Original Annie Abbott
As reported by magic historian Edwin A. Dawes (who has written several articles on Annie Abbott's performances in England), The Star on November 19, 1851, accepting Mrs. Abbott's name without investigation, noted:
Variety reported on July 31, 1909 that "If this Annie is the original 'Magnet,' she seems to be shy a good many years in appearance. There may be many Annie Abbotts. How many 'Georgia Magnets' there are no one seems to know. The reports say a couple are travelling just about now."
Continuing the theme twelve years later another article in Variety states:
The various Annie Abbotts seem to have ranged from 98 to 120 pounds. Some were married; others were single. Copyists seem to have appropriated freely from one or more predecessors' biographies. In most cases the acts seem virtually identical, although a review of Annie May Abbott's 1907 performance at Tony Pastor's suggests that on this occasion she did not do a magnetism act, but instead performed as a monologuist (without great success). Conversely, the 1921 article cited above reports that "Miss Abbott did not say a word during the act."
Contemporary photographs reveal a number of different looks, shapes and ages. A 1909 photo shows Annie Abbott with shoulder length curls wearing a loose gown with flounces at the hem, neckline and sleeves, reminiscent of a Spanish costume. This costume and face closely resemble the depiction in a poster from the Milbourne Christopher Collection and shown in Christopher's Panorama of Magic. It is almost certainly not Dixie Haygood, who the Harringtons believed stopped performing the year before, in 1908, and of whom there are confirmed photographs. Another Annie Abbott, a Miss rather than Mrs., dressed like a little girl with corkscrew curls and an oversize white bow on her head that matched her white dress (which varied in length from below the knees to her ankle) with puffy sleeves, a pleated skirt and sash.
Confirmed photographs of Dixie Annie Haygood depict a woman in a bric-a-brac Victorian dress and upswept hair, perhaps a bit on the pudgy side. Many of the photographs attributed to Annie May Abbott show similar attire, but instead of the center part in the hair visible in the Haygood photographs, there is a pouf. She also wears distinctive jewelry, including a "diamond" necklace with a center brooch and three moon crescents with inset stars. This necklace is depicted in the Annie Abbott illustrations during her 1891 London debut. If Annie May Abbott is not one and the same with Dixie Annie Haygood, then she is the best contender to Haygood for the claim of originating the Annie Abbott act.
While I have two stunning pictures of this Annie Abbott wearing this jewelry which I had hoped to reprint here from the New York Public Library Lincoln Center Theater Collection, the web rights charges were prohibitive.
Performers and other claimants to the resistance act included:
Lulu Hurst Atkison (1869-1950): The acknowledged originator of the resistance act.
Dixie Annie Jarratt Haygood (1861-1915): The best candidate for the original Annie Abbott, "The Little Georgia Magnet." Believed to have performed from 1885-1910 (age 24-49).
Carrie Arnold: In 1891 she opened a competing exhibition at the Tivoli to Annie Abbott's act at the Alhambra using the exact same tests. According to Dawes, "Carrie was described as a tiny slip of a girl weighing some six stone and much more fragile in appearance than Annie."
Mattie Lee Price (d. 1900): During Annie Abbott's appearances at the Alhambra in London in 1891, The Star referenced Miss Price's performances in San Francisco and hypothesized that Annie Abbott had taken the act from her.
Annie Eva Fay: A spiritualist who travelled under the management of her husband "D.H.P." One of many reported by Miss Hurst in her autobiography.
Charles N. and Martha Steen, 1893: Charles Waller reports that the Steens concluded their performance at the St. George's Hall in Melbourne, Australia on April 15, 1893 with "the Georgia Magnet Specialty." It followed a mentalist act, the Spirit Cabinet and the Dark Seance.
Mrs. F. C. Baylor: Referenced in 1904, she claimed to have ceased performing the act in 1898 when left by her manager who appropriated her act and jewels and subsequently trained Alta Tilly to take her place.
Alta Tilly: Referenced in 1904, she claimed to have originated the act in 1888. She seems to have been from the Atlanta area. She vowed to have all "Annie Abbotts" on the stage enjoined from using her name. Her manager took the name Theodore M. Abbott.
