Now you see him...


HERE'S a nifty magic trick: During the next few days some 1,500 magicians from all over the world, ranging from top professionals to part-time amateurs, are turning themselves into a convention in Baltimore.

The International Brotherhood of Magicians is holding its 63rd annual gathering here today through Tuesday at the Stouffer Harborplace Hotel and the Morris Mechanic Theatre.

"It's one of the biggest magic organizations in the world." says local authority Mark Walker, a financial analyst at Johns Hopkins Hospital who is lecturing to conventioneers at midnight tomorrow.

Most IBM members ("we had it first," Walker says of the acronym better known for computers) pursue other full time careers while performing as a sideline.

Walker who performs part-time , is also a mistorian of magic whose new, self-published book, "Ghostmasters: The Trials and Triumphs of America's Midnight Showmen," is the subject of his convention lecture. In the pre-television heyday of American magic, a witching hour act of ghostly illusion was a tradition of many stages performances, he says in the book, which is available in area magic shops

Walker says his book includes a whole chapter on Baltimore's colorful Dantini the Magnificient (the late Vincent Cierkes, who died in 1979). He used to perform in tux and tennis sneakers at the Peabody Bookshop and Beer Stube on Charles Street and elsewhere.

Baltimore is an appropriate site for a magic covention, the author contends, for it once "was realy a pretty hot town for magicians."

The old Ford's Theater was the center of the magic world, for example, on May 8, 1908, when legendary illusionist Harry Kellar turned his wand over to Howard Thurston, naming the younger man his successor to the mantle of "America's greatest illusionist," says Walker.

"Houdini performed here several times and [in 1925] did the Chinese water torture cell at the Maryland Theatre," which was torn down long ago, adds Walker. Other top magicians who appeared in Baltimore included Thurston and Blackstone.

Baltimore also produced well-known chroniclers and collectors of the magic arts, including Thomas Chew Worthington and Henry Ridgely Evans of the 1930s and Houdini biographer Milbourne Christopher in the 1950s.

And in addition to Walker's ongoing work in documenting magic history, current Baltimorean George Goebel, proprietor of the A.T. Jones costume shop on Howard Street, maintains a large collection of historical magic memorabilia.

Many area magicians will take part in the convention, which will feature performances, lectures and dealer demonstrations of the latest prestidigitation paraphernalia. However, it is a now-you-see-them-now-you-don't affair. For except for possible "impromptu performances at Harborplace," says spokesman Bill Wells, the convention activities are not open to the public.

"I'm sorry to say we don't have any extra seats in the theater this year to sell any public tickets" to nightly competitive and exhibition performances, says Wells, a Washington office worker who dabbles in magic.

As for other activities -- especially including the 60 or so dealers demonstrating everything from sleight of hand pocket tricks to major stage illusions -- letting in the public would let on too much about the secrets that make the magic work.

"Our best trick is to make new football teams appear simultaneously in Baltimore and St. Louis," jokes convention chairman Jim Nagel, adding with a sigh, "I really wish that we could." A part-time magician who works in nursing home management in St. Louis, Nagel says he feels empathy with Baltimoreans who mourn the Indianapolis defection of the Colts just as he regrets the more recent escape to Phoenix by the St. Louis Cardinals.

Among those scheduled to perform for their peers at the magic convention are several acts from this area. They include:

* Kohl and Company, a comedy/magic act led by Arnold resident Dick Kohlhafer and which has performed around the world and was on the recent, vaudeville-flavored reincarnation of "The Smothers Brothers Show" on television.

* Denny & Lee, a classic illusion act headed by Baltimorean Dennis J. Haney. He too has performed around the world as an opening act for such stars as Madonna and Dionne Warwick, and is also a designer and manufacturer of tricks for other magicians.

* Jerry Rowan, a comedy juggler/unicyclist seen often at Harborplace, Artscape and other Baltimore street performance venues.

* Bob Sheets, best known as the Jolly Jester at the annual Renaissance Festival in Anne Arundel County.

Who are some of the top international pros performing here during the convention?

Walker notes somewhat sadly that most people might be able to dTC name only David Copperfield as a current luminary of illusion, because of his high TV profile. "Once you're off the television, that's it. Out of sight, out of mind," he notes.

Copperfield is not coming. But IBM members are excited to be seeing such acts as these:

Illusionist John Calvert, who is blindfolded while shooting balloons and candles out of the mouths of volunteers; Harry Blackstone Jr., son of the legendary '30s performer; Jay Marshall, known as Lefty for a trademark white glove and perhaps remembered by TV viewers for performances on "The Ed Sullivan Show," and Mr. Electric, who performs illuminated illusions with light bulbs.

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