Documentary will highlight “The Celebrated Armstrongs” Spartanburg’s little-known Black magicians

Published: Mar. 1, 2023 at 10:47 PM EST
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SPARTANBURG, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - A Greenville filmmaker is creating a documentary about a little-known family of magicians from Spartanburg. “The Celebrated Armstrong’s” were a Black family who traveled the south during the Jim Crow era performing magic acts.

“They were doing some very difficult things during an era when that was virtually unheard of,” said filmmaker and author Jennifer Stoy.

The Armstrong’s, John Hartford, Lillie Belle Mills, and Ellen lived on College Street in Spartanburg for 50 years. A Black family living and working during the Jim Crow era, when segregation and oppression were law. But the Armstrong’s had a unique set of talents.

“With lots of expensive props, they put on incredible magic shows that are comparable with the greats of that era” said Stoy.

They performed at places where they were welcomed and admired.

“Mostly to Black colleges, churches, schools, high schools, elementary schools. So they weren’t really getting the big theaters and the big opera houses” she explained.

Stoy discovered the Armstrong story while researching for another story, over a year ago.

“I didn’t have time to kind of look into it at that moment so I bookmarked it and kind of just put it aside, but then I couldn’t stop thinking about the Armstrong’s” she said.

Now she’s working on producing “Going Fine Since 1889: The Magical Armstrongs,” a documentary. The film will follow the Armstrong’s magical beginnings starting with John Hartford to his daughter, Ellen Armstrong, who became the first Black woman to tour with a solo magic act.

“Once people learn about this story, and learn about them, you can’t help but fall in love with them” said Stoy.

Stoy says much of this magical family’s legacy is forgotten. so, she hopes to tell it, and show how during obstacles, Black families created their own paths.

“It shows that you know people want just farmers and factory workers, they were doing artistic, creative things, doing it very well,” she said.

They’re still in the production part of the documentary, but Stoy says they expect to have a rough cut done by the end of this year. You can visit for more.