Magicians are a naturally suspicious and mysterious lot - which is why magicians groups don't let just anyone in.
New members are welcome, but not just anyone can walk into a meeting of the International Brotherhood of Magicians Lincoln Ring and be warmly embraced. "What's the fun about being a magician if anyone can do it?" asked Dave Matrisch.
Members of the ring have different stories about how they became involved in the craft but they all agree entertaining an audience is REAL magic.
Jeff Harpring is a territorial vice president for the International Brotherhood of Magicians; that means he oversees all of the Illinois clubs except for Chicago, which apparently has magicians tripping over each other.
There are three clubs in the central Illinois area - Champaign, Peoria and Springfield. The clubs take turns hosting a giant blowout of a magic show and magicians' convention. Springfield's turn is in three years.
Harpring started playing around with card tricks when he was younger, then when he was 19 he walked into Dallas & Co. in Champaign, met the owner Andy Dallas and he was hooked.
Dallas, a world-renowned magician, hypnotist and escape artist, took Harpring under his wing. "One of my biggest thrills was assisting him when he performed a death-defying escape during a show," Harpring said.
Magicians are expected to perform at meetings so they continue to hone their skills as well as impress and amaze their fellow magicians. One of Harpring's favorite tricks is also one of the oldest magic tricks - he can whip three cups around and make a little ball disappear into - well, he's not telling - but it shows up under the table and then back in the cup again.
And just when it seems the audience has figured the trick out - shazaam - a couple of larger balls appear. He does a couple of shows a year, and when he's not performing, he's an engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Dr. Steve Steer, an orthodontist, is the co-founder of the Lincoln Ring. In 1976 he and Dr. Stan Burris, a Springfield physician, got the club going.
In college, Steer had the good fortune to watch Jim Ryan, a famous bar magician whose tricks are still sold by the Viking Magic Co., perform.
"He taught adult education classes at the University of Illinois in Chicago. I brought my wife, Ann, to watch the classes, we struck up a friendship and I came back to Springfield and started the club," he said.
He's served as president for seven years and he credits Burris as well as John Brownback and Ron McDonald for laying a solid foundation for the group.
"I don't perform a lot anymore," Steer said, "mostly just for family and friends."
One of the tricks he's perfected is the Linking Rings. It's a flashy trick involving rings that start out separate, link together in a number of ways with lots of dash, patter and pizzazz on the part of Steer - and then they separate again. It's a crowd pleaser, no doubt, and it gets an appreciative round of applause from the other magicians.
Richard Landry uses magic in his work. He's a motivational speaker, and he uses magic to deliver his message. "I started in magic with the church," he said. "I just collected more and more magic tricks and tied them in."
Right now one of his motivational campaigns is "Wild About Reading" and his sidekick, Snowball the rabbit, helps spread the literary word.
Snowball can fall asleep on command and then wake up and give a book report, something college students can do, but also of great interest to Landry's elementary school audiences.
Landry said there's nothing like a rabbit that can go to sleep on command to keep a kid's interest. He can also make a mean balloon animal.
Dave Matrisch, an administrator at the Sangamon County Sheriff's Office, started learning magic to put people at ease. He met his wife, Carla, through magic.
"We were all at an escape artist's wedding, and the band was so bad the magicians went off in the corner and started performing magic tricks to amuse each other. That's how Carla and I started talking," he said.
Marriage, a new career in the sheriff's department and life in general diverted him from magic for a while; a couple of years ago, his interest came back.
He's performed at county fairs and events where magicians "table hop," or entertain small groups. "You've got to perform and you've got to like it," he said. Magicians Ring members are expected to perform or there's really no sense in being a member of the group.
There are some exceptions, Steer said. One group member has such terrible stage fright, there's no performing in his future. "But he does a lot of research and reading on magic and presents his stuff to the group," Steer added.
Matrisch, who does this nifty trick involving foam balls that keep appearing, disappearing and changing color, said there are some people who want to join simply out of curiosity about how a certain trick works.
"The idea is if you do a trick over and over again, you don't even think about it," Matrisch explained. "Then you can just watch the people and enjoy their reactions."
Jerry Palmer, a retired lieutenant from the Springfield Police Department, got hooked on magic when someone showed him a couple of tricks at a doughnut shop.
That trip to the doughnut shop ended up costing him $6,000, countless hours designing his own illusions and now he's got two truckloads of magic stuff, he said.
"I got away from it for a while and then got back in when my grandson saw a magic show and he was really intrigued. I've designed some really good effects," Palmer said. And to punctuate that point - his wallet bursts into flames.
Palmer performs a great sleight-of-hand routine where coins disappear and re-appear out of a person's ear or the back of their head. But a wallet that bursts into flames, especially if a person is supposed to pick up the tab at a restaurant, is a show stopper.
Eldon Roark's foray into magic would make a great movie.
"I was 10, and we went to the movies," he said, "I had Cracker Jack, and the prize was as magic trick. I practiced all through the movie, and my friends thought it was pretty great. I went to the public library and read everything I could find, and I went into magic full-time," Roark said.
Roark's bag of tricks includes some neat card illusions where they get ripped in half, come back whole, get ripped in half and reversed and end up whole again.
Steer is of the mind that budding magicians should be able to find the Lincoln Ring, but Harpring's a little more pragmatic.
For more information on the International Brotherhood of Magicians Ring 239, "contact Jim Cox at 726-7940," he said.
Story published Friday, July 3, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 4 )