Think You Know The Best of The Cultural Mile? | Transfixed by Centuries-old Mystery

8 December 2017

1000M is more than a little bit magical. With otherworldly views and transcendental interior and exterior design, the 1000M experience has an enchantment all its own … so it’s no surprise that the neighborhood is seeped in Chicago’s rich history of magic, entertaining trickery and mysterious spectacle, as well. During the Golden era of modern magic in the late 19th and early 20th century, Chicago was alive with magical performances from the likes of celebrity magicians Alexander Herrmann and Max Malini, who astonished audiences in 1000M’s neighborhood.

The allure of magical performances is alive and well today, too, as we learned from Sean Masterson a Chicago-based magician and author of a blog that celebrates the history of magic. “I became interested in magic at seven and was performing by 12,” Masterson said. “No magician really starts as an adult. You must have a certain type of curiosity that you can’t grow into,” he added of the magician’s persona.

Chicago magician and mentalist Dennis Watkins had a similar experience. The third generation in a family of magicians, he became interested in magic as a child. “Magic was very different from anything my friends were doing. Magic gave me an outlet that was unique.”

Alexander Herrmann: “Herrmann The Great”

Alexander Herrmann, a renowned magician better known as “Herrmann the Great,” began showing interest in magic when he was eight and was soon performing as his older brother’s assistant at performances. Just up the street from 1000M, Herrmann, hosted an extravagant party in 1894 at the Auditorium Hotel (in what is now Roosevelt University), celebrating his 35th year in show business. The party included his famed magic tricks and a 20-course French dinner that began at the stroke of midnight.

0th floor banquet hall of the Auditorium Hotel
Herrmann likely held his midnight feast at the 10th floor banquet hall of the Auditorium Hotel.

“Alexander Herrmann’s appeal was not spectacle, but humor and charisma,” explains Masterson, distinguishing Herrmann from performers more in the realm of Vaudeville, like Harry Houdini.

Constructed between 1886 and 1889, the Auditorium Hotel was Chicago’s Civic Center, hosting theater and opera. Designed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler, the Auditorium’s undeniable grandeur was an apt space for an evening of grandiose celebration.

Max Malini Master Illusionist

An admirer of Herrmann’s and one of Masterson’s favorite magicians, Max Malini also delighted 1000M’s neighborhood; he performed at The Congress Plaza Hotel. He was known for close-up magic that captivated his audiences; politicians, including Presidents, royalty and notable families like the Vanderbilts sought out his performances.

A spectacular showman, Malini traveled broadly but considered Chicago, the city where he became an American citizen, his home.

Max Malini
Famed magician Max Malini was known for close-up magic.

Modern Day Magic Parlour

While tarot card reading and other forms of mysticism are trending again, the golden era of magical performances is seeing a new glow with a strong community of magicians in Chicago and opportunities for spellbinding tricks that are still readily available in the 1000M neighborhood.

“As an art form, magic is definitely timeless,” explains Watkins. “We magicians certainly have to work to stay relevant. And, with all the knowledge in the world available to our audiences on their smartphones, we have to work to find new ways of being magical. But, people still want to be amazed. People still need to wonder.” He added, “I think that Malini or Herrmann could still attract audiences if they were with us today.”

Watkins hosts Magic Parlour, an evening of magic and mind-reading at the Palmer House, a historic building in 1000M’s neighborhood. “From the moment you walk into the unbelievable lobby, you feel like you’ve entered a different world at the Palmer House. In my mind, there’s no better place for (Magic Parlour) than a grand, historic building like the Palmer House.”

Watkins adds, “The thing that makes performing magic in Chicago special is most certainly the eagerness of the audiences. Their willingness to sit and imagine and suspend their disbelief makes my job a total joy.”

Dennis Watkins at the Palmer House
Dennis Watkins performs at the Palmer House. Photo by Michael Brosilow

Dennis Watkins performs Magic Parlour most Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and 9:30 pm. A full schedule can be found on the Magic Parlour website.

Sean Masterson will be appearing in SPACE and the Timeless Magic Show at Skokie Theater this month. Check his website for a full list of upcoming shows.

Follow us @1000MChicago.