House on the Prairie“.
This Doug Henning’s show also included a segment with special guest magician Ricky Jay.
RELATED: Watch the free 2021 documentary film about the late Ricky Jay, titled: “Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries And Mentors Of Ricky Jay“.
The second staging of Doug Henning elephant vanishing illusion was in this 1981 Broadway show, “The Magic Show“.
It opened on May 28, 1974 at the Cort Theatre (now known as James Earl Jones Theatre) in Manhattan, and ran for 1,920 performances, closing on December 31, 1978.
For those who still do not know, the Vanishing Elephant Illusion is a stage effect of making a live elephant to disappear.
Harry Houdini is said to be the first magician to perform the elephant disappearing trick back in 1918.
By the way, before Doug Henning did it, many renowned magicians of the past had already performed the elephant vanish magic trick.
They include Carter The Great (1927), The Great Nicola (1931), The Great Carmo (1933?), and John Calvert (1952).
You can find more about this disappearing elephant trick and other related stories, including free books below.
Right now, let’s deal with the elephant in the room first; how did Doug Henning make the elephant disappear?
Doug Henning Vanishing Elephant Illusion Revealed
How did the late Canadian Doug Henning make the 4-ton elephant disappear within an enclosure for both occasions?
My speculation how his elephant disappearing trick was done, is triggered by these two instances. as seen from the video clips.
- Letting his right hand off the trapeze bar momentarily.
- Suddenly he is able to stand steadily on top of the elephant
I noticed when Doug Henning is standing on top of the elephant, before the front panel is lifted up, he never for a second let go any of his hands from the trapeze bar.
Simply because it is wobbly standing on top of a large live elephant.
Then strangely, he can briefly release his right hand from the trapeze bar, and stands firmly, just before the disappearing elephant act?
Probably these two questions are the answer to the secret of Doug Henning Vanishing Elephant trick.
- Why does he need to let go of his right hand from the trapeze bar?
- How come suddenly he can stand firmly on top of the elephant now?
The answer to the first question is:
Doug Henning wants the audience to believe he is still standing on top of the elephant.
In other words, he wants to give the perception the elephant is still with him inside the enclosure.
The truth is, the elephant has already left through the back part of the enclosure.
The answer to the second question is:
He is now temporary supported by a small concealed stand or footrest, that is attached to the back of the front panel piece.
Then as he swings away from the footrest, he cues his stage hands to lower the front panel.
Let’s explore the two performances in more detail how Doug Henning Vanishing Elephant illusion is done behind the enclosed panels.
Dough Henning’s World Of Magic III 1976
After the front panel is fully lifted up, at 3:02, you can see Doug Henning swaying slightly.
It is because the elephant is being led away through the back panel, and Doug Henning is now hanging onto the trapeze bar.
Then you can see Henning together with the trapeze bar moving toward the front panel at 3:04.
Next, he says,”now ladies and gentlemen, something you will never forget…“.
By then, he can let go off his right hand from the trapeze bar, because he is standing on top of a small platform or footrest.
I think this rectangular footrest or stand is hinged from the back wall of the front panel.
Supporting Stand Behind Front Panel
Look carefully at the black interior wall of the front panel piece.
There is a hidden piece specially built onto the back wall of the front panel.
Here is a clearer view of the secret footrest camouflaged with the matte black surface between the two white lines.
This is another image captured from the video after the disappearing elephant act.
From the front view the hidden footrest where Doug Henning stands briefly on, is indicated in the picture below.
I guess one side of this small piece of platform is hinged onto the back wall of the front panel.
I do not know precisely how this drop-down footrest works.
One possible method is when the front panel is lifted up, the opposite side of this hidden piece would automatically drop down.
At 3:10, Doug Henning swings backward, away from the footrest on the front panel.
As the front panel piece falls slowly back onto the floor, the pivoted platform would mechanically drop back in place.
