- [S73] Rawlings Funeral Home, Book 2, 24 Sep 1965.
Roy Victor Fine obituary
- [S73] Rawlings Funeral Home, Book 2, 22 Jan 1945.
J. G. Fine obituary
- [S73] Rawlings Funeral Home, Book 2, 21 Sep 1957.
Hazel Louise Fox obituary
- [S106] The Mountain Press, 9 Jan 2012.
Upland Chronicles: Magician, escape artist Charles Fine remembered Caption
by CARROLL McMAHAN
Charles Fine and his dummy named Willie which he used in his ventriloquist act.
Charles Fine poses for this picture just before being thrown into the river in an escape attempt. Behind Charles who is seated and tied with ropes are (left to right) Rex Fox, Claude Ownby, Sr. Homer Fine and T. A. Robertson.
Charles Fine is pictured with his collection of handcuffs in 1934.
While recovering from influenza, young Charles Fine read an ad in a magazine: “Learn to be a Magician.” Intrigued, he wrote to the world’s most famous magician, Harry Houdini, expressing his interest in magic escapes.
The Great Houdini answered the letter and included two pictures along with information and words of encouragement.
Charles soon ordered a correspondence course from Harlen Tarbell School of Magic in Chicago. He studied for almost three years.
Charles made numerous trips back and forth to Chicago for tests. He was also a student of ventriloquism, an art in which he excelled.
He crafted a dummy out of wood and named it Willie. Charles dressed Willie in a brown checked suit and high top lace-up shoes. The shirt, tie and socks came from the Fine family and the shoes had belonged to Glenn and Hugh Fox.
Born Aug. 29, 1910, Charles Henry Fine was one of six sons of John Fine and Margaret Nine Fine of Middle Creek.
Charles was 22 when he was presented a diploma from Harlan Tarbell School of Magic. On Nov. 4, 1932, he was admitted as a member in the Society of American Magicians. He was the first in Sevier County to be a member and reputedly Sevier County’s first magician.
He met Joseph J. Kolar, an outstanding escape artist who had worked for Houdini for 12 years. Charles took a course in escapes from Kolar and graduated as an expert escape artist. His ability to perform magic and escape was recognized by the Society of American Magicians and he was voted second best to Houdini at the society’s national conference in Chicago.
Before touring the country, Charles wanted to entertain his friends in Sevier County. His first show was at Middle Creek School where he had once been a student. He was greeted by a large crowd excited to see what this young magician could do.
During the show he did several tricks, including making a canary and a rabbit disappear. Much to the astonishment of the homefolks, Charles was locked in chains and nailed inside a wooden box, which he escaped in less than three minutes. One man in the audience fainted when Lavanna McMahan screamed loudly as she was placed in a box and appeared to be sawed in half.
While assembling his magic show, Charles purchased a specially built van for traveling and transporting his equipment. Accompanied by Buford Townsend and Conley Sims, he went to Ohio to pick up the van.
Loren Thurman and Buford Townsend booked and advertised the shows. Conley Sims, along with two of Charles’ brothers, George and Homer, served as set-up men.
Lavanna McMahan was Charles’ stage assistant. On the day of the first show Lavanna married Conley Sims and the newlyweds traveled together to the show at Wearwood School in Wears Valley, which was the outset of a tour around the Southeastern states.
Charles Fine, now using the name The Great Dank — a name which was given to him as a child by a neighbor — gave a performance on Sunday afternoon, April 16, 1933, near his home at Middle Creek, where he performed his own original grave escape.
A wooden coffin was constructed on the ground, piece by piece, out of 2-by-6 lumber and the corner post was of 2-by-4’s put together with 20 penny nails. Constructed in full view of the audience, the sturdy coffin was subject to examination from anyone wishing to inspect the box.
Charles was placed in the coffin and lowered into a 7-foot-deep grave. The lid had been securely nailed and two small holes were made in the lid for ventilation pipes.
Dirt estimated at 3,000 pounds was shoved on the coffin. Several individuals talked with Charles through the ventilation pipes after he was buried. Some even dropped small items such as pencils and coins for him to bring out to prove he was really in the coffin.
