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Tribute to King is a magical night

March 31, 2009|By DAVE McMILLION

HAGERSTOWN -- Discovery Station took on a mystical and rather macabre air Tuesday night.

A picture of Harry Houdini hung near the man of the evening, William E. King Jr.

No matter where you moved in the room, the eyes of Houdini remained fixed on you.

"I can't explain it to you. It's a process that does it," King said.

Weird images taken from a massive collection of magic tricks and gadgets amassed by King lined display cabinets and more than two dozen magicians besides King filtered through the crowd showing off their tricks.

King sat in the center of it all, waging his magic like rubbing playing cards until their images disappeared and talking about his study of Houdini.

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"He's the man," said Frederick, Md., magician Mike Brezler. "He's a mentor to everyone, I think."

Dozens of people filled Discovery Station on West Washington Street to pay tribute to King, an internationally known magician who has one of the largest collections of magic memorabilia in the U.S.

King, 83, was the president of Hagerstown Trust for 23 years and is the oldest living former Hagerstown Trust president, Discovery Station officials said.

When King was not dealing in money, he was often spellbinding the mind.

King did shows at The Maryland Theatre for many years, and he and others started a local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Magicians in 1949. The chapter is often called "King Ring No. 94" in honor of him.

King said he has been doing magic for 72 years, becoming intrigued by it when he found some magic items in Spanglers Pet Shop on West Franklin Street when he was a youth.

"Then I found out where the real magic shops were," King said.

King remains interested in magic and spends his time these days collecting magic memorabilia. He also does research for books, like studying the life of Houdini. King said he was able to find out that Houdini once performed in Hagerstown before he became popular.

Using an old advertisement from the Hagerstown Daily Mail newspaper in 1898, King determined that Houdini performed in the Welsh Brothers circus on South Potomac Street. King said he was able to determine Houdini was in the show because he later found Houdini in a picture from the show that appeared in a book that magician Doug Henning wrote.

Although King does not perform anymore, he did a couple tricks Tuesday night. In one, he had a reporter pick out one of two playing cards. King took the other card, which was a jack, and rubbed it over a nine of clubs.

The clubs disappeared and when King flipped the jack over, the clubs were on the back of it.

How did he do that? "We don't try to tell our secrets," King said with a wide smile.

King has 11 rooms in his house filled with magic memorabilia. Charles James, another magician at Tuesday's event, said no one could hardly tell anything had been taken out of his house after all of King's items were taken to Discovery Station.

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