Every Sunday at midday, the Coney Island Museum plays host to an ever-changing lineup of magicians, illusionists, escape artists and, performers from around the world. At just $10 a ticket (or $5 for children under 12), the Magic at Coney!!! Sunday Matinee is such a good deal I’m willing to forgive one of its superfluous exclamation marks.
Joining magician, mentalist, and host, Gary Dreifus, this Sunday (May 6th) are:
Phil Crosson has been performing since he was 15 and regularly clocks in at more than 350 shows a year. He’s an old-school magician, doves and all.
The new kid on the block. Gottesdiener was Winner of the 1029 Young Magician Contest.
A familiar face from the New York magic scene. Doc Sasko does a little bit of everything.
2017 North American FISM Champion of Close-Up Magic, Jim Vines, has some of the best sleight-of-hand skills in the business. He’s definitely worth the price of admission.
Four magicians took the stage of the Dweck Cultural Center last month, brightening the basement of the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Branch with a sampling of the magic and history of one of the borough’s favorite gems: Coney Island. Established as a panel discussion, “The Magicians of Coney Island” was a part of the Library’s School of Magic series that is slated to continue throughout 2018. Herb Scher served as moderator, with George Schindler, Richard Cohn, and Mark Mitton joining on stage to discuss history, trace legacy, and recreate some of the best-known effects from Coney Island in its heyday.
The panelists presented a largely chronological historical survey, in what was clearly a race to cover as much material as possible in a very limiting 90 minutes. Since the turn of the century, some of America’s and indeed the world’s greatest magicians have popped up in this entertainment oasis at the edge of Brooklyn. The panel set the stage for decades of magic by outlining Coney Island’s main stages, starting with parks like Sea Lion Park, Steeplechase, and Dreamland, all pioneering in their day and often packed with magic. When Sea Lion Park eventually became Luna Park (not to be confused with the Luna Park of Coney Island today), its new owners also happened to be magicians and creators. “[Frederic] Thompson and [Elmer] Dundy were magic nuts, so magicians always got work at Luna Park,” said Richard Cohn on stage.
When Dreamland opened in 1904, American magician Henry Roltair presented intricate illusions and effects like Spidora (a woman’s head grafted onto the body of a spider), Arabian Nights Up to Date, and Creation, Roltair’s illusion ride based on the bible story of Genesis that debuted at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. At institutions like Henderson’s Music Hall, magicians from Harry Jansen to Horace Goldin graced the stage alongside entertainment treasures like the Marx Brothers. Harry Houdini performed at Henderson’s in 1915, which was just one of many ways he and his family were enamored and entangled with Coney Island at the time. Apparently, Harry’s brother Hardeen was one of the first to dub Coney Island “Sodom by the Sea.”
Many magicians still revered in contemporary circles today once appeared at Coney Island, from Dai Vernon’s early days cutting silhouettes to Jean Hugard’s decade of performance from 1919-1929, which included illusions like Birth of a Pearl and The Fairy Fountains. Why were so many magicians performing at Coney Island at the turn of the century? “For money,” said Schindler. “A dollar a day was a lot of money back then.” But he added that the atmosphere would have been an equally important draw. There was something magical about Coney Island—it’s an otherworldly experience that still draws crowds and captures imaginations today, even long after Coney Island’s glory days.
Moderator Herb Scher says Coney Island’s ability to transport visitors today back to a golden age of Brooklyn magic is part of what caught his interest in the first place. Scher is an active member of the SAM Parent Assembly and often performs as Myron the Magnificent, a character he describes as “a worn out, frumpy Vegas magician.” During the panel, he performed a rope routine without going full Myron. After moving to New York from Miami, Scher ended up at Coney Island on a whim and stuck around for the photography. It wasn’t until later that Scher took on magic professionally and his many passions crossed. “I’m infatuated with Coney Island,” he tells GeniiOnline. “Part of what fascinates me is the continuity of magic at Coney Island. The fact that you can look back to 1880 or even earlier and then to today, people are still enacting these amazing feats, these miracles of conjuring. Obviously things have changed, Coney Island has gone up and down, but it’s still there, it’s still alive.”
Scher says he immediately wanted to originate a panel topic that would be relevant to the Brooklyn audience when Barbara Wansbrough, curator of the School of Magic events, asked if he had any ideas. Wansbrough conceived of the series while trying to develop a fresh take on library programming and special events. Her young son had gotten hooked on magic, and through him Wansbrough caught a bit of the bug herself. She saw the power of magic to amaze and inspire, and set out to curate a series of events that could both educate and entertain audiences.