The other possibility is the secret drop-down footrest/platform is controlled by one of his assistants holding the front panel piece.
Back Black Panel Opening
Earlier I said the elephant has left the enclosure through the back panel.
Just like the front panel, all the interior walls of the surrounding panels, are also in matte black color, together with white lines.
It is not meant to be a design feature, but as a camouflage.
Watch the full key sequence as I have just highlighted above.
Black Art Magic Trick Illusion
In magic tricks, this is known as the Black Art.
It is a principle where anything in black cannot be seen when placed against a black background.
It is a black-on-black method of disguise.
RELATED: Find out more about the Black Art principle from these two free books.
One of the white lines on the back panel, is actually an opening.
It is through here, where the trainer leads the elephant out to the back of the stage.
For this blurred video clip, I could not clearly detect which white line is the secret doorway.
But as seen from the back view of this back panel, I supposed that is a hinge of the secret opening, as indicated in the picture below.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the next Doug Henning Vanishing Elephant act for the Broadway show.
Broadway: The Magic Show 1981
At 1:15, you can see the female assistant on the left waving her left hand at the elephant or the elephant handler.
Look carefully and you can see the elephant starts turning its head inward preparing to leave the enclosure.
At 1:20 Doug Henning swaying shakily, because the elephant has just left, heading toward the back panel.
Another clue which indicates the elephant is leaving the enclosure, is the swinging movement of the white rope held by the man in the black suit at 1:20.
A stage hand must have sneaked in, to release the rope from the knotted rope around the elephant leg, and then places a puppy under a piece of cloth.
Doug Henning is now merely hanging on the trapeze bar.
Then at 1:23 he begins swaying toward the front panel where the footrest is.
From the video clip at 1:25 can see this front panel piece wavering, is because Doug Henning’s feet step onto the footrest.
By 1:26, he has already safely resting his feet on the footrest or platform, so he can release his right hand from the trapeze bar.
At 1:29, he steps off from the footrest, cues the stage hands to open the enclosure.
This is a close-up view of the concealed footrest or stand on the back of the front panel.
Here is another scene of the secret platform captured from the video clip.
Back Striped Panel Opening
Similar to the 1978 performance, the elephant together with its handler leave the enclosure through the back panel.
I presume the line indicated in the picture below, is the concealed opening doorway, where they exit.
Watch the full key sequence as I have mentioned.
The additional comic relief in this disappearance stage illusion, is looping a white rope onto one of the elephant’s hind legs.
Clearly you can see it is not tied to the elephant’s leg.
This is what I think how the illustrious magician Doug Henning Vanishing Elephant illusion is done for both shows.
Vanishing Elephant Harry Houdini
The vanishing elephant trick, is synonymous with the legendary Harry Houdini.
Houdini is credited to be the first magician to perform the elephant disappearing illusion in 1918.
This is the popular image of Harry Houdini together with the elephant Jeanie used in most articles and stories.
It is taken from the 1920 book “Houdini the Adventurous Life of a Versatile Artist” on page 33.
The authenticity of this picture of Harry Houdini and the elephant Jeanie on stage at the Hippodrome theater is still doubtful.
Harry Houdini Elephant Trick
Then there are lots of posters and book illustrations featuring how Houdini did the vanishing elephant illusion.
We keep reading this or something along the lines:
On January 7th, 1918 Harry Houdini performed his “Vanishing Elephant” illusion at New York’s Hippodrome Theater.
This is news article above “Circus Touch Added To “Cheer Up!” At Hippodrome” is taken from Easton Free Press, 14 January 1918.
Read this next article, “I Knew Houdini“, appeared in The American Weekly on June 20, 1945.
But the greatest mystery is, there is no verified source, which you can see Houdini performing his elephant disappearing illusion on any stage.
Furthermore, there are different versions how Harry Houdini performed the vanishing elephant illusion.
According to magician Milbourne Christopher, Houdini fired a pistol to make the elephant disappear.
