H is for Halloween… and Houdini? Celebrating National Magic Day, Oct 31

You may already associate October 31 with tricks and treats, but did you know that Halloween also commemorates the great escape artist Harry Houdini? At least since 1938, when Mrs. Houdini sanctioned the day in memory of her late husband. To celebrate, I sat down with local magician, Steve Peterson and asked him about his 60 years of performing minor miracles. 

Minor Miracles and Mirthful Magical Mysteries
Peterson looked pretty dapper the morning we met, which made it even more delightful when he pulled a magic wand from his suit coat. But magic is all about surprising the audience.  

“I’ll put a coin in a person’s hand and a different coin in my hand and they’ll change places. Jaws drop,” Peterson said. “You get that sense of astonishment and wonder. That’s kind of a primal feeling. “

He first became interested in magic when he was 14. Brush the Great, a vaudeville master magician, came to Peterson’s church and completely wowed him. 

“That’s when the bug bit. It hasn’t turned loose,” Peterson says.

He describes himself as a nerd in high school, a bit of a social misfit. But when he started doing magic, people started paying attention in a way that made Peterson feel better about himself. He practiced obsessively, and eventually performed across the country – from Seattle to Arizona. 

Peterson had a day job at Hewlett Packard for 34 years, starting out as an electronics technician and eventually working on software automation, engineering, and analysis, which is another type of magic. It didn’t stop him from performing his Minor Miracles and Mirthful Mysteries, which included shows at the Corvallis Fall Festival and even shows for HP.

I asked him to show me a magic trick and without skipping a beat he was up, making nerf balls appear and disappear. He included a girl sitting next to us; her face lit up when he tapped her hand with the wand and somehow turned the nerf ball to gold. The nerf ball trick is one of Peterson’s favorites.

“The children enjoy it. [They] think magic happens in people’s hands,” he said. 

Magic and Spiritualism
Toward the end of his life, Houdini became interested in debunking mediums and psychics. He believed his training in magic gave him the right experience to expose what he decided were frauds. He even recorded his investigations in a book, A Magician Among the Spirits. 

Houdini was never a particularly talented sleight-of-hand artist, which is why he focused on learning how to escape. The Austro-Hungarian-born magician was best known for performing seemingly impossible feats, like escaping from straitjackets while underwater or hanging from a skyscraper. There was no illusion; Houdini really did these things.

When Peterson performs at churches, he likes to throw in what he calls object lessons. He showed me by taking a piece of paper and first folding it into an airplane. 

“So, I used to work in the high-tech industry and man’s technology is just amazing. We make these little machines [that] take us through the sky. We call them the cloudy heavens,” Peterson says as he rips some of the paper off and turns it into a rocket that explores the starry heavens.

“There’s a third heaven; that’s where God lives. You can’t get on an airplane or a rocket,” Peterson says, “[But] what we can’t do for ourselves, God has already done for us.” 

His final trick is turning the paper into a cross. For Peterson, there’s no illusion; he believes in something beyond what we can see and uses magic to share this message. 

How to Celebrate National Magic Day
Before Houdini died from a ruptured appendix in 1926, he and his wife agreed that if he were able to communicate beyond the grave, his message would be “Rosabelle believe” after their favorite song. Bess Houdini held a séance every year on Halloween for 10 years after her husband died. 

She never heard from Houdini again, but the tradition lives on. This October 31, consider celebrating both holidays. The Advocate is in no way responsible for what happens during your séance, but we wholeheartedly encourage you to learn a magic trick or two.

Peterson recommends checking out the magic club that meets at the Albany Public Library every Saturday at 1 p.m. To schedule Peterson for a show, visit his website: http://minor-miracles.net/index.html .

By Anika Lautenbach