A Tribute to Robert A. Nelson

A Biography of Sorts

For many years, I've searched for the definitive biography of Robert A. Nelson. There have been the occasional articles in magic magazines every so often, but none that examine in detail the life of one of the pivotal figures in 20th century mentalism.

Nelson himself published a biography of sorts shortly before he died ("The Last Book Of Nelson"), but there are huge gaps in the book that leave one wondering how much Nelson was willing to reveal about his life. One is left in the position of an intelligence analyst, inferring what Nelson was like from his published works - the books, manuscripts and catalogs that make up the Nelson legacy.

This much we know from the Nelson canon...

At a time when professional mentalism was only in its infancy (the early 1920s), Nelson Enterprises supplied practically everything a professional mind reader, fortune teller or spook show worker would need: complete mind reading acts (including turban), miniature radio devices, crystal balls, enchanted talking lamps & tea kettles, blindfolds, prediction chests, codes, hypnotism routines, cold reading manuscripts, impression pads, clipboards, reaching rods, nail writers, spirit trumpets, slates, luminous paint, book tests, horoscopes, pitch books, tick sheets, good luck tokens... and much, much more.

One might even say that Nelson Enterprises was one of the primary links between the 19th century Spiritualist mediums and the 20th century establishment of the new entertainment form known as Mentalism.

But Bob Nelson did much more than simply supply the material needs of professional workers. He was a professional worker himself, appearing over the years as a stage mentalist, magician, spook show entrepreneur and radio psychic. From these experiences and the experiences of those he encountered on the road, Bob Nelson was able to put into print the methods, routines and acts that launched and sustained the careers of many mentalists and readers.

Although Annemann generally receives credit for fueling the engine of early mentalism, Nelson was almost single-handedly responsible for documenting the once-secret art of professional psychic readers. While "The Art of Cold Reading" is probably his most widely-known book on the subject, Nelson was publishing "the full facts" about Q&A and cold reading as early as 1925 with "Answers To Questions" (DeLawrence) and again in 1929 with "Confessions of A Medium."

Do Sylvia Browne, John Edward and James Van Praagh have copies of Nelson's books in their libraries? Perhaps not. But one can't help but think that today's mediums amd spiritual advisors might certainly find them to be of great interest.

Where did Nelson stand on the subject of professional ethics? It's hard to say, since on the one hand he purported to "reveal" the under-handed methods of private readers, and on the other hand supplied everything these supposedly unscrupulous characters needed to ply their trade. I suspect that Bob Nelson was, at the end of the day, a businessman, and didn't spend an inordinate amount of time agonizing over ethics. But it doesn't appear that we'll ever know, at least not until someone unearths previously unknown documents or diaries.

Until that day, we'll need to piece together the Nelson Puzzle based on a few facts and his prodigious writing. With that in mind, here are a few dates and facts that we know...

1900 - Larry Nelson (aka Allah Rageh) born. Although some sources cite Larry's birth date as 1899, 1900 is the year on his death certificate and social security records.

November 16, 1901 - Robert A. Nelson born in Columbus, Ohio.

1911 - Bob becomes interested in magic.

1914 - Brothers Larry and Bob form their 1st pro mindreading act.

1915 - Their mother takes them to the San Francisco World's Fair to present their code act.

1915 - Larry and Bob present The Magical Revue, a 2-hour show that plays the Central Ohio circuit.

1915 - The Rageh Trio is formed (Bob, Larry, and boyhood friend Cecil Case, who plays "Dr. Boulevant")

1916 - Bob and Larry meet Howard Thurston backstage and are impressed that he addresses them as "Gentlemen."

1916 - Allah Rageh & Company is formed while Bob and Larry are still in high school. They play every suburban theater in the Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati area, selling question coupons, crystals, horoscopes and lucky charms after their shows.

1921 - Nelson Enterprises established to meet the demand of professional mentalists. First big customer was Ali Axiom, a stage mindreader.

1920s - Larry smells the big-time and heads to Hollywood. After a few small roles, he will eventually return.

1928 - Bob appears on Detroit radio station WJR, receiving 40% of all revenues from horoscopes sold over the air. Purchasers receive with each book a coupon good for one answer to a personal question. (All sales came with a money-back guarantee, of course.) The 15-minute show lasts for 25 weeks, and is terminated only when Bob is stalked by an emotionally unstable fan and high-tailed it to Cleveland.

1930 - Bob hits on the idea of launching a direct-mail campaign to past customers, and receives an 80% response rate.

1930s - Originally approached by Greystoke to help with demand for spook shows (Bob turned him down), the London Ghost Show is created.

1930s - Bob and Larry take to the airwaves with seperate radio shows. Bob assumes the persona of Dr. Korda RaMayne ("The Voice of Destiny"), and sells horoscopes on many local radio stations, including Mansfield and Dayton, Ohio stations. It is a role that he will play for over seven years.

1935 - Bob discovers "Hellstromism", and uses it to book appearances on additional radio stations.

1930s - Bob creates the "Sonia Zaranoff and Her Talking Tea Kettle" act.

1943 - Alexander, Crystal Seer, retires and sells Bob his entire show... all 7 tons of it.

1947 - Bob presents his "loaf of bread" prediction at the annual I.B.M. convention.

1947 - Collier's Magazine runs "Ghosts For Sale" article, highlighting the Nelson Ghost Factory. The publicity results in Bob presenting the first (and last) spook show performed on national radio (Gulf Oil Company's "We the People" show).

1950s - Bob is retained by Disney to act as technical advisor for Disneyland's "Haunted House." Although Nelson claims in "The Last Book of Nelson" that he was working with Disney during the 1940s, Diego Domingo has correctly pointed out that since Disneyland didn't open until the mid 1950s, Nelson could not have been consulting with Disney until after Disneyland had been open for some time.

1950s - After a few less-than-successful attempts at breaking into television, including an 8-week stint as "Dr. Korda RaMayne" on WTVN in Columbus, Bob turns his full attention to Nelson Enterprises.

February 21, 1973 - Robert A. Nelson moves on to The Big Spook Show in the Sky.

A NOTE FOR THE PURISTS: As you may have guessed, The Secret Domain of Dr. RaMayne is a labor of love, and is in no way meant to be a definitive document on the life and times of Robert A. Nelson. There are others who have spent even more of their time, money and effort than I have, and I urge you to contact them and encourage them to continue their scholarship of this intriguing subject.

Mr. Diego Domingo of Southern California is one such scholar who I have had the pleasure of corresponding with over the years, and his help has been invaluable in my own study of Nelson. He can be contacted online at or by writing to: Diego Domingo, P.O. Box 1463, Studio City, CA 91614-0463.

Regarding the comprehensiveness of this biographical timeline, I originally put off the creation of this website for quite some time, with the thought that I didn't have all the information required for it to be complete. I finally came to the realization that if anyone is sufficiently bothered by a lack of detail, they will either a) supply me with the necessary information to rectify the situation, or b) create a better web site. Either way, the benefit will be felt by Nelson fans everywhere.

As such, The Secret Domain will be updated at irregular intervals. If you have other dates or information, please feel free to contact me and I'll add them to the timeline.


a presentation
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