Scher’s interest in inviting other members of the SAM Parent Assembly to the panel led him to George Schindler, now the ninth magician to be named Dean of the SAM since the club began in 1902. At the panel, Schindler performed a quick Houdini handcuff escape and a version of Horace Goldin’s 1920s sawing a lady using a jigsaw. From the performances to the historical content, Schindler says the pressures of a 90-minute time limit informed many of their decisions. “We tried to boil it down so that the public and the magicians who were there would be interested,” Schindler says. “Those tricks are still being done today, and Coney Island magicians did them 60, 70 years ago. So the information was accurate and the magic was accurate.”
Schindler grew up in Brooklyn and saw his first magician at Coney Island. “I got hooked,” he says. “I wanted to figure out how he did it, so I went back every Saturday from then on.” Schindler became a professional magician after college, specializing in trade show events. Listening to Schindler talk about his trade show days, I noticed that it all sounded very similar to the Coney Island outside talkers and street performers charged with drawing in their own crowds and selling tickets to passersby. Schindler agreed: “It’s very similar, just trade shows are a higher level, more sophisticated. Coney Island was very broad: you can see the half a man and half a woman and for 25 cents, we’ll sell you the pictures. Trade shows are very much like the old sideshow barker, come to think of it.”
It was Schindler who recommended a magician named Mark Mitton when the Coney Island history conversation inevitably led to Al Flosso. Most magicians agree that any history of magic at Coney Island would be incomplete without mention of Flosso, the Coney Island Fakir. Mark Mitton performed a sort of tribute with his Miser’s Dream, one of Flosso’s trademark pieces. Mitton embodied Flosso’s brash performance style with an adult audience volunteer presented as a stand-in for a young boy—all the children in the room were a little too young for Flosso’s handsy, in-your-face presentation. Mitton also performed Houdini’s Needles trick, swallowing a handful of needles and a spool of thread before pulling them from his mouth strung together one-by-one. He dug into a good deal of historical research with the Houdini community in order to present the Needles as faithfully as possible to Houdini’s original presentation.
Scher also credits Mitton with the decision to include more of the sideshow element of Coney Island performance. In the sideshow section, they delved into Coney Island’s claims to performers like Bobby Reynolds, Melvin Burkhart, and Todd Robbins. But Mitton sees that segmented approach separating magic and sideshow as a layperson’s fallacy: “It gets into carnie traditions, and who’s an insider and who’s an outsider,” Mitton says. “To people outside the profession, it doesn’t make sense that magicians are escape artists and hypnotists and ventriloquists. To a magician, it’s completely normal that those categories are fluid. It’s only when you get away from the actual people and into the modern Coney Island with more of the university educated Coney Island people that you don’t get the blurred categories.”
Richard Cohn bolstered the scholarly side of the panel—I’ve lost count of how many magicians have referred to Cohn as a walking encyclopedia of New York’s magic history. Cohn and Schindler conducted research at the Conjuring Arts Library and the Parent Assembly’s historical collection, of which Cohn is the official archivist. They spent a couple of months preparing, and through their discovery of pieces of Coney Island history that they’d never uncovered before, Schindler remains convinced that there are still more gems hidden in the archive.
In addition to his work as a performing magician, Cohn also consults on the history of magic for all kinds of events. At the event, he performed a torn-and-restored newspaper routine and magic with silks in homage to Jean Hugard’s book, Silken Sorcery. Hugard spent many seasons performing on Coney Island, and is also one of the eight SAM deans that came before Schindler. Cohn says he was passionate about including Brooklyn’s magical dynasties in the presentation, like the Zancigs, the Bambergs, and the Herrmanns. David Bamberg was better known to the public as Fu Manchu, but according to Cohn, he grew up in Flatbush.
Breaking up the long string of white men that dominate, well, most popular histories, the panel made sure to include women and people of color who performed at Coney Island in their day. Adelaide Herrmann become a magician in her own right after the death of her husband Alexander, also known as Herrmann the Great. As the Queen of Magic, Adelaide spent a season at Coney Island performing illusions as a headline magician instead of a magician’s assistant. And Jamaican magician Wilmont Barclay performed at Coney Island between the 1920s and the 1940s, taking on a character called Professor Maharajah. Panelists pointed to Barclay’s “exotic” Indian character as evidence of how hard it was to perform as a black magician back then.
