Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, is among the most celebrated American science fiction writers to have ever lived. But well before his flourishing career started, Bradbury and his brother spent their summers working for traveling circuses that passed through their hometown of Waukegan, Illinois.
When Bradbury was only 12, a mystical encounter with a sideshow magician who went by the stage name Mr. Electrico, kickstarted his lifelong passion for writing.
However, shortly after their exchange, Mr. Electrico mysteriously disappeared into the dark cornfields of America’s heartland.
A Fateful Encounter
The murder of Bradbury’s uncle, Lester Moberg, left the young boy grappling with his own mortality during the summer of 1932. According to the author, he witnessed Mr. Electrico’s enthralling performance shortly after. The magician touched Bradbury on the nose with his sword, zapping between 50,000 and 10 billion volts of electricity through his tiny body before exclaiming, “Live forever!”
In 2001, Bradbury wrote, “I felt that something strange and wonderful had happened to me because of my encounter with Mr. Electrico … [he] gave me a future … I began to write, full-time. I have written every single day of my life since that day 69 years ago.”
The next day, Bradbury went to his beloved uncle’s funeral. He then returned to the circus to see the mysterious magician again. During their meeting, Mr. Electrico revealed that he had met Bradbury before in a former life. The magician said, “You were my best friend in France in 1918, and you died in my arms in the Battle of the Ardennes Forest that year. And here you are, born again, in a new body, with a new name. Welcome back!”
A few weeks later, Bradbury completed his first series of short stories. He wanted to become a writer to gain immortality.
Who Was Mr. Electrico?
The young Bradbury’s exchange with Mr. Electrico was so profound that it not only changed the course of his life, but the author made the magician a featured character in his novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. But who exactly was Mr. Electrico?
Both Bradbury fanatics and researchers have tried to find out, only to come up empty-handed. And although Bradbury’s accounts of his meetings with Mr. Electrico are incredibly detailed, many don’t add up.
For instance, Bradbury reported seeing the magician perform on Labor Day weekend of 1932, immediately after his uncle’s passing. However, Moberg didn’t succumb to his injuries until October 24, months after Labor Day.
While there was no shortage of “electric wonder workers” during the 1930s, no definitive records of a Mr. Electrico ever existed. Moreover, the mysterious magician seemed to have used a masculinized version of the stage name many “electric girls” of the time went by, including Miss Electra or Electricia.
Whether Mr. Electrico was a real magician or a mystical being that said the exact words Bradbury needed to hear at that point in his life, we’ll never know. However, it set into motion Bradbury’s literary life and love of writing. And for that, we are eternally grateful to the elusive Mr. Electrico.
By Stephanie Weaver, contributor for Ripleys.com