Honoring Norm and Lupe Nielsen
By Frank Dudgeon
Photos by William Radner
Yankee Gathering XVI was indeed a sweet XVI, the latest edition of what for many is a “must attend” event. We gathered at the Doubletree Hotel in Westborough, Massachusetts from November 3 through 5, 2016. Thursday began with the Dealers’ Room beckoning us to add to our treasures, then the evening kicked off with a wine and cheese reception.
The program started with a welcome from NEMCA President Dan Bybell, who gave accolades to the hard working convention committee and a special nod to assistance and inspiration provided by Ann and Ray Goulet. Yankee Magic Collector editor Andrew Pinard thanked the review board and contributors to the latest issue. Andrew also encouraged new contributions, especially from women authors.
President Bybell introduced our Guests of Honor, Norm and Lupe Nielsen, and showed a 2008 video of the last performance of Norm’s classic Floating Violin, and also the lovely card manipulations and coin productions with coin ladder that have delighted audiences around the world. The presentation of a special plaque was met with a heartfelt standing ovation.
Tom Ewing, our Master of Ceremonies throughout the weekend, introduced our lecturer for the evening, Lupe Nielsen who spoke on “The Nielsen Magic Poster Collection: From the First Poster to the Final Sale.” The first was a gift 26 years ago to her husband Norm of two torn Fu Manchu posters which were made into one restored poster. Then Norm purchased Frakson and Carter posters, and from there they lost count. In 2013 Norm decided to sell most of the famous collection. As of that evening they had sold 480 posters with approximately 1,520 to go. Lupe’s talk was engaging and highly entertaining.
Thursday night’s show began with a talented young magician, Ryan Lally, with a rose to silk, a knot off silk which transformed into a ball which segued into a lovely ball routine. A very nice Sympathetic Silks followed bringing the routine full circle with the production of a rose. A smooth and elegant turn enhanced with lovely music.
Next Rauscher and Company. Bill Rauscher presented Aerial Fishing, a nifty Demon Wonder Box routine and a cute puppet rabbit in the hat card effect. A youngster was transformed into a “Magic Chef” complete with a chef’s hat made from two sheets of tissue paper. Cooking ingredients were added to a pan and a real rabbit cooked up, then wrapped in paper and transformed into candy. A stage filling finale included production of several large bouquets of flowers, a blooming rose bush, a huge botania, and finally Abra the rabbit was placed in the Cabinet of Wonder and became a large human sized rabbit in a costume. Bill was ably assisted by Joe and Lisa Patire, Suzanne Belmont, Alan Wassilak and “Abra.”
Tom Ewing presented a clever “card switch” routine and then introduced the ingenious Leland Faulkner. He built a solid table out of paper sheets and, wearing a simple rectangular paper mask that Leland somehow made extremely expressive through his mime skills, performed Troublewit creating an amazing array of shapes. Leland performed this delightful routine two years ago so it was back by popular demand, and I believe I saw a few new moves.
The multi-talented John Bundy wrapped up the show with the seldom seen Flea Circus. The amazing little bugs apparently rode a bicycle across a wire, performed on a trapeze, jumped from a teeter board into an audience member’s lap, did a high dive into a pan of water, and one brave flea was fired from a cannon, through a hoop, and landed on a target resulting in a flashy display.
Friday began with Bill Rauscher and “Kalanag: The Master of Magicians, The King of the Illusionists, The Ruler of a Thousand Wonders.” Helmut Schreiber rose out of postwar Germany as Kalanag with his enormous show “Sim-Sala-Bim,” and with his beautiful wife, Gloria de Vos, toured the world to great acclaim. But his controversial past, including friendship with Hitler and other Nazis, exploits with stolen Nazi gold and more cast a pall over his reputation. Kalanag’s charm and skill was shown in a film of his billiard ball and cigar routine, and another of the levitation demonstrated the grandeur of Sim-Sala-Bim. Bill’s Kalanag: Magician of the Third Reich, an excellent CD lecture and DVD of Kalanag’s magic and extensive scrapbook, was a popular item in the Dealer’s Room.