The School of Magic series will continue at the Brooklyn Public Library throughout the year, including a performance later in April by mentalist Eric Walton. To get straight to the source, there’s also still plenty of magic making its home at Coney Island today. One of the magicians in the audience at the panel last month was Gary Dreifus, the producer behind Coney Island USA’s weekly show, Magic at Coney. Every Sunday, Dreifus presents all kinds of magicians in a rotating cast of some of Brooklyn’s best.
Before Bobby Torkova debuted his new one-man show A Hanky and A T-T-T-Top Hat, he’d spent most of his career as a professional magician performing a completely silent stage act. Torkova’s devotion to the classics informs the new show, but so does his life as a young magician growing up on Long Island and his early years as a young man growing up with a stutter. As a magic-obsessed kid growing up in New York City, I had seen Torkova’s silent stage act countless times. But until I headed out to Coney Island USA on a Friday night in January to see A Hanky and a T-T-T-Top Hat, I had never heard Torkova speak.
Torkova’s childhood interest in magic and his stuttering are inextricably linked. When he was about seven years old, Torkova’s father and uncle piqued his interest by showing him a few tricks. He had started to stutter just a few years before and as his shyness grew, practicing magic gave young Torkova something to work on when he retreated to his bedroom. At the same time, Torkova had started speech therapy in school. “The next year, my mother had taken me out of it,” Torkova tells GeniiOnline. “I think that was a mistake because I’m stuttering still, but the best part was that my speech therapist gave me a top hat for my magic.”
It’s the very same top hat that headlines Torkova’s new show. In A Hanky and A T-T-T-Top Hat, Torkova abandons his silent act to tell a version of his own life story, falling in love with magic, struggling with his stutter, and hours spent at Al Flosso’s magic shop. Torkova’s tale is charming and gentle, and the show is a clear example of how magic can work to support a story, instead of the other way around. “I wanted the tricks to serve the story first,” Torkova says. “When I started to write the show, I realized the only tricks that served the story were the actual ones I had when I was a child, or the tricks that I always wanted when I was a child but never got.”
Torkova is a dedicated classicist, so it fits to see how he has altered and adapted what would otherwise be dusty tricks from decades ago. “The trick adds to the story and the story adds to the trick,” Torkova says, because the content of the show is all true. When he was 11, Torkova met Al Flosso in his Manhattan shop. “He sold me what I consider to be my first real, professional trick, an Easy Hat Loader, which is my favorite and is featured in my new show.” If anything, the show is proof that it’s possible to create theatrical magic that resonates as true, touching, and relatable instead of gimmicky and contrived.
It’s a hard balance to strike: “In the past, magical storytelling has been tried and sometimes it has worked and sometimes it hasn’t. I mean as far back as the 20s and 30s,” Torkova says. In response to the current movement of more theatrical magic and using magic as a tool to support storytelling, Torkova says the trend is “refreshing and inspiring”.
This isn’t Torkova’s first foray into theatrical magic, either. In Thought Prints, a show he created for the New York Fringe Festival in 2006, Torkova wove a story about a postal worker who suddenly discovered he had developed clairvoyant powers. “While the show itself was light-hearted, I was actually a nervous wreck in doing it. It was the first time I would be speaking on stage for a full hour, and my stuttering being an issue…” The director Torkova was working with on Thought Prints encouraged him to announce that he stuttered at the very beginning of the show, and to instruct the audience not to worry about it. “This would make the audience feel less uncomfortable when I did stutter, and I stuttered quite a bit in the show, but it was still well received.”
Almost a decade later, Torkova started thinking about writing a new show. He was inspired by ventriloquist Jay Johnson’s Broadway show The Two And Only, and decided it was time to move from fiction to fact. “That was the key thing that took me from writing about other magicians’ lives to writing about my own life,” Torkova says. With his improv and theater group, Artistic New Directions, Torkova wrote out one act at a time and workshopped each one on stage. “They give you ten minutes to work out anything or perform, so I would slowly work on each piece, one every few months. It took me a long time.” Every week for three years, Torkova improved his skills in writing for the stage, acting, and public speaking. A Hanky and A T-T-T-Top Hat debuted at Artistic New Directions’ 2017 festival for new works called Go Solo.
