Four year old David Bamberg was alone and deep asleep in the 5th floor room of Chicago’s Hotel Florence as flames began to devour the building and as guests, “panic stricken”, ran into the icy streets. It was January 27th, 1908 and his parents were performing their magic act just two blocks away at the Majestic Theater (now the PrivateBank Theater, 18 W. Monroe). His mom, having grown up backstage in London theatres herself, thought it “not good to have the little chap hanging around the theater until the early hours” and so she tucked him into bed before heading over to the theater.
Lilly Bamberg’s plan to keep her son away from the theater, backfired. David was destined to become one of the 20th century’s great magicians. A collaborator of Houdini and Orson Welles, he would share the stage with Charlie Chaplin, open for George M. Cohan and have a long career touring South America with a show hailed by his contemporaries as “the most beautiful magic show ever seen”.
Earlier that fateful day, young David had thrown a ball into the hotel’s fountain, splashing the lounging guests and enraging the desk clerk. So, when the fire broke out at 9:30 p.m. and the guests poured out of the hotel, the clerk remembered the kid.
The headlines exclaimed: “Serious Fire in Chicago” and the papers reported that “In a few minutes the building was a roaring furnace.” The conditions couldn’t have been worse, “Fanned by a forty-mile gale” and “with the thermometer down to 15 above zero”, the water from the hoses froze on the window frames forming long icicles. Despite the obstacles, a fireman, on an impossibly tall ladder, made it into David’s room, snatched him up and brought him down to the street where he was whisked away to the stage door of the Majestic.
His mom, terrified by the incident, put her son into the act the following evening. And less than 24 hours after escaping a catastrophic fire, four year old David Bamberg, from behind an empty cloth made his magical appearance on the Majestic stage.
Bamberg, David Illusion Show Glenwood, IL: David Meyer Magic Books
Hotel Florence Fire, Jan 1908. New York Times: http://www3.gendisasters.com/illinois/11376/chicago-il-hotel-florence-fire-jan-1908
Hotel Florence Fire, Iowa City Daily Press, Jan 1908: http://www3.gendisasters.com/illinois/3638/chicago,-il-adams-street-fire,-jan-1908