Ask David – September 2020

Welcome to the new column for eJuggle, Ask David. In this column, you can ask me for my opinion, advice, or knowledge about anything juggling-related.

In case you don’t know me and you’re wondering why you might want to know my thoughts, here’s a bit about me. I’ve been a professional juggler for 36 years and have performed over 15,000 professional shows. I’ve also set over 20 world records and won 15 IJA gold medals. I’ve won two of the IJA’s honorary awards: the Bobby May Award, given to the top juggling mentor / coach, and the Excellence in Education Award. I’m also one of the world’s leading juggling historians. I’ve written 13 books about juggling history and well over 300 articles about juggling and juggling history. I also own the world’s only juggling museum, The Museum of Juggling History.

So, now that you know a bit about me, let’s get to our questions for today’s column.

Alan Eisenhour writes, “What is you favorite juggling club in your collection and why?”

My response: Well, that is a very difficult question, as the Museum of Juggling History has around 400 different juggling clubs on display. I have some of the very first retail juggling clubs ever made – Van Wyck clubs. These date from the very late 1890s.

The oldest Van Wyck club in the Museum of Juggling History collection

I have clubs that were used by some of the most famous jugglers in history, such as Bobby May, Lottie Brunn, Sergei Ignatov, Evgeni Biljauer, and many, many others.

Four of Bobby May’s performance clubs

I also have clubs that were used for world records, such as Eivind Dragsjo’s 11 catches of 9 clubs.

I even have the three little home made clubs that Anthony Gatto learned club juggling with.

But I think my favorite club in the collection is the one that I’m holding in the photo just preceding this question. It is a light up club made and used by Salerno at least as early as 1905. It was later passed on to and used by the Juggling Jewels. It was powered by an early flashlight battery and contained four light bulbs.

You can see me take it apart in the following video. The video quality is less than great, for which I apologize.

I love this club because Salerno is one of my favorite jugglers, it’s probably the oldest “technologically advanced” juggling prop still known to exist, and it’s in amazing condition considering it’s age and construction.

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Simon Llewellyn asks, “What, if any, has been the biggest juggling hoax?”

My response: Well, a few come to mind. The first occurred back in the mid-1980s. In 1984, Albert Lucas flashed 12 rings for Gene Jones, the juggling representative for Guinness World Records.

Albert Lucas

Not too long after that, a juggler, whom shall remain unnamed, submitted a photo to Guinness saying that he had equaled that accomplishment. However, when the photo was examined under a magnifying glass, it was found that the top four rings were being held up by clear fishing line. It’s doubtful that Guinness would have accepted a photo as evidence of a record, anyway, but this was just a straight up hoax.

Another example of juggling hoaxes are some of the viral videos that include juggling. Some have done a good job and have even fooled some jugglers. Below are a few such examples.

n 2007, two viral video hit the web that caused a huge uproar. the first showed a Russian man juggling three bowling balls and striking a young girl in the head with one of the balls. If you google this video, shown below, you will still see page after page of people saying this is real. Fortunately, this is not the case. The second video shows another accident involving juggling. Both videos were part of a viral campaign for Samsung DuoS mobile phones in Russia. They created by the Russian advertising agency Cheil Communications Rus.

Also in 2007, a viral video showed a man juggling three hammers and hitting a nail into a board at the apex of the throws. The hammers were then tossed up so that their claw sides stuck into the overhead board. Many people were fooled by this and believed it to be an actual juggling accomplishment. While the initial juggling of the hammers is real, the hitting of the nail and ending isn’t. It was actually part of an advertising campaign for German home improvement store Obi.

The final juggling hoax is the tale of Magnus Nicholls, the incredible juggling legend that was left out of the history books because of a grudge. Read my history regarding the Magnus Nicholls hoax below, taken from a previous article I wrote.

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One of my jobs as a juggling historian and writer is to uncover the facts behind jugglers about whom little is known. My articles on Frank Le Dent (click here) and Ferry Mader (click here) are good examples of revealing a goldmine of information on important jugglers that the history books have simply passed by. Now I’d like to shine the light on one of the most mysterious of all jugglers. Several times in the past months, I’ve had jugglers ask me to write something about Magnus Nicholls. These jugglers have searched online and found a wide variety of facts about this performer. Let’s take a look at what such a search has to say about Mr. Nicholls.