A Hanky and A T-T-T-Top Hat has Torkova speaking on stage for 75 minutes, dealing with material that is inherently more personal and intimate than, say, a fictional tale about a mentalist postal worker. The vulnerability presented a new challenge for Torkova. “The more emotionally involved I got, I would tend to stutter more.” One of the ways he prepared for the show was to write his stuttering into the script itself—the title is a nod to that practice. “There’s a lot of shame associated with stuttering growing up. Being bullied by kids, being made fun of, some of my teachers had made fun of my stutter in class. So it was very hard to commit to doing this show that a large part of it was about my stuttering.”
According to Torkova, one of the most difficult exercises stutterers take on in speech therapy is to stutter on purpose. “It’s so incredibly painful to stutter at all that to do it on purpose seems impossible. It was only doing that exercise that I was able to relax more with the show and get through it. Otherwise it would be too challenging for me to do.”
And yet despite the huge challenge, or perhaps because of it, Torkova says the transition from a silent act to a speaking one was unexpectedly rewarding. “I think while many people enjoy my silent act, it doesn’t have the emotional appeal that telling one’s own story does,” he says. “I’m interacting with the audience more, really relating to the audience and not being up on stage alone, performing manipulation to the black void.”
For new and young magicians, including those who stutter, Torkova says building up stage time and performances in front of live audiences is the most important kind of practice. “Kids that are doing magic today, they don’t aspire to become magicians on stage, they just want to be stars online. While having a big presence online is great, it’s the wave of the future and all that, they’re not entertainers, per se.” He takes issue with the lack of audience communication, and young magicians’ inability to perform their magic for real people, for strangers. Considering Torkova has always been inspired by performing magicians, including historical greats like Al Flosso and Karl Germain, it’s no surprise that mastering live performance is both one of his top priorities and one of his highest aspirations. “That’s the only way you’re going to get better, performing for real folks.”
For more information on Bobby Torkova’s work and to find out about upcoming shows, visit torkova.com.
Do you have an interest in the history of magic and its greatest performers? Are you a cash-strapped New York resident looking for a cheap way to spend an evening? Are you trapped in Brooklyn by an ancient curse, the dark origins of which your tattered mind can no longer recall? Well, clear your schedule on March 28th, because from 7:30 to 9:00pm, Brooklyn’s Public Library will be home to The Magicians of Coney Island, a live magic and history show that promises to be enthralling, educational and, best of all, free.
In the show, a panel of seasoned magicians moderated by magician and journalist Herb Scher will discuss Coney Island and the magic greats who got their start on its shores: The likes of Harry Houdini, Dai Vernon, Al Flosso, Jean Hugard, Horace Goldin and more. If that sounds a bit academic, I’m told there will be “feats of magic the likes of which have enthralled audiences [there] for more than 125 years.” That’s vintage, artisanal magic for you Greenwich Village types.
Joining Scher on the panel will be a who’s who of magic practitioners and academics. There’s performer and historian Richard Cohn, who regularly performs at the Coney Island Museum and is considered somewhat of an authority on New York’s magic history; Mark Mitton, a professional magician who’s created work for film, television, Broadway and Cirque du Soleil; and George Schindler, performer, novelist and dean of the National Society of American Magicians.
The Magicians of Coney Island will run from 7:30pm to 9:30pm on March 28th and will take place at the Dweck Center in the Brooklyn Public Library.
Coney Island has long played host to magic shows of all kinds, and in January you’ll be able to visit the entertainment destination to check out Bobby Torkova’s charming one-man magic show every Friday night.
The show is called “A Hanky and a T-T-T-Top Hat!”, and it’s an autobiographical tale of Torkova’s life growing up, overcoming a speech impediment, and dreaming of becoming a magician. From the synopsis on Torkova’s website:
An autobiographical solo play that tells of a little boy who stutters, explores his relationship with his father, and dreams of becoming a professional magician. While this is not your traditional magic show, Torkova’s unique and personal approach does feature magic performances to help illustrate the story.
The show is currently running at Sideshows by the Seashore at Coney Island every Friday in January at 8pm. Tickets are $15, and can be purchased online or at the door. The show will also run at the Smoke & Mirrors Theater in Pennsylvania on March 23 and 24. Details for that show can be found at the theater’s website.
