Storyteller in Vernon Hills, Il

Meg Macdonald, Story Teller

Stories Old and New with Meg Macdonald, Friday, June 21st, 11:00 AM at Barbara’s Bookstore, Hawthorne Mall, Vernon Hills Il. Admission: free.

Be there, or have to explain to your children and grandchildren (in addition to an entire chapter in your autobiography that you’d really rather not have) why you weren’t.


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Vermont Ren Faire

Jim Macdonald, magician

Be there, or be square!

The 2019 Vermont Renaissance Faire will be held in Stowe, VT, on June 22nd and 23rd.

I’ll be doing magic on the Merchant’s Stage at 3:00 pm each day, plus walking around the fair grounds for the rest of the fair.

Come, meet my friends.  Come up to me and say, “Amaze me!” and I’ll do my best.

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The Board Having Maturely Considered These Facts….

We left the site of  Major André’s hanging and temporary grave, to journey … to lunch!

André’s self-portrait, the night before his hanging.

We went to the Old ’76 House (110 Main St, Tappan, NY 10983 (41°01’18.3″N 73°56’52.6″W (41.021752, -73.947940)), a half-mile away, which was the place where Major André had been held during his trial. Reputedly the Old ’76 House is the oldest continuously-operated dining facility in America.


The  historical marker says: “76 House” Where Major John André, British spy, plotter with Arnold, to deliver West Point, was confined before his execution.

Washington’s Headquarters, Tappan, NY. Corner of Oak Tree Road and Livingston Street.

Back in 1780 it was called Mabie’s Tavern, and was convenient to Washington’s headquarters in the DeWint House under a mile away and to the Reformed Church of Tappan just across the street where André’s trial was held.

The dining room is decorated in Colonial style, with various firearms and swords hung from the walls. There are no less than two portraits of Major André visible; an oil showing him in his scarlet regimentals with green facings, and a charcoal showing him wearing a cocked hat (in the style later associated with Napoleon).

Reformed Church of Tappan. This building dates to 55 years after André’s trial.

Tavern Fish And Chips, yum!

It being a Friday in Lent, I had the Tavern Fish and Chips, while Doyle had the Caesar Salad. The food has apparently improved a good deal since the major was held captive there: back in 1780 General Washington send food from his own table (prepared by Samuel Fraunces of Fraunces’ Tavern) to Major André, to ensure that the latter was eating right.

While Major André was held at Mabie’s Tavern, his trial was held just up the road and across the street at the Reformed Church of Tappan. His court martial board consisted of:

Major General Greene, President
Major General Lord Stirling
Major General St. Clair
Major General The Marquis de la Fayette
Major General Howe
Major General The Baron de Steuben
Brigadier General Parsons
Brigadier General Clinton
Brigadier General Knox
Brigadier General Glover
Brigadier General Patterson
Brigadier General Hand
Brigadier General Huntington
Brigadier General Stark
John Lawrence, Judge-Advocate General


Those who are interested in the trial might wish to read Proceedings of a board of general officers respecting Major John André. The major represented himself in the legal proceedings and was perfectly frank in his disclosures. Perhaps a bit too frank: he volunteered information that the Continentals would have had a terrible time proving. Not that Clarence Darrow, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., and Daniel Webster combined arguing his case would have helped a whole lot. He genuinely had gone behind American lines, in disguise, under a false name, and was carrying incredibly incriminating papers. As Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton said, “Never perhaps did any man suffer death with more justice, or deserve it less.”

Despite offers by the Continentals to trade André for Arnold (by Hamilton among others), General Sir Henry Clinton couldn’t make the deal, not if he ever wanted to see another high-level defector again. Of Major André, Baron von Steuben wrote, “It is not possible to save him. He put us to no proof, but in an open, manly manner, confessed everything but a premeditated desire to deceive. Would to God the wretch who drew him to death could have suffered in his place.” The Marquis de Lafayette said, “All the court … were filled with sentiments of admiration and compassion for him. He behaved with so much frankness, courage and delicacy that I could not help lamenting his unhappy fate. This was one of the most painful duties I ever had to perform,” and wept openly at André’s hanging.

Despite their personal feelings, the court-martial found:

The Board having maturely considered these facts, DO ALSO REPORT to His Excellency General Washington, That Major André, Adjutant General to the British army, ought to be considered as a Spy from the enemy, and that agreeable to the law and usage of nations, it is their opinion, he ought to suffer death.

