Houdini Feedback

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Dec 012013

William Pack is the consummate professional, before his actual presentation even begins! His response to the first contact made with him is not just timely, it’s speedy. To facilitate promotional publicity he offers the option of providing high quality bookmarks and posters, sent out well in advance of his program. On the day of the performance he arrives early so that all of his Houdini memorabilia (an extensive collection of photographs, news clippings, and actual lock and handcuffs like the ones used by Houdini) is on display for at least a half hour before the start of the program. Included is period music to enhance the ambiance.

Once the program begins it is immediately clear that William is not only in firm command of his material but that he is a superb storyteller as well. His facts are fascinating and his style of presentation serves to bring Houdini the man and the showman to life. The audience was even treated to hearing a rare recording of Houdini’s voice. William  enthralled viewers with a recreation  of some of Houdini’s actual tricks, one of which had everyone literally on the edge of their seats.

Prior to the conclusion of his performance, William made a strong endorsement for libraries in general, and for support of library special programming in particular. He was then available for any questions the audience cared to ask.

As a programmer, I strongly endorse William Pack as a presenter. I totally enjoyed the entire experience of working with William as well as viewing his Houdini, His Life & His Legend program. The audience was thoroughly entertained and voiced their appreciation of the show to me and other staff members. Treat yourself and your patrons to William’s presentation; I guarantee that everyone will have a good time, from the first contact to the end of the performance.

– Candice Lutz, Round Lake Area Library

Barrington Area Library Testimonial

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Oct 252013

Dear Mr. Pack,

 On behalf of the Barrington Area Library, we wish to thank you for an outstanding program on “The Haunting.” Our patrons raved about your excellent program.  We enjoyed your spine tingling tales and demonstrations with volunteers from the audience.  Some of the patrons asked me if the volunteers came with you!  We received many questions  about “how did he do that?”  Also, by using audience members, our patrons felt a part of your program. Many attendees commented how much they appreciated your setting the stage with props and lighting to convey a sense of mystery and mild horror.  Your skill as a story teller had us spell bound.  My colleague told me that he heard many gasps from the audience members during part of your stories and illusions. 

 Your program truly exceeded expectations and many patrons told me that they definitely want you to return with other programs.  They said this was the best mystery Halloween program! We are still trying to solve the mystery of the torn page from the Victorian mystery story collection.

 We thank you for your willingness to present an excellent program for our library.

 We wish you a pleasant weekend and many bookings,

 Eileen Gallagher, Adult Services Librarian

New Feedback

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Sep 202013

Thank you so much for presenting the program Houdini. You were interesting, knowledgeable, and a delight to watch. The program was fantastic. I would call it a perfect program. Your displays were superb. They were very professional and wonderful to view. The presentation was spectacular, whether performing Houdini’s amazing tricks or describing his life. The audience was mesmerized. As the patrons left, they told me how much they enjoyed the presentation and asked when I am having you back. This program is special and you have our deepest appreciation.
–Michelle Shapiro, Indian Trails Library, Wheeling, IL

The Discovery of Magic

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Jun 192013

Performed my new program, The Discovery of Magic, only for the 2nd time. In this program I tell stories of some of the amazing men and women in the world of magic. Many are related to the Chicago area. Here is my first feedback:

From: Mary Ann Lema
Subject: The Discovery of Magic was Fantastic!
Venue: Prairie Trails Public Library

All responses are on a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (terrific)
Office Responsiveness: 5
Promotional Materials: 5
William Easy to Work With: 5
On Time and Set Up: 5
Performance: 5
Value: 5
Audience Response: 5

The Discovery of Magic program was great. The patrons had a wonderful time.  The stories are full of rich details and the tricks are amazing. William is incredibly knowledgeable on history of magic, you can tell that magic is his passion.

Chicago’s First Magic Show

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May 272013

Winter forgot February. Throughout January, it raged. Unabated winds, dense snows, and bottomless cold all but stilled Chicago. In February, the rains came, swelling the river to an unusual volume and force. Chicagoans mostly entertained themselves in these bleak days. Nelson P. Perry, “a man of color,” spend a few weeks in town and was “at all times ready to furnish music.” The Chicago Democrat printed the news of the week.