For a sampling of the adorably sincere hi-jinx you can expect, check out the brief promotional reel of the show below:
New York has long been a thriving hub for the development of American magic. You can chalk it up to the city’s reputation for entertainment and theater, or write it off as just another feature of the modern metropolis. But zoom in a little closer on Brooklyn, and the very first spark of New York’s magic scene unfolds all the way out in Coney Island over 100 years ago. Coney Island was one of the first places in the United States that audiences could regularly see and appreciate magic, but Brooklyn wasn’t exactly the seat of glamor. In fact, East Coast magic’s gritty reputation—as compared to the glitz of the West Coast, Vegas world—traces all the way back to Coney Island at the turn of the century.
It’s said that in New York’s early days, back in the days of New Amsterdam, the strip of undeveloped land we now know as Coney Island was overrun with rabbits. The island was named for konijn, the Dutch word for rabbits and probably the only future early New Yorkers saw for an island way out there at the edge of nowhere. But by the late 1800s, Brooklyn had become a whole new world. Coney Island was a burgeoning destination, a beach escape for local residents and even the brave Manhattanites who would take the ferries or later the overground train out to Brooklyn. Clam bars lined the beach, three independent music halls drew huge crowds, and the Elephant Hotel stood tall.
In the late 1800s, standalone rides like the carousel and the Razzle Dazzle paved the way for the full amusement parks that solidified Coney Island’s reputation. Sea Lion Park started it all in 1895, followed by Steeplechase Park in 1897. By 1903, Luna Park revived the land and attractions where Sea Lion Park once stood. By 1904, Dreamland was up and running with a mission to compete with the glory and appeal of the sparkly new Luna Park. Both on the stages of these early major theme parks and in the space created by the conversation they started, magic flourished.
When Sea Lion Park opened in 1895, it was the first enclosed amusement park in North America. Founder Paul Boyton (occasionally seen as Boynton) built a fence around the park and charged an entrance fee, establishing his intentions to create a permanent space in contrast with the one at a time, pay-as-you-go attraction booths that were more popular at the time. Boyton worked hard to keep up with the changing times of Coney Island by adding rides like the Water Chute and a rollercoaster called the Flip Flap Railway, which was closed down when its upside-down loop was deemed too dangerous for riders. Boyton even acquired a well-loved Elephant named Topsy in the hopes of boosting attendance, but much like Sea Lion Park itself, Topsy’s enduring fame was mostly born of her untimely death.
Eventually, Boyton admitted he couldn’t keep up and sold Sea Lion Park to new owners, who quickly reopened the newly renovated park as Luna Park. And although Sea Lion Park didn’t last, all the amusement parks that followed managed to incorporate magic effects and illusion shows into their success. Luna Park co-owner Elmer “Skip” Dundy got his start as a magician while working as an assistant to Frederick Eugene Powell. Illusion shows like “Trip to the Moon” made Dundy’s name as a magician, and were all founded by his Luna Park partner, Frederick Thompson. Branching out from their rapid magical success in Luna Park, Dundy and Thompson later went on to found the New York Hippodrome, where Houdini would go on to make his 10,000 pound elephant disappear, among other world-famous illusions.
Dreamland Park was an idea with magic at its very core. British magician Roltaire created the park, promoted it widely, and also performed his own illusions on the main stages of the park. Roltaire’s illusions included acts called “Pharaoh’s Daughter” and “The Creation”, complex theatrical presentations that would hold audiences for half-hour long seated magic shows. Positioning himself as a headliner, Roltaire’s auditorium shows stood under the spotlight in contrast with Dreamland’s Temple of Illusions, where spectators would walk through a series of booths or rooms, each displaying a single illusion. “Those who know say that the amount of plate glass and mirror glass used was measured in acres,” wrote Arthur Leroy of the Temple of Illusions in the August 1950 issue of The Sphinx. The “Midget Village” in Dreamland Park also featured magic, where at the “Midget Magic Theatre” a “Midget Kellar” and his fellow “midget” assistants presented their own takes on famous illusions and popular tricks of the day.
Beyond the enclosed amusement parks that featured magic as mere aspects of their overall alure, the Illusion Palace on Surf Avenue offered a rotating cast of illusions as the main event. As many as 40 illusions featured at a time, on a roster that was updated every season to reflect new technologies and spotlight talented performers. Pepper’s Ghost was on display, groundbreaking as it was at the time, and big-stage classics like the Sword Box, levitations, and the Blue Room drew huge crowds. Meanwhile, appearances by the Four-Legged Girl and the Two-Headed Girl heralded the golden age of the sideshow.
