Miracle In the Sky
I was probably about 12 when I got to visit The Magic Center, by then a threadbare establishment on New York’s Eighth Avenue. Long past its gleaming heyday, which featured ten salesmen demonstrating effects all day long, the only attractions remaining were the shop’s grubby neon sign (seen below in a dismal property tax photo) and the presence of Russ Delmar, a vaudeville-era magician turned dealer.
With me as volunteer, Delmar demonstrated a locking dime and penny trick. After he deposited “both” coins into my hand, he asked whether I “felt” anything. I didn’t and said as much. Repeatedly. Delmar then hoisted a vintage flat iron, holding it menacingly over my clenched fist.
“How about now?” he asked.
My father chimed in. “I think you'd better say ‘yes.’” I did. And the dime magically penetrated through my hand, clattering onto the countertop.
My haul that day included the dime and penny trick (without a “bang ring”) as well as a realistic rubber mask depicting a bewhiskered Scotsman, which I used several times at Halloween (even though the moustache soon fell off). Stuffed into the bag was one more thing: a seemingly unassuming business card for the shop.
The trick and the mask are long gone. Yet, to this day, I still own the business card, seen here.
Why would I hold onto a tiny scrap of cardstock for nearly a half century? Rest assured, it was not for the information on the front of the card. The uninspired, single-color typescript card features an archaic, area code-less, alphanumeric phone number, and some ironic puffery proclaiming that The Magic Center represented the “World’s Largest Dealers in Magic and Unusual Novelties.” And the contact information has been obsolete for about forty years, as The Magic Center sold its last trick sometime around 1980.
It’s all about the back. The reverse of Russ Delmar’s card sported a tiny ink and paper, self-proclaimed “miracle.” The odd but irresistibly attractive negative image of a woman, rendered only in black ink on the toned card, stares out at the viewer. “Look steadily and concentrate on the 4 dots on the nose,” the viewer is urged, “then look at one fixed spot on a wall . . . and picture will appear.” The persistent viewer, reading to the end, will learn that one could obtain “best results” when looking into the night sky.
Unlike so much hyperbole slung by magic dealers and producers, this bit is true. That little card holds a miracle. Throughout my youth, indeed, my life, I kept this bit of ephemera well past its expected life simply because that image and its effect were too powerful to throw away. And though I have tried this experiment countless times, it’s still amazing.
That’s some powerful magic.