Dean Carnegie presented “The Life and Times of The Great Maro.” Combining his twin abilities of music and magic, Maro opened up the Lyceum circuit to other magicians including Brush and Germaine. His show offered magic, chapeaugraphy, music, often with instruments of his own invention, rapid sketches and much more.
He was on the verge an Australian tour and had invitations to perform in England when he became ill and died of typhoid in 1908. He was just 39 years old. Dean’s lecture was humorous at times and very well delivered. We saw slides of many of Maro’s beautiful posters and it was a treat to learn more about the man behind them.
Friday afternoon brought the auction helmed by the always enjoyable Robert Olson. Books, apparatus, posters, engravings and ephemera of many types changed hands. A highlight was the sought after John Rogers statue “The Traveling Magician,” which sold for $4,250.
Friday evening’s lectures began with Mark Horowitz and “Sex, Lies, and Magic Obsessions.” The intriguing title referred to magic sets. Mark knows whereof he speaks as the collector of over 550 magic sets to compliment his over 1,600 magic comic books. He outlined the various types of sets, their history, packaging (sex appeal), and lies such as “works every time” and “100 tricks” which can mean 10 pieces in the box and a booklet with 90 more effects, and possible future sets on tablets and flash drives. Mark was energetic as ever giving away comics to those who correctly answered questions.
Scott Martell gave us “A Tribute to Jean Hugard” which included a salute to the late Jim Alfredson who literally wrote the book on Hugard. Hugard performed in his native Australia and later relocated to the U.S. and played vaudeville, but the Great Depression and the loss of his savings through a bank failure ended his performing career. His great clarity in explaining the subtleties of magic led to teaching and writing. He penned 27 books, many pamphlets, had a major part in Greater Magic and of course Hugard’s Magic Monthly. Scott’s lecture was an excellent tribute to someone from whom we have all learned.
Raymond Ricard followed with “Rare, Limited and Unusual Works on Conjuring.” Citing examples from his extensive collection, Ray explained that while Toole Stott’s bibliographies are indeed the go to books for information on rare magic publications they are not complete. The talk was illustrated with enticing slides of works including Breslaw, Dean, Herrmann, Heller and many others, as well as scarce pulp titles. Ray was enlightening as always.
Then show time. The first act was the amazing and enjoyable David Oliver. His presentation of Pavel’s Walking Knot is inspired. He taught two female audience members dance steps and all three donned sunglasses and, to David’s choreography, this miracle was accomplished. David also performed a lovely three ring Linking Ring routine and his gorgeous Zombie and floating ball. Bravo!
M.C. Tom Ewing displayed a “Bill Neff for U.S. Congress” lawn sign that was “liberated” by an attendee. No, not our Bill Neff, but a great bit as the 2016 election loomed.
Leland Faulkner returned with another of his talents – Chapeaugraphy. After a quick film clip of the legendary Felecien Trewey, Leland took the stage and transformed himself via his headgear into a baby, a cowboy, Napoleon, a pirate, a graduate, Elvis, an old soldier and many other characters. His quick changes of the simple hat ring accompanied by appropriate music was a study in mastery.
John Bundy and Morgan closed with a marvelous performance of the Spirit Cabinet. Two audience members tied Morgan to a chair and miracles flowed from the cabinet. The spirits made knots appear in a rope, writing appear on a slate, tambourines were thrown, and a coat was thrown into the cabinet and wound up on Morgan despite her fetters. A volunteer joined her in the cabinet and the spirits had their way with a basket winding up on his head and his clothes askew. Well done.
Over 40 attendees enjoyed a lively late night roundtable discussion on provenance facilitated by Andrew Pinard and Ray Ricard.
