Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Great Griffith


It was at noon on May 7th, 1912 that Dr. O. B. Griffith placed a long-distance phone call from Jamestown’s Gladstone Hotel. The key to getting it right was to have a clear phone connection, and using a company called Independent Telephone, Griffith was assured his voice would travel over a line made entirely of copper. Without this, he said, his mission could not be accomplished.

On the other end of the line was a young man named Oliver Taylor. At that moment, Taylor was lying on a cot in the show window of the Hotel McKenzie in Bismarck, and when the call came in, Taylor listened quietly and then fell asleep.

The following day, on this date, the Great Griffith Hypnotic Company arrived in Bismarck to prepare for a four-night engagement at the Bijou Theatre. At least one Bismarck reporter was excited, writing that the upcoming show would (quote), “offer a diversity that will be no doubt a relief to the Bijou’s patrons after a season of musical comedy and drama.”

Griffith had been touring the nation for several years by this point, although where he started out is somewhat of a mystery. By the time he brought his show to Bismarck in 1912, he was known not only for using hypnosis for comedy, but also for explaining how it worked. As one press release read: “...there is a scientific side at all times in evidence, and there is no mind so small or large that cannot lose itself in thought during any ten minutes of the show.”

On the evening of May 8th, a curious audience gathered at the Bijou, with the best seats selling for 35-cents.

Meanwhile, Oliver Taylor – still asleep – was transported from his cot to the stage at the Bijou. At precisely 8:30, the Great Griffith opened his show by awakening the young man from his 32-hour nap and then filling the next two hours with other acts of comedy and hypnosis.

The show was a hit, with one reporter very happy to see no stuffy actors with powdered wigs, no knee breeches and steel buckles, no stereotyped expressions, and no actors using phrases like “sweetheart mine.”

As the show reached the end of its four-day run, he wrote: “Tonight Griffith will hypnotize a class of fifteen young ladies, and some great excitement and amusement is promised to the audience. If you haven’t seen the hypnotist, go early tonight, or you will have difficulty in securing a seat.”

(Source: Bismarck Daily Tribune. May 6, 7, 8, 10 and 11, 1912.)

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm