Sunday, September 28, 2008

Death and the Magician 2

The Unexpected Grave of Max Malini

Mostly in my research, an article will provide a small piece of a life’s puzzle. Rarely does an article become the puzzle as this one did, Chicago Tribune, dated July 25, 1943:

It was a surprise. Malini is buried in Forest Park, Illinois. Why? I never really gave the burial place of Malini a thought before. With all his far-flung adventures, he should be buried in some exotic land, somewhere else at least, not here.

Most of what I know of Max comes from the Ricky Jay’s book, Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women. Max Malini was born Max Katz in a small town on the Polish-Austrian border in 1873. Early in his childhood, his family immigrated to America where he grew up in the New York Bowery. Max began his apprenticeship in magic with Professor Seiden at the age of twelve.

Max’s general story is widely known. He was a man of tiny stature and enormous confidence. His legend grew from his remarkable sleight of hand skills, his finely tuned misdirection, and his unmitigated gall. He was the envy of his magical peers due to his ability to gain the patronage of the rich, renowned, and royal.

Max actually died October 3, 1942 after a long illness. Now, in 2008, I am driving east down the Eisenhower expressway to Des Plaines Ave to find his grave. The cemetery office is reserved, decorated at least a couple of decades ago. The only change in the decades is the addition of computerization. With a few key strokes, the first surprise comes; there are two listings for Malini. The first is Lizzie Malini, interred 1921. The second, Max Malini, interred 1943.

Who is Lizzie Malini? It will take me a little time to discover that secret.

Meanwhile I am on my way to Malini’s grave. The roads in the cemetery are so narrow that one car cannot pass another. My first impression is that while the lawns are neatly manicured, the marker stones are closely cluttered and haphazardly strewn about. I wander. Many of the stones are in Hebrew, which sets me to worrying that I might not be able to read Malini’s stone.

Worse happens. I can’t find the stone. The stones on the end of the row should be numbered. They are not. I guess. I walk the whole section, each row, up and down. Even the grounds keeper takes a break from tending to a newly occupied hole to help me. He is also at a loss.

Near where the stones for Lizze Malini and Max Malini should be, is a stone for Lizzie Katz. As we know already, Katz was Max’s real last name. Lizzie cannot be that common of a name. Is Lizzie Katz really Lizzie Malini and how are they related?

The original ledgers show a Lizzie Katz, Max Malini, and Lizzie Malini. The names of Max and Lizzie Malini are followed by question marks. They people at the office cannot explain it.

Ricky Jay, my source for many things historical, does not know. I am off to do an online search of the Tribune to find an answer, hopefully.

The answer comes from an obituary dated February 28, 1921.

Lizzie Malini is Max’s first wife. Lizzie Malini is also Lizzie Katz. I am not sure why she is buried as Lizzie Katz, but I am sure she is. The dates from the obituary and the gravestone match. It cannot be a coincidence.

With a little more searching, the issue becomes clear. During the early 1920s, Max Malini and his wife Lizzie lived in the Congress Hotel in Chicago. There are several ads of Max performing in the Florentine Room of the Congress Hotel. In February of 1921, Lizzie died and was buried as Lizzie Katz . Twenty-two years later, in Forest Park, Illinois, Max is buried along side her in an unmarked grave, gate 47, lot 137, section D, row 11, grave 6.

Max, a magician to the end, leaves us with one last mystery.

Why is it that a man who would never accept anonymity in life, chose it in death?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Thanks for taking the time to research and report on this. Perhaps Malini has no tombstone not because of his own choice, but because of some snafu, or the choice of his next of kin? In any case, it's a shame. He was a deserving legend. I've always considered tombstones to be the least the living can do to honor the deceased, although some decide before death they don't want it. I respect that, but it is as much a gift to survivors as a tribute to the deceased.