General Washington affirmed the sentence, pocket vetoed the major’s request for a firing squad, and so the matter concluded.

With lunch finished, we made our way up to King’s Ferry, where Major André crossed the Hudson on the night of September 22nd, 1780, as he attempted to make his way (in civilian clothes, under an assumed name, and with the plans to West Point in his boot)  back to the British lines at New-York.

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More Unfortunate Than Criminal…

The Unfortunate Death of Major André

Now Arnold to New York has gone,
A-fighting for his King,
And left poor Major André
On the gallows for to swing.

From the place where Major André came ashore to the place where he was hanged is just 22 minutes on modern roads by modern car.  It actually took the major longer than that, but he took a more circuitous route and had other adventures on the way.

We drove south from Haverstraw to Tappan, New York.  The site of Major André’s hanging was on a hilltop,  a half-mile behind the tavern where he had been kept prisoner.  The sky was grey and starting to spit rain, a suitably gloomy circumstance for the visit.

Major André was hanged at 12 noon on Monday, the 2nd of October, 1780.  When it was clear that the sentence of his court-martial was death, he had only one request: that he be shot by firing squad, rather than hanged.  He wrote to General Washington:

Tappan, Oct.1, 1780


Bouy’d above the terror of death, by the consciousness of a life devoted to honourable pursuits, and stained with no action that can give me remorse, I trust that the request I make to your Excellency at this serious period,  and which is to soften my last moments, will not be rejected.

Sympathy towards a soldier will surely induce your Excellency and a military tribunal to adopt the mode of my death to the feelings of a man of honour.

Let me hope, Sir, that if ought in my character impresses you with esteem towards me, if ought in my misfortunes marks me as the victim of policy and not of resentment, I shall experience the operation of these feeling in your breast, by being informed that I am not to die on a gibbet.

I have the honour to be, your Excellency’s
Most obedient and most humble servant,
Adj. Gen. of the British army

Monument on the site of Major Andrés hanging

The place of Major André’s execution and burial is marked today by a truncated obelisk of black granite surrounded by an iron fence.  41°1′17″N 73°57′17″W (41.021389, -73.954722).  The street address is 42 Andre Hill Drive, Tappan, NY.


The West (Front) side of the monument

On the west face of the monument you can read these words:

Here died October 2, 1780,
MAJOR JOHN ANDRE of the British Army
Who entering the American lines
On a secret mission to Benedict Arnold
for the surrender of West Point
was taken prisoner, tried, and condemned as a spy.
His death
though according to the stern code of war
moved even his enemies to pity
and both armies mourned the fate
of one so young and so brave.
In 1821 his remains were removed to Westminster Abbey.
A hundred years after his execution
this stone was placed above the spot where he lay
by a citizen of the states against which he fought
not to perpetuate the record of strife
but in token of those better feelings
which have since united two nations
one in race, in language and in religion,
with the earnest hope that this friendly union
will never be broken.

Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, Dean of Westminster


The Right (south) side of the monument

The south face has the Latin motto:

sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt

— Virgil Aeneid 1. 462

A common quote on military monuments,  Fagles (in the Penguin edition of the Aeneid)  translates this out to “the world is a world of tears and the burdens of mortality touch the heart.”  Note on the ground the remains of a bouquet, bound with a ribbon imprinted with the Union Jack.

The left (north) face of the monument

The north face has the words:

“He was more unfortunate than criminal, an accomplished man and a gallant officer.”
— George Washington

The back (east) side of the monument

On the back, the east side, there’s a plaque:

This property
acquired November 13 1905 by
the American Scenic and Historic
Preservation Society
preserves the identity of
a place of historic interest
and commemorates the fortitude
of Washington and his generals
in one of the crises of the
American Revolution

Back here there was a cellophane wrapper such as those in which bouquets are commonly sold, but the flowers had long since decayed to a black mush.

As noted, Major André’s bones were returned to England in 1821.  His sarcophagus in Westminster Abbey is far more sumptuous than this bleak monument on a hilltop in Tappan:

 It consists of a sarcophagus with the figure of a mourning Britannia (the female personification of Britain) and a sad-looking lion on top. A relief on the front shows Washington receiving Andre’s petition for death by firing squad, while Andre is led off for execution. A woman sits under a tree wringing her hands in sorrow.

