Metomorphosists, Thaumaturgists, Ledgermainists,Ventriloquists, Prestidigitators, Wizardry and Lodge Hill Cemetery

Our exploration of Lodge Hill Cemetery has found some interesting and unexpected stories and people. Not far from Hilda Birkitt‘s grave (suffragette and women’s rights activist died 1955) and James Landsdowne Norton (founder of Norton motorbikes died 1925) we found the grave of Herr Blitz, ‘Last of a family of famous conjurers’.

Less is known of ‘Herr Blitz’ than his more famous American Uncle, who pulled an egg from President Lincoln’s son’s mouth, author of ‘Fifty years in the Magic Circle’ 1871. His grandfather Antonio van Zandt was the first to be known as ‘Signor Blitz’, and there were several ‘Signor Blitzes’ in the family, perhaps explaining why Birmingham’s Blitz was known as ‘Herr Abraham Blitz’ to differentiate himself from his living family still performing.

In the nineteenth century it seems quite usual for an entertainer to take an unusual name and for the name to be ‘borrowed’ by many other performers as well as their tricks. The taking of tricks and names were often challenged publicly and sometimes legally, as was the case for the Blitzes and also ‘Chung Ling Foo’. In 1905 Chung Ling Foo publicly challenged Chung Ling Soo, associate of Herr Blitz, for having copied his entire set. Chung Ling Soo later died on stage in a tragic accident of what appears to be an adaption of ‘Signor Blitz’ signature trick, catching a bullet. Chung Ling Soo’s (William Robinson) death during his “Condemned to Death by the Boxers” illusion built fame, or infamy, for the trick, repeated by many including Paul Daniels (see film clip).

First Part of Paul Daniels magic show introducing Chung Ling Soo’s ‘Condemned to Death by the Boxers’

Starting with plate spinning and building his practice over the years, Herr Blitz regularly performed nationally and in local concert halls, music halls and what became know as ‘Variety Entertainment’. He was a ‘chief performer’ at Day’s Crystal Palace Concert Hall on the corner of Hurst Street and Smallbrook Street, which was a lavish venue in it’s prime in Herr Blitz’s time, later becoming the 3000 seat ‘Empire Theatre’ sadly bombed during World War 2.

Abraham Blitz may have travelled to America and met his famous Uncle, as in his will Signor Blitz left all his …magic tuck apparatus used by me in my performances of sleight of hand and legerdemain with the implements and utensils, trunks boxes, etc…my nephew has been very kind to me during my sickness… Following his uncle’s death he became known as a ‘Celebrated Conjuror and Wizard.’

The Blitz family represented an important part in the lives of people living in Birmingham and elsewhere in the late nineteenth and twentieth century, and I will leave the last words to the great entertainers:

The reminiscences of my life may not be entitled to any special merit, beyond the amusement they may afford for the moment; yet, to pass away as others have done whose record would have been useful and interesting, we should derelict in duty to ourselves and the public.

Signor Antonio Blitz in his autobiography 1871
Map of Lodge Hill Cemetery

People’s Heritage Co-operative will be running Lodge Hill Cemetery trails as part of Heritage Open Days in Birmingham September 2024 – date to be announced.