Saturday, November 7, 2015

The escape artist who died in my own backyard (apparently) UPDATE: Fake!

Today is the last day of the Los Angeles Conference on Magic History, so I thought I'd put this one up for attendees who might want to take a look at this bit of magic history for themselves (it's only a mile from the conference hotel). This came as a complete surprise to me.

I've lived in Studio City for six years now and I frequently cross a bridge at Colfax Ave. and Ventura Blvd. that spans the L.A. River flood control channel. I've never thought to stop and read the plaque that sits on the bridge until just a few weeks ago. I just about fell over when I did so:

Click to enlarge.

NORWOOD CHEEK BRIDGE -

Norwood was a silent movie star, vaudevillian magician, and escape artist. His most notable films were, "And In Bluebird", "Manchild", and "Bamboo Huts". His career flourished despite being eclipsed by Charlie Chaplin and Harry Houdini. No prints of his films remain. They were lost in a studio fire in 1919.

Norwood passed away on this bridge while attempting and upside down straight jacket escape. During the stunt, a sudden flash flood rushed through the Los Angeles river and he was struck by a boulder. He was able to release himself from the jacket, but his body was swept away and never found.

I've never heard of Norwood Cheek, nor have I ever heard of any escape artist being killed doing a suspended straitjacket escape, let alone in my own backyard! I've searched Ask Alexander, MagicPedia, and even IMDb and could find nothing on his films, magic career, nor his fatal accident. Nevertheless, there is his story written, literally, in stone. Wild.


If you're at the L.A. History Conference and would like to visit the bridge, turn left out of The Garland hotel onto Vineland. Take Vineland to Ventura Blvd. and turn right. Travel about a mile down Ventura Blvd. to Colfax Ave. and turn right. The bridge and plaque (which is fixed to a boulder in the middle of the sidewalk) will be right in front of you.

UPDATE: Alerted to the possibility that this could be a fake by friends far less gullible than me, I went back and had a closer look. Indeed, it is a fake plaque glued over the real one. What the purpose of this prank was I have no idea (I doubt it was done just to fool me). I also don't know how long this remained in place. But it's gone now. The great Norwood Cheek hoax plaque is now part of my collection.


18 comments:

  1. i suspect that this is a hoax, possibly perpetrated by somebody named Norwood Cheek who had that plaque printed and then pasted it over whatever was originally engraved on that stone. i'm just speculating, of course, but people do silly things like print their own names on Walk of Fame stars so somebody might do this. They may live near the bridge and got the idea while passing by that stone. (an entire criminal profile of this hoaxer is occurring to me suddenly but i'll spare you...)
    Neither Norwood nor his films appear in any of my silent film reference books, btw.

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    1. I'll have a closer look at the plaque next time I'm there. There is a modern filmmaker named Norwood Cheek. On his Wikipedia page is the only mention of this Norwood Cheek I can find online. Does seem a bit suspicious.

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  2. Very strange. So strange I am calling it a hoax. Flash flood while performing a 10 minute straightjacket escape? Hardly. No date when this all occurred on the plaque?

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  3. I did a search within the LA newspaper online archives and found nothing.

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  4. I now believe this is indeed fake. As Bullet said, someone probably put a plaque over the existing one. I never looked that closely. Later today I'm going back and will take a close look. Stand by.

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  5. What did the real plaque pertain to?

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  6. Isn't it uplifting to have one's suspicions and lack of faith confirmed? i'm 90% certain that the Norwood on the Wikipedia page is the one behind this. So, yes, please let us know what was underneath the fake plaque??

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  7. Apart from anything else, someone who had researched their subject matter properly would be likely to have the integrity to use the original and correct spelling of 'straitjacket'.

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  8. Nice catch Bullet! I fell for it like a rank amateur. The plaque looks real in the photos. Was it intended to fool John by someone who knows he walks in the area? The perpetrator understands Houdini and silent films.

    I think the real plaque underneath says: This is the bridge where Winky the Clown jumped off and ended his life.

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  9. The words on the real plaque are now obscured by the adhesive and junk from the fake, so I couldn't really make out what it said. I believe it's some kind of poem or prose. The bridge, by the way, is called the Colfax Bridge.

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  10. I looked at the history of his Wikipedia Page and found that the mention of his silent film ancestor was first added 5 October 2015 without any references.

    http://tinyurl.com/q97nrys

    Interestingly though, the page was originally created by someone with the handle "Polavision" on 30 October 2006
    http://tinyurl.com/qxcvxos

    His additions over the years once turned it into a resume (that got trimmed back) so I'm thinking that Cheek and Polavision are one in the same.

    I also found out what was on the original plaque and it really should be cleaned up.

    “In the past, a boulder like this one could be propelled by rushing waters from as far away as the San Gabriel Mountains through an uncontrolled Los Angeles River during a flood. Nina Karavasiles”

    http://tinyurl.com/oqxfhy6

    Whoever glued that plaque on over the artist's original work was a real jerk!

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    1. Great work John. Yeah, I'm thinking the culprit here is this Norwood Cheek character. Wonder what his plan was/is? October 5, eh? I first saw the plaque not too long after that. I took my pics on Oct 17, but I had first seen it a week or two earlier. Don't remember the exact day.

      I agree. This was the work of jerk.

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  11. A little naptha and some cotton or a paper towel should get the gunk off. Ronsonol lighter fluid works well too.

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    1. It's like rubber cement, so the gunk peels right off. Unfortunately, the letters are stenciled on and parts have come off with the gunk. It will need to be re-lettered.

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    2. If you look on the bottom of the artist's page that I linked to you can find her contact info. You might want to reach out with a link to this discussion and see if she can help fix the plaque.

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  12. To John Simpson: very impressive detective work, sir!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for saying so. It was my pleasure and besides, this one was a lot easier than the Dick Van Dyke question a while back!

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