A Historical Perspective

by Walter B. Graham





The Omaha Magical Society held its first organizational meeting January 27, 1921 at the Omaha YMCA. The following August the SAM Charter was issued for Omaha Assembly No.7, with 17 names listed as charter members.

Early meetings were held in a local club room for a few years, and subsequently in members’ homes until the early 1970’s when an expanded membership required larger facilities. The club currently meets at a local church most of the time.

John Keenan became secretary of the society in August of 1935. He was to hold this office for 20 years. His meticulous and detailed records and meeting minutes provide us with a detailed club history. His beautifully scripted, petite handwriting was John’s rare talent illustrated in the records he kept for our club.

In 1956 the club held a testimonial dinner for John to honor him for his service. John willed $500 to the society to establish a magic club library. In 1993 the library of John Ilson was added to our collection of books to make our library nearly 1,000 total books.

The first Omaha Magical Society Conclave was held in September 1941 at the Paxton Hotel. More than 100 attended. Joe Berg was the dealer and Dorny was MC for the Headliner Show. This established a tradition of Omaha conclaves which continued off and on over the years, and at present we host a conclave every two years in October with attendance of around 100 registrations. Shows, lectures and dealers make for a fun weekend in Omaha.

In May 1958 Omaha hosted the National SAM Convention at the Fontenelle Hotel. Milbourne Christopher was national president. Harry Farnham was general chairman. The appearance of John Shirley with his balloon act brought him national attention, and he later appeared on several occasions on the Ed Sullivan show.

Included among Assembly 7 members who have participated nationally are the Rev. John W. Kelly who served as national chaplain for several terms in the 1960’s, and Pete Petrashek who served many years as the National Society film librarian. His expertise as a film editor for a local TV station aided him when it came time to transfer the vast film library to video tape.

Today our club continues many of its traditions from the past. It is an active organization with talented people in magic and organizational skills. We meet every month at a local church with planned activities, lectures, and social events. A few profiles of some past members will offer interesting highlights regarding Assembly 7.

David P. Abbott, 1864-1934

He was a well known author, inventor and researcher into psychic phenomenon. All of the notables in magic who came to Omaha made it a point to visit Abbott in his home where he performed exclusively. His performances consisted of the Talking Teakettle, Talking Skull, Linking Rings, Spirit Slate Writing, 30 Card Trick, the Floating Ball, and several other variations from show to show. Okito gives credit to Abbott for teaching him his routine for the Floating Ball at the time he appeared with the Thurston show in the 1920’s. Abbott was author of several books and numerous articles, notably Behind the Scenes with the Mediums first published in 1906. Abbott left an unpublished manuscript, David P. Abbott’s Book of Mysteries, which was published in 1977 by Walter B. Graham, a member of #7.

Floyd E. Brown, b. 1902

He was the first organizational Secretary of the Omaha Magical Society and very active as a performer, often appearing under the stage name of “Mirza”. In the 1920’s Floyd took the photographs that appeared in David P. Abbott’s Book of Mysteries. In later years he lived in Chicago and eventually in Denver. His photo appeared on the cover of the April 1974 issue of M.U.M.

Herbert W. Fischer, 1904-1948

Herb was a prominent Omaha Attorney who held the #7 presidency for 12 consecutive years from 1932- 1944. The magic rev room in his home was decorated in Egyptian decor, and a frequent meeting place for the society. A highlight of his show was his presentation of the Cards to Pocket, an amusing and startling exhibition of misdirection and entertaining magic. His tragic death in an auto accident lost a faithful member of the community and the society.

Howard Westgate, b. 1921

A brilliant teenager, he invented, improved and constructed magical effects in his basement workshop. He built a rabbit vanish box and for a finale showed both sides of every piece of the box. I never knew how he did it. His tricks appeared in the Sphinx from time to time. In 1939 Howard was a high school student when he invented the Westgate Bowl Production. Over the years, this effect has been manufactured and sold by many dealers.

Howard Huntington, 1905-1991

Howard’s father, Will, worked for an auto dealership and was an active magician in Omaha, as a club show performer. Thus, Howard’s exposure to magic came at an early age, and he became a professional magician performing for school assemblies, county fairs and farm implement dealer entertainments in the Midwest. His routines were precise with every move rehearsed to the most infinite detail. I never saw the Thayer Rice, Orange and Checker Mystery performed any better. He used 12-inch linking rings and was famous for his presentation of the Hydrostatic Glass as mentioned by John Booth in Forging Ahead in Magic (1939). Howard’s photos have appeared on the covers of Sphinx and MUM.

Rev. Charles K. Hayden, S.J., 1894-1954

He was a Jesuit Priest who taught physics at Omaha’s Creighton University. His outstanding craftsmanship is apparent with a variety of equipment that remains in the hands of today’s performers. He is credited in the Albo books as the inventor of the Fu-Manchu Hand Chopper, where the spectator inserts fingers into a slot hole. The blade descended similar to the Visible Block Penetration.

Roy Tatroe, 1902-1965

Roy was a mechanical genius who could build most anything in wood, metal or plastic. He built many mechanical Christmas window displays for local department stores. He built a floating light bulb display and a mechanical levitation. He made a variety of magical devices and tables. In 1956, he won the Bromfield trophy at the SAM Convention in Havana, Cuba for his Shooting through a Woman. He won this trophy again in 1958 in Omaha for his levitation of a small auto with boy sitting in the driver’s seat.

Walter B. Graham, b. 1923

Walter Graham became an SAM member in 1942. He has been an active performer in the capacity of a semi-professional magician. He won the Brunswick Trophy for the best stage effect (acrobatic cane) at the 1947 Chicago SAM/IBM combined convention. In 1949 he won a two prizes at the SAM Convention in Denver.

Johnny Carson, 1925-2005

After World War II, Johnny attended the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, NE. He then became a radio personality at radio station WOW in Omaha where he hosted an early morning program called “Happy Ranch”, as well as appearing on the new medium of television. He was a semi-professional magician, ventriloquist and MC for various club dates and county fairs in and around Omaha. He was a member of No. 7 for several years prior to his departure to California in 1951 to begin his career leading to host of the Tonight Show on national television.

Pat Hazel, b. 1961

An Omahan who has moved into the national spotlight is Pat Hazel, who billed himself as “Magic, Comedy, Wisecracks”, at his farewell Omaha appearance in 1985. Since that time he has become well known as a comedy show writer, actor, and as a warm-up act for comedian Jerry Seinfeld. He frequently appears as a guest on the late-night talk shows