The Davenport Brothers, Ira Erstus and William Henry Harrison, were born in Buffalo, NY in 1839 and 1841, respectively. At some point within their first ten years of life, the brothers and their family moved to Rochester, NY and encountered the Spiritualist Movement at the Fox family farmhouse in Hydesville.
The Davenports began performing basic illusions in a séance setting in 1852, according to P.T. Barnum in his 1875 book The Humbugs of the World,. They were "brought to New York City in 1855 by John F. Coles, a Spiritualist, who organized spiritual "circles" with the Davenport boys in the afternoon and evening at 195 Bowery"1.
After the boys' basic trickery was exposed (the lights were turned off, and the boys would frolic around the darkened room making noises, then claim that the noises were spirits when the lights were turned back on). The Davenports returned to Rochester to refine their séance trick. It was during this time that they created the Davenport Cabinet for use in their séances. After they had developed a working prototype of their cabinet, the Davenports began traveling the world performing séances in which the brothers would seemingly call up riotous spirits from within the cabinet. The spirits would play musical instruments, wreak havoc with audience members' clothing, untie the bound brothers, and display their arms and hands from within the cabinet.
Information about the Davenports' career after leaving Rochester is available at Prairie Ghosts and in Jim Steinmeyer's 2003 book Hiding the Elephant, among other sources.
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- 1Steinmeyer, Jim. Hiding the Elephant. New York, Carroll & Graf: 2003.