While a “Midget Village” certainly wouldn’t pass muster today and the sideshows that do still exist are met with plenty of external resistance, this kind of entertainment was par for the course in Coney Island. Take Martin Couney, for example, who struggled to raise funds to finance his commitment to nurturing and caring for babies born premature. Forced to find another way to realize his vision, Couney’s Infant Incubator operation ran from 1903 to 1943 as just another Coney Island attraction. Audiences paid 25 cents to enter the facility and coo over the tiny, fragile babies encased in cutting-edge incubators that Couney imported from Europe. The “attraction” was so successful, not a single family had to pay for the neonatal care their premature babies wouldn’t have been able to access anywhere else.
While “Midget Villages” and “Infant Incubators” were the amusements audiences craved at the turn of the century, magicians were forced in many ways to adapt to the demands of the times. Coney Island was quickly becoming a haven for magic, serving performers and fans alike. But what must it have been like to entertain an audience that smelled bad? How could magicians pull crowds when preemies and bearded ladies were the dominant trends?
Certainly no history either of magic or of Coney Island would be complete without Al Flosso, who played a crucial role in shaping the New York City magic world both in Brooklyn and beyond. It was in Coney Island’s seedy underbelly environment that Flosso got his start, blossoming in front of audiences who wanted to see horrific, disturbing, just-plain-wrong experiences and converting those crowds into magic-lovers.
Flosso worked the sideshows and performed the hugely popular Punch and Judy puppet shows of the day, touring his acts all over New York. For his magic act, Flosso was first known as “The Boy Magician”, and later, when his world-famous Miser’s Dream routine put him on the map, as “The King of Koins”. But it was the almost accidental moniker of the “Coney Island Fakir” that stuck—an MC introduced him with the name before a performance at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, and from then on, it became his identity. Flosso had become famous as much for his quirks as for his strict magical skill, quirks like his brash attitude, handsy approach to volunteers, and penchant for eating lunch while performing on stage. While less polished than the white-gloved stage spectacles of the day, Flosso’s grittier, straight-to-the-point style of magic won over audiences of laymen and impressed generations of magicians. Perhaps it was precisely this roughness that allowed Flosso such incredible mastery over randomly selected audience members and enabled him to draw huge crowds (and a following of devoted magicians that has far outlived him) during the darkest, seediest days of magic at Coney Island.
“By the 1920s, magic was a bedrock part of Coney Island,” said Richard Cohn in the New York Sun. As a popular summer retreat dedicated to entertainment, Coney Island touched the up-and-coming careers of plenty of early magicians whose names today are legend. David Bamberg (perhaps better known by his stage name, Fu Man Chu) appeared in Coney Island, as did Louis “Pop” Krieger and the “Queen of Magic,” Adelaide Herrmann. Dai Vernon was cutting silhouettes on the Coney Island boardwalk for 50 cents a piece in the 1920s (two silhouettes would cost you a whopping 75 cents), when he met his wife Jeanne Hayes. Jeanne herself was in Coney Island that summer after being recruited by an outside talker to work in Jean Hugard’s illusion show as part of his Sawing a Woman in Half act, so in a way, it was magic that brought them together.
Harry Houdini’s love for Coney Island has also been well documented. His brother Hardeen lived near Brooklyn’s Flatbush Avenue at the time, just a short distance away from the magic and wonder in the neighborhood’s amusement parks and attraction tents. The Brothers Houdini were playing Coney Island in 1894, the same year that a young woman named Bess was performing with a singing and dancing troupe called The Floral Sisters. After Harry and Bess were married, it’s said that they visited Coney Island every year on their anniversary to walk the Boardwalk or pose for a photograph on the beach.
Today, Coney Island’s farflung location feels like a mere echo of its rambunctious past. It’s no longer an island, first of all, and the subway makes a day trip or even an afternoon at the beach an easy adventure. Although many reminders of Coney Island’s magical history remain, much has changed. The smiling cartoon face of Tilley that hangs over the entrance to Luna Park these days is a stylized caricature of George C. Tilyou, who first founded Steeplechase Park more than a century ago. Performers of all kinds stalk the boardwalk—some even use shills to sell souvenirs and draw crowds. In homage to the history of the place, Coney Island USA hosts regular magic shows in their upstairs museum space. And if you listen closely, if you wander the side streets and alleys of Coney Island and squint just right, you might even glimpse the shadow of the giants who paved the way for the magic of today.