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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That’s Entertainment!

From Miscellaneous Handkerchief Tricks That You Can Do : Including a fifteen minute act “The Silky Slicker” by George De Lawrence, published by Gerald Heaney, Berlin, Wisconsin, 1921.  Pages 32-33.

You absolutely cannot succeed in these modern days of “jazz” and “goloshes” by merely being a magician; you must be an entertainer; therefore I have furnished patter, some of which has stood the test and is absolutely dependable, based on actual experience.

I am going to take up a minute or two of your time and a little space to illustrate this fact, and it is fact that keeps many a magician out of work, and those playing small time from getting onto the “two-a-day.” This applies equally as well in regard to the semi-professional entertainer and club worker.

Mr. Geo. W. Adams, for thirty years on the stage as a comedian, comedy juggler, etc., who is deeply interested in magic as a hobby, while discussing magicians pro and con, made a remark along these lines:
Vaudeville Magician Jack Gwynne

“A Magician, if he be the cleverest in the world, can not succeed on the American vaudeville stage unless he is capable of entertaining his audience. If he is a comedian so much the better.”

A man in the business thirty years, I believe you will agree with me, knows pretty near what the public desires, and if you cannot fulfill these desires, you will not get ahead.

Jud Cole, who is well known to magical enthusiasts, and whose chief stock in trade is his pleasing personality and witty “patter,” was telling me some of his experiences just as this manuscript was drawing to a close.

While in New York City one of the largest Keith Agents “caught” his act. In talking with this gentleman afterwards, the conversation was something along these lines:

The agent asked Mr. Cole to come up to his office. Jud asked him how he liked the act. The reply was, “Very good.” Mr. Cole then asked him how he liked the tricks. The agent’s reply was to the effect that they were all right. After further conversation Jud asked him point blank about a certain trick. The agent replied that he had forgotten what he did; in fact, he could not recall one trick. Here is the information as handed out by one of Broadway’s largest agents:

“In big time, it does not matter what you do. If you look neat, have a good voice and amuse the people, that is all that is required.”

Just look at the magic acts on Big Time—read this statement over, then cut it out and paste it in your hat.

A few notes:  The “small time” (as in “He’s strictly a small-timer”) was the lowest rung of the vaudeville ladder, playing small towns, perhaps in makeshift venues, continuous performances, for little money.  Next up was the “medium time,” the “two-a-day” shows that played in actual theaters.  As the name implies, acts would only go on twice a day. Then there was the Big Time, which played major cities in luxurious theaters, patronized by the middle and upper-middle class, where performers could earn thousands a week.  The biggest of the Big Time theaters was the Palace in New York City, flagship of the Keith-Albee circuit, at the corner of Broadway and 47th Street.

The Keith (later Keith-Albee) circuit was one of the major vaudeville circuits.  hiring acts to appear in the various Keith theaters.  Other circuits included the Orpheum, Pantages, and Dudley.  An act that was picked up by a circuit could expect to be on the road, moving from theater to theater, for 40+ weeks a year.  Keith-Albee and Orpheum eventually merged, and morphed into RKO Pictures, which is with us today.

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On Villainy

The seven deadly sins are Pride, Greed, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Wrath, and Sloth.

For your villains, pick any two. For your heros, pick one.

The seven splendid virtues are Prudence, Justice, Temperance, Fortitude, Faith, Hope, and Charity.

For your heros, pick any two. For your villains, pick one.

Dr. Doyle's Blog

I’ve written here before about the necessity — in my opinion — of making one’s villains well-rounded characters and not merely evil mustache-twirling sockpuppets. By which I mean granting them their virtues as well as their vices, and giving them friends as well as enemies, and generally treating them with a certain amount of respect even as they go forth to meet their richly deserved ends at the hands of the protagonist of the tale.

I don’t know if what I’m encountering a lot of lately is the start of a disturbing new trend, or just the result of seeing a lot of plain old-fashioned bad writing and worse criticism . . . but readers and writers both seem to be getting more into villains who are evil all the way through, from the flaky top crust of their characterization down to the soggy underbaked bottom. Anything in the line…

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In Which I Visit a Museum

And there see a submarine.

