“When ‘Devil’s Cargo’ premiered in 1948 in Harrison, Ohio, it was a double billing. “Lester (Lake) did the stage magic and then they showed John’s movie.”
Schlesselman also talked about Lake’s southeastern Indiana roots. “Lester attended a one-room school in New Trenton. Registration records show he did finish eighth grade. Then he was self-instructed and self-taught, and he read and read and read.
“He started in photography about age 14 and had a small section in his father’s store in which he worked.” In 1923, he purchased a photography studio and started working there on his 19th birthday. Lake Studios were located at what is now the corner of 6th and Main streets in Brookville.
“Lake took thousands of photos. He took pictures of Franklin County and when he went on trips .... (and) was the first to take aerial views of Brookville.
“It’s a shame his photos didn’t survive through the years because that would document the history of Franklin County,” she said.
“In 1927, Lester was making home movies, which was almost unheard of at that time. He tried trick or spirit photography. By the 1930s, he was showing movies of outside performances and death-defying feats .... He was friendly and personable and enjoyed entertaining people.”
Lake developed new and unusual acts. He was shackled and escaped from chains. He was boiled alive, but his burned alive act “was what he did best. He invented it and never told anyone how he did it .... The mystery of how he survived the flames was probably what made him popular.”
He was well-known for the perfection of the guillotine illusion, and he invented numerous tricks for Abbott’s Magic Co., some of which are still used today.
The genealogist reported, “In the early 1940s, John Calvert sent quite a few letters to Lester, suggesting he come to California to make it big. John thought Lester’s talent was going to waste because he wasn’t doing big shows. He probably stayed in this area because of his parents (who lived there) and he felt comfortable here.