Talk about a magical evening!
A cadre of local conjurers enchanted an audience with tricks and tales straight out of Coney Island’s fabled theme-park district, which was once a magic Mecca for both up-and-coming and world-famous performers, according to a historian.
“The show was very much about the heritage of the magic at Coney Island,” said Richard Cohn, a student of Kings County’s magical past who practices the art regularly at the Coney Island Museum. “For a lot of people, it was a stop on their road to fame.”
Cohn joined a panel of professional tricksters at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central branch for a March 28 event where the magicians discussed Coney’s famed wizards of yesteryear — including legendary escape artist Harry Houdini, sleight-of-hand expert Dai Vernon, and Brooklyn-born entertainer Al Flosso, among others — all of whom once graced stages at the neighborhood’s Luna Park and Dreamland, before a fire burned down that amusement park in 1911.
Journalist and magician Herb Scher directed the banter among the panelists — who also included the dean of the Society of American Magicians, George Schindler, and Mark Mitton, a sorcerer with tricks featured in films, on Broadway, and in Cirque du Soleil shows — before they performed century-old acts that still dazzled the modern-day crowd.
Mitton conjured coins out of thin air showing off a stunt made famous by Flosso called the “Miser’s Dream,” and Cohn displayed a series of silk-scarf tricks perfected by the one-time publisher of “Magician’s Magazine,” Jean Hugard, who also performed in Coney and wrote “Silken Sorcery,” a book about — you guessed it — silk-scarf tricks. The local historian also wowed watchers with his sleight of hand when he reconstructed scraps of a print edition of the Brooklyn Paper into a fully intact broadsheet before their eyes.
And even the tricksters received some surprises at the event, according to Cohn. who said he was shocked when one attendee revealed her magical lineage to him following the showcase.
“When I was a kid, I had a magic mentor — a doctor in Brooklyn — and his granddaughter showed up,” he said. “When she said his name, I almost dropped on the floor.”