The Magic Castle. A place of mystery and enlightenment. A secret academy of the magical arts. A place of hidden caverns, moving bookcases, and many, many owls. Traditionally, only those invited by a magician may enter. So when I received an invite, delivered to me by an undisclosed source, I unraveled the parchment, and jumped at the chance to visit this mysterious kingdom. What follows is a journey through a supernatural realm few have seen, and even fewer have lived to talk about.
Many muggles have not heard of the legacy that is the Magic Castle, due in part to its secret nature. So for those muggles, let me give you a little background. In the words of the establishment itself, “The Magic Castle is the private clubhouse for the Academy of Magical Arts, Inc, a very special organization devoted to the advancement of the ancient art of magic.”
The academy sprang from the ruins of a worn-down apartment building. Milt Larson, a television writer and son of a magician, saw the treasure that seeped in the mortar. He bought and restored the building back to it’s Victoria grandeur. Its doors were opened to a select few on January 2, 1963. Since then its members number around 5,000, yet it remains a “secret” social order.
I’ve met a few magicians in my day who would subtly allude to the conservatory where they learned their trade. For years I was entranced by the mystery, until last week when this world was finally revealed. Photography is of course not permitted, so my words will have to suffice.
On a very foggy night, I drove up the winding hill of the castle’s driveway and was greeted by my undisclosed source of entry. Upon walking through the doors and into the foyer, walled with bookcases, I was surprised to see that there were no other doors and the only way out was from wince I came. My magical friend whispered the secret code for entrance and I spoke the infamous words, “Open Sesame.” No sooner did I speak these words to the Maltese Falcon perched on the bookcase, did its eyes glow red and the bookcase swung to reveal The Grand Salon.
I saddled up to the bar and ordered a very magical potion which the bartender whipped up in a flash. The walls were adorned with paintings that followed you as you moved and the banister was carved in the form of a griffin. I could hear tunes from a bygone era playing from a piano missing its pianist. In fact the entire castle seemed to be locked in time. From the burgundy flocked wallpaper to the marble fireplace, for better or worse nothing had been altered from January 2, 1963.
After a couple of potions I went to the ladies’ room and was greeted by a fortune teller’s head floating mysteriously in a gold, ornate chamber. She told me I would find luck and love where the cliffs end, and I started to believe.
My magical consort then escorted me up one winding staircase after another. I passed by dining rooms, the Parlour of Prestidigitation, and exhibits of the odd nature. I strolled past ventriloquists’ dummies who seemed to blankly smile in a cadence becoming of their character. I felt their eyes watch my path, but continued bravely on none the less.
The path curved into a room only known as The Inner Circle (I kid you not). In this cavernous room, stood yet another bar waiting to serve any libations I would order. Like the rest of the castle, there were no windows to the outside world. Instead, stained glass festooned with minstrels filled the back wall. I was not the only one to gain entrance that night.
In The Inner Circle I was surrounded by others who had also replied yes to this particular adventure. We mingled and attempted to predict what else lie in wait for us. As we munched on bruschetta and chicken in mint sauce suddenly, a group of magicians appeared in the corner. A show was about to begin.
What followed, I am not allowed to fully disclose, only to say that 3 magicians regaled our group with tricks formed from rope and rings, a deck of 52, flame, and a few confused goldfish. In other words, the show was pretty standard. I felt more than a little unease when a sensuous Mr. Zazou (the names have been changed to protect the mysterious) became less sensuous as he chewed on sewing needles and then pulled them out of his mouth all neatly strewn on a piece of string.
Admittedly, my childhood was filled with David Copperfield shows and visits to Ripley’s Believe it or Not. In my adult life I’ve encountered many a special effects wizard, uppity production designer, and buff stuntman. It’s safe to say I’m a bit jaded. So, when the last trick was presented, I was surprisingly taken aback. Unlike the others, this magician gave us each an apparatus.
In our hands lie the makings of magic. I was reminded that not only were we in a place of magic, but an academy for learning. We were taught how to hide the tools, distract the audience, say the magic words (I chose Expelliarmus), and reveal an illusion. It was enlightening to become a part of this world, if only for an instant.
At the end of the show we were allowed to stroll the halls unescorted. I took the opportunity to leave The Inner Circle and travel to hidden corners unknown. Down a staircase, past the Houdini Seance Room, and besides yet another bar strewn with dozens of owl of every shape and color, I met a magician only too happy to practice his craft.
A few other lost guests and myself gathered shoulder to shoulder in a dark corner and were shown tricks springing from a deck of cards. Card tricks may be a dime a dozen, but as I was not one foot away from the tuxedo-wearing wizard, his artistry astounded me. This was a place of true magic and glittering ceilings.
As my night came to an end and I left the kingdom of enchantment, my heart began to sink. Although their strong potions did indeed fuel the magic, the castle is still one of the few places left where a cynical Angelino can relive the magic of her youth that was left behind in dingy soundstages. If you are lucky enough to be invited through the portal of mystery, by all means go. Just remember the magic words…Open Sesame.