Mrs. Walford Bodie: In books published in 1905 and 1908 her husband credits his wife with originating the act.
Mrs. Annie Abbott: A woman who lived in Philadelphia at 653 Creighton Street.
Johnny Coulon, 1921: The only man reported to have performed the act, he was a former bantam weight boxing champion with a knack "to resist even the strongest men lifting him from his feet." Evidently, he performed mostly abroad, though he gave several demonstrations in New York around 1920. His claim was that the power was due to "slight pressure on the cardiac artery or nerve in the neck."
Resista, c. 1922: Waller notes that the act was revived in about 1922 in London by this performer under the direction of Frederic Melville.
In their attempts to clarify her story, pre-eminent performance historians have added to the mystery of the legend. In Magic: A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theater, David Price reports the original Annie Abbott performing under the management of impresario Felix Blei in India in 1916, a year after Dixie Annie Haygood's death in 1915, and for World War troops in 1918. At the same time he notes imposters in Melbourne, Australia in 1898 and throughout Texas in 1910-11. In Magical Nights at the Theater, Charles Waller reports on the performance of Annie May Abbott at the Bijou Theatre in Melbourne, opening with the admission, "She may have been the original Annie Abbott: I have never been sure of that point." Dr. Dawes notes that in her 1891 performances in London that Mrs. Abbott stated in Tit-Bits that she was the daughter of Bishop Haygood in Milledgeville Georgia and goes on to speculate that this would correspond with the Lulu Hurst rival Dixie Haygood who bears Annie Abbott's maiden name. Of course, the Harringtons have now made the point that Haygood was Jarratt's married name, and thus she was no daughter of the Bishop.
Was the 1891 performer Dixie Annie Haygood or someone else? Have the Harringtons at last solved this enduring mystery?
What is the Magnetism or Resistance Act? See the next page.
Some Annie Abbotts appear to have been less respectable characters than Mrs. Haygood. In 1909 a Mrs. Abbott of 653 North Creighton Street in Philadelphia (a yankee), described as an actress, accused a boarder, Mr. Joseph Feldman, of stealing her jewels. According to the report in a Philadelphia paper, "Out of the limelight of mystery the famed gifts of "kings and emperors" have turned out to be merely "Baubles," aglitter with stage tinsel....Mrs. Abbott, the actress from whom they were stolen, now admits that their value to anyone but herself is small."
Nine months later, it was reported that shortly after she had been acquitted of assault and battery with which she had been charged when a 7-year-old boy she used as a volunteer in a hypnotic demonstration fell ill following the performance, the very same Mrs. Abbott appeared to testify against her husband, Armand de Villiers. Reputedly "a relative of a Spanish nobleman" with his affections "alienated by a Germantown woman," Villiers in fact had stolen her jewelry, as well as money from her aunt, who had "sworn out a warrant for his arrest." He was tracked down and arrested in Paducah, Kentucky.
Another Annie Abbott, named Alta Tilly, and her manager Theodore M. Abbott (a name assumed by former dentist from Atlanta) were arrested at the insistence of Mrs. F. C. Baylor, who declared that "not only was she herself the inventor of the "act," but that the Annie Abbott who is playing at the local theater purloined from her jewels worth $12,000." The article from February 1, 1904, reporting the altercation, said the contested claim was for "a diamond bracelet presented by King Edward when he was Prince of Wales; the order of the Black Eagle, of which there are only four in existence, presented by Emperor William, and a number of other imperial gifts." Ms. Tilly responded in the press as follows:
This woman, Mrs. Baylor, says that my manager was formerly her manager; that he left her in 1898, took with him all her costumes and jewels, taught me her tricks and gave me all her jewels and costumes. My manager's name is not Abbott, nor yet Abbie. He was a dentist at No. 508 Capital Avenue, Atlanta, and had never been in the theatrical business until a year ago. Then he took my name simply as a business convenience....I am the originator of the "Little Georgia Magnet" act, and, although I have had hundreds of imitators since I began sixteen years ago , I have never taken legal action against them. Now, however, I shall have all the 'Annie Abbotts' on the stage enjoined from using my name. I can't prevent them from using my act. I suppose Mrs. Baylor did travel with my act at one time, but she had no rights to it.