Some years ago, for reasons that matter not to our story, I was driving around northern New Jersey when I saw something by the side of the road.  “By golly,” I said, “that looks like a Holland submarine!”  I pulled over and walked to it.  It was!  Holland boat #2, Fenian Ram.  The precursor of all modern submarines.  In the US Navy, USS Holland (AKA Holland boat #6) was SS-1.

I never saw it again though I looked for it every time I passed through the region.  Then, thanks to the Miracle of the Internet, I decided to search for it and to my joy found that it was now in a more congenial place than rusting away by roadside: Fenian Ram was now an exhibit at the Paterson Museum.

Then I had to wait the opportunity to visit: I’m not in the Greater New York area all that often any more.  So when Doyle and I decided to go to Heliosphere, a plan came together.  Amidst other running-around, a visit to Paterson!

Outside the Paterson Museum

So on Friday last I punched the address (2 Market Street, Paterson, New Jersey) into the naviguesser, and we set off.  After circling the block by Paterson Great Falls (waterpower — the key to America’s early industrial economy!), we came to the site. The museum is located in an old locomotive engine assembly plant, where an old locomotive in the parking lot (“Old 299,” with a surprising Panamanian connection!) was the first clue that we’d come to the right place.

Virtue was rewarded as we found a parking space in the lot right away.  A two buck donation at the door, and we were in!   Various exhibits ranged before us, including Native American, silk production, nursing, Colt firearms, Lou Costello, fire fighting apparatus, and other Patersonian stuff, until, at the far end of one wing, there it was: Fenian Ram.

Fenian Ram

The Ram got its name from the Fenian Brotherhood, which had financed Holland’s experiments.   Holland had noticed that all the navies of the world were going to ironclads after the battle in Hampton Roads back in 1862.  He figured that the way to attack ironclads would be from beneath the sea (a conclusion that the US Navy also reached at the time, and addressed with the building of the AlligatorAlligator, although never commissioned, and never in combat, was later commanded by LT Thomas Selfridge, Jr., a survivor of CSS Virginia‘s attack on USS Cumberland in Hampton Roads ).

In any case, despite the name,  Fenian Ram was not intended to ram its targets: it was armed with a nine-inch dynamite gun (the years immediately post-Civil-War were great ones for naval innovation).  Fenian Ram never operated as the Fenians intended, to destroy the Royal Navy and free Ireland.  Rather than pay for it, they hijacked it one night, then made an important discovery: none of them knew how to operate it, and Holland refused to tell them.  So the Ram remained in the USA, passing from hither to yon, then back to its birthplace in New Jersey.

Holland boat #1

Also in the museum, beside Fenian Ram, is Holland boat #1, which he built as proof-of-concept.  When he was done with it, Holland removed everything salvageable and scuttled his boat #1 in the Passaic River.  Holland boat #1 was raised in 1927, at which time, allegedly, a local sandwich shop operator renamed his grinders  “submarine sandwiches,” and the name stuck.





We left the museum, and continued on our Major André tour, of which more in a later post.

Fenian Ram with some very nice radio-controlled ship-and-sub scale models

Fenian Ram stern

Fenian Ram bow.

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Red Mike at the Movies: Hereditary

Hereditary Movie Poster So this was one of a couple of movies I’d intended to see last year.

For reasons I’ll not go into here I watched a lot of movies in theaters last year.  And I will, eventually, review them all.  But for right now, I saw the trailer for this one, but didn’t see it (despite checking on-line to find out if there was anywhere in the state of New Hampshire where it was showing).

Well, what with this and that, even after it came out on video last fall I didn’t get around to seeing it until just now.  Which means that I could now read the reviews of the movie.  (Under the rules of The Movie Game I’m not allowed to read reviews until after I’ve seen the show.)

Imagine my surprise on learning how many critics loved the movie.

Here’s my take on this film:

  • Unreliable narrator is unreliable.
  • This is why IEA* was invented.
  • 9-1-1 is there for a reason.

Also, there was an event early on in the film (by “early on” I mean an hour in — this was one long puppy) which desuspended my disbelief in a big way.

