Episode 10: Ghost Shows: Horror Magic History

In this episode, Frank talks with magic historian Mark Walker, as well as Magician McCarl Roberts, about the haunting history of the early 20th century midnight ghost shows.

Frank's Thoughts

For the majority of my life, I have been into magic. I can’t say for sure who was the first magician I came to know. It was either Houdini or Copperfield. Houdini did intrigue me more than Copperfield. (I’ve never been one for a giant illusion). But it’s funny, because the first magic trick I remember performing was taught to me by “The Coolest Magician on Earth,” Rudy Coby. This was going back to the early 90s when he would have specials on Fox. He explained how to do a trick that made it look like you were poking your eye out with a fork. It involved a fork and a carefully concealed coffee creamer cup. The next time I went out to a diner with my parents (who had not, in fact, been watching the show with me), I performed the trick, sending a legit scream from my mom who thought I punctured my eye.

Since then I’ve been a fan of magic that resides in the realm of the macabre. (While until writing this, I had no idea what happened to Rudy Coby, come to find out he now works with Marilyn Manson helping him create stage shows…how’s that for macabre?) I remember not long after seeing Rudy Coby and having my interest in magic ignited, I would watch every special that came on tv. Penn & Teller will always be my favorite. Being an ardent skeptic, they have a special place in my heart.

In 1995 Penn & Teller starred in a special named “Phobophila - The Love of Fear.” It was filled with squeamish magic that had a trick that ended up with one of the assistants falling onto a table saw, sending streams of blood out into the audience. This was closely followed up with the climax of the special, Penn & Teller shooting at each other, and catching the bullets in each other’s mouths. It was intense. It was amazing. It made a huge impact on me.

Fast forward 21 years and I’m hosting a history web series. I decided to do an episode on Baltimore Magic. This quickly morphed after talking with both McCarl Roberts and Mark Walker. They told me of this amazing stage show that used to happen in theaters on Saturday nights. These were the Ghost Shows. These were shows that tapped into my love of macabre magic. It’s a shame that these shows are no longer going on today…maybe one day someone will revive them.

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