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The Antonio Blitzes
Metomophosist, Thaumaturgist, Ledgermainist,
Ventriloquist and Conjurers
Signor Antonio Blitz was the stage name used by several members of the same family for most of the nineteenth and into the first quarter of the twentieth century. Such was their fame that others would occasionally try to cash in on their good name.
Abraham Blitz appears to have been the first to use the name in the 1820s. Upon his death his youngest son, John, took on the name as did his own son, in turn. Abraham’s eldest son, Samuel, also performed as Antonio Blitz and at the same time as his father and continued to do so after he emigrated to America in 1835.
But who were these men and where did they come from?
We don’t know with any certainty where Abraham came from, but we do know that he was living in Deal at the time of his eldest son, Samuel’s, birth in 1810. Though when and where Abraham met and married his wife, Amelia, we don’t know. In fact it isn’t until her death is registered and announced in the newspaper in 1838 that she is actually named in any records. All we know with some certainty is that the family were originally Jewish and that his children, according to census records, were all born in Deal.
We are lucky that the early census records for Deal survive, and Abraham appears, named simply as Blitz, for the first time in 1811.
The 1821 census informed us that he was living on Beach Street. Further evidence for this was given on a Watchpaper, found on the British Museum’s online collection, which also provided us with his trade.
From The British Museum’s online collection
Nottingham Review and General Advertiser for the Midland Counties – Friday 25 May 1827
Although Abraham earned his living as a Silversmith and Watchmaker he was almost certainly practising and perfecting his performances, a fact that may have helped to support his wife and young family as his business faltered, and by 1822 he was made bankrupt.
Where Abraham learnt his performance skills from is unknown but in 1827 an advert appeared suggesting an association with an unnamed “…celebrated Philadelphia Professor of Mechanism and Metamorphosist…” the mention of which could of course just be for publicity purposes.
Maybe bankruptcy or simply not having enough time to attend meetings had a bearing on Abraham withdrawing from the Freemasons in March 1825. He had joined the Union Lodge in Deal on 5th July 1821 at which time they were meeting at The Royal Oak Inn on the corner of Middle and Oak Street. The Royal Oak was lost in a WW2 bombing raid. Where it once stood is now a car park.
The first newspaper report we have found that mentions a performance by ‘Signor Blitz’ was in Chatham in 1824. Sadly it was to report the cruel strangling of one of the trained pigeons by a soldier who was described as “…brute in human shape…”!
Leah, his last child was born in Deal in 1828 so Abraham may well have been travelling and performing in and around Kent while his wife and family continued to live in Deal. By the mid to late 1830s he had moved to Whitechapel and it is here that Abraham, now performing and earning a living as Signor Blitz, sadly lost Amelia who died there in 1838.
Globe – Monday 17 December 1838
By 1841 Abraham, with John, Leah and Rebecca, had moved to Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire and on that census he gave his place of birth at what looks like Moravia. Newspaper adverts publicising the performances of Signor Blitz often included this claim. Even if he wasn’t actually born there then maybe saying so gave him and later his eldest son, who also made the same claim, a greater air of appeal and mysticism.
The Blitz Family in Deal
Much of the information for the children of Abraham and Amelia we have sourced from census and marriage records because many Jewish records for the Deal area pre 1837, when civil registration began, have not been kept or have been lost.
Samuel Zanvil ben Abraham and Gabriel ben Abraham are however, both recorded in the Circumcision Register, attributed to a Rabbi Ash which was kept between 1765 and 1818.
As there are several entries that say Rabbi Ash circumcised his own sons or other relations sons in Dover and Deal he may well have lived in one of these towns. Dover’s Jewish community dates from the mid-eighteenth century though there does not appear to have been an established formal congregation in Deal during this time.
As the censuses taken before 1841 only give the name of the heads of each household, and the number of males and females living with them, they do leave us with some questions.
In 1811 the census records showed that the Blitz household was made up of two males and three females. So that would be Abraham, Amelia and their young son Samuel. The other two females could be servants or visitors however, the 1851 census shows a Louisa Blitz, aged 26 living with her widowed sister Letitia Stafford, aged 40, in Hammersmith and both say they were born in Deal. Frustratingly no other records can be found for them, either before or after 1851. But their ages do fit so, could they be the two extra females?
