‘Brush the Mystic’ – the Illusionist

At the turn of the 20th century, one of the main sources of entertainment was the traveling live show performers who did musicals, dance and songs for the paying public. One very popular organization, known as The Chautauqua, brought not only entertainment but cultural events to rural America. A similar 19th century group was the Lyceum circuit. One of the earliest and most popular and long-running performers on both the Chautauqua and Lyceum circuits was Edwin Homer Brush, Sr., who was billed as “Brush the Mystic” or “Brush the Great.”

Edwin was a native of Illinois and born on March 21, 1873. He did not start off as an entertainer, but rather in 1893 was a dealer in all kinds of flour and feed. From there he became a clothing sales manager for Ed E. Strauss & Co. in Chicago. To get and hold the attention of potential clients he started doing simple magic tricks. He was so successful in sales over the years he eventually developed a show that he would perform in local theaters in the evening. He worked at his magic tricks and illusions making them grander and more impressive. With such success he was invited to be a part of the Lyceum circuit in 1902 and then the Chautauqua traveling shows, in fact the first magician to be a part of such organizations.

He had married in 1893 to Maud Doubler, established a home in Illinois, and they had four children. As his success with the Lyceum shows increased in the early 20th century he spent less time at home.

His first Chautauqua performance was in Iowa during July 1904. He impressed the audience in his dashing appearance of a black evening suit and white tie. Not just magic tricks but a full range of ventriloquism, weird comedy and tricks he stated were only found in the mystic Orient. Edwin developed his own special style of advertising to help draw in the customers. His posters had special illustrations of objects flying out of baskets, images associated with Egypt and the Middle East along with the dark underworld. He billed himself as “Brush the Mystic,” “Brush, the King of Wizards” and “Brush the Great.”

To make himself even more unforgettable he grew his dark moustache upside down. He had trained his moustache hair to grow straight up and end in pointed peaks across his cheeks. This offered an unusual and unforgettable appearance.

Presenting himself at all times as a gentleman, his performances became more elaborate. Besides offering magic tricks from the exotic parts of the world he also had many tricks using live animals, something not done by other magicians. Just the amount of luggage and trunks for his sophisticated stage settings was tremendous. Yet, he always had everything ready to travel to the next location.

For Edwin Brush, magic and performing to please his audience became his whole life for years. His act was always in demand and in his time was just as famous as the well-known Houdini. When Edwin wasn’t actually performing magic he offered lectures about magic.

“Brush the Great” was known as one of the greatest entertainers and especially loved the delight he brought to children. All the shows generally cost between a quarter and 50 cents, affordable for most families.

His marriage to Maud had deteriorated with him away from home that they eventually divorced in the late 1920s. A fellow performer, Ada Porter, who was a singer, understood the joy, the thrill of traveling and performing and they married by 1930. A son was born to them in May 1932, named Edwin Homer Brush, Jr. and later a daughter.

Eventually, Brush Sr. did less traveling and settled in Stockton, Calif. There, he owned and operated a magic shop and still did occasional performances during the 1940s entertaining the soldiers. This always included his signature upside moustache.

On March 14, 1967, in a San Francisco hospital, Edwin H. Brush passed away a few days short of his 94th birthday. During his career it was said; “He keeps his audience in wonderland and in an uproar of laughter.” In his many promotional advertisements they stated: “He believes heartily in the mission of mirth and holds that a laugh is no less sacred than a tear.”


Edwin H. Brush – Illusion

Chautauqua – Brush


Burial of Brush


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