Brisbane tragedy befalls world famous magician
On July 8, 1933 world-renowned magician Dante gave the first performance of his Brisbane season at His Majesty’s Theatre. Dante (real name Harry Jansen) was born in Demark in 1883. At the age of 6, he moved with his family to the United States and made his stage debut at the age of 16. Dante had previously visited Brisbane in 1912 under the stage name - The Great Jansen.
A promotional magazine from His Majesty’s Theatre, in the State Library of Queensland’s theatre ephemera collection, touted Dante’s impressive feats as well as spruiking local products. An incongruous full page advertisement featured Dante striking a pose, complete with hypnotic gaze, and the caption “Dante recommends XXXX”.
The magician had travelled the world with his troupe and family in tow. Among his many illusions was the Enchanted Barrel. The Sunday Mail described the act saying Dante produced "3 dozen glasses and two large pots of beer from an empty barrel with tissue paper ends". During matinee performances when children were present the beer was substituted with orange juice that could be sampled. There was also the “Chinese water scene”, considered his greatest illusion, where the magician made water gush in 'graceful curves' from various objects, including his assistants' heads and also from his own hand.
Sadly Dante's Brisbane season would end in personal tragedy. On July 28, Dante’s 21 year old son, William Jansen was killed instantly when his motorcycle collided with an electric light pole in Gregory Terrace (known at the time as an accident blackspot).
After a funeral service at St Peter’s Church in West End, the casket was conveyed to Melbourne by train, to be interred at Springvale Cemetery. The remainder of Dante’s performances at His Majesty’s Theatre were cancelled.
Myles Sinnamon - Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland