Was James Harto a Ghost Writer for Erdnase 1902?

The Expert at the Card Table, written in 1902, by a mysterious author, S.W. Erdnase, more than likely a pseudonym for Milton Franklin Andrews or someone else. Was James Harto the ghostwriter? Erdnase was about cheating at the poker table but included a section of magic and card tricks to avoid the Comstock laws. In the magic section there are many inclusions about mentalism or “Methods for Determining a Card Thought of” and then further on, “A Mind-Reading Trick”, and further on, he writes, ”
Or he may assume the power of mind-reading”, which is about a pre-arranged deck.

There is really a lot of information on mind reading etc., in this book of gambling sleights and legerdemain. If the collaborator, and if there was a collaborator, he or she must have had a good deal of knowledge about this subject.
Why would the main writer, who appears to be a hard core gambler-player, “because he needs the money”, dabble or include mind reading in this book about cheating at cards? Erdnase was a player and pretty unlikely to have performed mental magic. But he may have. So the collaborator of EACT may have had a good deal of knowledge about mind reading.

Harto (Harte) could have been the collaborator as reported by many sources. He was a mentalist. Here is the listing in Magicpedia:

James S. Harto was a professional magician that performed a mind-reading act as “Chandra, The Mystic”.
His first performance as at the Bristol Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1886.

Interesting because Worcester was not so far away from the home of MFA.

The above are just notes and ideas that may have some interest to some of you. No dogma or proven points. Any thoughts?

Oct 10, 2010

In a post on the Genii Forum, Richard Hatch mentions Harto but does not elaborate on Harto’s road act and the fact that Harto lived very close to Milton Franklin Andrews. Read his post from Aug.,2008:

“Clearly Harto told several people of an association he claimed to have with Erdnase. Only Pratt claimed that Harto had contributed the Legerdemain section of the book, and Pratt’s testimony is questionable as noted in earlier postings. Charles Maly, one of the Harto associates who confirmed for Gardner that Harto spoke of an association with Erdnase, claimed to have seen a notebook of material that Harto was working on as a proposed sequel to Erdnase. If this notebook survived the destruction of many Harto documents by Audley Dunham, it has not yet surfaced, nor have any Erdnase references in Harto documents that have survived. But I take his claimed association with Erdnase as a serious possibility, and one that may lead to further information on the identity question.

I do not think that Harto had much, if anything, to do with the writing of THE EXPERT. If one assumes (as I do, though I recognize it is an assumption and not a proven fact) that the book was assembled shortly prior to publication, Harto’s schedule makes his collaboration with the author unlikely. Harto was touring with the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show as a ventriloquist and magician in the sideshow during several seasons prior to the book’s publication. They would set up in a new city nearly every day, arriving by train, parading through town, setting up the show, doing the shows, striking the show, loading on the train, and traveling overnight to the next stop on the tour. I traveled to Pawnee, Oklahoma to check the tour route books in the Pawnee Bill Museum for those seasons and the schedule does not much leave much free time to work on a book, unless the primary author was also working the same tour. There was a magician name Andrews from Philadelphia (Pratt’s later home) who did later join the Buffalo Bill Wild West show for their tour of Europe, and Harto was also at one time associated with the Buffalo Bill show, but this would have been after the book’s publication and I have been unable to develop much information on this particular “person of interest.” Another possibility I considered was Charles Andress (whose name reverses to S. S. Erdnase if you drop the rest of the first name reversal), a traveling magician with strong circus and Chicago connections, but I think him an extremely long shot for any number of reasons. I did track down Andress’ son and spoke with him by phone a few years back (his father sired him when he was 80 or so!), but he knew nothing about the book and I haven’t followed up on that line of inquiry.
Although Harto did get billing as a card magician early in his career (as a teenager) and was respected by his peers for his general knowledge of magic, mentalism and escapes, he does not seem to have been noted for originality in his card work. And the reference to the originality of his patter that is quoted in TMWWE is, in the original context, actually a reference to the originality of his ventriloqual dialogues, which I don’t think can be extrapolated to assign him credit for the patter in Erdnase’s LEGERDEMAIN section.”             Graphics courtesy Mike Caveney