Magician's Assistant

From the time I was a young boy, my father had purchased magic tricks for me, taught me how to perform them and encouraged me to perform in public. By the time I was in high school we had a trunk full of magic tricks and illusions - even a rather convincing levitation. I had been performing as a magician for several years and enjoyed fooling and amazing people at birthday parties, on stage, in intimate groups -- whenever an opportunity arose.

Ramsey-Combest magicians
I'm the dork on the left!

My first full-time teaching job was at Kentucky Southern College in Louisville. The students worked very hard and we prepared a choir tour to New York City where we would perform at the 1964 World's Fair. On the way to New York and back we would stop for performances in hosting churches. The hosting church would provide an evening meal and housing for the various members of the choir. After our meal and concert, the church would often host a reception/party for the group. At one such after-concert gathering, I was to perform a short magic show.

William Ramsey Magician
William Ramsey Magician

One of my favorite tricks involved asking members of the audience to call out names of presidents. A selected member of the audience would write the names on small pieces of paper, fold the paper and drop the names in a hat. Another random member of the audience would reach in the hat and pull out a name, open the paper, place the paper against her/his forehead while I (the magician) would carefully cut out a silhouette of the president the person was thinking of and "telepathically" transmitting to me.

It is a very impressive trick and I had performed it successfully many times in a variety of settings. Here is the way it works: I select (apparently at random) a person to assist me in writing down the names and dropping them in the hat. This person is a part of the trick. No matter which name is submitted by an audience member, the assistant is supposed to write down Lincoln. I previously had lightly traced the profile of Lincoln on the newspaper as a guide for what I was about to cut.

Abraham Lincoln Silhouette

This particular evening I had asked Marshall A. Hill to assist. Marshall was a freshman and one of (if not the) most brilliant students I ever had the privilege of teaching. He came up on stage and played the part extremely well. When each name was offered, I would spell the name for Marshall and he would dutifully transcribe the name. In an ideal world, it would make no difference which name was drawn from the hat, because the assistant would have written Lincoln on each piece of paper!

Marshall Hill
(as a college freshman, 1962)

As I was cutting out the newspaper silhouette of Lincoln, Marshall approached me and giggled, "Uh oh. I think I didn't do it right." He had literally written each name that was called and the trick was a total failure.

Marshall Hill
Phyllis, Bill, and Marshall (recently)

Like physicians, magician's assistants should take the oath, "First, do no harm."

Marshall and I frequently laugh at that failure.

Needless to say, that was the last time I ever did that trick.

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