Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Summer II/Section 09/Frank Hageman

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Frank Hageman
BornNew York
ResidenceNew York, New York
OccupationMagician

Overview:[edit | edit source]

Frank Hageman was a traveling magician from New York City. He spent most of his travels in North Carolina touring schools with his magic show.[1] He was interviewed by Claude Dunnagan for the Federal Writers’ Project on February 28, 1939. The file was named “The Wandering Magician".[2]

Biography:[edit | edit source]

Early Life-[edit | edit source]

Hageman was raised in the streets of New York and used whatever money he could find to watch the master magician, Houdini, who was his inspiration to study magic.[3] Hageman enjoyed watching Houdini do tricks such as levitating a person, sawing a living woman in half, and turning a cage of snakes into rabbits.[4] He spent nearly all of his earnings on magic books and magician’s equipment.[5]

Adult Life & Career-[edit | edit source]

Hageman first started working as a magician for a small circus in Brooklyn, New York called Oriental Magic. He then began to travel with this circus across the east coast of the United States including cities such as Buffalo, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Cleveland, Baltimore, and many other smaller towns. When the circus entered a poor financial condition and shut down, Hageman traveled to North Carolina with one of his coworkers from the circus and a woman.[6]

On the way down to North Carolina, Hageman found out that his driver was a violator of the Mann Act, a law that prohibits “knowingly transporting any individual, male or female, in interstate or foreign commerce or in any territory or possession of the United States for the purpose of prostitution or sexual activity which is a criminal offense under the federal or state statute or local ordinance.”[7] The man who drove him down was soliciting the woman for prostitution.

In North Carolina, Hageman travelled across the state, visiting schools in small towns such as Burnsville, North Carolina.[8] Hageman’s tricks included disappearing card tricks, a mechanical illusion called “the Boiled Guinea Pig”, in which a guinea pig magically appeared from a pot of boiling liquid, and a “materializing rooster” illusion.[9] Hageman had a magician’s assistant named Bing, a white chinchilla rabbit named Peter, a duck named Donald, a guinea pig named Jeep, a white Leghorn rooster named Rembrant, and a couple white rats.[10]

After Hageman’s tour of North Carolina ended and he returned to Chicago, he noted a strong urge to return to his “home state” of North Carolina. He writes, “I feel an inner urge to return to my “native” state, where the ‘baccy grows tall and the pine needles fall; where a man can eat hot-dogs and onions without hurting his self respect; and where Jeep and Peter Rabbit lie sleeping under a warm southern sun.”[11]

Social Issues:[edit | edit source]

The Mann Act-[edit | edit source]

The Mann Act, commonly known as the White-Slave Traffic Act, was passed June 25, 1910. This act made it a felony to transport any woman across state lines for prostitution or any other immoral purpose. This law was passed during the Progressive Era of the United States to prevent prostitution. Individuals involved in the crime, including conspirators, were almost always proven guilty. Even if the individual were incapable of committing the crime due to their age, sex, or position, they could still be convicted as principal in the second degree, or as accessory to the crime.[12] The law was passed to protect women from being lured into prostitution, but really allowed courts to make a crime out of any sexual activity they opposed, whether it be based on race, creed, or sexuality.[13] Women were often protected by the Mann Act and rarely considered guilty. In fact, the primary purpose of the act is to penalize the man involved and protect women from his immoral behavior.[14] Many women were drugged and forced into prostitution, so Justices, such as Justice Joseph Lamar, never considered women guilty of conspiracy.[15]

Finding Work during the Great Depression-[edit | edit source]

During the early 1930s, the United States, along with the rest of the world, went through an extended and severe economic recession, known as the Great Depression. The Great Depression put millions of people out of work, forcing many to travel from town to town looking for a job. Unemployment rates didn’t drop below 14% between 1931 and 1940.[16] Data from 1930 shows that 21% of Buffalo, New York’s unemployed labor force had been unemployed for over a year.[17] People, especially unskilled workers, couldn’t find work anywhere, and this turned into long term unemployment. It was challenging for entertainers to find work, but government programs were put into place to help performers and artists put on productions for people to enjoy.[18]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Frank Hageman Federal Writers' Project Interview.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. The United States Department of Justice, “2027 Mann Act”.
  8. Frank Hageman Federal Writers' Project Interview.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Columbia Law Review, “Criminal Conspiracy to Violate the Mann Act”
  13. History.com editors, “Congress passes Mann Act, aimed at curbing sex trafficking”
  14. Virginia Law Review, “Conspiracy. Mann Act. Liability of Woman Conspiring for Her Own Transportation across State Boundary for Immoral Purposes.”
  15. F. M. H. "Criminal Law and Procedure: Conspiracy: Conviction of Woman Transported in Violation of Mann Act.”
  16. Robert A. Margo, “The Microeconomics of Depression Unemployment”
  17. Ibid
  18. Art and Entertainment in the 1930s and 1940s

References[edit | edit source]

  • "Art and Entertainment in the 1930s and 1940s". Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945. Library of Congress. Accessed July 14, 2020. https://web.archive.org/web/20110605011509/http://memory.loc.gov/learn//features/timeline/depwwii/art/art.html.
  • "Conspiracy. Mann Act. Liability of Woman Conspiring for Her Own Transportation across State Boundary for Immoral Purposes." Virginia Law Review 19, no. 3 (1933): 293. Accessed July 9, 2020. doi:10.2307/1065966.
  • "Criminal Conspiracy to Violate the Mann Act." Columbia Law Review 15, no. 4 (1915): 337-40. Accessed July 9, 2020. doi:10.2307/1110260.
  • F. M. H. "Criminal Law and Procedure: Conspiracy: Conviction of Woman Transported in Violation of Mann Act." Michigan Law Review 31, no. 7 (1933): 993-95. Accessed July 9, 2020. doi:10.2307/1281195.
  • History.com Editors. “Congress passes Mann Act, aimed at curbing sex trafficking.” Last modified June 23, 2020. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/congress-passes-mann-act.
  • Interview, Claude Dunnagan on Frank Hageman, February 28, 1939, Folder 370,

Federal Writing Project Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.