Then in 1821 three males and six females were recorded. These could be Abraham, Samuel and Gabriel. Gabriel though is only found in the Circumcision Register in 1815, after which he too disappears from the records. Of the six females these could be Amelia, a daughter Rebecca who was born in about 1814 and possibly the aforementioned Letitia and Louisa, but then who are the other two females?
The Blitz Children
Samuel Zanvil ben Abraham
Signor Antonio Blitz
Samuel (who we will now call Antonio jnr.) was born in 1810 and circumcised according to The Circumcision Register on ‘Friday the eve of the Holy Sabbath 27 Sivan 570′ or 29 June 1810. As circumcisions take place eight days after a baby boy’s birth, he must have been born on 21 June.
Signor Antonio Blitz
This child was to become the most famous magician who took the stage name of Signor Antonio Blitz. Proof, if proof is needed, is that this ‘Antonio’ on the whole gave his place and date of birth as Deal, 21 June 1810. It also seems possible that, although he was known as Antonio for much of his adult life, he still occasionally answered to the name of Samuel, as when his own son Samuel William Devon was baptised, yes he was baptised, in 1834 he gave his own name, as the father, as Samuel.
Library Company of Philadelphia
Signor Antonio Blitz in America
Then in 1835 Antonio jnr.with his young family emigrated to America. They arrived in New York on 7 September and settled in Brooklyn where five more children were to be born and it was here in 1859 that Maria died.
In 1863 he married Helen Eliza Eaton, and it seems that he liked to keep people guessing over his place of birth as when he married he gave his place of birth as Germany! Then on several census returns he says he was born in Prussia, and in one obituary the writer says the Blitz family came from Poland! However in all other official cases and in his semi fictitious biography ‘Life and Adventures of Signor Blitz,’ he says he was born in Deal.
It was in America that he really made his name performing all over the country and also in Canada and the West Indies. Like his father before him his shows included specially trained Canaries who sat calmly in a ring of fire, pulled another in a wheeled cart, stood on each other’s heads or played dead and then came to life. Plates were spun, and acts of magic and sleight of hand performed, all was done with humour and often included Bobby his ventriloquist dummy.
The Civil War
He later settled in Philadelphia where, during the civil war period he continued to entertain the public and put on special performances for the injured soldiers convalescing there. One newspaper report states that he was “... one of our most patriotic citizens…” and since the beginning of the war he had “… entertained over 63,000 sick and wounded soldiers becoming such a complete institution of Philadelphia deserves such credit for devoting such a large portion of his time …”
Meeting Abraham Lincoln
In 1863 while waiting in the crowd attending the Independence Day rehearsal Antonio jnr., we are told, reached out and pulled a bird from a girl’s hair. Then, as the crowd gathered around him, he performed several other sleight-of-hand tricks, including pulling an egg from the mouth of President Loncoln‘s 10-year-old son, Tad. A bystander later introduced the president to the 53-year-old magician, Lincoln replied, “Why, of course, it’s Signor Blitz, one of the most famous men in America!”
Antonio jnr. died in 1877 and such was his fame that newspapers in Britain and Canada printed obituaries. He was buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery, Brooklyn and later alongside him are buried his first wife Maria Geogiana and their children William Devon, Arthur, Theodore and Itie. Helen, Antonio’s second wife, died in 1904 and is buried with her parents in her hometown of Groton, Middlesex County, Massachusetts.
In his will Antonio jnr. provided for all his surviving family including his siblings and their children in England. None of his own children survived him to carry on the name of ‘Signor Antonio Blitz’ although Theodore, who died in 1872, seemed to have an interest in doing so. It was to his nephew Abraham who he left all his show apparatus to.
8 February 1877 – Philadelphia Inquirer
Rebecca, Abraham’s eldest known daughter, was born in around 1814. In 1841 she married widower Joseph Saltiel in London. Abraham, who had now firmly established himself as Signor Blitz, was not happy with his daughter’s relationship with Joseph. In 1838, following one, of possibly several incidents, he took him to court for “…assaulting and threatening to assassinate…” his son Jacob and also for seducing his daughter.
