This unusual, and admittedly rather creepy looking, postcard came up for sale recently on eBay. The “robot” on the left is Enigmarelle who was, according to the card, “the rage of London”. I was inspired to research a little further, and found an excellent article on the website cyberneticzoo (click here for article). As you may have guessed, it seems that there was a man inside the automaton with a false head on top of his own. That man was the unfortunate Alba Root, who lost both his legs in a railway accident when he was younger. Alba was able to ride a unicycle with artificial legs, and there a photographs of Enigmarelle riding a bicycle on stage.
I also discovered the following news story in a 1905 edition of The Entr’acte & Limelight.
Saturday 26 August 1905
Mr Garrett was engaged on Friday, at the West London Court, in hearing summonses taken out by Sub-Divisional-Inspector Crocker, T, against Mr. E. H. Dobson, manager of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire Music Hall; Mr W. A. Bennett, Press representative at the hall; Mr. F. Ireland, and George Dee, for being concerned in causing an obstruction in Goldhawk Road by parading a mechanical figure called “Enigmarelle,” which had been exhibited at the hall. Mr. Philip Conway represented the defendants. Inspector Crocker stated that on the 8th inst. a coach and four, driven by the defendant Dee, drew up in front of the music-hall. A crowd of from 1,500 to 2,000 persons gathered. The coach waited some fifteen minutes, and then from a side entrance of the theatre emerged the mechanical figure, controlled by Ireland. The figure walked across to the coach in the centre of the roadway, and remained there nine minutes. By this time the crowd had increased to 4,000 persons, and witness requested Ireland to take the figure away. The coach was accordingly driven away, but it returned, and then the figure came out again, and by means of a ladder ascended to the box-seat of the coach and, taking the reins in its hands, drove off, followed by an immense crowd, which completely blocked the roadway. Mr. Dobson and Mr. Bennett both assisted the figure up the ladder, and apparently it drove off by itself. Previous to the occurrence witness had received a letter from Mr. Dobson announcing that it was proposed to make the experiment with the figure, and witness had an interview with Mr. Dobson and Mr. Bennett, who assured him that they would take the responsibility in the matter. Mr. Conway suggested that it was trifling with the procedure of the criminal law to summon Mr. Dobson and Mr. Bennett for aiding and abetting in such a trivial offence. Every information was given beforehand to the police, and arrangements were made for the observance of public order. It was not the fault of these gentlemen if a large crowd gathered. The Magistrate observed that there was no question that an obstruction was caused, and the common-sense view of it was that the defendants wished to advertise the mechanical figure. The larger the crowd the better the advertisement, and the object of the defendants was “to cause a crowd to assemble.” He fined Ireland 40s., Dobson and Bennett 20s. each, and Dee 5s.
In the same newspaper, on the front page, there was an advertisement proclaiming Enigmarelle as “the rage of London!” announcing that the mechanical figure would be appearing at the Empire Theatre, Nottingham.
It is hard to believe that so many people were fooled into thinking that it was possible to create a mechanical man as sophisticated as Enigmarelle, and especially one capable of controlling a coach and four. There was even an article in the January 13, 1906 edition of Scientific American, headed “A clever mechanical and electrical automaton” in which they stated that Enigmarelle “is seemingly a mechanical and electrical combination. The figure stands exactly six feet in height, weighs 198 pounds, and is composed of 365 distinct and separate parts … the figure contains seven motors, which are of special design … there are fourteen dry storage battery cells of small capacity … at the back of the figure is the switchboard containing the rheostat, fifteen switches, three single levers, and three automatic brakes …” The full article can be read on the Cyberneticzoo website linked to above.