Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ralph Pierce

He is dead now. His stories are only second hand, but Ralph Pierce wanted to do magic. It was a dream he achieved, spending most of his life as a tall grass magician. A tall grass magician worked the great breadbasket of America’s Middle West, moving from small town to small town.

Just out of his teens and with adventure in his heart, Ralph answered an ad for a magician’s assistant. It could have been in Variety or Billboard or some other trade paper whose name is lost to history. This was some 70 years ago. The ad asked for a male magician’s assistant for a world traveling professional magician and his full stage show.

Answering the ad Ralph expected to find an old master of the art, a Thurston or his like, instead he interviewed with a man only a couple of years older than himself. The globetrotting magician? His name was John Calvert. And Ralph joined his show.

During the tour, John decided he needed a publicity stunt to boost ticket sales. He chose a buried alive stunt. First, they formed a box from rough unvarnished wood, slightly larger than a coffin. Then, they found a place in or out of town where they could dig a deep hole. And as Calvert put it, “We nail you into the box.”

“What?” Ralph thought.

“Then we bury the box, in about six hours we’ll dig you up.”

Ralph thinking, “There’s that pesky word again, you.”

“An ambulance, all lights and sirens, will speed the box to the theater. Roll it down the center aisle. We’ll stand the box up center stage and open it up right in front of the audience.”

“Um...John,” Ralph asked, “why do I have to be in the box?”

“Well, I have to up top to talk it up. Sell it to the papers.”

“Is this safe?”

“Oh sure, safe, no problem, you have at least eight hours of air in there, maybe ten or twelve.”

Ralph said he was never more afraid than when the first shovel full of dirt landed on the coffin.

There are two postscripts. Ralph said, in time, he did get used of the stunt and mostly napped while confined. He also said more than once the box was set on stage upside down and when the top was removed he was dumped on his head.

I’d like to thank my employee, Markus Clegg for this story. When Markus worked at Andy Dallas’ magic shop in Champaign, IL., he heard it first hand from Ralph.

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