Not yet a city and barely a town, Chicago needed a respite from the business of survival. It came in the form of a Mr. Bowers. He declared that he was a Professeurs de Tours Amusant. The fancy pigeon French aside, he was one of the early itinerant performers to visit the edge of the new Grand Prairie that the city opened up. He made our history by being the first professional performer to charge admission to exhibit in Chicago.

The 13th issue of the Chicago Democrat, February 18, 1834:

“Joy hath its limits. We but borrow one hour of mirth from months of sorrow.”
The ladies and gentlemen of Chicago are most respectfully informed that Mr. Bowers, Professeurs de Tours Amusant, has arrived in town and will give an exhibition at the house of Mr. D. Graves on Monday evening next.

Mr. Bowers will fully personate Monsieur Chaubert, the celebrated Fire King, who so astonished the people of Europe, and go through his wonderful Chemical Performance. He will draw a red-hot iron across his tongue, hands, etc. and will partake of a comfortable warm supper by eating fire-balls, burning sealing wax, live coals of fire and melted lead. He will dip his fingers in melted lead, and make use of a red-hot iron to convey the same to his mouth.

Mr. Bowers will introduce many amusing feats of Ventriloquism and Legerdemain, many of which are original and too numerous to mention. Admittance 50 cents, children half price. Performance to commence at early candle light. Seats will be reserved for ladies, and every attention paid to the comfort and convenience of the spectators. Tickets to be had at the bar.

Mr. D. Graves is Dexter Graves, one of Chicago’s founders. In 1833, He built an inn, Mansion House, on the north side of Lake Street near Dearborn. Many sources list this as block 18, but examining early Chicago maps show block 17 is near Dearborn.

Other than this advertisement, nothing is known of Mr. Bowers. I expect as more and more early newspapers are added to digital files we will learn addition information. We can we learn some from his ad.

It was not unusual to trade on the name of a more famous performer. At least, he gives credit. Chaubert had a disastrous tour of America and returned to Europe where he made his fame. Most of his, and Mr. Bowers’, stunts were common among the class of performers known as fire-eaters. While Mr. Bowers recreates the fire portion of Chaubert’s show, he leaves out the part where Chaubert ingested various poisons to no effect.

The probably didn’t use a ventriloquist dummy when he performed, most performers of this age didn’t. He may have used some simple hand puppets. Many performers had voices emanate from common household items. A saltshaker, a plate, a fork, each with its own voice and tale to tell. Perhaps he had a bottle of whiskey give a humorous discourse on temperance.

The magic at the time is also predictable. Tricks with eggs, such as a version of the egg bag, was common to performers. Card effects and coin effects, vanishes and productions, and the Cups and Balls filled out the repertoire of the traveling performer.

Mr. Bowers must have been a hit because immediately he, or more likely Mr. Graves, advertised a second day’s performance, on Wednesday February 24.


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May 232013

More kind words about Barnum and my performances in general:

“Bill was a perfectly wonderful performer! He was set up and ready in plenty of time to talk with patrons who came early. He was gracious and funny and easy to talk to. I think our audience was very pleased with the performance—since they were smiling and laughing and joking with Bill. Bill was great to work with and we are having back for the 4th time this October.” –Virginia Freyre, Algonquin Area Library

Houdini Feedback

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May 092013
Good afternoon Mr. Pack.  I want to thank you again for the performance last night.  It was a wonderful success.  A lot of people, of all ages came out.  It was a pleasure to have you here.  I have received so many emails and phone calls to say how great the program was.  Thank you again.  I look forward to  planning more events with you.
Audrey Klawiter
Lyon Public Library


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May 032013

Two new pieces of feedback:

After performing Barnum today at Sun City in Huntley the sponsor told me that I was the best presenter that they’ve ever had.

From Batavia Library, also after seeing Barnum:

“I recommended William at our quarterly library programmer’s meeting, but it wasn’t really necessary, as he already has an excellent reputation for quality shows.” –Lee Blakley

Thanks and keep spreading the word!

