From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Black Herman's Actual Death

(born: 1892  -  died: 1934) 

Black Herman was the stage name of Benjamin Rucker, an African American magician, illusionist, root doctor, and medicine man. He was born in Amherst, VA. He claimed his medicines could stamp the devil out of a tortured soul, and during his performance, a tortured soul from the audience (his brother or a friend), would drink the potion and be cured. Black Herman would hold up a snake or some other creature as proof of the devil's exit. Black Herman also performed stage illusions including his own death and resurrection. An audience would witness a supposedly dead Black Herman in a coffin, and when the coffin was being transported for burial, Black Herman would slip out of the coffin and leave town. When the coffin was retrieved from the ground a week or so later, Black Herman would arrange to get back into the coffin, and when the coffin was placed before an audience, he would step out of the coffin looking the picture of health.

As he had claimed, some thought Black Herman was beyond death. However, on April 17, 1934, Black Herman was performing in Louisville, KY, when he collapsed and died on stage. Some audience members refused to believe that he was actually dead, they expected him to reappear from his coffin in a week or so. According to his death certificate, Benjamin Rucker's body was received at Cooper Undertakers on W. Chestnut Street in Louisville. Once the body was prepared, there were so many viewers that the body was then taken to the train station where spectators could view the body for 10 cents per person before Rucker's body and coffin were taken by train to New York. The burial took place in Woodlawn Cemetery. Benjamin Rucker was the son of Pete and Louise Williams Rucker.

For more see Black Herman's Secrets of Magic-mystery and Legerdemain by Black Herman; and the Black Herman entry in Vaudeville Old & New by F. Cullen et al.

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Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: Black Herman's secrets of magic-mystery & legerdermain
NKAA Source: Vaudeville, old & new : an encyclopedia of variety performers in America

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Black Herman's Actual Death,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed May 28, 2024,

Last modified: 2019-11-16 13:33:48