An audience member is given a wooden writing slate and a piece of chalk. They are instructed to write a brief Yes or No question directed at Abraham Lincoln, the head of whom rests upon a nicely decorated box on the stage. The operator displays another slate, showing it clean of any markings on both sides, and places it flat on the stage next to Lincoln’s head. He then lowers a realistic replica of a hand, attached to some sort of mechanism that controls it, onto the face of the slate.
The operator instructs the audience member to read their question out loud. He then flips a switch on the front of the Suitcase - a red light comes on and the Lincoln head starts moving while the former president’s voice is heard through the Suitcase’s speakers. After a few seconds, the head stops moving, the talking ends, and then the hand starts to move around on the slate, as if writing.
When the hand stops moving, the operator slowly picks up the slate, which is now seen to contain chalk writing on it. It says “Yes” or “No” depending on the question that was asked.
Both slates are erased and another question can be asked if desired.
It was a simple and elegant design that produced a nice combination of lifelike movements. Ives controlled the setup using a manual servo controller whereby he twiddled the knobs to make the head move in real time.
The Ives head inspired me to make my own using a lightweight painted foam skull I own. The results turned out to my liking and got me thinking about the skull answering questions posed by the audience. I pulled out some Dave Powell Spirit Slates that I’ve been saving for a seance and added a small vinyl hand to do the spirit writing. Both the head and hand are controlled using a fantastic four-servo recorder I bought. The beauty of this device is that it can record up to three minutes of manually controlling the servos to be played back later. None of the usual programming necessary with servo projects is needed. I must admit I’ve been having a lot of fun with this cool piece of equipment.
I felt the skull was too innocuous and lacked personality, so I changed it to Abe Lincoln and his spirit hand. I was delighted to find that my hand-crafted (laser cut) wooden casing (previously used as a music box) fit perfectly as a stand for the Lincoln head. With nice lighting the whole setup looks very pleasing and curious sitting on the Suitcase of Wonders stage.
I like the idea of the servo apparatus being somewhat visible to the audience, peeking out from behind the rear curtain. They can see the mechanisms moving as the head speaks and the hand writes. Because of the cleverness of magic maker Dave Powell, it is very mysterious as to how the writing appears on the slate. No flaps or locking mechanisms are used.
I love when an effect comes together so fluidly, and I’m excited to be incorporating my first animatronics into the mix. Another oddly magical and visually pleasing demonstration comes to life inside the Suitcase of Wonders!