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Milt Larsen's Magic Castle Tour by Carol Marie

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii January, 1998)


If you've been to the Magic Castle you know that it is a labyrinth of cubbyholes and shadows, tight spaces and dark places, all filled with secrets and treasures, and much too much for anyone to maintain a complete grasp of—anyone, that is, with the exception of Magic Castle builder and owner, Milt Larsen. Some years back Mr. Larsen began to take special guests on personal walking tours of the Castle. Author Carol Marie accompanied Mr. Larsen on an abundant number of these tours, increasingly fascinated by the wealth of stories that every nook and cranny possessed. She began to record those stories, as recounted by Mr. Larsen, gradually accumulating them until the book at hand was eventually assembled. Along with recording these Castle tales she also took her own photographs and chased down archival images of the Castle's many treasures and trinkets (a handful of time-lapse photos were taken by Ron Jackson). The result is a delightful pastiche that reflects the random odds-and-ends spirit that is the Magic Castle— and that some might say is a window into the mind of its creator.

There are 23 elements and areas of the Castle addressed in these pages, beginning with the back story of the Lane Mansion, first built as a private home in 1908, that would eventually become the Magic Castle in 1965. The book guides the reader on a walking tour, as it were, beginning with the front entrance and fountain, into the reception area and entry hall, through the secret entrance into the Grand Salon, on to the Blackstone Room, meeting Invisible Irma in her room, with detours downstairs to the wine cellar, back upstairs to the Close-Up Gallery, up the Grand Staircase past the Owl Bar, through the dining rooms, stopping off for a peek into the Houdini Seance Room, taking a walk across the upstairs art gallery, stopping for visits to the Palace of Mystery and the Parlor of Prestidigitation, and eventually ending downstairs in the recently constructed Albert Peller Theatre. No matter how many times you have been in the Magic Castle, I guarantee you will be surprised by some tidbit of information here, or perhaps even wonder at a photograph of some objet d'art that you have passed a hundred times but somehow never quite focused your vision upon.

Of course there is much more to tell about the Castle that is not included in this book, and as for absolute historical accuracy, well, Ms. Marie points out that "...when I found that I had notes with conflicting information, Milt would reply, 'Well, which version do you like?'" Perhaps the only disappointment is that all of the plethora of photographs (save four that are in color) are reprinted in a kind of sepia tone to help mask the frugal production quality; experienced visitors will recognize the locales, but those who are trying to conjure up an image of a place they have never witnessed will be hard pressed to bring a sharp image into focus. Glossy paper and high quality reproduction would have made this a wonderful, albeit expensive, book. Nevertheless, whether you're a veteran of the Magic Castle or have yet to visit the spiritual homeland of magicians one and all, it's difficult to imagine a reader who wouldn't enjoy passing an evening on this guided tour with Milt Larsen.

6 - 3/4" X 10" perfect bound; 295 pages; illustrated with hundreds of photographs; 1997; Publisher: Brookledge Corp