It's also home to the American Museum of Magic, founded by the late Robert Lund in 1978
The museum is well kept and brimming with fascinating displays for anyone with an interest in magic. The walls are filled with gorgeous colorful posters, large scale props from the magic stars of yesteryear line the floors, and array of magic wonders catch your eye at every turn. But I was drawn back to my own early days in magic by a nondescript box sitting unceremoniously on a glass shelf.
The box was labeled “SQUASH”
As a kid, this little trick was the first thing I recall buying with my own money from a mail-order magic catalog. The barehanded vanish of real shot glass filled with liquid! The catalog made it clear that this was a true wonder of the ages and it could be mine for just $2. I sent my money in and waited for what seemed like ages for this miracle to arrive. When it finally did, I ripped into the package with uncontrolled excitement. I opened the box and all was revealed…
My heart sank with buyer’s remorse.
As I’ve said previously, most magic is - at first - disappointment.
The method behind SQUASH was not one that inspired wonder and the postage stamp sized set of instructions did little to help matters. I will not expose the method here but it seemed really impossible that what was contained within that box could really do what it said. Furthermore, I needed to be wearing a sports coat! Not exactly the common attire for a lower middle class kid from the rust belt city of Buffalo, NY.
Fortunately, the money for SQUASH was purchased with gifts from my first holy communion. An event which also provided me with my very first suit. All was not lost!
I put on the suit and tried my best to follow the instructions. My first attempt resulted in a suit soaked in water. I decided it was best to try the next attempt sans liquid. The second attempt sent the shot glass flying across my room. Closer to the softer drop zone of my bed seemed like a smart location for the third attempt. This time the glass stuck correctly to the gimmick but hung like a tail from my tiny jacket. I had to adjust the gimmick, but the idea of cutting and permanently “destroying” an important component of the device terrified me. So I carefully untied part of the gimmick from the attached pin and re-tied it to adjust the gimmick length. Another attempt - and still too long. So again, I untied and readjusted the gimmick.
When all was done, I had the ability to vanish a shot glass. It wasn’t great but it was bad either.
I immediately went to show my mom - who had traditionally been my first audience. She responded with the only appropriate response:
Why the hell was I wearing my good suit and what was I doing with one of my father’s shot glasses!?
She never did see the trick that day.
As I stood staring at that tiny box in the American Museum of Magic, I realized how much I owed to it. It was one of the first times that I learned that magic requires us to put aside snap judgments. To try and fail - and try again. To think for ourselves and adjust accordingly. And never forget that we need to consider how our actions might be interpreted by the world around us.
That was a lot of value from a $2 investment.
In an age filled with people online endlessly telling us what tricks we should own, it’s easy to miss out on this important magic truth: For those willing to be instructed, every trick offers lessons to be learned.