Washington Irving Bishop: The Magician Killed by an Autopsy
Washington Irving Bishop’s act was pitched as “thought reading,” and he emphasized that it was not anything supernatural but instead his careful reading of the movement of the human body. Know as “muscle reading,” he learned his skills from mentalist J. Randall Brown and soon soared to his own fame with a distinctly frenetic performance style, one that had an added drama with his suffering from cataleptic fits. He kept a note in his pocket that stated his seemingly catatonic state was not death, although the presence of that note on a fateful performance in 1889 would lead to a great debate of what really brought down the mentalist.
It was May 12 and Bishop was at the Lambs Club, a theatrical society that was then at 70 West 36th Street in Manhattan. Bishop was said to have fallen into unconsciousness early in the act, and then recovered to continue. However, a second attack came from which he did not quickly recover. According to reports, an autopsy took place at 3:45 pm, just a few hours after the supposed death. This included the removing of Bishop’s brain.
As Dean Carnegie wrote in his research on the strange case for his blog the Magic Detective, when Bishop’s wife finally arrived on the scene and saw the slice across his skull, she declared, “they’ve killed my husband!” A second autopsy was later performed on May 28 in which the brain was found sewn into his chest, and “all seemed healthy, and in appearance presented no cause for death,” although curiously “portions of the brain and other organs were missing.”