Major André, himself, met his death bravely.  He placed the noose around his own neck and tied the blindfold around his own eyes.  He was left hanging for half-an-hour before being cut down, and the witnesses filed past him.  He died badly — his face had turned black, which tells me that he strangled rather than dying at once of a broken neck.

Having observed the site of Major André’s execution and first burial, we then headed off to see the places where he had been kept prisoner, and where he had been tried (with a side-trip to Washington’s headquarters).



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Meanwhile, in Chicago ….

Music Institute Chorale Concert 
Come Rain or Come Shine
A Celebration of the Joys of Nature
Featuring special guest Raúl Fernández, percussion
Sunday June 9 2019, 3:00 PM
Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston
847.905.1500 or
Ticket Cost:  
$15 adults; $10 seniors; $7 students
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“An Accomplished Man and a Gallant Officer….”

John André, A Representation of Major John André…going from the Vulture Sloop of War, aquatint, circa 1781.

John André, A Representation of Major John André…going from the Vulture Sloop of War, aquatint, circa 1781.  From a sketch found among André’s papers on his desk after his death, and returned by the American forces to his friends in the British army.

Although I grew up in the area I had never paid much attention to this part of American history.  I therefore determined that, since I was once again in southern New York for a science fiction convention that I would go down a few days early to follow the path of Major John André, Adjutant-General to the British Army during the American Revolution.

Haverstraw Beach State Park

Our first stop was the Treason Site, where Major André met with Lieutenant General Benedict Arnold.  We drove up from Nyack, NY, under clouds that threatened rain, to Haverstraw, NY.  There, in the woods that are now Haverstraw Beach State Park, André came ashore and met with Arnold. From Nyack you go north on Rt 9W (Not, as you might think, 9 West, but 9W.  There are an awful lot of Route 9s in this part of New York; 9, 9A, 9B, 9C, etc. Perhaps more on this anon.)  As you drive north, the view toward the Hudson to the east is of an entirely unprepossessing sand-and-gravel quarry.  But a fish-hook loop on Short Clove Road, then back south, closer to the water on Riverside Avenue  (a road not visible from the bluffs above where 9W runs) takes you to a small parking area with a barrier blocking off access to the road continuing south and signs warning, “Picknicking Beyond This Point Not Permitted,” “Park Closes at Dusk,” and “Only Hikers and Wide-Tire Bicycles Beyond This Point.”

So, we parked, and I hiked.

The historical marker is perhaps 600 feet down the path, on the left (east) side of the trail.  It’s at 41° 10.683′ N, 73° 56.624′ W (41.1779, -73.9434).  The sign is white-on-brown, and reads:

Treason Site Historical Marker


Within these woods, in the early morning hours of September 22, 1780, American General Benedict Arnold and British Major John André plotted the surrender of the American fortress at West Point. While attempting to return to British lines, André was captured by American soldiers. He was tried, convicted and hanged as a spy at Tappan on October 2, 1780. Traitor Arnold escaped and joined the British.

Beaten down by boots.

About thirty feet north of the marker there’s a small, unmarked trail leading off to the east, down toward the Hudson.  It isn’t a very difficult trail to follow, though it would be challenging to someone with mobility issues.  You can see the Hudson through the trees, and imagine His Majesty’s Sloop of War Vulture lying there, having delivered Major André, in full uniform, under flag of truce, to his meeting.

Originally the meeting was supposed to take place aboard Vulture, but Arnold was unwilling to go out, so André went ashore.  Major André had been given three orders by his boss, General Sir Henry Clinton:  Don’t go behind American lines.  Don’t take off your uniform.  And don’t carry any incriminating papers. The major had just disobeyed that first order.  Within twenty-four hours he would disobey the other two … with unhappy results.  But back to that trail… it leads down to the west bank of the Hudson River, and a stone.  41° 10.667′ N, 73° 56.582′ W (41.177783, -73.943033)

It is a desolate spot even today.

André the Spy

Carved into a boulder on the water’s edge we can read these words: ANDRE THE SPY LANDED HERE SEPT. 21, 1780.

Looking across the Hudson

The back of the “Andre the Spy” stone.

On the shore near the André the Spy stone.