The crowd was then moved back from the grave and a curtain was drawn around the grave. There was a hushed silence for about seven minutes until suddenly Charles appeared, leaving no clue as to how he escaped. He then returned the items that were dropped through the pipes.
On March 10, 1934, in the Sevier County High School Auditorium, Charles was shackled and placed into a wooden box with a lid which was then placed in another wooden box and its lid nailed down to make both boxes secure. The curtain was dropped around the boxes. Many in the audience feared he would smother to death.
Suddenly a loud rattling of the chains was heard and Charles appeared with only a slight wound on his head where a nail had grazed him.
The Great Dank gave a free exhibition on Aug. 5, 1933, in the west prong of the Little Pigeon River just off the road between the farms of Dr. John Ogle and Nelson Caton. An estimated crowd of 2,000 trampled down a cornfield to watch.
After handcuffs were placed on his wrists and shackles around his arms and a chain holding his arms securely, he was thrown in the river and made his escape and swam to safety in about 30 seconds.
Later that same day he was locked in 26 pounds of handcuffs, shackles and chains by Victor Allen and Postmaster L.E. Sarten, after which he was placed in a box the lid being nail on and the box lowered in the river. Seconds later, he appeared unscathed.
While traveling around the country, Charles received a letter from his mother asking him to come home because she was not well. He continued on with the shows for a short time before deciding his family came first.
After returning home he met Marjorie Henderson of Pine Grove. Charles and Marjorie married on Jan. 10, 1942. They had been married six months when he received his call for military service. While in the Army, he began doing some watch repairing in the barracks.
After his discharge from the Army Charles repaired watches and clocks for friends and neighbors. In 1947 he began selling watches and doing repairs at Robertson Brothers Hardware Co. Within a few years he was operating Fine’s Jewelry Store, where he sold jewelry and repaired clocks and watches for over two decades.
After 30 years of marriage to Marjorie and rearing a son, Charles Henry Fine Jr., The Great Dank passed away on Nov. 2, 1971. He was 61 years old.
The daring escapes by The Great Dank in the 1930s left lasting impact on the citizens of Sevier County. Although Charles had not participated in a magic show in 20 years, one day in the late 1950s an elderly lady looked in the door of Fine’s Jewelry Store and said, “That’s that old hant Fine in thar.”
Carroll McMahan is the special projects facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce. The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments, please contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org; or Ron Rader at 604-9161 or email to email@example.com.
- [S112] Census, 1920.
Name: Charles H Fine
Residence: , Sevier, Tennessee
Estimated Birth Year: 1911
Relationship to Head of Household: Son
Marital Status: Single
Father's Birthplace: Tennessee
Mother's Birthplace: West Virginia
Film Number: 1821762
Digital Folder Number: 4390948
Image Number: 00267
Sheet Number: 16
Household Gender Age
Parent John G Fine M 49y
Parent Margaret M Fine F 46y
Riley M Fine M 18y
George R Fine M 16y
Roy V Fine M 12y
Charles H Fine M 9y
Homer E Fine M 6y
- [S75] Atchley Funeral Home Records, Volume II, 1955-1973, Larry D. Fox, (Smoky Mountain Historical Society), 2 Nov 1971.
Fine, Charles Henry Sr 61 b. Aug 29, 1910 d. 11-2-71 DOA UT jeweler f. John m. Margaret Nine veteran WW II Cpl 3541 AAFBU LAAF Lincoln NE 8-8-42 Ft Ogle 9-28-45 Lincoln NE Henderson Chapel Bapt Cem Survivors: wife Marjorie Henderson Fine R4 son Charles Fine Jr 1 dau-in-law Anita Hurst Fine 3 bro Riley M Fine Sev Homer E Fine Sev George Fine Knox host of other relatives & friends mem & deacon of Henderson Chapel Ch owner & operator Fine Jewelers.
- [S34] In the Shadow of the Smokies, Smoky Mountain Historical Society, (1993), 348.
Tenn CPL Army
Air Force WWII