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The International Brotherhood of Magicians

29 Apr

International Brotherhood of Magicians Started Magic Conventions in Lima Ohio Area

Category: News   Posted by: I.B.M. Website Editor

by Adrienne McGee on reprinted with permission - Courtesy of The Lima (Ohio) News first published 4/29/09

Seeking fellowship among magicians and the promotion of the entertaining aspects of the art, the International Brotherhood of Magicians was formed. And in the mid 1920s, the group spent a lot of time in the Lima area.

From the times of Vaudeville and snake oil salesmen, another special interest group arose: magicians.

The first convention of the group was held in Kenton in 1926, drawn by group member W.W. Durbin, who lived there. Durbin, heavily involved in Democratic politics, was a magician and was elected president of the group that year.

Durbin had built a theater in his backyard and named it Egyptian Hall. The theater was opulently decorated featuring portraits of fellow magicians and was used as a performance space. The convention made use of Egyptian Hall, according to news accounts and "Linking Rings: William W. Durbin and the Magic and Mystery of America," by James D. Robenalt. Durbin was Robenalt's great-grandfather, and his book explores the family history of politics and magic.

The newspapers reported there were more than 150 magicians in attendance at that first convention. Even the great Harry Blackstone was in attendance, and he demonstrated an illusion called "The Man Who Walks Away from His Shadow."

"In this latest illusion, Blackstone permits his shadow to be thrown on an ordinary window shade behind which is located a lamp. The shadow is clearly seen and as Blackstone steps out of the range of light, the stage is darkened and the silhouette continues to stand clearly on the shade," a June 11, 1926, account reported.

The convention held various luncheons and performances by the members. The group had 700 magicians as members at that time.

"Its chief purpose is to preserve the arts of magic from those who would destroy it by exposing the art," according to a story published June 11, 1926.

The convention was held in Kenton again the following year, but Lima was its base in 1928. Attendance at the convention had grown exponentially since its inception. An advertisement prior to the event offers a glimpse at the atmosphere:

W. W. Durbin "The carnival spirit will reign supreme. The producing of rabbits and birds from the pockets of staid and dignified men will be common. Yard after yard of silk and tissue may be pulled from the hat of an unsuspecting youth. The spirit of fun always enters into the conventions of this International Brotherhood of Magicians. Streets will be decorated in gala attire and the blare of music of brass bands will be heard.

Such an organization as the International Brotherhood of Magicians does much to promote fraternity among all and to preserve magic in its purity - free from all charlatanism and influences that tend to corrupt and degrade it as an art."

Lima embraced the convention, involving itself at every turn. A stage was set up at the Public Square. Jones Hardware challenged any member of the group to attempt to escape from a bolted and riveted iron box it had constructed, and a Pittsburgh magician accepted the challenge - only if he could chained or handcuffed, too. (He succeeded.) Another "magi," as the papers termed them, said he would find a pin hidden somewhere in the city by Mayor Ellis E. Jones. (He used his mind-reading powers to find it pinned on a citizen's lapel.)

Another magician would drive a car blindfolded, driving through normal traffic in the square, executing several intersections and the requisite turns needed. He was successful but stressed.

"At the Public Square platform, the young magician fainted from nervous exhaustion but quickly recovered," the papers reported.

A two-mile parade kicked off the three-day convention. The parade route, unheard of today, was as follows: It formed at Elizabeth and North streets, traveled north to Wayne Street, east to Main Street, south to Circular Street, west to Elizabeth Street, north to Spring Street, east to Main Street, around the square, west on Market Street and disbanding at Metcalf Street.

It appears most every local business entered a float. Jack and Yoshi's Cafeteria, a local restaurant, won for its "fanciful replica of a Japanese garden."

Plenty of groups from out of town were in the parade, too. There were even two floats from Chicago and a J.C. Penney float from Fort Wayne, Ind. (There was a good deal of lobbying going on for the following year's convention.)

The convention also featured shows at Schine's Ohio Theatre - with seats ranging from 75 cents to $1.65 - where "women shall be made to disappear." The ad also read: "Husbands, bring your wives."

The magi took a side trip to Kenton, in automobiles arranged by the local AAA club, to visit Durbin's Egyptian Hall. They entertained at St. Rita's Hospital as well. There was even a special matinee performance for children at the Ohio Theatre, organized by magician Howard Thurston.

"Thurston's love for children was evidenced in every feature of his act and their reverence for this master of magic provided one of the heartening scenes of the day," a story reported on June 10, 1928.

The magicians in attendance voted, and Lima was awarded the 1929 convention. Conventions continued, and still continue. The International Brotherhood of Magicians today is based in St. Louis.

The love for magic has not changed since the following was published in 1928 in the Lima papers:

"Magic! What an alluring sound the word possesses. Immediately, one conjures a picture of India and its famous fakirs or an Egyptian temple, dim, mysterious and awe inspiring, where priests commune with the gods amid clouds of incense and where the occult sciences and the working of spirits are practiced. Magic! Long may it live."

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