Place of Birth
Amherst, Virginia, USA
Benjamin Rucker, aka Black Herman possessed the ability of masterful stage illusions and conjuring prowess. His signature effect was his "buried alive" act which began with his interment in an outdoor area called "Black Herman's Private Graveyard."
After Black Herman's death, some seized upon his legacy by impersonation, adopting titles like “Black Herman the Second” and “The Original Black Herman,” and continuing, uninterrupted, the popular act that had made him famous.
Benjamin Rucker was born in Amherst, Virginia in 1892. He met a traveling magician, Prince Herman, who taught him magic and eventually took him on as a partner. Rucker learned how to make the "health tonic" they sold as part of the show and how to put on a successful show.
When Prince Herman died in 1909, Rucker, then only 17 years old, continued the show and took the name Black Herman, eventually settling in Harlem, New York.
Jim Crow policies were in effect at that time, so in the Northern states he could perform before racially-mixed audiences, but when he traveled through the South, often with his own tent show, segregation laws kept his audiences primarily Black.
He used his success to help his community, hosting black businessmen and other professionals for roundtable discussions on various subjects.
Using a combination of medicine show techniques, references to a fictional childhood in a Zulu tribe in Africa, and a taste for quoting scripture, Black Herman found the performance style that worked for him.
His specialties included the "Asrah levitation."He also produced rabbits and made the amount of cornmeal in a bowl double.
He let audience members tie him up so he could demonstrate how "If the slave traders tried to take any of my people captive, we would release ourselves using our secret knowledge."
By 1923, Black Herman had added "Buried Alive" to his act. At first, he would "hypnotize" a woman and then bury her six feet under for almost six hours as a publicity stunt or part of a carnival.
Eventually, he himself was "Buried Alive." A few days before a major performance, Black Herman would sell tickets for the public to come to a plot of ground near the theater he called "Black Herman's Private Graveyard".
They could view his lifeless body and even check for a pulse—nothing. The audience would then see Black Herman's body placed in a coffin and into the grave.
The night of the show, another audience was invited to attend as the body was exhumed. They saw the coffin get dug up, opened, and Black Herman would emerge, alive and well. He would then walk to the theater, and the audience usually followed.
Benjamin Rucker, aka Black Herman died in Louisville, Kentucky in April 1934 after collapsing on stage, presumably the result of a heart attack; he was later declared dead of "acute indigestion."
The audience didn't believe it. Herman had risen from the dead so many times before. The crowd refused to believe that the show was over and stayed in the theater.
Eventually Black Herman's body was moved to a funeral home. The crowds followed. Finally, Black Herman's assistant, Washington Reeves, decided "Let's charge admission. That's what he would have done."
And they did, to thousands of people. Some people even brought pins to stick in the corpse to prove he was dead. When he was buried, "his death made front page news in black newspapers all over the country." He was buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in New York City.
Herman was the ostensible author of "Secrets of Magic, Mystery, and Legerdemain," a book published in 1925 that contains his semi-fictionalized autobiography, directions for simple illusions suitable to the novice stage magician, advice on astrology and lucky numbers, and a sampling of African American hoodoo folk magic customs and practices.
An announcement on the book's title page, "Black Herman Comes Through Every Seven Years", referred to Herman's pattern of returning to venues on a regular basis; the book was sold at his performances, although it has been determined that he was not the author.
Information credit: MagicExhibit.Org, CabinetMagazine.Org, Wikipedia