Holding court with the Delaware Knights of MagicDec 06, 2023 11:57AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
Magical things and mundane things happen at the Delaware Knights of Magic meetings, which are scheduled most second Thursdays at Cokesbury Village near Hockessin.
The magic would be expected from the club, which runs a spirited monthly contest for best effects that builds up to an annual champion. The mundane is a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of conjuring. A recent meeting, for instance, focused on improving rope magic.
“There’s an enormous amount of performing you can do with a simple piece of rope,” president Larry Denburg wrote in the club newsletter. “We’ll demonstrate how to prepare the ends of your ropes so they don’t fray. … We’ll show different types of rope and suggest the best to use for particular effects. Don’t forget about related props: cut/no-cut scissors, break-apart scissors, flash string.”
As he explained in the meeting, rope ends can be glued or taped – and there are various types of glue and tape. Clothesline, paracord, shoelaces and nautical ropes vary in softness, stiffness, thickness and color. “We’ll show you the basic way, and you have to customize it,” he said, expressing a theme that recurred in interviews.
He and club vice president Rob Francis used a classic rope trick called the Professor’s Nightmare to talk about elements and techniques. “Do I have three pieces of equal lengths or three pieces of different lengths?” Francis asked those gathered.
“Yes,” Denburg replied wryly.
Personal growth for decades
The Delaware Knights of Magic is “for all magicians and people interested in magic in the Delaware area,” it says on www.dkom.org. It was started in 1944 by three amateur magicians in Wilmington. “We are one of if not the oldest magic club in the country,” its old Facebook page says.
The club is unusual in that it’s independent, not affiliated with either the International Brotherhood of Magicians (IBM has hundreds of branches, called rings) or the Society of American Magicians (SAM also has hundreds of branches, but they’re called assemblies).
“No other club has a competition like ours,” said Francis, a boardwalk busker and poker dealer who makes a 192-mile round trip to attend meetings from his home in Toms River, New Jersey.
“The best way to learn magic is to be in a club,” said Elsmere resident Dave Myers, a member for more than 40 years.
“I like the camaraderie,” said Newark resident Russ Zehnacker, who’s been interested in magic for 63 years. “The club is a learning institution. I learned more from it than I have from reading books or watching videos. And it’s a means to validate your routine, to perform in front of your peers.”
“Every magician has to have someone to tell you the good, the bad and the ugly,” said Jim Daly, of Ardmore, Pennsylvania.
“We all share a common interest,” said Denburg, who lives in Pike Creek. “If your wife is sick of hearing about magic, we’re not. We all need a place to be bad. And if you perform an effect one way, by the time you leave, you’ll have three more ways to try.”
Clowning around, too
New members are always welcome, but they have to demonstrate an interest in magic, usually by performing. Club leaders are making a special push for new members by theming the January meeting to new members. Those interested can email the club via its site or just show up at Cokesbury at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 11, with the Knights’ site offering directions on navigating the Cokesbury campus.
For some club members, magic is a career. For others, it’s a side gig or a hobby.
Denburg, a full-time magician and club member since the 1970s, performs at trade shows to attract customers to exhibits and directs the nine-person magic department at the French Woods Festival performing arts summer camp. He seeks gigs to teach and to perform his comedy magic at www.magiclarry.com/1.html. “You’re not just blasting through tricks,” he said. “You’re entertaining.”
Chris Capehart, a full-time magician who joined the club when he moved to the Wilmington area 23 years ago, promotes his performance, videos, writings and an effect (The Jedi Push for $375, plus shipping) on www.chriscapehartmastermagician.com. He has twice filmed appearances on “Fool Us,” a CW TV show about magic that began in 2011. He fooled Penn & Teller the first time, and the second episode hadn’t aired when this article was written, so he couldn’t talk about it.
Several members are also clowns. Zehnacker is a Shriner clown. Myers and Reba Strong, a magician originally from Wilmington, are caring clowns, meaning they perform for hospital patients and visitors. “I try to make the kids smile,” Myers said.
It’s never too late to learn about magic. Philadelphia resident Jack Schultz said he was always interested but never had the time – until he was 72. He’s now “always ready” to perform, citing dice, rubber bands, a deck of cards and a large coin stashed in his pockets.
An art, a skill and a story
“Magic is an art and a skill,” said Mark Randolph, a Pike Creek resident who had his first paid magic gig at age 13 and now works magic into his work as a mortgage specialist. “We only grow by learning from each other and helping each other,” he said. “I’ve been doing this so long that I’m changing from learning to helping others learn.”
Some of that learning involves style. “Some of the best magical performances are like choreography,” Zehnacker said, adding that at times he doesn’t want to know how a trick is done. “I like to be mystified. It keeps the magic going.”
“Some of the best magicians make you so involved in the story that you don’t care how it’s done,” added Mitch Kaplan, who lives in Aston, Pennsylvania.
Strong, a magician for 42 years, said she’s invested a lot in buying tricks, and it’s clear that other members have done the same. “You’re never supposed to buy a trick one week and do it the next,” she said. “Knowing how it’s done doesn’t mean you can do it. Doing it doesn’t mean you can do it well. It takes a lot of practice, and you have to make it your own.”
Her mentor, for instance, made her devote a year to perfect a trick called Extreme Burn 2.0. The $34.95 system, with its three-hour video, was not enough to perform a routine that she does where dollar bills instantly change denomination. It also turns “paper to money, receipts to money, foreign notes to local,” VanishingIncMagic writes. “The possibilities are endless.”
“Every time you buy a trick, you have to adapt,” said Capehart after winning the night’s competition by making a toy helicopter appear from nowhere. After telling the story of how he bought the trick, he said his adaptations include – Wait! This reporter promised not to reveal any secrets. They’re reserved for members of the Delaware Knights of Magic.