MEMOIRS - 06 - Psycho

Who in London, in the days of Maskelyne and Cooks, had not heard of Psycho? I think every man, woman and child had heard of this famous mechanical man, that could do arithmetic, spell and play cards. Psycho was first exhibited to the public at ‘England’s Home of Mystery’ in January, 1875; and when he first made his bow to the public, he could nod his head, work out intricate sums in addition, division and multiplication; spell smoke cigarettes and play whist.

Psycho was a dwarf figure, with the face of a Hindu. He had clockwork entrails, and was seated on a glass cylinder. He sat in the middle of the stage, without wires or tubes connecting him with anything, supported on his transparent pedestal, apparently perfectly detached from any connection whatever. It was his playing of whist that made him famous. He not only played but he won.

I have actually played a game of whist with Psycho, so if I tell you what happened, you will get an idea of how this strange figure was able to captivate the interest of all and sundry, who paid a visit to Maskelyne F. Cooke’s famous Theatre, England’s Home of Mystery. This is what happened.

Mr. Nevil Maskelyne, who presented Psycho the evening I was there, called for three members of the audience to come up onto the stage, and have a game of whist with Psycho. I was one of the three volunteers, and up onto the stage we went, and after inspecting and examining this strange mechanical figure, we cut for partners, and seated ourselves around a small table in front of Psycho. On this table was a small stand with thirteen slits in it, to hold Psycho’s cards; these cards, of course, were facing him, and could not be seen by any of the other players. In the cut, I had drawn Psycho as my partner. The cards were then shuffled in turn by the three volunteer players, cut and dealt in the usual way. The cards dealt in front of Psycho, was picked up by Mr. Maskelyne and placed in the card stand, already mentioned.

The game then proceeded, and when it was Psycho’s turn to play his hand came up with a jerky sort of movement, and stopped over a certain card, and then descended, and the fingers closed over the card, and it was slowly and jerkingly lifted from the stand and the arm was extended, and the fingers opened, and the card fluttered down on to the table; and so the game proceeded, and of course we, Psycho and I, won. How, I don’t quite know; it certainly was not through my good play, so it must have been through Psycho’s psychic sense. This mechanical figure still exists to-day, and is, I believe, in the London Museum; but the vital secret of its workings is locked in the hearts of the Maskelyne family.