*Involuntary Emergency Admission


When you have a traumatic decapitation by smacking your head into a phone pole at 80 mph, you don’t get a nice, discrete, round, still-recognizable head lying by the side of the road. You get a debris field covering about ninety square feet with no bit bigger than about a half-inch on a side.  Ask me how I know.  Or, better still, don’t.


So, what we get is a family drama requiring you to spend two hours with four people who are so basically unpleasant that you wouldn’t want to spend five minutes with them.  Yes, mental health is a serious problem.  Yes, mental health is the thing we do worst in modern medicine.  But I’m not sure this is the way to bring it to the public consciousness.

Let’s see: what did I like?  The miniature rooms were wonderful.  I looked through the credits to see if the model maker had a credit (the answer is yes, three people).  Also, the husband, Steve (played by Gabriel Byrne), did a great job of portraying the ground-down look of someone living with a chronically-ill person.

Final score:  I put this one in the same bucket as Cabin Fever.  The bucket labeled “nice try.”


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Martin Van of Kinderhook

Today is the first day of our ramble down to New York for Heliosphere.  So, en passant, we visited Lindenwald, Martin Van Buren’s home in Kinderhook, NY.  Van Buren had  been Jackson’s Vice President; he went on to a term of his own in 1836.  The Little Magician was the first US president who had no military experience, and he is so far the only US president who didn’t speak English as his native tongue (he spoke Dutch).

Lindenwald Gatehouse Foundation

Lindenwald Gatehouse Foundation

Lindenwald, Martin Van Buren's home in Kinderhook.

Lindenwald, Martin Van Buren’s home in Kinderhook.

As people who followed the Whig songbook posts I put up in 2016 will recall, Van Buren was the Whigs’ bête noire in 1844 (until he lost the nomination on the 9th ballot to James K. Polk).  Van Buren went on to a third-party run in 1848 on the Free Soil ticket, a move that split the Democratic vote and put the buffoonish Zachary Taylor into the White House.


So there I stood on a chilly April afternoon and sang a Van Buren song from 1840:

Rockabye baby, daddy’s a Whig,
When he comes home hard cider he’ll swig.
When he has swug he’ll fall in a stew,
And down will come Tyler and Tippecanoe.

To beguile the tedium of the journey we listened to some of The Bowery Boys’ podcasts on New York history.

Breakfast was at the Red Arrow Diner in Concord, NH.   Dinner was at Amici’s in Nyack, a place that looks like a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint between a dry cleaner and the Off-Track Betting parlor in a strip mall, which it is, but also has a very nice full Italian restaurant in the back room.

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It’s That Time Again

Dr. Doyle's Blog

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Yes, it’s time for my annual Springtime Services Sale!

From now through April 21, 2019 (that’s Easter Sunday, for those of you who celebrate), all edits on novel-length manuscripts will be 30% off the regular price. You can purchase an edit now to be redeemed at a later date of your choice, or you can buy an edit for a friend as a gift.

For more information, you can go to my about page.

My winter electric bill will thank you.

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Free Magic Show: Boston

Jim Macdonald, Magician


The SAM Assembly 9 “Best of Boston” contest will be held Wednesday, April 10th at the Puppet Showplace Theater, 32 Station St., Brookline, at 7:30 PM.  There is no charge for this performance.

Note that the starting time is a bit earlier than usual  because we have eight contestants participating, and we plan to finish voting and present the awards by 9:30.  Contestants include (not necessarily in this order):


  • Joseph Caulfield (Lord BlackSword)
  • James D. Macdonald
  • Scott Galbraith
  • Mike Lee
  • Kevin Butler
  • Eddie Gardner
  • Duncan Miller
  • Markus Steelgrave

Each contestant will present an 8-12 minute routine of their choice.

Each audience member will receive a ballot and can vote for up to three
contestants.  The top three vote recipients will be the contest winners.

Duncan Miller
Secretary, SAM Assembly #9

For my part, I intend to present “Pure Jennie, the Moonshiner’s Daughter; or, The Vexations of Vice,” the routine that I did to great applause in the “It’s Vaudeville!” show.

[Note: It’s Vaudeville will return on September 7th to the Newport Opera House in Newport, NH.]


[UPDATE 12APR19]:  I won third place, with a trophy.

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