The Baldwins were the first magicians to do the spritualists’ question and answer routine on stage. They billed themselves as psychic sensations, and many thought they had actual powers, (even though they exposed psychic mediums, as fakes.)
Samri S. Balwin (1848-1924), born Samuel Spencer Baldwin, called himself “The White Mahatma,” a title he claimed was bestowed upon him by actual Mahatmas. Baldwin may have been the first to do the handcuff escape on stage, long before Houdini. He is also credited with inventing the clipboard used in mentalism.
What he and his wife were known best for was as exposers of Spirtualists. He did the Davenport Spirit Cabinet and exposed tricks done by Anna Eva Fay (before she went legit) and Dr. Slade. They traveled the world and were very successful, especially in Australia. This was in the 1870s, long before Houdini’s spiritualist exposes in the 1920s.
Julia Clara Mansfield (b. 1852) married Baldwin and was billed in the show as Clara Baldwin. The story of how she acquired her “powers” is, of course, not true. From the book by S. S. Baldwin, Spirit Mediums Exposed: “At the age of three [she] strayed from home and was found by an Indian squaw, with whom she spent 11 months before being restored to her home. Her natural clairvoyant powers have been developed by constant use, aided by Prof. Baldwin’s magnetic and mesmeric assistance.”
Much of her life remains a bit of a mystery. At the end of the 80’s, her name was replaced by Kittie Baldwin. What became of Clara is unclear. It is generally assumed that Kittie was his second wife. Kittie was actually Kate Russell, who had joined the show in the late 1880s as a singer, mimic and quick change artist. When Clara left, she took her place as a “thought reader,” and later as Mrs. Baldwin. On one of the posters she is billed as “Kate Russel, the Clairvoyant Queen and Mesmeric Trance Medium.”
They did not do a team mentalism act. This was a solo act, where people wrote questions on pieces of paper that they keep hidden in their pockets, and Kittie would answer the questions and describe the questioner. It is the type of act that requires a lot of showmanship.
The Hartford Connecticut Post described Kittie: “She is a young English woman of trim figure and a face pretty in its brightness. It reflects the possession of the highest order of intelligence combined with a merry heart that sends a constant smile to the surface. She speaks with a slight English accent. Until she came to this country a few months ago, she had been everywhere but America, so that she does not feel strange among the customs here having had experience of being a ‘foreigner’ many times before. She likes America very well. One thing about Mrs. Baldwin that will interest the ladies is, that she makes her own dresses. She has a special talent in that line, some of her creations being worthy of a Worth, without an attempt at a pun. She gets an idea for a dress, for the stage or street, and in whatever town she happens to be she sends out for a couple of expert seamstresses and when the job is done she has more cause for satisfaction than the ordinary woman with a new gown.” Yes, the takeaway by this male reporter from the life of this woman who does amazing things on stage is that she designs her own dresses.
When she appeared as Kate Russel she did the Butterfly act. As The Butterfly Mimic and World’s Greatest Facial Delineator, she sang, danced, and delivered monologues. She did “Living Pictures” featuring an assortment of 42 different characters.
Here is another newspaper article description: “The priestess through whose personality the Oracle gives forth its utterances, is an accomplished lady, Mrs. Kittie Baldwin, who is gifted with great mimetic talent, an easy and natural stage presence, and a good voice over which she shows remarkable control. Mrs. Baldwin also exhibits wonderful powers of memory, great shrewdness of perception, and admirable tact, all of which qualities stand her in good stead in the finished and clever performance in which she plays a leading part, and make her indeed a help meet for her able husband.”
Samri and Kittie had a daughter (perhaps adopted), Blanche “Shadow” Baldwin. In his later years, Samri and Shadow did readings together, and he seemed to be presenting himself as a genuine mystic. He began to believe himself, and joined a Spiritualist church. By the time of her father’s death the family fortune had been squandered away, and Shadow wound up reading tea leaves for a living. Despite it having been a big part of her family’s livelihood, she was not happy with Houdini when he brought his Spiritualism expose shows to the west, where she felt it was hurting her business.