Terre Haute — Terre Haute city directories identify William Benjamin Caulk as a “painter.”
As a member of the advisory council of the Ornithological Congress at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and as secretary in 1894 of the Wilson Ornithological Society of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, he was known as “William B. Caulk.”
For many years he was a taxidermist, mounting stuffed birds and animals. He also was a frequent contributor to “Scientific American” magazine.
Meanwhile, the only child of Joshua and Mary J. Caulk earned a national reputation as an innovator of magic tricks.
Calling himself “W. Benjamin,” Caulk was a self-described “prestidigitateur.”
When illusionist Albert A. Hopkins compiled a magicians’ “bible” in 1897, titled “Magic: Stage Illusions and Scientific Diversions, Including Trick Photography,” he turned to Caulk for 17 separate contributions.
Hopkins was an editor of “Scientific American,” also printed by Munn Publishing.
In 1898, Caulk contributed an entire chapter, “Miscellaneous Tricks,” to William E. Robinson’s book, “Spirit Slate Writing and Kindred Phenomena.” According to a story in “Linking Rink” magazine during 1934, Robinson paid Caulk $500 for the work.
Robinson was America’s premier “Man of Mystery” early in his career, but later changed his name to “Ching Ling Soo” when Chinese illusionist Ching Ling Foo failed to pay him $1,000 as a challenge prize for duplicating Foo’s “bowl of water production” trick.
Ellis Stanyon, the British “master of the sleight of hand,” knew about Caulk. Aware that the Terre Haute man intended to publish a volume on magic, Stanyon wrote to Caulk in December 1899. “The Rover Magazine for Young Readers” was publishing a series of articles by Caulk titled “Easy Magic,” alluding to a forthcoming book.
For several years Caulk played vaudeville, appearing in theaters and at chautauquas. For a while he was a member of Robertson’s Hindu Illusions’ vaudeville troupe.
Dr. Albert M. Wilson, a Kansas City physician who later founded “The Sphinx,” a magician’s journal, corresponded with Caulk before 1900, urging him to “give the magic fraternity something to read.”
While creating new tricks was his specialty, Caulk devoted time to improve illusions for which Harry Kellar, “Dean of American Magicians,” and others already were famous.
Kellar’s “Blue Room Illusion,” for instance, relied upon the use of a huge glass mirror – 8 feet by 12 feet – which stood perpendicular to the floor and slid diagonally through a small room to create an bewildering series of transformations Kellar used two mirrors. Where the two edges met was camouflaged by a black ribbon. Caulk used only one gigantic mirror in his performance.
It is doubtful Caulk ever published an entire book on magic. If he did, it may have been written under an assumed name.
Besides his many other skills, Caulk had an artistic bent. Letterheads for “W. Benjamin, Prestidigitateur” incorporated a colorful red court jester clutching a magic wand surrounded by playing cards, blooming flowers, a bird cage, a fire urn and a rabbit while standing on a platform supported by two interlaced serpents.
Above the magician’s name was a bird with an envelope secured around its neck. Between “W. Benjamin” and his creative title, five rabbits are seen escaping from a top hat.
Born at the family residence at 621 N. Center St. in July 1863, Caulk resided with his parents until their respective deaths. A coremaker at Phoenix Foundry & Machine Works, Joshua Caulk died on April 18, 1904, at 1932 N. 10th St. William’s mother died at age 82 Sept. 25, 1918 at 2032 N. 10th (which might have been the same home).
When Caulk died at age 76 on July 23, 1941, no mention was made in the obituary of his colorful past.
On Jan. 17, 2007, Victor E. “The Hoosier Schoolmaster” Aldridge was inducted into the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper, joining some other former Terre Haute residents already in the Hoosier shrine: Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, Max Carey, Tommy John, Paul Wolf, Art Nehf, Paul “Dizzy” Trout, Don Jennings, Paul Frisz, Bob Warn, John S. Grantham and Howard Sharpe.
A native of Martin County, Ind., Aldridge attended Central Normal College in Danville, Ind. and taught school in Miami County, Ind. He signed a contract with Indianapolis of the American Association in 1915 but was sent to Denver of the Western League and then Erie of the Central League.
He first appeared as a pro on a Terre Haute diamond wearing an Erie uniform at Athletic Park in a Central League game. He finished the season with a 19-9 record.
Back in Indianapolis in 1916, he pitched his first professional no-hitter. The Cubs signed him for the 1917 and, as a rookie, he posted a credible 6-6 record with a 3.12 ERA.
Between 1919 and 1921, Aldridge won 53 games for the Cubs’ Pacific Coact League franchise in Los Angeles and returned to Chicago in 1922 to compile a 47-33 record over three seasons. The Pirates secured him in late 1924 and Vic promptly became the team’s most dependable starter. Baseball immortal Rogers Hornsby asserted that Aldridge had “the best curve in baseball.”
During the 1925 World Series, Aldridge was the Pirates’ pitching hero, outdueling future Baseball Hall of Famers Stan Coveleskie and Walter Johnson in three starts and picking up two complete game victories. .
Married to Cleta Wadsworth of Terre Haute, Vic used his 1925 World Series purse to purchase a home at 2412 S. Eighth St.
Though he won 15 games for the Pirates 1927 National League champions, Aldridge was traded to the New York Giants for future Hall of Fame pitcher Burleigh Grimes.
Vic immediately clashed with Giants manager John McGraw and retired after the 1931 season with a 97-80 major league career mark.
A graduate of Voorhees School of Law, Aldridge was elected to the Indiana legislature. He died in Terre Haute, at age 79, on April 17, 1973. Only son Victor E. Aldridge, Jr. was a prominent Terre Haute attorney for nearly 50 years.
Sandra Aldridge, the great pitcher’s daughter-in-law, and his two adult grandchildren, currently reside in Terre Haute.
Terre Haute — Terre Haute city directories identify William Benjamin Caulk as a “painter.”
Historical Treasure: The 1947 Terre Haute Phillies and the history of baseball in America’s Crossroads
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Dorothy Jerse looks back at local history from 10, 25 and 50 years ago as reported in the Tribune and Tribune-Star.
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The death of Irish Kate Preston
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‘Foreign’ letters to confuse a genealogist
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1988: 700 teachers unite in protest
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Genealogy: Vigo County Gold Star Honor Roll
FamilySearch International recently announced “the release of significant new enhancements to its web services that allow visitors to collaboratively build their family tree online, preserve and share precious family photos and stories, and receive personal research assistance–all for free.”
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The tale of the Wabash River
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- Historical Treasure: The 1947 Terre Haute Phillies and the history of baseball in America’s Crossroads