The Girl in the Burlap Sack

It’s funny the things that stick with you from reading. Ever since I read about girls who talk to dead people getting put in sacks and nailed to the stage floor at the decline of the Spiritualist century, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. About the itch of the burlap, about the fear if you didn’t trust the person who was nailing you down. Are you a con artist? Do you believe you can do what you are about to do?

I keep having this thought of a young gal, whose partner has turned no good, and the nails are coming closer and closer every night, between fingers, between her legs, through her hair. So, she knows she has to escape.

But how do you get out of the nailed-down sack?

This morning, I was thinking about that on my walk when I realized, my cousin J. is a magician. I don’t know how many escapes he’s done, if any. But he’d certainly know how they were done. So, I sent him the premise–how do you get a girl nailed into a sack out of the sack and off stage so that the audience and the dude who put her in the sack don’t see it?

And we’re going to talk it through tonight.

7 thoughts on “The Girl in the Burlap Sack

  1. Just a guess, but stages have trap-doors for vanishes. If I were nailing a sack down, I’d have a sack within a sack — one for the girl to step into, the other more or less a covering to nail to the stage. I’d make a big show of nailing the covering to the stage over the trap door (maybe even invite a shill up from the audience to nail it down). I might pull up a sheet (up! down!) long enough for the assistant to fall away.

    By the way, if you haven’t read Glen Gold’s Carter Beats the Devil (about vaudeville magicians and a notorious vanish), pick it up. It’s very good.

  2. If she suspected him, she could hide a small knife or edged tool somewhere in her voluminous 19th century garments or piled up hair, and use it to cut her way loose when the stage lights are down.

  3. Yeah, but this is a small time con artist and, basically, her pimp. She’s got to escape him, too, during the act. So, she doesn’t have the help of an assistant and I don’t think we can assume he’d be careless enough to give her a chance to rig the bag or to maneuver over a trap door.

    I was thinking, Jess, that she’d have a knife hidden on her or that she’d use one of the less well-hammered nails.

    But I don’t think she can count on stage lights. Most likely, they’d be outdoors during the day.

    I will have to check out Carter Beats the Devil. That sounds great.

  4. But even a con artist gone bad can’t make that trick work w/o a trap door, false back to a cabinet, or something like it. He will come up with innocent-sounding reasons why it has to be carried out on his stage, with the front masked, etc. That’s what con artists do. So she can escape through the trap door and then sneak away. It’s even easier for her if it’s outside, because she doesn’t have to get out the door of a building.

  5. Yes, but her disappearance is not the con. He expects her to stay in the bag and pontificate about dead people. So, he’s not bringing any props on stage that allow her to escape the sack, because there’s no need of them.

    She needs to escape on her own, without his knowledge and cooperation.

    That’s what I need to mull over w/John. How do you get out of a sack you’ve been nailed in to the floor in broad daylight in front of witnesses?

  6. OK, it’s outside. So no floor. So there will have to be a stage, so she can be nailed to it. She’ll have to wear an extra extra-large dress, with padding if necessary, over her skimpiest regular clothes. She has pretended to put some weight on over time, maybe, to make it convincing to the guy. (This also has given her a chance to surreptitiously pry some floorboards loose in the stage where she usually crawls into the bag, and create a trapdoor.) When the time is right, she goes into the bag in the fat clothes over the skimpy clothes, and it turns out he’s nailing the fat clothes to the floor inside the bag, not her in her skimpy clothes. So she cuts the fat clothes and the bottom of the bag, lifts the trap door, and rolls under the stage. If it’s a low stage, she puts the trapdoor back after her and rolls into a dark corner. Then when everyone’s looking for her, she gets out and skadoodles. If it’s a high stage, she just lams it out the back, having first made some cryptic remarks about how she’s going to be quiet for a while.

    Clearly, to make this work she has to be a ventriloquist as well, and also maybe a gymnast (to hide all the moves with cutting herself out and all. Of course, she can cover for a lot of the movements by being sexy, doing a lot of wriggles while getting into the bag, stuff like that, so some extra thrashing around will be expected. But the sexy spiritualist would help pull in more marks, so I’m sure that would be fine.

    I can see this working as a plot, in an outrageously campy sort of way.

  7. Although, frankly, if I were that girl, I’d jump out of the wagon/car/train to get away, or give the guy the slip on the way to the show. Why wait?

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