"The Turk," the mechanical or automaton chess player was a fake chess-playing machine constructed in the late 18th century. From 1770 until its destruction by fire in 1854, it was exhibited by various owners as an automaton, though it was explained in the early 1820s as an elaborate hoax. Because of the Turk's popularity and mystery, its construction inspired a number of inventions and imitations, including "Ajeeb," or "The Egyptian," (Ajeeb is an Arabic word meaning strange or unexplainable) an American imitation built by Charles Hopper. The mysterious Ajeeb was the pride of the Eden Musée wax museum on West 23rd Street in NYC which opened to the public in 1884. It drew scores of thousands of spectators to its games, which President Grover Cleveland played in 1885, and other opponents for which included Harry Houdini, Theodore Roosevelt and O. Henry. The genius behind "Ajeeb" was Charles himself, an expert and fast moving chess player, and later with Hopper's health failing hired such players as Harry Nelson Pillsbury (1898-1904), Albett Beauregard Hodges, Constant Ferdinand Burille, Charles Moehle, and Charles Francis Barker. You could watch Ajeeb play an opponent for 10 cents or you could play chess with Ajeeb for 25 cents and checkers for 10 cents a game. Ajeeb was at the Eden Musée when popular baseball player, Christy Mathewson, liked to take him on too, and did so with a number of Wall Street men who used to spend an hour or two in the afternoon at the Musée on days when the Exchange was quiet. In 1910 Captain Francis B. "Fish" Fishburne of Columbia, SC, while playing at the top of his checker career, traveled to NYC and won 3 games from Ajeeb which testifies to his ability. It was moved from the Eden Musée in 1915 to a museum on Coney Island, New York, Ajeeb was destroyed in a fire in 1929; however, I read on Chess.com this is not entirely so, which has a lengthy article by John Kobles. This research says... Ajeeb was kept operation until 1915, when the Eden went bankrupt and closed, done in by the cinema. The honor of being the last man to work Ajeeb at the Musée went to Jesse B. Hanson. Ajeeb remained in being but went steadily downhill after the Eden folded. Sam Gumpertz, the expansive gentleman who is now one of the owners of Hamid's Million Dollar Pier in Atlantic City, got what might be called his start by buying a controlling interest in the Musée's waxworks for fifteen thousand dollars and moving them to a museum which opened on Surf Avenue at Coney Island, also under the name Hamid's. The owner of Ajeeb, Mrs. Elmore also moved along with the waxworks and everything else, but finding it hard to pay the high salaries asked by skillful chess players, the Ajeeb owner decided to confine the dummy's activities to checkers, so the manipulator, a tiny, consumptive Brooklyn boy named Sam Gonotsky was hired. Gonotsky is the most feared and strongest checker player in the country at this time. A wonderful and exciting time for Ajeeb but this is short lived because he doesn't have time for Ajeeb while playing and winning tournaments in the US and Europe. Without Gonotsky to keep up the interest and profit of Ajeeb and shortly afterward Mrs. Elmore had a disagreement with Gumpertz and moved Ajeeb a few doors down to a rival museum called World of Wax, where for several seasons she did a desultory business with the help of lesser talented checker players. In 1925 she remarried, retires, and takes Ajeeb home with her. Sam Gonotsky died in 1929 of tuberculosis at age 26.
The original Eden Musée was an amusement center that featured a large waxworks collection and “Ajeeb” located on 55 West 23rd Street in Manhattan in an imposing stone building. After the Eden Musee went bankrupt and closed in 1915, the name and select wax figure groupings, including those from the Chamber of Horrors, were purchased at auction and exhibited at the Coney Island's Eden Musée. Again this collection was moved to The Hamid's Museum on Surf Avenue, Coney Island. The Coney Island's Eden Musée was destroyed by fire in 1928-29, but supposedly “Ajeeb” and the waxworks were saved because of the move to Hamid's Museum. Coney Island is a peninsula residential neighborhood, beach, and leisure/entertainment destination on the Coney Island Channel, which is part of the Lower Bay in the southwestern part of the borough of Brooklyn, New York City, which is basically between the shores of Staten Island and Brooklyn. I was fortunate to supposedly see this machine, some wax figures and other items from the old “Coney Island - The People's Playground” in a nostalgic museum display in 1963 while visiting Coney Island. This book is probably one of the best written documentary on historic Coney Island. “Coney Island - The People's Playground” ... 209 page book
http://blog.chess.com/batgirl/i-love-ajeeb http://blog.chess.com/batgirl/the-strange-and-wondrous-ajeeb http://blog.chess.com/view/the-eden-museacutee
Jim Loy of Bozeman, MT who has been our ACF bulletin editor for many years, and an excellent checkers historian gave me a number of recorded games played by “Ajeeb”. I should have included those games here but I'll have to remember where the file is; however, here is a Sat, Jul 7, 2018 at 2:23 PM email from Jim.
In another article (1897), about a proposed match between Ajeeb and the Turk, mentioned that Pillsbury would not be operating Ajeeb this time. They said the match was unlikely to be played.