Joseph, a doctor, was a married man with children who had apparently, in the two years that he had known the family, “..gained complete control…” over Rebecca who was then willing to speak against her father and brother. After the case was heard Joseph promised not to go near the Blitz household again. However after the death of his wife, in early 1841, he and Rebecca married. We obviously don’t know what Abraham thought about this or if there was a permanent rift but although they were married for eighteen years they didn’t have any children. Rebecca died in 1859.
Bell’s New Weekly Messenger – Sunday 21 October 1838
Who though is Jacob? Again there are no documents to help us here, but an educated guess is that he is Abraham’s youngest son, John, and that Jacob was his birth name.
Signor Antonio Blitz
Convicted at Wolverhampton
In 1863, in Wolverhampton, John fell foul of the Lottery Act and found himself in court and convicted of that offence. He had advertised that at the end of his act he would give away “…a certain number of presents…” which included silver plated coffee and tea services, “…to be given away impartially among the audience…” This was not, however, the case and the items were actually given to people with tickets that had been handed to them on entrance. These people seemed to have been selected from that evening’s audience who were the most respectable members of the towns. So no lottery or ‘impartiality’ was involved. John was initially convicted to seven days imprisonment but on appeal this was reduced to one day.
Wolverhampton Chronicle and Staffordshire Advertiser – Wednesday 04 November 1863
There were always those who tried to cash in on the Blitz name. In 1862 John tried to take action against one such person and applied to Bristol Magistrates Court for advice as an unnamed performer had set himself up as Signor Antonio Blitz and that as “… he was the real Antonio Blitz and that there was another of the same name in existence viz his brother in America…” So what could he do? On taking the advice of an Attorney John visited one of the interlopers shows and stood up and addressed the audience informing them that he was the real Signor Blitz and challenged the man to give his own name. Unfortunately, he was forcefully ejected from the room. An injunction was suggested to prevent this interloper from using the name of Signor Blitz but no further mention can be found to confirm if this ever happened.
13 May 1862 – Sherborne Mercury
John died, aged 75, in his home at Morley Road in Bedminster on 31 March 1895. In his death announcement in the Bristol Mercury, he is named as Signor John Blitz.
Leah, Abraham’s last child, was born in Deal in around 1828. In 1841 she was working as a servant for the family of Abraham Levy, a watchmaker in London. She married Francis John Hurd, an accountant, in the St. James’ Church, Paddington, in 1852. The couple didn’t have any children. Leah is named in her brother, Antonio’s will, written in 1876, but after that there are no definite records for her.
The Last Blitz Performer
Abraham Blitz grandson of the first Signor Blitz, nephew of the famous Signor Antonio Blitz and son of John, aka as Signor Blitz, was the last of the Blitz family performers. It seems that from the mid 1870s that he had started to perform on his own. This may well account for the fact that he used the stage name of ‘Herr A Blitz‘ as his father John was still performing then as Signor Blitz. His early solo performances seemed to consist of mainly of plate spinning. Newspaper write ups of the time describe him as the “extraordinary plate manipulator…spinning fourteen plates at a time…“
It’s not clear if Abraham actually ever travelled to America and met his famous Uncle, if not they must have corresponded. A good impression must have been made though as it was to Abraham that Antonio jnr. left all his “…magic tuck apparatus used by me in my performances of sleight of hand and legerdemain with the implements and utensils, trunks boxes, etc. …”. He said, in his will of 1877, that “…my nephew has been very kind to me during my sickness…“
By the 1880s, maybe having received his inheritance, he had added conjuring to his shows later becoming known as the “… Celebrated Conjuror and Wizard…“.
Following his marriage in 1883 to Mary Thompson, a widow with three children, Abraham took up more permanent employment as a Clerk. Supposedly by then his performances alone weren’t earning him enough to support his family especially they soon added two daughters of their own to their family. It wasn’t until around 1911, by then he possibly had retired, that he again called himself an ‘Entertainer Conjuror.’ Nonetheless, he was a popular entertainer and his death in 1923 brought to an end the 100-year reign of the family who were Metomophosist, Thaumaturgist, Ledgermainist, Illusionists, Ventriloquist, Conjurers and Plate Spinners extraordinaire.
Birmingham Daily Gazette – Friday 26 January 1923