Posted in Readathons-Challenges-Memes

Magic Monday ~ On Secrets


I like Mondays. On Monday, I am refreshed from the weekend and exhilarated by the possibilities of the week ahead. I also like magic. I like its history, its intersection with technology, and its crafty use of human nature.  I figured I’d combine the two and make a Monday feature that is truly me: a little bit of magic and a look at the week ahead.

Last week I took a trip to the Tempe Public Library. I had a list of fiction I wanted (I’ll get to that later), but I also paid a visit to the 793.8 shelves: Indoor games and amusements – Magic and related activities. Along with The Illustrated History of Magic, I picked up a slim volume called All the Secrets of Magic Revealed by Herbert Becker (aka, The Great Kardeen). Being only 30 secrets of magic and not all of them, I read most of it at the library over my espresso mocha and lemon cake.

Joseffy & Balsamo in the 1940s.
Joseffy & Balsamo in the 1940s. (photo: The Sphinx, Vol. 45 No. 4. June 10, 1946)

Also this past week, I came across an old discussion at alt.magic about professional magazines and exposures. Of particular interest to me, the subject was Joseffy and Magic magazine’s article on Balsamo the Living Skull. Obviously, this once again led me to mull over the ethics of “secrets.”

It was well-known that toward the end of his life Joseffy sought a successor to take over the performance of Balsamo. Failing that, he wanted Balsamo destroyed. In reality, the skull was acquired by Joseffy’s friend, lawyer Eugene Bernstein,  then passed on to Bernstein’s son Stuart, and eventually bought by mechanist John Gaughan in the 1990s. Gaughan refurbished Balsamo and Max Maven was able to perform with the temperamental skull in 1997. Jim Steinmeyer’s article in Magic about Joseffy and the events leading to Max Maven’s performance included a reveal of the act.

The question posed in the forum thread: Was this all a betrayal of Joseffy’s wishes? Or is this business as usual, how knowledge is passed down within the profession? Is this any different than FOX’s rather dreadful TV show with the masked magician exposing tricks?*  Magic is a periodical aimed at those in the industry, but it can be had by anyone. I own the issue myself. I also wonder, if Balsamo had been destroyed, what would Joseffy’s legacy be?

On a personal and self-serving level, I found the secret to Balsamo to be a thing of beauty and something quite wonderful. As a writer, it told me more about Joseffy than any article I had read. I’d like to think that, if Joseffy had known Gaughan, Maven, and Steinmeyer, he might have found magicians worthy of Balsamo.

* To be honest, I don’t find that show’s exposé of secrets to be objectionable. What I dislike is how utterly boring it is. There can be beauty and narrative in how secrets are told, which is the gaping chasm of difference between Magic and Breaking the Magician’s Code.


The Swan GondolaWhat Am I Reading?

I’m terribly fickle. I checked out The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert, Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner, and Nevermore by William Hjortsberg. I’ve been looking forward to The Swan Gondola for a while now. So far, so good. Since we’re heading to San Diego this week, I’ve already read my Deal Me In story, “The Sepia Postcard” by Steven Millhauser. That post will go up on Saturday.


What Am I Writing?

Still haven’t gotten into a good fiction-writing groove. I’m considering doing all my blog-writing on weekends to leave more energy for work-writing during the week. In addition to In Need of Luck, I’m also mulling a couple of short fiction projects: a “fan fiction” piece based on Eric’s PHYSIC and a story within the Lovecraft mythos. But this week, I’m mostly going to be on vacation!

So, what are you reading? How do you feel about magic and secrets?


Writer, publisher. Hobbies include reading, studying magic & illusions from a historical/theoretical perspective, and playing ultimate frisbee.

6 thoughts on “Magic Monday ~ On Secrets

  1. I have a few magician friends and I am always astounded by their slight of hand. I do know one or two secrets, and it’s always a bit disillusioning. Ah well…I admit there is a part of me that wants magic to be real. : )

    I may check out a writing group this weekend. But I just really want to finish the MS I have been working on. My friend copy edited it and I just haven’t been able to tackle even looking at it. Good luck to you on your writing.

    1. Generally, I like knowing the secrets because I can still appreciate when the trick is done well.

      Hope the writing group works out. Even at the middle/end of the process, it’s sometimes helpful to have some support. For me, it feels like so long since I’ve just sat down to write on an daily basis. Do I even remember how to do this?

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