From the back of the stone, looking across the Hudson, the east bank isn’t that far away. We can imagine HMS Vulture anchored there; in full view of the Revolutionary batteries at Teller’s Point. The Hudson is only about 1.5 miles wide here, and a cannon would have a range of about three miles. As dawn rose the Continentals took the British craft under fire, and Vulture retired down-river, stranding Major André.

About five feet north of the “André the Spy” stone someone had built a little structure of stones and sticks, to what purpose I do not know.

I climbed back up to the paved path, thinking of how John André must have felt, standing at the same place and watching his ride leave without him.

It’s a good thing for the United States that Major André was a desk jockey rather than an operator and that he had never gone to SERE School.  But, still, at that moment, he sure had my sympathy.  (I’m not alone in that:  Major General Nathanael Greene., who headed up Major André’s court martial, the Marquis de Lafayette, who sat on that court martial board, and General George Washington, who signed Major André’s death warrant, all felt the utmost sympathy for him.)

So I saluted in the direction of the battery at Teller’s Point, and proceeded to the next stop on my André Tour.



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Want a Tip? Stay Out of Show Business.


by David J. Lustig

(Knowledge and  Inside Dope Which Will Aid the Amateur To Become  a Vaudeville Artiste.)

I have received numerous letters from people in all walks of life asking me how one goes about it when they wish to adopt the vaudeville stage as a means of livelihood.

Many I have answered personally but not having the time to write all who I have received inquiries from, my publisher has requested me to write something that may prove of value to the clever amateur who has decided to “break into vaudeville” with an act.

No matter whether you wish to become a professional magical entertainer, ventriloquist or present a sketch, playlet or monologue on the vaudeville stage there are certain things you should know before you start out trying to get a vaudeville agent to handle (book) your act.

First . . . . . . it is advisable for you to have an act arranged by someone who makes a specialty of this sort of thing as he, with plenty of experience in back of him, knows about what a vaudeville manager, agent and audience wishes.

There are magic acts in vaudeville who struggle along from year to year and then again the same applies to many other variety acts now appearing on the vaudeville stage, some delighting, others tiring vaudeville audiences who as a general run are the most exacting audiences of today. This is due to the fact that patrons of vaudeville theatres see so many different acts a year that they soon learn to appreciate good work and have little, if any, sympathy with mediocre turns.

True . . . . in many theatres we see acts which are termed by “gallery gods” putrid. When you see an act you think is very bad look at things from their standpoint a bit and figure out whether it is the performers themselves, their vehicle or conditions under which the are working. The layman cannot appreciate the many difficulties under which at times vaudevillians work.

We have all seen acts with clever performers who have a worthless sketch or playlet and thus their efforts are completely “left in the shade.”

The first thing the amateur must consider when he wishes to become a vaudevillian is he must have the proper act . . . . no matter of what sort. . . . to enable himself to do that which you can do the best.

No matter what kind of an act you wish to offer. . . .be it a crystal gazing, magical, comedy or dramatic playlet, monologue or patter act. . . . consult someone who understands this sort of work. It will pay you better in the end to have an act prepared to suit your individual talent.

Some actors think they can write their own material and that it is far better than a script they may have written by a specialist in this line. This may be true at times but very seldom.

Actors sometimes think they know it all and the writer of stage material finds this type to be so charged with “temperament” that they sidetrack them whenever they can. And who can blame them? There is few ailments known to the human body that can be classed much worse than “artistic temperament” and “swellheaditis.”

Suppose you are convinced you have marked ability along certain lines of entertaining . . . . the first thing to do is to “frame” up an act that runs from say twelve to twenty minutes. Your act, specialty or turn, must be entertainment full of life and be able to hold the attention of a blasé vaudeville audience all the time you are on the stage. It is certain to bore an audience and slangly speaking “get their goats” if you insist on stalling or posing.

If you have twenty-two minutes of material cut out some of your stuff and leave only the “meat” of the act in. Should it be a magic act cut the “stalling” and posing of yourself or your assistants and work fast and aim to work every trick you do up to a climax which will leave them guessing and this will bring forth the applause.

Should you have ten tricks on your program, after you break in the act, watch closely and cut out two or three effects keeping in only the effects that seem to you, judging from the appreciation of the audiences, worth while.

