I was lucky enough to get a last minute invitation to fill an empty spot at the Houdini Séance table. My friend’s husband has an allergy to wearing ties, and the Magic Castle has a dress code. I owe my good fortune to a man with principles about his personal style!
The Magic Castle is in Hollywood, California, close to the Hollywood bowl. It is a really great old Victorian home Built in 1909 and restored in 1961 to become a private club for and by Magicians. It’s home to the Academy of Magical Arts (think Hogwarts). You must know a member to finagle an invitation. The Club has a lot of personality. It’s a little formal, spooky and welcoming all at the same time.
Once checked in, you say “Open Sesame” to the owl with glowing red eyes, the book case slides open and you enter. You have cocktails at one of a few bars through out the club. Then you begin to notice many odd things everywhere you look. There are paintings with eyes that follow you around the room, a piano bench that take the shape of someone sitting on it as a ghost named Irma takes requests and plays the baby grand piano. Next to the piano is a gilded cage with a ghost canary that chirps “cheap, cheap” at the poor tippers. Everything has a sense of humor and mystery.
Dinner is served in the Séance room, which is full of Harry Houdini’s memorabilia from his act and home that was nearby. There is a photo of his wife conducting a séance, trying to reach him during the last of the 10 years after his death that they had agreed that she would try. Houdini had spent many years looking for proof of life after death and disillusioned by fake mediums he made it his mission to expose their tricks and gimmicks in his act. Even so, he still held hope to find proof and promised to try to come back after his death. The 10 of us were seated at a large round table for a delicious dinner, and can I just say Lava Cake!
Our group was filled with engineering and technical friends that were up for fun, but honestly, I think they were a little bit worried that it may be real. Before the Séance, Kelly, a charge nurse at a local hospital had told us a spooky story of a patient that had jumped to her death out of a 7th floor window and now the staff sees her spirit around her old hospital room. I told them of the time my Uncle’s spirit visited me on night when I was working late by myself. The next day I found out he had died. When it was time to start, we were ready, real or not!
Leo Kostka, the resident Medium has a great theatrical presence. I was impressed when he asked me to think of the name of who was my first love or who gave me my first kiss or a favorite teacher and to project the name I chose to him by repeating it in my head. He had his back to me and on a piece of paper he wrote the name “Tom”, the name I was thinking of was Mr. Thomason my 5th grade teacher. I’m just not sure how he did this other than telepathy! The Séance included slight of hand and magic, great stories about Harry Houdini and the Lane family who built the mansion. We were instructed to keep our hands on the tabletop with our palms down and remain in our seats. Before long the chandelier was swinging, a wind chime was ringing, the candles moved and blew out, and books flew off of shelves. The room went into near complete darkness and the table levitated and vibrated wildly in the air. Glowing faces appeared in the windows and a tambourine flew out of a locked case. The old radio lit up and disembodied voices trailed in and out around the room. This definitely was a nod back to a bygone era of formal séances. When I see spirits, it’s usually not so dramatic!
We finished the evening in the big theater with a fun show featuring three different magicians. Their acts were really professional and funny. Magician Bruce Gold was the Master Of Ceremonies and was quite funny with his “Amazing Psychic Toaster”! He had a woman from the audience choose a card and keep it hidden. His old fashioned, one slice toaster, accurately, maybe psychically, toasted the image of her playing card onto a slice of wonder bread. One of the other Magicians, Steven Fox whose hand played “thing” in the Adams Family movie, even did dramatic reenactments of his hand’s emotions. I just hope someone from the academy was watching! I even had Justin Willman seated next to me (host of “Cupcake Wars”). He graciously told me his name when I recognized his face, but I just couldn’t place him. I suspect sightings of Hollywood personalities may happen often.
If you get the chance to go, it is a one of a kind experience. I’m so glad I got to go along for this really fun evening and Séance. I’ll hope someone else will have some misgivings about wearing a tie again soon!