A True Performer: the Harry Albacker Papers and Photographs

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.

Harry Albacker performs in costume

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.

Advertisement for a Harry Albacker performance

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.

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About Alex J. Toner

I’ve been a project archivist in the Detre Library and Archives since 2011, and started in the department in 2010 as a graduate assistant. Our project is aimed at reducing our archival backlog over the course of two years utilizing MPLP-based strategies. I’m tasked (among other things) with processing collections, creating access documents, and coordinating graduate interns. I earned my MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh in 2011, and received a BA in History from Kent State University. Contact me at ajtoner@heinzhistorycenter.org.
This entry was posted in Arts and Entertainment, Hidden collections and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to A True Performer: the Harry Albacker Papers and Photographs

  1. David Grinnell says:

    Cool collection! I hope you have more fun and interesting discoveries like this one!

  2. Tom Interval says:

    Harry and I were good acquaintances in the 1980s. In fact, I still have some of our correspondence from those days as well as some of his promotional materials. As an adolescent, I first saw him perform at Franklin Elementary in the North Hills. After the show, I went backstage to introduce myself as a fellow magician, and he welcomed me with open arms. After that day, he and I got together from time to time, and he mailed me extra copies of magic-related publications on a fairly regular basis. He was a true pro with a great act, extremely generous, and a wonderful guy overall. Thanks for featuring him at the History Center and in this blog. He deserves his place in magic history.

  3. Chuck Caputo says:

    Harry was a great guy! I am a fellow Pittsburgh Magician and was good friends of Harry, we kept in touch throughout the years. In my recent book I make mention of him as one of my mentors growing up, you will also find an obscure postcard of Harry’s when his company went by the name ‘Impossible Productions’.

    http://www.freewebs.com/caputobooks/order.html

  4. Kristin says:

    wow! I never knew so much about Harry. I loved Harry . He traveled around with S&S Amusements here and there during my childhood and was great friends with my grandfather, Baker Bob, who also traveled with S&S Amusements making and selling soft pretzels. Every show we went to that Harry was also at he put me in his shows helping him do the trick of the chop,chop (this is where he would put my fingers into these holes and carrots too and would attempt to chop off my fingers) I also used to watch Harry on Hatchey Malachey.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Harry was my mother’s cousin, so I had heard about Harry for a long time, but had never seen his show. Then on my son’s 8th (or maybe 9th?) birthday my Mom gave Harry a call and ask him to come and perform at the party. It was great, he was great!! . He used my son and my aunt (Harry’s cousin) in the show which made it so special and personal. I taped the whole show so now we can see Harry perform anytime we want!

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