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Robert Lowery Tilford, 85, magician who taught youth


Robert Lowery Tilford, a magician who made handkerchiefs and salt shakers disappear at Baltimore parties, hospitals and military service organizations, died Friday of a respiratory ailment at Northwest Hospital Center. He was 85 and lived at Augsburg Lutheran Home in Woodmoor.

Mr. Tilford, who had earlier lived in Parkville, was known for his tricks with everyday objects and his ability to capture his audience with mathematical puzzles.

Mr. Tilford donned a tuxedo and top hat for nearly 70 years, either performing or instructing youths in the ways of sleight-of-hand.

"Magic is a secretive field," said Baltimore magician Ken Horsman, "but Bob was a very giving man who liked nothing better than to help the younger members. There was no magician he wouldn't welcome."

For many years, Mr. Tilford worked Saturdays alongside Phil Thomas, owner of Yogi Magic Mart on Charles Street in downtown Baltimore, a gathering place for budding magicians.

"He provided people with a lot of joy. He especially liked working with young magic students, especially if they stuttered or had a handicap, and helped them improve their self-image," said Anne Claire Garrett of Phoenix, the daughter of Phil Thomas, who died this year.

Mr. Tilford performed at USO shows in Baltimore during World War II and was a regular at Breakfasts with Santa that were held for many years at Hutzler's department stores.

"He had an engineer's mind and liked tricks involving mathematical principles and numbers," said McCarl Roberts of Baltimore, a retired United Methodist minister who is also a magician. "He used a lot of everyday objects -- salt shakers, knives, forks, spoons -- in his tricks."

As a young man, Mr. Tilford succumbed to the charms of prestidigitation. In 1921, he was seated in the Hippodrome Theater on Eutaw Street when magician Howard Thurston appeared on the stage and levitated Princess Karnac and a silver sphere.

This interest led him to become a 1930s charter member of Baltimore's Pyramid Magic Club run by Ernest B. "Fes" Marx, a City College teacher.

"You had to be interested in magic. But what you didn't know was that you were being tested by your attendance. If you missed more than one week, you would not be admitted," said George Goebel, Baltimore magician, Harry Houdini expert and owner of the A. T. Jones costume house on Howard Street.

Born in Gary, Ind., Mr. Tilford moved with his family to Sparrows Point, where his father was an employee of Bethlehem Steel Corp.

He attended Lebanon Valley College and then moved to New York in 1937, where he began his professional magic career. He appeared at Manhattan nightclubs as LaSalle the Mad Kap of Mystery. He also used the names Magic Bob and Trebor.

"He picked out the name LaSalle because he liked the way it sounded," said his daughter Jo Ann Fasnacht of Randallstown.

To supplement his income as a magician, Mr. Tilford worked as an air-conditioning systems engineer for Maryland Refrigeration. He had also worked for Bendix Corp. in Towson.

His wife of 52 years, the former Laurette McCabe, died in 1990.

A memorial service for Mr. Tilford will be held at 2 p.m. Jan. 9 at Augsburg Lutheran Home chapel, 6811 Campfield Road.

He is survived by another daughter, Judith Hayes of Atlanta; a son, Robert Lowery Tilford of Baltimore; a sister, Patricia Lessig of Lewes, Del.; and six grandchildren.

Pub Date: 12/30/98

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