by George Goldtrap
Almost 1,000 in the spellbound audience—on stage in my double-breasted, a powerful, blue, circle spotlight highlighted the illusion. “How is he doing that?” was on everyone’s face. Then it happened. In a flash, before you could say abracadabra, it was over. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’m fascinated by prestidigitation—conjuring—sleight-of-hand. Now you see it, now you don’t, magic. How do you pull a rabbit out of a hat? That’s easy. It’s getting the rabbit in the hat in the first place that is difficult. Magic takes study, skill, and hours of practice. People love to be fooled and I enjoy fooling them. Ultimately, the hand is quicker than the eye. Just ask any man with a black eye!
As a child I started with simple tricks gleaned from library books. Eventually, I acquired table-top tricks and pocket magic. I hungered for larger, more elaborate illusions.
As a teen, my friend Lee began assisting me. We were a good combination. I knew showmanship, Lee knew technical stuff. He owned some magic tricks and had learned them, but with little interest in performing on stage, Lee gave the tricks to me.
My skills improved and the gigs got larger. I was becoming a magician. My professionally painted suitcase got attention. Not because it had a picture of a rabbit pulling a magician out of a hat, but because unfortunately, I had misspelled the key word. In big bold letters it said… George Goldtrap, Magican!
Lee and I worked children’s parties, old folks homes, church dinners, and civic clubs. We didn’t make a lot of money but we learned a lot. We moved to the bigger tricks, even built some ourselves.
One such trick was levitation. The magician causes something to float in the air. Blackstone levitated an elephant, Copperfield levitated himself. Most use a beautiful girl. Done right, it is convincing. Done wrong, it’s embarrassing. This is where you came in.
Lee and I were concluding a full hour performance, including the famous Die In The Box, Chinese Linking Rings, and Chinese Rice Bowls. All successful. Lee prepared some special effects using various chemical combinations. We didn’t turn water to wine but, given enough time, Lee could have done that too. It was a great show and the audience loved it. We had a grand finale that was sure to bring down the house. We would perform levitation.
From among friends Lee put together a team of backstage helpers for levitation. Our self-constructed equipment would not allow us to use a live girl. We had a large doll, about 4 feet. We had practiced faithfully, adding spooky music and that great blue spotlight.
With the beautiful sound of applause, I stepped through the curtains carrying a small table and the doll. Lee and crew, using a code, knew where I was in the presentation.
I placed the table center stage and pounded it, demonstrating that it was solid. I carried a stainless steel hoop, salvaged from an old snare drum. Audience members examined the hoop and confirmed it unbroken.
Placing the doll on the table, I explained that she was about to experience the impossible, setting the stage for what was about to happen, or at least, supposed to happen. I covered the doll with a colorful shawl supplied by Lee’s mother.
The atmosphere was perfect. House lights down, spooky music, blue spotlight, Lee’s crew in position. With my arms extended and fingers wavering, on command the doll began slowly to rise into the air, clearing the table. The fringe on the shawl seemed to dance when struck by the solid steel hoop which I passed, in both directions, over the doll, convincing all that absolutely nothing was suspending the doll in the air—at least apparently nothing.
The audience was wild with suspense, cheers and wows! We had achieved the desired effect. A live model would not have been much better. We had done it—almost! Then, disaster struck. With our doll levitated almost six feet in the air, the hoop glistening in the spotlight, almost 1,000 people screaming with delight, the doll, shawl and all, crashed to the floor with a thud, thundering above the audience’s screams.
Not having practiced for disaster, my reaction was less than desirable. Quickly, I made some comment about the doll’s ability to climb down from the sky. I thanked the audience for their attention and generous applause and got myself off the stage. I immediately looked backstage for Lee but he had magically disappeared, along with our equipment. Both of us had covered our tracks as best we could, but the fact was that our featured illusion had failed, badly. We were embarrassed. Not much more could be done. Fortunately, Lee’s quick thinking had prevented full exposure and the ultimate embarrassment, giving away a magician’s trade secret.
We did more magic performances but never again attempted levitation. Lee had done his best, but the challenge required professional equipment. We didn’t have professional money. What we had was a lot of fun and that’s life’s real challenge.
By early college, except for pocket tricks and table magic, I was out of the magic business. I still keep a few tricks handy for kids. I enjoy their glee and delight as much as ever, and Lee is still my friend.