Thursday, January 30, 2014

There's Magic in the Air

I'm a pretty lucky Mistress of History because I have some of the most interesting and diverse friends around. Thanks to one such friend, your intrepid leader 'o the blog got to set foot in the Magic Castle in Hollywood, CA.
Now I know some of you are squee-ing like some sort of teenage girl in heat and others are rushing to Google to figure out what the heck I'm talking about. Don't touch that dial - or trackball - or mouse - or touchpad - or whatever because I'm going to tell you
The Magic Castle is a showplace for some of the world's greatest magicians. It is also a place they can hang out, have drinks, or dinner with each other and watch each other perform. You have to be a member to get inside this illusive, secret club of prestidigitation (I'm really excited to have a reason to use that word, just saying) or know a member who is willing to put you on the VIP list so you can watch him perform.
The Castle was built in 1908 and was a private home to real estate mogul Rollin Lane until the 1940s when the Lane family moved away. At that time it was divided into multi-family apartments. Ultimately it was turned into a home for the elderly. In 1961, Milt Larsen - a writer for 'Truth or Consequences' bought the mansion with the express plan of turning into it a private club for magicians. Milt's dad was a world famous magician and this was a bit of an homage to him.
The Magic Castle opened it's newly refurbished doors in 1962 and has since been a place for magic and friendship.
The walls are filled with posters and props from some of the masters of the fields. People like Houdini, Copperfield, Blackstone (He was on Reading Rainbow), and Doug Henning.
We saw my friend perform in a smaller space on the bottom floor of the Castle called The Parlour of Prestidigitation. It gives you the feeling that you're in a Victorian parlor. Pretty neat. You have to pass down winding hallways, steep staircases, and across richly carpeted floors to get to it. The sense of history simply permeates the walls. You can't help but drink it in.
The usher announced my friend's act with flourish and a final comment about no picture taking. He teased the audience by dropping Cary Grant's name and said to come ask him after the show if you wanted to know why. Being the Mistress of History that I am of course I asked him. What a great story followed!
Cary Grant was on the Board for the Castle back in the Golden Age of Hollywood. He wanted to have one place in Hollywood where he could go without threat of cameras and reporters. So, he had the board implement the no-picture taking rule. Of course Cary being Cary he would stand outside and greet people as they came to visit the Castle...all the while denying who he was. Apparently people would call the next day or two and tell the staff what a wonderful Cary Grant 'impersonator' they had manning the door. Oh to be a fly on the wall for those nights!
There you have it. The Magic Castle in Hollywood has stood for over 50 years and contains a history the likes of which can not be rivaled. For the record, you have to speak into an owl and walk through a staircase when you enter the Magic Castle. It's the little things, maninis.
Neil Patrick Harris is the current president of the Castle. He is an amateur magician having learned tricks in his downtime during the filming of Doogie Houser.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Reflections on a Suit...being Battle Born

   A few years ago I went to Washington D.C. for the first time in eighteen years. I went with my brother and his wife; they are my favorite traveling companions. One sunny Friday afternoon, while my family napped, I journeyed to the Museum of American History at the Smithsonian. I had some time to kill before I walked over to Ford’s Theatre for a matinee performance of The Civil War. (Musical theatre nerd, remember? Plus Civil War is one of my favorite musicals of all time and I wasn't going to miss a chance to see it on stage. Brilliant modern staging. But I digress...)
                The museum was filled to the brim with eager and not so eager goers. Groups of school aged children obviously forced to endure a day at the Smithsonian Mall intermingled with a myriad of Midwestern families and hard –core history buffs. Now you all know the latter was me. I make no excuses for my American History geekiness. I embrace it.
                The artifacts that line every conceivable space of the museum were plentiful and amazing. But something like nothing I have ever seen before stopped me in my tracks. I went no further and soaked in the beauty of it, much to the unhappiness of those others around me. I was rooted to my spot and they had to travel around me.
                 It was Lincoln’s suit. The actual suit he wore to the office, you know that Oval one holds the Resolute desk and the 'red phone', every day. It was a faded black, almost a rich brown under the muted lights of the display case. My first thought at seeing this item was, Lincoln was skinny. Like proper skinny. He must have disappeared from sight when turned sideways. 
                After that came the overwhelming sense of history, of life and turmoil this suit had seen and was now confined in that glass case. The conversations this configuration of fabric and thread had been privy too was mind blowing. To everyone, including me, Lincoln was the Great Emancipator, the Father of the Civil War, one of the greatest president’s we have ever known as a people. But to me especially, he was something more.
                I am a Nevadan. Now I know what you’re thinking. What does that have to do with Lincoln? My states motto is Battle Born. You see, Nevada became a state October 31st, 1864. Lincoln was the president who gave my home a real American identity. Nevada was born in the heat of the Civil War, in the heat of battle, hence Battle Born. As I gazed on this suit, I couldn’t help but wonder was he wearing this when he gave Nevada Statehood?  What went through his mind when he made Nevada more than a territory out west he would never lay eyes on? He needed the electoral votes our state would provide in the upcoming election in order to be re-elected. That of course was one factor for Nevada Statehood, as well as the large amounts of silver and gold coming out of the area. But was there something more? Did he sit down in the dead of night as he was prone to do and look at a map, thinking that bit of dusty earth needs to be something more to America. What shall it become? As it turns out we aren't doing too bad. We could be better but Nevada has a rich and varied history (much of which people never even realize or come to know)
So to that I say Home means Nevada, home means the hills. Home means the sage and the pine. All this from a lanky man in a faded black suit.
 Thanks Abe.

(Oh and I'm totally listening to the Lone Ranger Theme song as I write this...because I can)