The year was 1979, and I was 19 years old. My boyfriend, Ken Garr, was (and is: check him out on facebook!) a magician. I was fascinated by magic, and had watched every magic special possible on TV. I simply loved the television show, The Magician.
That summer there was a magic convention in St. Louis, Missouri. It was called the “Midwest Magic Jubilee” and it alternated being held in Kansas City, Missouri and St. Louis. I lived in a suburb of Kansas City at the time.
Ken invited me to attend the convention with him. He was going to compete at the convention in the Close-up Magic category. I was so excited to go, and get the opportunity to possibly meet some world-famous magicians. Plus, since it was out-of-town, it was like our first mini vacation.
The convention started out to be very exciting. Ken won first place in his competition, and we got to have dinner with the world famous close-up magician, Harry Riser. I was so excited to see one of my all time favorite magicians that I had seen on TV, Slydini, perform, and he did not disappoint. Although he was probably in his 80’s, he was clearly beyond exceptional in his magical abilities.
The downside for me: because I was not a magician, every magician there wanted to show me a trick. Honestly, if I was not moving (and sometimes even if I was) magicians would practically stand in line and ask the question, “Have you seen this one?” and, without waiting for me to answer, they would begin their patter and proceed to show me their trick, which undoubtedly I had already seen countless times. By the third day, I was sure I would scream if one more magician approached me!
Finally, it was the final evening and there was a Stage Magic show as the grand finale of the entire convention. It was also open to the public. The attendees to the convention got to sit in the first few rows. So, Ken and I got to sit quite close to the stage.
Some of the acts were great, but some were quite boring. I was tired out, and towards the end I started to nod off. Ken nudged me. He said, “You have to wake up! You HAVE to see this next act!” So, I shook myself awake and watched the stage.
The curtains opened. It was confusing. The entire stage was full of junk! It looked like something worse than someone’s unattended garage. Clutter was everywhere! There were benches, tables, buckets, tools, stools, bowls, pieces of wood and many unidentifiable items made from metal and wood.
Then, an old, what I would have called ‘Grandpa looking’ man came puttering out on the stage. He did not acknowledge the audience. He begin shuffling around the disarray. Most of the stage shows had glitz, glitter, and loud musical beginnings. So, I was puzzled and just a little fascinated by this bizarre scene. In fact, the entire audience had converted from nodding off, yawning and chatter, to absolute, total attentive silence.
While Ernest was aimlessly walking around the junk, he was also mumbling, seemingly incoherently. Soon, he begin picking up items and moving them about, changing their positions and rearranging them. There seemed to be no order to what he was doing and the entire situation seemed very strange.
Very startlingly a chicken appeared on the stage from nowhere! The audience, me and Ernest himself gasped! He seemed as surprised as we were! We all sat up on our chairs and paid even more attention. From that point forward in his show, many things began appearing and disappearing all over the stage. Ducks, doves, rabbits and more! Ernest’s own surprise as these things were happening, seemed genuinely as real as our own, as if he were one of us.
I was mesmerized by him and by the fact that he had effectively commanded the utter silence and undivided attention of an entire hall, in such a simple, humble way. He had done nothing loud and nothing overt. He never even acknowledged that there was an audience. No one recognized any of his magic – it was all so original!
As the show continued, I became very curious about his mumbling. I really wanted to know what he was saying, if anything. I quit watching the show and strained my ears to listen to his words. I was astonished. He was very clearly and methodically describing exactly what he was going to do step by step and exactly what was going to happen onstage as a result of his very precise movements! This truly was such a shock. However, I became so drawn in to what was happening on the stage, I was quickly immersed in the show again and stopped listening to his words, which again became mumblings.
The audience was spellbound. As the show ended, no one moved, no one uttered anything. There was dead silence for many seconds. Then all at once, the audience broke out into a screaming, shouting, clapping standing ovation! Although it seemed that perhaps none of us understood why, we all knew we had just experienced something very special. Our lives had been touched and perhaps we would never be quite the same again. We knew we had seen REAL magic!
About a year later, Ken informed me that he had heard Ernest died. I remember thinking how lucky I was to get to be a part of the audience of what may have been his last stage show.
Ernest was not famous or well-known, and yet he was a magical man who no doubt touched the lives of many.
Thank you Ernest, and thank you magical people everywhere!