Sidebar: Weaving a Mystery

March-April 2011

The poet John Godfrey Saxe, perhaps best known for “The Blindmen and the Elephant,” captured his memories of Richard Potter in the poem, “The Great Magician.” While we don’t have any images of Bro. Potter performing the “Ribbon-Wonder,” we do have Emil Heilemann’s drawing of “The Lady Parlor Magician” doing the same trick.

“The Great Magician,” by John Godfrey Saxe

Once, when a lad, it was my hap
To gain my mother’s kind permission
To go and see a foreign chap
Who called himself “The Great Magician”;
I recalled his wondrous skill
In divers mystic conjurations,

And how the fellow wrought at will
The most prodigious transformations
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I recollect the lady’s shawl
Which the magician rent asunder,
And then restored; but, best of all,
I recollect the Ribbon-Wonder!

I mean, of course, the funny freak
In which the wizard, at his pleasure,
Spins lots of ribbons from his cheek
(Where he had hid ’em, at his leisure).
Yard after yard, of every hue,
Comes blazing out, and still the fellow
Keeps spinning ribbons, red and blue,
And black and white, and green and

I ne’er shall see another show
To rank with the immortal “Potter’s”;
He’s dead and buried long ago,
And others charm our sons and daughters;
Years—years have fled—alas! How quick,
Since I beheld the Great Magician,
And yet I’ve seen the Ribbon-Trick
In many a curious repetition!
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .