Why not share favorite magic history anecdotes?

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby Guest » 11/18/07 03:49 PM

The idea occured, "Why not help Mr. Tustin by relating specific magic history anecdotes that might hook someone or spark their interest?

Ready? Ready. O.k., I'll start:
I have always loved the story of Alexander Herrmann finding coins in the old vendor's eggs--then years later, the personal bonus of witnessing a modern equivalent (as I've described on the Forum once before) when I saw Mike Weber break open a pack of Lifesavers, and finding a $10 bill inside to pay for his purchase at a corner store...
The look on the clerk's face had to have been like the old lady's reaction (if the story isn't apocryphal)--BAM--I could have been standing there 100 years prior with Herrmann the Great--their "primal astonishment" was exactly the same, no matter what date it happened...

--or "Why, you can tell them MALINI did that!!"

--or "I'M A DICE MAN!!"

--or "Nurses and ambulances on hand for every performance!"

Man, there's a million of them.

I just love old stories, legends, jokes, quips, bon mots, surprise twists, mysteries...and as mentioned ad nauseum, I don't understand how someone wouldn't be interested in interesting stuff--WHATEVER the topic. Good stuff is good stuff.

So why NOT toss off a few anecdotes, fraters (and ladies)!?

Postby Leonard Hevia » 11/19/07 04:41 PM

In The Original Houdini Scrapbook, Walter B. Gibson noted that in the early 1920's, in his new car, he once drove Houdini around a city (Philadelphia or New York). At one destination, Houdini experienced trouble locating the latch to open the car door. Gibson was amused that the world's greatest escape artist could not get out of an automobile.
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Postby Guest » 11/19/07 05:26 PM

thenk you, Leonard.

Is there not a similar story of some big function (S.A.M. related I think) and the power went off--Houdini leads everyone down to the fuse box in the basement, and tries unsuccessfully for (what must have seemed like) hours to pick the lock?

Now we hear he didn't escape from the Russian transport vehicle...Hell! Did Houdini ever do ANYTHING? What a puss.

Postby Guest » 11/19/07 07:18 PM

Dave, thanks for trying to help with my little "project." Much appreciated. Mr. Tustin

Postby Kevin Connolly » 11/19/07 08:16 PM

Are you looking for true stories or magic urban legends?
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Postby Guest » 11/19/07 10:38 PM

My dad was very close friends with Okito.
I have been hearing a few stories lately
that are new ...

but one that I always heard was when he died.

He had a priest, a rabbit and a minister.

I can't remember the rest of it, but that
was the funny of it...I'll get the rest later.

Postby Guest » 11/24/07 07:44 PM

Just other day, I was chatting with a well-known magic history enthusiast who had just come back with tales of the Hooker Card Rise (yes, I'm jealous). The conversation wound around to Flosso, and I shared with him my favorite story from the biography -- one of two that it took me a long time to get Jack Flosso to share:

Early in his sideshow days, Flosso was approached by a woman who wanted to know if he knew Harry Blackstone . . . even then, a premier name in the magic business. Ever the carny, Flosso asked why she was inquiring. The woman explained that Blackstone had impregnated her daughter, and then skipped town.

"Blackstone," the Coney Island Fakir shot back, " . . . never heard of him!"

Gary Brown

Postby Guest » 11/24/07 08:33 PM

The best magic story-teller I know is Bill Goldman. He printed several in his series of lecture notes and then others in his short series of columns in Genii. The are all brilliantly told and worth the effort to track down.


Postby Charles McCall » 11/25/07 01:25 PM

There are many annecdotes in the writings of Frances Ireland (Marshall). See her books, "You Don't Have to Be Crazy: But it Helps" and "With Frances in Magicland."
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Postby Guest » 11/25/07 04:59 PM

Originally posted by Charles McCall:
There are many annecdotes in the writings of Frances Ireland (Marshall). See her books, "You Don't Have to Be Crazy: But it Helps" and "With Frances in Magicland."
Aunt Frances was a walking anecdote period.


Postby Guest » 11/25/07 11:10 PM

Castawaydave: Curious if you know where that expression about being a dice man came about?

Postby Guest » 11/26/07 12:04 AM

Indeed, amigo: Heard the legendary story years ago, and have since read the 1st part of Mr. Ben's excellent biography of the Professor, which relates the incident in excellent detail.

I also believe (correct me if I'm wrong) poor Charlie Miller was bummed, as he felt he never lived it down.

[On a cinematic note, the character "Charlie Miller" says that line in the movie "Shade", which may go down as The Ultimate homage to the Castle, those chaps, and those days.]

To respond to Mr. KC--urban legends or whatever you want to relate, brother.
Disprove or prove: your choice. I can't imagine the stories you've heard!

I would dearly love it if you, and some of the above folks who have also alluded to anecdotes; please share examples.

Remember: the idea is to try & spark the interest of those who feel such history is pointless.

mai-ling: what's the 1st thing that pops to mind about "Aunt Frances the walking anecdote"?

Postby Guest » 11/26/07 02:12 AM

Dear Castawaydave;

The author was 98% correct. However, being fortunate enough to be around the Professor and the other greats from 1970 to 1992, the Professor explained that on his quest throughout the mid west in his search for that certain individual known for his center deal and upon finally meeting up with that gentleman, it was Charlie Miller who asked Dai, "what if he asks me about my knowledge regarding card work, what should I respond? Dai retorted back, "Tell him you are a dice man."

If you or your friends are interested in classic stories and anecdotes from that era, I would be willing to share some of them with you.

Keep the window closed,

Howard Hamburg

Postby Guest » 11/26/07 02:31 AM

Dear Howard:

Please do share! Magic history will be the better for it. And we will keep the windows closed.

Alas, that will preclude breezy anecdotes.


Postby Guest » 11/26/07 11:45 AM

Heck yeah, Howard! Let 'er rip!

Postby Guest » 11/26/07 12:27 PM

Isn't "I'm a dice man!" famous because having been briefed by the professor, didn't Mr. Miller blurt it out at an inopportune moment?

Postby Guest » 11/27/07 04:25 AM

Then there's the story of Okito trying to find the perfect covering for The Floating Ball. He'd burnished one with gold leaf but it disintegrated.
One day he purchased some chocolate and the shop assistant was baffled as the magician smoothed out the gold wrapping with a shout of glee. Okito then purchased several bars discarding the chocolate and leaving the shop with just the gold paper. The assistant was non plussed. later Okito toe the gold paper into small squares & pasted it over the Ball. He'd found his covering.
Allen Tipton

Postby Brandon Hall » 12/03/07 03:57 PM

Why the general indifference to magic history annecdotes?
"Hope I Die Before I Get Old"
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Postby Guest » 12/03/07 05:01 PM

Good question Mr. Hall.

Did you hear the anecdote about the website with over 10,000 registered enthusiasts--the finest site of its kind--yet getting responses or feedback is like pulling teeth?...(Except all the screeds about why they don't post...)

We have discussed this on the Forum ad nauseum, but it STILL never ceases to amaze me how few people are interested in participating.


Postby Guest » 12/03/07 05:30 PM

OK here's one. But actually it's half request for the story to be validated and elaborated on. As a collector the story amused me and I forget where I heard it. It's the story that Al Flosso sold Dunninger a truck load of "antique magic" for a fortune. The items where allegedly questionable but the deal went through. The end of the story is that Dunninger knew they were questionable in the first place but paid him anyway. Can someone re-tell that story>? Gary Brown perhaps?

Postby Guest » 12/03/07 06:26 PM

Thanks, Calmagic.

I try not to be a jerk. (honestly)
But you have to admit it is still hard to believe that out of 10,200+ registrants 8 or 10 responded (thanks to those!) but what is that: <0.001%?

Ay carumba! NOBODY has amusing stories? No wierd memories, surprising connections, no lessons to pass along, morals, NOTHING? Interesting.

Mr. Tustin: perhaps this response sheds light on your original questions...

Postby Guest » 12/03/07 09:26 PM

Originally posted by castawaydave:

mai-ling: what's the 1st thing that pops to mind about "Aunt Frances the walking anecdote"?
I just realized I didn't answer you mr castawaydave.

Before I Forget, and decide to refuge to the couch
for a snooze ( i did two concerts back to back,
my arms are tired from dragging my body bag

Aunt Frances is one of the extremely unique people to ever know.

She can tell you stories and remember the faintest
things from the past.

But I think what pops into my mind are her columns
from the TOPS days. After going through Uncle
George's collection and realizing how she knew
what was what, it is all an important piece of

When we last saw her in the care facility before
my dad's stroke. She was so amusing, I remember
her room mate mostly. And how she would tell her
to open her eyes when she walked.

But we four sat together, and she was going on
about the past with my mom and dad.

Even my dad is a walking annecdote....
Wait, I take that back...he's more of a
walking encyclopedia.

He can take one subject you bring up, and have
a story, joke, or historical fact to up-stage

When I recently posted the video on "shaking
hands" and asked how he came up with the routine.
He told me. Which I find the creative process with
him so interesting, because its not so much how
he comes up with the material but how he performs
it. I just read AnthonyR reply to it, and he
brought up something very interesting.

The more I re-read it (I will reply to you too AnthonyR)
I realized how important my father
is to the community of magic.

plus...He's such a joy!

Which really does make me a magic brat!


Postby Guest » 12/04/07 02:15 PM

Here's a nice little story. About 10 years ago I had a small, private personal lines insurance agency. Like many of us, I had some nice magic posters of Houdini, Thurston, etc beautifully framed and hanging in my office. Always a nice conversation starter. Anyway, I had this really nice older woman (well into her 80's at the time) come into my office one day. She saw the posters and reminiced about how she was once one of the office/admin assistants for this magician by the name of John Calvert. "He was such a nice gentleman", etc. You could still see the gleam in her eye as she recounted her times with him that took place about 50-60 years prior. Anyway, within a fews months of our meeting, I noticed that John Calvert was coming into town to put on a show. I called this woman and invited her to be my guest to catch this performance. She was shocked that Mr. Calvert was still performing but was thrilled to accept my offer.

Anyway, shoot forward a few weeks and we are at the performance about a half an hour early. We get the chance to meet John Calvert & his wife Tammy before the show starts and I introduce this nice woman to John & Tammy. John not only remembers this woman from 50+ years in his past, but, without prompting, he remembers her maiden name.

Now shoot to about an hour later, Mr. Calvert is in the middle of his show. This woman and I are sitting in the middle of the audience. Mr. Calvert asks for the house lights to come up as he wants to introduce a very special guest in the audience. You guessed it, he introduced my friend, thanked her for coming to the show and asked her to stand up to recieve a nice round of applause. I will never, NEVER, forget the absolute look of surprise, joy and pride she had in her tired old eyes as they teared up behind a huge smile.

What a class act. That was true magic my friend.

Postby Guest » 12/04/07 02:18 PM

Bravo Mr. Gastreich. :)

Postby Guest » 12/04/07 03:09 PM

Reading this thread reminded me of a story that happened about a year ago. I was at a magic convention and several of us had gone to a local steak house for dinner. It was a crowded night and there were about 12-13 of us and they put us right in the middle of the floor.

In attendance were some excellent magicians. Norman Beck had arranged the dinner and was sitting at the head of the table. Around the time we were finishing dessert, a young man in an Army uniform approached the table with two of his buddies in tow (they were all on leave from overseas). This kid didnt look a day over nineteen and he was as nervous as anyone Ive seen. He approached Norman and apologized saying he didnt mean to interrupt and that he had heard we were magicians. He was so nervous it was hard for him to finish a sentence. About the time he got to would you mind, Norman took over and said would you like to see some magic?. The kid put on a big grin and said Yes sir. Norman immediately went into a sponge ball routine and had the kid and his friends in stitches. He did about 3-4 minutes and you could tell it really meant a lot to this kid. They left and we sat down and Norman said that if that kid had enough balls to approach a table full of strangers, then doing a few tricks was the least he could do.

Its almost hard to capture in words how nice the gesture was. It definitely made a lasting impression on me.

Postby Guest » 12/04/07 06:51 PM

Thank you Jordan B.; A great story. :)

Postby Guest » 12/05/07 08:40 AM

[not the first time I've told this story, but oh well ... I like it]

The late H. Adrian Smith (whose now-legendary conjuring library resides in the John Hay Library at Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island) became acquainted with me during my senior year in high school in late 1978, when I was compiling the first edition of The Historians Guide to Conjuring (HGC). I had written to him at the suggestion of Byron Walker, and sought his help and advice with my project. To my great delight and surprise, Smith immediately wrote back with enthusiastic support and advice, and invited me to visit his collection. A warm friendship developed, as Harold willingly adopted the role of mentor in connection with the preparation of HGC, and agreed to write the introduction to the book.

Like almost every other collector who has ever visited 72 Anawan Road in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, I was overwhelmed by Smiths library when I first saw it in March 1979. As most of the old-timers know, Smith was a stickler for condition and wasnt shy about sharing his high standards with his guests. Most of his books even the genuine rarities were in beautiful condition. For example, he had dozens of extremely scarce, early 19th-century conjuring chapbooks, many of which looked nearly new and remained uncut and untrimmed, just as they were issued by the bookbinder 150-plus years ago.

In the winter of 1979/1980, I worked for three months in Minnesota and adjoining states as a magic show promoter, earning money for college tuition. Smith invited me to stay with him during the holiday hiatus at the end of December and beginning of January. So I spent nearly two magical weeks researching in his library, while listening to classical music and Harold regaling me with stories from his collecting career. Every evening, around 5:30, wed retire to his small dining room and drink a Manhattan (or two) prior to eating a home-cooked, traditional New England dinner. It was during these many cocktail hours that Smith permitted me to tape hours and hours of interviews with him, on many topics relating to conjuring performance, history and collecting, and their personalities.

During one of these interviews, the topic of book condition came up. Harold was quick to remind me that book condition was of paramount importance to him, boldly and proudly proclaiming that in nearly all cases hed rather have a perfect, unmarked copy of a book, even if the alternative was a nice copy inscribed by its author! I smelled opportunity. You see, ever since my first visit to 72 Anawan Road, I had audaciously, and not infrequently, expressed a desire to own (by purchase or trade) a book from Harolds library which had been autographed to him by another well-known magician or collector. Nothing of real value or rarity, of course, just something that could be a part of my collection, thereby providing a link to the past and some of its prominent magicians or collectors. Every time, Harold would firmly but kindly decline my request.

But with the tape this time bearing witness to Smiths high standards, I seized the moment. Harold, I have a mint copy of Findlays Fourth Collectors Annual in my briefcase, and Id be willing to swap my copy for yours, even though yours is second hand and would be a downgrade for me. After a somewhat lengthy pause, a smile emerged from his face, and he agreed to the trade. Youthful impudence had won the day, but just this one time. After dinner, we traded copies. My (Smiths) copy of Fourth Collectors Annual has two inscriptions. The first reads To H. A. Smith, Bookishly yours, J. B. Findlay, and the second,

Presented to Clay Shevlin (from JBF to HAS to CHS) with warm personal regards, Sincerely, H. Adrian Smith, North Attleboro, Mass., 12/28/79

Mr. Tustin

Postby Kevin Connolly » 12/05/07 09:46 AM

I think the Dunninger story was about the price of the magic, not being questionable. I think Schlosser wanted to get rid of the magic for a low price, because it took up too much room or he was paying rent on the space for it. Schlosser wanted say a $100.00 for it all. Flosso strung Dunninger along saying someone else wanted it, but no one did. I think Dunninger paid $1,000 for the lot, that Schlosser was happy to dump for a $100. :eek:

PS I THINK this story was written up in Magicol in the last 2-3 years.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 12/05/07 10:18 AM

I was flying to Chicago to a Magic Collectors' convention in the 1980's. I was with Mario Carrandi and Joel Miller. I was talking to Mario about what he had for sale. He said he had rare Herrmann mirror but it was already sold to Ray Ellenbogen. Now Ray was a primo magic collector. What ever he collected, it was the best incondition, completness, etc. You get the picture.

We all knew Ray, so we figure we have some fun with him. Mario and my room were connected. We were at the rat-hole motel that till this day, had the best conventions. I had brought some items to sell in my room. One item was a signed Henning 8x10. Mario had the Herrmann mirror. Here's how it went: When we saw Ray approaching the rooms, Mario and I switched our items. I had the Herrmann mirror and Mario the Henning photo. When Ray was in Mario's room, I called through the door to ask Mario if head brought me the Henning photo that I wanted to trade. Mario says yes, come and get it. I come in Mario's room, Ray sitting in a chair. Mario hands me the photo of Henning and I flip out. I'm so happy with photo that I go on and on about how great it is, etc. I hand the wrapped up Herrmann mirror to Mario and thank him profusely for making the trade and go back to my room.

Mario hands the wrapped mirror to Ray and he opens it. Ray got sick. He just saw someone trade the mirror for the Henning photo. Ray was stunned. He walked out in the parking lot for a half hour talking to himself. Finally Joel Miller how to convince him for another half hour that it was a joke. Ray was so upset, that he was on his way back to NY after being in Chicago for an hour. Luckily, Joel talked him out of it.
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Postby Guest » 12/05/07 12:13 PM

oh my! that must of have been sight Kevin.

There's this thing about magicians and tempers
that go hand in had.

(reminds of a gag that Uncle Jay and dad did
to Tom Ogden.)

Postby Guest » 12/05/07 03:58 PM

Magicams story about H.Adrian Smith reminded me of one of the "missed opportunities" of my life.

At the Waldorf convention back in '78, I met Mr Smith mainly because he noticed my first name and we struck up a conversation. At the time I was travelling a lot to Fall River Massachusetts and he invited me to call and arrange to visit him when I had the chance.

Did I??? Nope!!!


Postby Kevin Connolly » 12/05/07 04:38 PM

When the Magic Collectors' convention was held at the flea-bag motel, it wwas the custom to leave your door open when you were there. This way you could sell your duplicates, bs, etc. This old guy comes in, looks over my stuff and buys a book and leaves. Another collector came up to me and said "Do you know who the guy is?". I said know. He then tells me it was Smith. He also said he rarley bought, as he had it all, etc. He couldn't believe a rookie could have something for him.

He then asked what did Smith buy. I told him it was magician's bio and I had more. I sold out after Mr. Smith came through. :)
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Postby Guest » 12/05/07 05:49 PM

Harold (as I came to call him, although some of his friends called him Adrian) was a real friend to me, and I miss him very much. I've saved all of his lengthy typed letters (150 or so -- a bunch!) and look forward to a great (re)read some rainy night.

Adrian: you did indeed miss out on something special. Harold was a wonderful host and loved to share his knowledge and collection if he sensed that someone's interest was sincere.

Well, Kevin, you'll have to search the memory banks to "name that bio". :) Relative to the rest of us, Harold did seem to have it all. Of course, nobody has it all, but what do you say about a man who has Reginald Scots autograph in his collection? Or a pristine copy of the 1st ed. of Modern Magic? Or one of the 4 copies printed of The Annals of Conjuring? Or a 2nd edition of Hocus Pocus Junior ((London, 1635) with Harry Houdini, Jail Breaker or something like that scribbled in ink on the title page! Or a rare German edition of Hocus Pocus Junior in vellum, addressed like an envelope (i.e., address to the lower right hand corner, return address in the upper left hand corner) on one of the covers and complete with cancelled postage, in Houdinis handwriting incredibly, ol Harry mailed the book to his New York flat from somewhere in Europe.

Postby Kevin Connolly » 12/05/07 07:05 PM

I would be guessing, but I think it was one those magic bios by Edmunds. Magic Makers, Magic Brothers, etc. They flew under the radar when they came out and he must have missed it.
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Postby Guest » 12/05/07 08:26 PM

Kevin, whas the rat hole the radisson?
or was this inbetween the little theatre
and the radisson.

i like it being at the hyatt, and that
its coming back again.

the collectors belong in chicago and should
stay here permanently!

Postby Kevin Connolly » 12/05/07 08:51 PM

It was a little motel with two levels. It had a bar behind the front desk as I remember it. It was in walking distance to Magic Inc. and the church which held the functions.

