Spidora - the woman with the body of a spider

This is likely how the spider illusion
was originally presented on the stage.

The human spider or spider woman illusion, which came to be known as Spidora, is an illusion where a woman's head seems to be grafted onto a spider's body. It was invented by magician Henry Roltair in the late 1800s as a stage trick, and then exhibited in his traveling show and at Coney Island. It became a common illusion in carnival midways, with the talker's spiel enticing you to "step right up and meet the living girl with the beautiful face and the body of a hideous spider..."

It would be interesting to see what a modern presentation might be like if it used a combination of robotics and the old principle used in this illusion. To me, the problem with this illusion is that it's too obvious that there's a real woman's head attached to a fake spider's body, so a viewer merely wonders how her body is being hidden and never believes that it's a real spider woman.

Then again, the illusion is over 100 years old and it still fools people, so what do I know?

The illusion as presented in Tod 
Browning's 1927 movie "The Show"
(Mr. Browning is also responsible 
for the sideshow horror film "Freaks.")


In "The Show", the illusion was called 
"Arachnadia! The Human Spider".
Now this is the face of a spider woman.


Here, Spidora seems 
embarrassed by her fate.


A faded photograph of a spider woman 
illusion banner and her tent.


This circus sideshow banner was painted by the 
artist Snap (David C. Wyatt) in the 1930s.
Banners said "Alive" to distinguish the 
"living" attractions from various 
types of stuffed displays.


A self-contained Spidora and 
her three gentleman callers.


Looks like this Spidora 
has a bit of lobster in her.


A boxy Spidora


An illustration in the 
Abbotts Magic Company catalog
advertising a Spidora.


 Spidora as exhibited by 
John Strong Shows.


 A contemporary Spidora banner 
for a haunted house.


Spidora in a box with bikini talker.


Spidora - alive.

- The spider woman illusion appears, along with other actual sideshow illusions, in the 1927 movie The Show by Tod Browning. The entire movie is on YouTube. At 4:30, you can see "Cock Robin, the ballyhoo man at the Palace of Illusions" present a series of illusions, including"Arachnadia! The Human Spider" The Show, YouTube>>

Other Spider woman photos are from:
- John Strong>>
- Carny Trash>>
- Adam Arcana, Myspace>>
- Deborah Klein's Art Blog>>
- Anorak>>
- Double - M, Flickr>>
- James D. Julia Auction>>
- Sideshow World>>
- Hauntspace>>
- Weird Vintage>>

- And if you want to make your own Spidora, there are plans in the book Haunted Illusions, by Paul Osborne>>

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