Chicago – Magic City

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Apr 192013

Chicago: Magic City

In Chicago there was always magic. No, that’s not more bluster coming from the windy city.

Consider this:

The first public entertainment by a professional performer was an exhibition of “amusing feats of ventriloquism and legerdemain.” You can look it up in the Chicago Democrat archives, February 24, 1834. Although at the time, Chicago was just a town not yet a city, but I think it still counts.

That’s not all…

Alexander Herrmann, first of America’s great magicians, made yearly trips to the city. He filled the best theaters, to rave reviews, which ensured him a profitable season.

The second of America’s magicians, Harry Kellar purchased his first show from the money he earned performing séances (with his partner William Fay) in Chicago. In an era where showmen advertised not only the feats to be seen, but also their show’s weight in tons, Kellar had the best illusions and the heaviest show in America.

Harry Houdini first hit the big-time here with some deft publicity and a pair of police handcuffs. Before his premature death, Houdini’s final appearance in Chicago was considered the greatest triumph of his career.

Extraordinary sleight of hand artist, Max Malini, magician to Kings and Queens, performer for Presidents and Generals, lived for a time at the once opulent Congress Hotel. He held court in the Florentine room where he performed for Al Capone.

Renowned for the grace of his performances, Theodore Bamberg, whose stage name was Okito, retired to the city. In retirement, Okito demonstrated magic at the State Street novelty emporium, The Treasure Chest, and manufactured elegant magic props that now command high prices by collectors.

All in Chicago, but wait, there’s more…

During Vaudeville, Chicago’s status as the nation’s transportation hub made it the natural place for performers to settle. Chicago Vaudeville theaters offered plenty hometown performing opportunities, from the low “break-in joints” for new acts to the high-class palaces for the experienced headliners.

When the motion pictures usurped Vaudeville, magicians moved into showrooms and nightclubs. The Empire Room at the Palmer House and the Boulevard Room at the Hilton showcased the best magicians of the era. In the outfit-controlled nightclubs, gangsters and their kibitzers supported magicians and marveled at their tricks, a legit cousin to their own criminal ruses.

Chicago’s large population provided ample opportunities for performing at social clubs, civic organizations, and private parties.

In turn, the city became base to many world-renowned professional magic shops and manufacturers. The numerous neighborhood novelty shops supplied fun-loving amateurs with an endless supply of tricks, pranks, and gags. Chicago had, perhaps, more magic shops than anywhere in the world.

In the 1970s, a Chicagoan took the magic pitch he saw in those stores to television. Marshall Brodien and his TV Magic Cards became a rage and inspired a generation of children to become magicians.

Chicago’s greatest gift to magic was Matt Schulien. Early in the 1920s, he conjured up a new way of performing magic, “the Chicago Style of magic.” When Carl Sandburg lovingly called Chicago a “stormy, husky, brawling” city, he unknowingly described Matt’s performances. His magic was visual, fast, direct, explosive, sometimes crude, and driven by his out-sized personality. He shattered the formal barriers between the performer and the audience. Once seen, Schulien’s magic was never forgotten and neither was the table-slapping, tear-inducing, chest-heaving laughter he elicited.

If Schulien was the heart of Chicago magic, Heba Haba Al was the spirit. Mentored by Schulien, Al became the original magic bartender. He expanded on and refined the rowdy style into pandemonium. From around the world, magicians would pilgrimage to a seedy bar on the north side of Chicago to see this imp and his nightly antics. These Chicago barkeeps taught magicians that the real secret of magic was not the trick, but the person behind the trick. Those performers who experienced the magic of Schulien and Heba went on to spread the gospel of the Chicago style.

In 1955, Jay Marshall, the single greatest repository of magic knowledge and a frequent guest on the Ed Sullivan Show, made Chicago his home. Jay and his wife Frances’ shop, Magic, Incorporated, became a Chicago institution and a gathering place for visiting magicians. If that were the only thing, you knew about the Chicago magic world that would be enough.

That alone made Chicago the center of the magic world.