There is no existence of photos or posters of the cabinet or any apparatus which Houdini used in his famous disappearing elephant trick.
It is all based on hearsay, reports, claims from fellow magicians, writers and so-called eyewitness accounts.
In fact, before we ask how did Harry Houdini vanish an elephant, we should ask how did Houdini present this disappearing trick and with what kind of prop?
Houdini Elephant Trick Explained
Houdini’s Fabulous Magic By Walter B. Gibson & Morris N. Young
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Magic: A Picture History By Milbourne Christopher
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Houdini: The Untold Story By Milbourne Christopher
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Escape king: The Story Of Harry Houdini By John Ernst
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Houdini: His Legend And His Magic By Doug Henning With Charles Reynolds
Click on this: Link
This is another so-called Harry Houdini elephant trick secret published in the Modern Mechanics And Inventions December 1929 issue.
The article titled “HOUDINI’S Mystifying Magic Stunts EXPOSED“.
It was written by someone called R. D. Adams, who claimed to be the mechanic who made Houdini’s trick magic apparatus.
This news article, “Houdini Has New Elephant Trick” was published in The New York Tribune January 6, 1918 on page 34.
According to this write-up, it stated that a gigantic cylinder shaped container was used for the Harry Houdini elephant trick.
RELATED: You can find out more about Harry Houdini secrets which include: Handcuffs, Iron Box, Coffin, Rope Chair, Mail Bag, Tramp Chair, Glass Case, Paper Bag, Straight Jacket. and more from the book below.
Secrets Of The Great Mysteries Now Revealed For The First Time By Harry Houdini
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Lance Burton Magic Horse Trick
I think Lance Burton Appearing Horse illusion method is quite similar to one of the alleged versions performed by Harry Houdini, as described in Jim Steinmeyer’s book “Hiding The Elephant“.
You can see the illustration of the cabinet with a hidden mirror on page 312.
A decorated cabinet like a circus wagon is positioned sideway facing the audience.
It has a black interior with a circular opening at one end.
The two secrets of Lance Burton’s horse appearing trick are: the Black Art principle and the mirror.
This is how it looks like as the illustration below, taken from “Ask Science and Arts Magazine for Kids and Children“.
Paul Daniels Elephant Vanishing Trick Revealed
Even the late magician Paul Daniels did the Vanishing Elephant act for a TV show which was broadcast on 9th January 1988.
Harry Blackstone Vanishing Horse Illusion Revealed
Paul Daniels’ version is most probably was adapted from Harry Blackstone‘s Vanishing Horse illusion, as shown below.
But his elephant disappearance effect is different.
Paul Daniels’ elephant trick is meant for a TV show and not in front of a live audience.
Forced Perspective Magic Tricks
I believe Paul Daniels used the mirror and the forced perspective technique, which is a forte of illusionist Franz Harary.
Franz Harary used the forced perspective trick in many of his outdoor illusions meant for TV or videos.
Masked Magician Elephant Trick
By the way, the Masked Magician Val Valentino has exposed both versions of appearance and disappearance of an elephant in his “Breaking the Magician’s Code: Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed” TV series.
You can watch how the Masked Magician makes the elephant to appear outdoor surrounded with so-called volunteers in this video.
Below the Masked Magician Val Valentino makes an elephant to vanish with the strips of mirrors hiding inside the bamboo slats.
In fact, this mirror and slatted bars method is an old trick.
It was used by Howard Thurston for his Vanishing Automobile illusion.
Professional Magic For Amateurs By Walter Brown Gibson
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P. C. Sorcar Original Motor Car Vanish Revealed
The legendary Indian magician P. C. Sorcar also used a similar method in his “Original Motor Car Vanish” act back in the Fifties.
It is featured in the magazine “Genii Volume 20, Number 1 – September 1955” and Micky Hades’ compilation book “Geni Illusions“.
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