Harry Albacker was born on April 20, 1925, although he often claimed his birth date was October 31, 1926, the date of Harry Houdini’s death. Such was the lure of magic to the young boy, who at age 11 decided he wanted to be a professional magician. Albacker, who called Aspinwall, Pa., home, stayed true to his dream and began his career as traveling magician in 1937. He primarily entertained families at county fairs, summer festivals, shopping malls, and by making personal appearances. However, Albacker performed at nightclubs and theaters early in his career, crisscrossing the nation from the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco to the Nellie Bly Amusement Part in Brooklyn, N.Y. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the magician was on Adventure Time on WTAE TV in Pittsburgh with Paul Shannon and was a staple attraction of the Three Rivers Arts Festival for many years.
When on stage, Albacker wore flowing pantaloons, satin robes, and a feathery turban reminiscent of a character from Arabian Nights. His show, the Harry Albacker Funny Bunny Magic Show, which incorporated rabbits, guinea pigs, pythons, and roosters, was one of the longest running traveling magic acts of the twentieth century. The animals, who frequently stole the show, often pulled disappearing acts of their own. A 60 lb. python vanished in 1954, and a 13-year veteran guinea pig disappeared in 1987. Donald, Jr., a duck, caused a flap at Albacker’s Aspinwall home in 1972, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported “Pet Duck Pulls Disappearing Act on his Magician.” True to form, however, all the animals eventually reappeared.
Albacker had a knack for keeping a wide array of audiences amused, from children, up to the commander-in-chief. He had the distinct honor of performing 42 times at the White House during the Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon and Carter administrations. Julie Nixon Eisenhower personally invited him to the White House after assisting him at the Danbury State Fair in Connecticut in 1972. Albacker also entertained American G.I.s in the Philippines, Germany, and England after being drafted into the Army Special Service during World War II.
Harry Albacker continued to perform in the Pittsburgh region until his death on March 10, 1994, one day after suffering a heart attack during a performance. A true performer, magic was never necessary to reveal the real amusement and happiness Harry Albacker conjured throughout his career.
The Harry Albacker Papers and Photographs is one of the History Center’s “hidden collections” that has been processed as part of the NHPRC Basic Processing project that started last month. Click here to see the collection’s finding aid.