Whatever you do, in a magic act, don’t try to convince an audience you are clever. I have seen a bungling magician, who was a clever comedian, go over far better than a clever sleight of hand artiste. Managers and agents will tell you the same thing.

An audience wants to be entertained and if the performer shows them he is an entertainer they are satisfied and vote the act, by their appreciative applause, a hit.

To become a success in the vaudeville field one must have an act that is just a little better than what audiences have always accepted as the best. Get it?

Unlimited rehearsing is necessary before an act is even tried out before an agent. Agents, at times, are a fussy lot and seldom, if ever, admit to a performer his act is good. Most agents are self-styled judges of acts. Some really are real judges . . . . others should be plumbers!

And the same thing, in a different light, applies to performers who appear in vaudeville. The vaudeville stage is infested and over-flooded by third rate, mediocre acts of every description. Careful managers try to book recognized turns or acts they have seen themselves for their theatres but recognized turns and really good new acts are kept busy and their salaries are, most times, far beyond the pocketbook of the average vaudeville theatre manager.

After you have your act well rehearsed and fitted up to please the eye (a “flash or sight act,” as well dressed acts are called . . . .  that is acts with appropriate scenery and other paraphernalia) you will have to “try-out” the turn before an audience and several agents. The agents will pass judgment on the turn and will see if the act can be used by them. Many acts never go beyond the try-out stage.

Should your act receive a few weeks booking or routing over a circuit at a price . . . . consider yourself in luck and do all you can  while playing to further improve your act so other time or bookings will be forthcoming.

Get all the agents, representing the different vaudeville booking agencies, you can to witness your act when trying out and in the larger cities where agencies are located, where you may be playing. Get your act known. Advertise a bit . . . . publicity will do you a lot of good . . . . never any harm.

Some agents will want you to go over their “time” at a small salary. Watch your step. It is all well and good to work your act for a couple of weeks to break in at a salary about covering expenses but after the “break-in” period don’t ask a million dollars for an act you know very well is worth a couple of hundred but make a reasonable price and hold out for that price. What has hurt the business is acts who needed money and work for almost anything so long as they keep working. This sort of thing may look fairly well on the face of the stories highly colored which are told by so-called performers but when a man’s pocketbook becomes strained his digestion and liver as well as disposition become badly out of tune.

If you meet a vaudevillian and he tells you he “knocks ’em dead” or “off their seats” wherever he plays and then tells you he has a four year route don’t hesitate but GIVE HIM THE AIR!!

To secure a try-out either call personally (which is best if you can be ushered into the presence of His Highness the Agent) on the man you think is best suited to handle your act or write him requesting an interview and if the interview is not forthcoming later follow up by requesting a chance to show him your act.

Your stationary (letterhead and circulars) must be attractive and well printed otherwise they will receive little, if any, consideration.

And don’t get the idea that the life of an actor is all roses.

Acting, in no matter what line you choose, is hard work and to get a real foothold on the ladder of success in any line you must be prepared to work hard, industriously and with the aim of becoming a real success, in view.

Don’t lose courage and don’t lay down at the first disappointment you receive. Up and at it will win the game. Rome wasn’t built overnight and our foremost vaudeville stars battled continually along the hard road to success which is not lined with roses but heartaches.

The game is worth while once you get a good foothold and to attain that foothold is all up to you.

To successfully present and “put across” a magic act you must be both a clever showman and a clever exponent of conjuring. To quote an old, very-much used saying: “It isn’t so much what you do as how you do it.” This holds true in any sort of entertaining. While on the stage you must be an actor at all times whether you are enacting the role of a “nutt” or a “straight” entertainer.

Develop your talent no matter what line of entertaining you chose. When you can do a few tricks and mystify the folks at home or the friends you may meet at a party don’t get the idea into your head you are ready to adopt the stage as a profession. Remember your friends ARE your friends and they will do or say nothing which will hurt your feelings but a vaudeville audience will not
spare your feelings any more than you in your chatter may have spared the feelings (could they have overheard you) of some of the acts you may have witnessed.

Acts carrying their own scenery usually get more money than those depending on “house stuff.” Dress your act up well. Proper hangings enhance the value of an act in the eyes of an audience. Of course the way you dress your act is all up to you and your pocketbook. Use judgment and horse sense in everything.