What I liked about the earlier conventions was the open door policy. Everybody left their doors open. Others would walk in to shoot the breeze and/or see what you had for sale. Then when you had enough, you closed your door and you would make the rounds. I wish there was a way to to get that part of the convention back.
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Postby Guest » 12/05/07 09:04 PM

This isn't going to make me any popular, but...

I can't help but notice how many of these stories involve what I'd categorize as, at best, good natured meanness, between magicians. Which is not ironic given how magic is now and has been in the past in many cases.

Anyhow, here's one of the few stories I can namedrop and isn't mean spirited :) It had to be in the early to mid 1970's. I'm not sure of the exact year, but I was a young punk highly enthused about magic. I was a member of an Explorer Scout troop associated with the SAM chapter that met in Palo Alto, CA. The Troop was presided over by Roger Pierre, and Byron Walker was a member of the SAM group along with many others, mostly amateurs.

A field trip to Los Angeles was organized for the scout troop. We drove down I5 at extra legal speeds. Over the weekend we went to the Magic Castle, Hollywood Magic, and the magic museum in the basement of a savings & loan (which sadly was mentioned in this forum some years ago after an electrical fire polluted most of the contents with PCBs)

While at the Magic Castle I got to see Bruce Cervon perform in the close up room and later accosted him for his autograph and a photo at the bar. He was not enthused. But that's not the story. The best part was when the scout troop went up to the 2n'd floor for lunch (in a room with a framed Houdini straightjacket on the wall). After lunch, several people recognized an august personage at a table in the main dining room. It was Dai Vernon lunching with a lady and with Peter Pitt. The scouts descended upon the table like autograph-seeking locusts. I was shy, and a bit mindful of the instructions we got to maintain a low profile, but thanks to another Explorer who prodded me and provided some thin sheets of paper from his pad, I got the autographs of Peter Pitt and Dai Vernon. Which I have to this day. Even before considering we interrupted their lunch, both Mr. Vernon and Mr. Pitt were extremely gracious to us kids.

Aside from the autographs I still have some napkins and the mimeographed wine list from the Castle that day, with cover art by Mickey O'Mally. Mumm's Cordon Rouge, French champagne, was $16.50 a bottle. Cold Duck was $5 :)

Postby Guest » 12/05/07 09:17 PM

Speaking of good natured stories-

One of the earliest tours I organized was for Darwin Ortiz. Being 20 at the time I was too shy to pester him to show me anything, only speaking up during the workshops (where I knew he'd be in the right mood). After 2 weeks on the road, I dropped him off at the airport and left.

As I was walking to the car, I kicked myself. This might be my last chance to spend time with the legend! I worked up the courage, ran back inside, and asked him, while he was waiting in line, to show me something I hadn't quite grasped.

He smiled, turned his suitcase into a table, and proceeded to show me everything I wanted to see. It was such a treat, and such a gracious thing to do. I will never forget it.

Almost ALL my personal stories seem to be positive... Just lucky?

Postby Kevin Connolly » 12/05/07 09:33 PM

I thought the thread was for all kinds of stories. Not just cumbya stories. They get a bit dull, quick. Oh Well.

I wouldn't even guess what kind of woe it would cause if someone told the story of Doc Grossman getting mooned.
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Postby Guest » 12/05/07 10:04 PM

Kumbaya, my Lord, kumbaya....

Oh, one other I'd almost forgotten.

While on summer vacation, driving vacation with parents to Canada, I bugged my dad to take me to see Micky Hades 'shop', which was in the basement of his house I think. Also saw a neat store in Seattle. But the story per se is about when we stopped at a hotel one night. A magician was mentioned on the hotel roadside sign. Tony Eng was his name. I, my dad, and my sister attended a dinner show and enjoyed it immensely. After dinner Tony did table magic, including the linking safety pins for us. My dad was so enthused he later bought a set of the props on our trip to Micky Hades'. The cool thing though was that Tony Eng, got his (agent? handler? bodyguard? roadie?) a guy in a suit, to set me up in the dining room in an unused area for the second show where I got to watch yet more magic. Really a nice gesture. I figure this is probably him today: http://www.tonyeng.com/


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