1. Magnus Nicholls was born in 1895. He was of German, Swedish, Welsh, and Gypsy heritage.

2. He was the first juggler that Enrico Rastelli ever saw.

3. Nicholls was the first juggler to juggle five clubs and to juggle with fire.

4. He also worked with plates, cups, and candelabras.

5. He could juggle at least 11 balls. Some say it was multiplex while others said it was not.

6. He was a master of self promotion and even encouraged rumors that his great skill came from a pact he had with Satan.

7. He practiced without any props, miming his entire routine over and over again. Some say this was just an odd practice technique while others say that this was due to the fact that instead of performing amazing feats, he actually hypnotized his audiences into seeing the tricks he was miming and describing.

8. He had an affair with Enrico Rastelli’s wife, fueling an already existing feud between the two performers, caused by Magnus claiming that Rastelli stole some of Nicholls’ routines. Supposedly at one point, Magnus sneaked into Rastelli’s dressing room, took Enrico’s mouth stick, and wiped his rear end with it.

9. He was mostly erased from the juggling history books when a juggling / circus historian felt slighted by Magnus’ son Pierre when Pierre would not pay the check for a dinner the two shared. Other sources say that it was Rastelli who worked to remove Nicholls from the juggling limelight.

10. His appearance was unworldly and alarming. He dressed in black, was thin with protruding bones, and very pale.

11. To better Rastelli’s claims of flashing 8 sticks and 8 plates, Nicholls juggled 8 flaming torches and 12 hoops.

12. He experimented with performing with one ball. While audiences didn’t take to it, this routine was an inspiration for Francis Brunn’s work.

13. He lost a leg in World War I in a German minefield. He took three years to recover. When he finally returned to the stage, he incorporated his newly acquired peg leg by kicking it up while juggling four clubs into a four club and one peg leg cascade.

14. Magnus had an identical twin brother.

15. Magnus was a master of diabolo and even performed stickless diabolo and eventually a kind of stringless diabolo where he was able to roll it over his body.

You can see some of these claims reflected in the wonderful poster created by juggler and artist Jason Horst, which can be seen below.

MagnusNicholls1 (2)

It has also been pointed out that you can see a picture, provided below, of Magnus on page 91 of the book Juggling & Feats Of Dexterity.

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Frequent readers of my articles and fans of juggling history may have noticed a few “facts” about Magnus Nicholls to be troublesome. For instance, if Magnus was indeed  born in 1895, he would have had to have been an amazingly talented and physically strong 8 year old to be able to do five wooden clubs before Ben Mowatt Jr. did so at least as early as 1903. Also, it’s known that torch juggling goes back to the decades prior to 70 A.D., as historical references point to Rabbi Shimon ben Gamaliel juggling with them. Also, since Rastelli’s parents juggled and Enrico was born into a circus family, it’s highly doubtful that the first juggler Rastelli ever saw would be a boy only a year or so older than himself. So we have to ask ourselves, what statements made about Magnus Nicholls are fact and what is hyperbole?

The truth is that Magnus Nicholls never existed. He’s a complete work of fiction. Magnus was the creation of various members of the rec.juggling forum that was popular in the 1990s. In March of 1995, Barry Bakalor came up with the idea of creating a fake historical juggler. Andrew Conway actually came up with the name and sent out emails to selected rec.juggling participants asking them to participate. Bruce Tiemann (Boppo), Barry Friedman, Jack Kalvan, Alan Morgan, and others joined in and began to post about the upcoming 100th anniversary of the birth of the amazing Magnus Nicholls. Each added to the mythology of Magnus until an extraordinary life story was developed. In the twenty years that have passed, many who were not in on the joke or who failed to see it for what it is have taken the rec.juggling accounts at face value. As a result, I get asked about him from time to time and have even seen others try to insert him into serious discussions of juggling history. While I enjoy a good prank and hoax quite a bit, I feel that twenty years is long enough to let this one go on without someone pulling back the curtain. I also feel that if the juggling community wants to be taken as seriously as other performing arts, we should do our best to do accurate and thorough research and writing about our history. Some readers may be mad that they were deceived while the creators of Magnus may be mad that I’ve spoiled their work. Nevertheless, the truth is now out there. I just hope another juggling historian doesn’t get mad at me and erase me and my work from the annals of juggling!

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Feel free to email me at davidcainjuggler@hotmail.com or contact me on Facebook if you want to ask me for my opinion, advice, or knowledge about anything juggling-related for this column.

David Cain is a professional juggler, juggling historian, and the owner of the world's only juggling museum, the Museum of Juggling History. He is a Guinness world record holder and 15 time IJA gold medalist. In addition to his juggling pursuits, David is a successful composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and singer as well as the author of twenty-four books. He and his children live in Middletown, OH (USA).

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