No matter what folks may say an actor will tell you it requires far more ability to walk out in “one” (before a house drop) and put over an entertaining act than it does to have a full stage setting with all necessary props and other paraphernalia. By this I do not mean you don’t need talent to put a richly fitted-up act across. You need ability at all times and the more ability and business knowledge you have in show business the more chance of success you will have.

Don’t copy the other fellow’s chatter or his tricks. If you work a sketch don’t plagiarize the other fellow’s lines or bits of business.  What he may put over to big returns you may fall down hard on.

It isn’t what the other fellow “pulls” in his patter but the manner in which he says it. What is one man’s bread is the other fellow’s poison.

Avoid being a “hammer artist” (knocker). If you think the other fellow isn’t any good and his efforts are nil forget it. You may not think he is good and a thousand others may vote him the cleverest ever.

In a magic turn for vaudeville rapid fire stuff is what the public demands. They want something doing every minute. A vaudeville audience loses interest when a performer walks off to “load” up for another trick. If you must make an exit after an effect to obtain a “load” rehearse your act so your assistant can arrange tables or something of this sort to kill the wait. The best magical entertainers remain on the stage from the rise to the fall of the curtain.

After your act is ready to show an agent . . . . . . go to some reliable photographer and have some photographs taken of your complete act (if you have a stage setting) and some of yourself and your assistants. While in vaudeville I used only photographs of my hands doing various stunts. Whatever you do don’t have photos taken of your hands exposing a palmed coin or billiard ball. The public as a general run have become too familiar with “palms” and “passes” thanks to the mediocre so-called magician who bungles his sleights so frequently that his efforts may fool himself but not his audience.

Dress well on and off the stage and act the part of a gentleman at all times. Two-thirds of the stories told of the profession are of the cock-and-bull variety and you will find just as many ladies and gentlemen behind the footlights as before them.

Say you have all the scenery and properties needed in your act your assistants properly rehearsed, and your own end to your satisfaction . . . . . . obtain a number of engagements to get yourself and your people used to an audience as well as in this way getting things to run a bit smoother. Do this before you attempt to secure a professional try-out. You will be glad you heeded this advice when the try-out night takes place. Familiarize yourself to working before an audience and if you become used to large gatherings and at all times endeavor to practice and further perfect yourself in your work you
will enjoy performing. Keep your wits about you at all times and should something unforeseen occur don’t mar the effect by quitting cold but finish it in some way you think best. Many things happen to the best of us when before an audience and when something does happen it usually is something you have never thought would take place.

Nerve isn’t the main standby of the vaudevillian. Many acts have unlimited nerve and “crust” and little else. This is the sort who usually end their professional engagements at the end of a season (if they last that long) owing themselves money.

Use the brains God gave you at all times. Plug hard and boost yourself to the very best of your ability along the hard road of success.

From Lustig, David. J. La Vellma’s Vaudeville Budget for Magicians, Mind Readers and Ventriloquists R. W. Doidge, 1921 pages 52-56.

David Lustig was born on September 4th, 1893.  He launched his vaudeville career in 1910 at the age of 17 as a magician using the stage name “La Vellma.” In the 1920s he performed in vaudeville as a magician, mentalist, and ventriloquist. He worked as a theater manager, and as a newspaper theater critic. He wrote and directed silent films. From the late ’20s he was a technical adviser to mentalist Joseph Dunninger, devising many of the “tests” that Dunninger used on radio and TV shows.

Later in his life Lustig worked as a publicity specialist for Columbia Pictures, setting up tours and interviews for their movie stars.

He was elected by the Society of American Magicians National Council to the  SAM Hall of Fame.

Lustig was a member of the Society of American Magicians, the National Conjuror’s Association, and the National Vaudeville Artist’s Club.

He died on September 30th, 1977, at the age of 84.


A “budget” (as in the title of the book) is a (usually) leather pouch, wallet, or pack, and/or its contents.

To “sidetrack” something is a term that comes from railroading.  This refers to switching a lower priority train onto a piece of track alongside the main tracks, there to wait while the express thunders down the main line, bypassing it.

To give someone “the air” is to reject, to brush off; to break off relations.

A “nutt” is a comic or zany.

A “turn” is the act presented on stage, generally from seven to twenty minutes, most frequently ten to fifteen minutes.

“Time”  is performing in a theater or on a circuit.  Thus, someone appearing on the Orpheum circuit would be “keeping Orpheum time.”  Someone booked by the Theater Owners Booking Association would be “keeping Toby time.”

