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'Annie Abbott: Little Georgia Magnet' 19th century showmanship, sleight of hand

Dixie Haygood thwarting men with a pool cue.

"Annie Abbot, 'The Little Georgia Magnet' and the True Story of Dixie Haygood" by Susan J. Harrington Ph.D., Hugh T. Harrington


Born in Milledville, Georgia in 1860, Dixie Jarrett Haygood probably first saw Lulu Hurst perform as “The Georgia Wonder” in about 1884. Hurst appeared to possess such amazing strength that she could throw to the ground three full-sized men who’d been sitting in a single chair. With seemingly little effort, she resisted a group of men with nothing more than a pool cue held in her open palm. The show stopper, though, was an act called the “lift test.” Apparently, no man could lift her, no matter how hard he struggled, unless she wished it. All this provided many occasions for amusement.

It just so happened during one of her Hurst’s shows, Dixie’s husband, Charles Haygood, was called up as a volunteer. Afterward, the two of them were able to duplicate the tests as well, if not better, than Hurst herself. Whereas Hurst was a large woman, Dixie was petite, making it all the more amusing later when she threw multiple large men around.

Sorting out Dixie Haygood’s history was not easy, according to authors, husband and wife Susan J. and Hugh T Harrington. Several people used the stage name “Annie Abbott, the Little Georgia Magnet” around the same time. To make matters worse, a later husband/manager of Jarrett’s, Edwin Abbey, split with her to manage an Annie May Abbott. His brother, Theodore Abbott, managed a third Annie Abbott. Jarrett eventually charged her unsuccessfully with theft of jewelry. If that weren’t enough, Jarrett’s son, Charlie Haygood, wrote a book in which he borrows the history of a tour of one of the other Annies to concoct a trip for himself and his mother.

The idea of magnetism was seen as an extension of the spiritualism that was popular at the time. It was a force of nature and could be used for healing. It was not such a stretch that it could be the source of unusual strength:

“In the early 19th century, animal magnetism was seen as a fluid or force that pervaded the universe and was especially concentrated in animal nervous systems and magnets. …being ‘magnetized’ or having magnets or therapists’ hands pass over parts of a patient’s body could rearrange this fluid and have a healing effect.”(Chapter 1)

The authors say they were fortunate in being able to contact a descendant of Haygood’s who still had memorabilia, including pictures, an autograph book and a diary. This helped clarify Haygood’s movements.

The authors quote extensively from the newspapers of the day. Though never stated, the assumption is that her feats were parlor tricks achieved by leverage and misdirection. Never are any of her secrets explained. Just the same, Jarrett Haygood was debunked often in her own time, once by no less a personage than pioneering journalist Nellie Bly. When things got too hot for her, she simply moved on.

Jarrett’s life makes for an interesting, if ultimately sad, read.

A significant annoyance with the eBook is the formatting. Quotes from the newspapers are indented and italicized in an ugly font. A picture actually covered text. Lastly, in the back of the book, there is a chart showing the various Annie Abbotts with their husbands and/or managers and what happened to each. It is spread over two pages in the ebook, making it difficult to decipher.

*An earlier version of this review appeared at Epinions, which is no longer active. It has been altered*

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