Saturday morning began with two simultaneous events – a Flea Market and a Ladies Event honoring Pixie Grossman. Many took time to examine the always enchanting Exhibit Room. Tom Ewing had an impressive display of McDonald Birch and Mable Sperry memorabilia including a lovely Asian themed backdrop. Ray Ricard brought along almost 40 rare pamphlets and pitch books. Bill Rauscher’s Kalanag exhibit offered programs, photos and more, including a souvenir stick pin. Houdini fans were dazzled by John Hinson’s one of a kind family photos of Harry and Bess, plus books with extensive inscriptions, Houdini’s top hat and examples of Bess’ needlework. Joe Bunch had a large display of Will Goldston material including first edition books, periodicals and more. George Daily contributed Mildred and Rouclere items, a signed note from Thurston, rare E. Cooper Taylor paper and more. David Haversat‘s treasures included Kellar’s Improved Levitation which was also performed by Harry Blackstone Sr., a large, very scarce Houdini Water Torture Cell poster and Chung Ling Soo and Suee Seen memorabilia. Steve Lerner shared his gambling treasures, including a Camel Back Arrow carnival game and a dice roll game. Spoiler alert: Steve never lost.
Tom Ewing started the last round of lectures by introducing himself with “Birch and Thurston: Magical Threads.” Tom told of acquiring the research of the late Charles McCall and turning it into his marvelous book, Birch The Master Magician, as Tom says a true love story between McDonald Birch and Mabel Sperry. Tom’s talk centered on Birch’s relationship to Howard Thurston, who was an early inspiration to Birch and someone he admired to the end.
Diego Domingo gave a report on the grave of Olive Robinson, Suee Seen to William Robinson’s Chung Ling Soo. Diego located her previously unmarked grave in the Bronx and has placed a marker there and invited donations.
Dr. Edwin Dawes gave us “Doctor Ormonde: The Orcadian Magician and His Talented Family.” Ormonde, the only magician known to have been born in the Orkney Islands, performed throughout the British Isles with his family performing magic, music, exposures of spiritualism and more, enhanced by exuberant publicity. Dr. Dawes gave an enlightening look at this eclectic performer.
David Bull, Le Grand David himself, spoke on “The Harbin Upside Down Box.” While much of the Le Grand David show has been sold at auction, David retained this jewel from the show. He discussed the intricacies of building the prop and the items produced from it – two tables, a vase and flowers, a spring dragon, huge silks, a stack of bowls and more. We saw a video of an actual performance which brought back marvelous memories and the live demonstration was awesome.
Magic Christian gave us the good news that Compars Herrmann’s grave has been nearly restored after years of neglect and damage from World War II and invited donations to complete the effort.
The final talk was “Cutting Up Jackpots” from the legendary Bev Bergeron. He first saw Willard the Wizard when he was 10 and in his teens worked on the show. Later he met Mark Wilson and created Rebo the Clown. Off camera he was deeply involved in creating illusions and stage managing and many other endeavors, and we enjoyed a video of Bev performing the Willard Thumb Tie. Bev was as genuine and entertaining as ever.
Saturday night’s banquet was a very pleasant affair with some extra touches, such as Thomas Blacke, World’s Fastest Balloon Artist, going table to table making balloon animals so quickly that he rivalled speeded up film and Andrew Pinard visiting each group to express NEMCA’s appreciation for their attendance.
The show began with Bev Bergeron in an act filled with expertly delivered humor and magic, including effects with a silk, spot card, an excellent egg bag routine, cigarette manipulation and more, all tied together with multiple productions of glasses filled with liquids. A master was in the house.
It was a treat to see the magic of Richard Potter again as performed by Robert Olson. Bob performed the length of lace which could not hold a knot and was cut and restored, a card vanish and reproduction, a pretty ball vase routine and finally a lovely card sword. It was great to see Bob depart from his usual period-perfect patter for this special audience.
M.C Tom Ewing gave a very nice Houdini séance with a photo of Harry and Bess in a TV card frame (!) and audio from the final Houdini Séance of 1936. Well done.
The closer was Magic By Lyn. Lyn Dillies is an award winning illusionist. She produced her male assistant from a glass cabinet, turned him inside out in a Twister Illusion, produced doves and vanished them and their cage, performed a delightful dancing handkerchief, the Oragami illusion and more, and closed with Metamorphosis.
Lyn’s dazzling performance included a number of references to Uncle Ray. Ray Goulet is a beloved mentor for this talented performer. She did him proud.
NEMCA is so fortunate to have many talented and dedicated members who put in so much work before, during and after the Yankee Gathering to make this such a premier event. Thanks to you all.