“In one” means performing on the apron in front of the house curtain.  Vaudeville featured continuous entertainment.  While the curtains were closed for scenery changes, a performer would come out to take their turn “in one” and deliver a monologue, juggle, do card tricks, or otherwise keep the show going.  “In two” meant a half stage.  “In three” was a three-quarter stage, while “in four” meant the full stage.

The same applies to writing:  Write, finish what you started, re-write, polish.   Cut out what doesn’t work.  Cut out the padding.  Then show your work to trusted beta-readers.  After you get their input, rewrite again.  Then, and only then, show it to agents.  No one promises you success and fame; it’s hard work.  But don’t undersell yourself either.  Remember, first and always, you’re an entertainer.

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Where I’ll Be This Weekend

We’re talking the 18th and 19th of May.

I’ll be in Fremont, NH, at the New Hampshire Renaissance Faire, doing magic.

Come find me, say “Amaze me!” and I’ll do my best.  Remember the magic words: Hey, Kids, Don’t Try This At Home!

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A Complete Silk Act

Stillwell's Handkerchief Manipulation ActOne of the perennial topics in these parts goes something like this: “I’ve signed up for a talent show. What should I do?”

Let me make a suggestion, under the rubric “everything old is new again.”

In Jean Hugard‘s Silken Sorcery (1937), the last chapter describes the Stillwell Silk Act. Here’s what Hugard says:



The production of silks from a handkerchief ball after the manner adopted by George Stillwell, who was the first magician to present a complete silk act in vaudeville, is undoubtedly the most artistic method yet devised. Mr. Stillwell issued a pamphlet explaining his routine but this has long been out of print and is now almost unobtainable. I will devote my last chapter to an explanation of the act as I saw it presented by Mr. Stillwell himself. I am told that he joined the ranks of other great magicians in the Halls of Valhalla several years ago.

Thanks to the miracle of the Internet and on-line archives, that pamphlet that Hugard called “almost unobtainable” is easily obtained by anyone who cares to look for it.  There one will discover the

Full and Complete

Exposé, and Explanation

of the

Method of Working




Messrs. HAMLEY BROS, Ltd.,
by the Originator and Inventor,
and performed by him

in all the principal Theatres and Music Hails
in U.S.A. and Europe.


In short: Stillwell, George. Stillwell’s Handkerchief Manipulation Act (Illustrated) Hamley Brothers, Ltd. 1902

The instruction in Stillwell’s original pamphlet is far clearer and more complete than Hugard’s synopsis, and includes notes on how to manufacture the various gimmicks and fakes needed.  Hugard’s version is streamlined, and assumes the performer is wearing a three-piece suit.  Stillwell’s original is fuller, and assumes the performer is wearing formal evening wear with a tailcoat.

If you need a fully worked-out act, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, I can think of none finer (and it isn’t one that everyone else is doing). I doubt that anyone has performed Stillwell’s routine in a century.

Here are some links to places where you can purchase some of the needed props (I have no financial stake in any of these, BTW):

Stillwell hank balls.

Silks (from Abbott’s)

Production Flag Staff

Other stuff you’ll need to look around, or go all arts-and-crafts.

This is how Hugard ended his chapter on the Stillwell Handkerchief Manipulation Act:

Stillwell’s act was successful, partly on account of its novelty, but mainly because he had woven the necessary moves for getting possession of the loads and disposing of the balls, etc., into a routine of natural movements.

That says it all.

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Nowhere Near Fun

Madeleine Robins

I remember the Big Three of Childhood Diseases because I had all of them. I am of that vintage where I was young enough to be vaccinated against smallpox and polio (for which I am abundantly grateful, let me tell you). But I had mumps (on at least one side), and rubella, (and chicken pox, the also-ran of childhood diseases), and measles.

My memories of chicken pox involve feeling ill on the day I was supposed to go to the Zoo with my best friend, and lying on the hall floor in our apartment swaddled in my quilt, desperately trying to get the energy to leap up and proclaim myself ready to go. I wasn’t and I didn’t. Beyond that, my memory extends to oatmeal baths (intended to soothe the itch, which they really didn’t) and a coloring book about brides, which perpexed me.

My only recollection of mumps–aside from…

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