Bangor Historical Society had a magical end to their talks in 2012. On 13 December Richard Parkinson stepped in to replace a speaker who was unable to come. His talk was called “Hats off to Magic”.

He started by reminiscing about the shop in Belfast called “The Magic Box” which sold tricks and mentioned a number of local performers such as Billy McComb. We were shown a short film of the shop. (The video to the right is of Billy McComb in the Palace of Mystery, at the world famous Magic Castle in Hollywood.)

The main part of his talk was about the history of magic. The earliest evidence for magic tricks dates back to ancient Egypt and a hieroglyph which appears to show the cup and balls or pebbles trick. This is also mentioned by Greek writers such as Seneca.

In Medieval times magicians were referred to as jugglers. A painting by Bosch c1500 is called The Juggler. It shows the cup and balls trick. A lady is so engrossed in the performance that she does not notice a man trying to steal her purse. One Italian magician entertained Royalty including Elizabeth I. The first books on magic were also beginning to appear. Yet an Act of Parliament of 1541 brought severe punishment for those guilty of such things as card tricks.

By the nineteenth century magic had developed considerably. Robert Houdin is considered the father of modern magic. He became famous for “ethereal suspension” when a person is suspended with only a broom for support. He also developed automatons.

Mr. Parkinson then mentioned other magicians from the era including the Davenport Brothers who travelled throughout the USA for eighteen years with their spirit cabinet. John Neville Maskelyn saw their act in England and exposed their claim to be communicating with spirits. Maskelyn set up the Egyptian Hall in London for magic shows, animal acts etc. Another member of the family, Joseph, was employed by the army during World War Two to develop camouflaging techniques. Harry Houdini became famous as an escapologist. He called himself after Robert Houdin.

Signor Blitz was in fact English, but thought a foreign name would be more acceptable. He did the bullet catching trick over 300 times and performed in Dublin. William Robinson, an American, posed as a Chinese magician, but was killed performing the bullet catching trick.

Mr. Parkinson mentioned a number of magicians who performed in Ireland such as David Devant and the Great Benyon who performed with Duffy’s Circus. The most famous local magician was Billy McComb who appeared at the London Palladium and toured with Bob Hope. Paul McKay gave the vote of thanks to Mr. Parkinson for his interesting talk.