Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, September 18, 2020


 The Captain and Tennille.


 The Magigals Mystery by "Maxwell Grant" (Walter B. Gibson), 1949

Chicago may have been the town Billy sunday couldn't put down but can it stand up to The Shadow?

After reading a Shadow adventure for last week's Forgotten Book (The Freak Show Murders, which see), I decide to continue with a couple more.  The Magigals Mystery takes near the very end of The Shadow magazines run -- this one is from issue #323 (Winter 1949) and there would be only two additional issues before the pulp closed.  Talk about going pout on a high note.  This one is the best adventure of The Shadow that I have read, a story written with enthusiasm and love.  The reason?  The background is the world of magicians and magic, a world that encompasses the author's greatest interest.

Gibson was a professional magician and a magic junkie.  He was a friend, a co-author, and a ghostwriter for many of the most famous magicians of the Twentieth century -- Houdini, Thurston, Raymond, Blackstone, and Dunniger.  Gibson received a literary fellowship from the Academy of Magical Arts in 1971 and was inducted into the Magicians' Hall of Fame in 1976.  In 1979 he was awarded the Academy of Magical Arts' Masters Fellowship. 

Gibson became interested in magic when he was nine years old and had a solo magic act when he was in high school and lter when he was on college at Colgate.  While in college he began writing tricks for different magic magazines.  The year before he graduated, Gibson joined the Society of American Magicians; his membership cared (#586) was signed by then-president Harry Houdini, who later became a good friend.  The year after he graduated, Gibson published his first book, After Dinner Tricks; he would go on to write more than a hundred books on magic and related subjects.  The book led to a gig performing magic tricks on radio station WIP in Philadelphia -- something not as easy as it may sound.  In 1925, he opened a short-lived magic shop in Philly.  He toured with noted magicians and continued producing books, articles, and publicity about the world of magic and its practitioners.  He introduced the Chinese Linking Rings trick to America and created the well-known Nickles to Dimes trick.  He also began writing fiction.

Gibson was approached to create stories about a mysterious radio character known as The Shadow.  At the time The Shadow was used only to introduce episodes of The Detective Story Hour, tales based on stories that had appeared in the Street and Smith magazine.  Soon, people began asking for "that Shadow magazine" at newstands with such regularity that the publisher decided to create one.  Gibson's pen name came from the last names of two dealers in magical paraphernalia; the name Cranston -- soon to become The Shadow's best-known alter ego alter ego -- came from the name of a theater owner in Scotland, which Gibson had found while going through Houdini's notes.  Gibson had churned out the first four Shadow adventures when he was called by Thurston to go to Bermuda for three weeks to handle publicity for a tour -- the fifth Shadow adventure was written in whatever spare time Gibson could take away from those duties.

Gibson loved to include magic in his stories and he made sure that any escape trick or magical trick that The Shadow did was as authentic as possible.  Many professional tricks made their way into The Shadow saga.  In at least one case, a trick that Gibson had created (the Tire Trick) for one of his stories was adapted and used by Blackstone and became a cornerstone of his act -- a trick still performed by Blackstone, Jr.

So, what about The Magigals Mystery?  The "Magigals" were a loose-based national group of female magicians who decided to throw a convention in Chicago.  Underestimating their own popularity, over 500 Magigals showed up for the convention to find there weren't enough hotel rooms to hold them all.  The women decided to drive out the staid guests at the Hotel Harbison with magic pranks.  Collapsing skeletons, room lights magically going on and off at odd hours, floating electric light bulbs, an invasion of rabbits and doves in the corridors and elevators, and phone calls from quacking ducks were enough to do the trick, and as each guest left, a Magigal was their to take his room.  One guest who did not leave was Lamont Cranston, who had been foisted upon the Chicago police at the request of Cranston's friend, New York City Police Commissioner Weston.  Chicago had had eight suicides in the past three days, all committed in different ways, but all involving men from out of town -- unrelated, well-to-do, apparently healthy men with no discernable reason to take their own lives -- and all evidence pointed to these deaths being actual suicided.  The evening Cranston arrived, there was a ninth suicide.

The Chicago police were firmly convinced that all deaths were suicides.  There was no motive and no commonality between the victims...nothing that could point to murder.  Until Cranston discovered that each man was an amateur magician.

Back to the Magigals and the Hotel Harbison.  A shop in the store displayed a crystal skull.  Perfectly see-through and made of a hard substance, the skull had the ability to move itself back and forth.  Although their appeared no mechanical device attaching the jaw to the skull, the skull could count;  when one held fingers in front of its garnet-embedded eyes, the jaw would open and close, clicking the exact number of times as the fingers held before it.  The skull had been recently sold to an unnamed buyer and awaited delivery.  Many of the Magigals were fascinated by the skull until attention was diverted by a famous and very handsome Hollywood magician named John Halifax.  Soon, all the women were swooning over Halifax, who had come to speak at the convention.  All women save one:  Verity Joyce, whose attention remained steadfast on the crystal skull.

Later that day, The Shadow discovers that the skull had been stolen.  He also discovers that "Verity Joyce" does not exist -- she is really Gail Tyburn, the estranged wife of local  millionaire and bigwig Lester Tyburn.  Tyburn has allowed his wife to use his estate to hold a large charity event.  Although his estate is outside city limits, he wants Police Inspector Rick Smedley to provide extra protection.  The recent suicides had all been very public and Tyburn is afraid that someone will decide to off himself at the function and bring bad publicity to the charity.  Did I mention that Tyburn has not seen his wife for several days?

In the meantime, Cranston, an amateur magician himself, takes some time off to visit Chicago's Magicians' Round Table,  a regular gathering of professional and amateur magicians at a local restaurant -- a place for the men and women (but no women today; they're all at the Magigals convention) to talk about their trade and its lore.  Cranston is introduced to those present (many of them real-life personalities).  There is Chick Schoke, Dorny Dornfield, Monk Watson, Larry Acuri, Doc Tarbell. Milbourne Christopher, Theo "Okito" Bamberg, Al Plough (editor of The Linking Ring), Walt Gibson (who was editor of Conjurors) -- yeah, Gibson threw himself into the crowd, Bill Sachs (magic columnist for Billboard), Rufus Steele (an expert on gambling devices), Johnny Platt, and Dai Vernon.  John Mulholland, editor of Sphinx, was running late.  (Try to guess how many are real people and colleagues of Gibson.)  Cranston proceeded to woe these magicians with paraphernalia found amongst the suicide victims -- one of a kind items that were most likely created by the reclusive and "untraceable" magician Professor Sedley Marsh.

The so-called suicides, the eerie crystal skull, the Magigals, the non-existent Verity Joyce, the mysterious Professor, the Hollywood magician, a gang of ruthless killers, and magic, magic, magic!  How does this all come together?  That's for the Shadow to know and you to find out.

A truly fun outing.  Alongside the mystery, danger, and outrageous plot plot, you can almost feel Gibson'd joy as he typed out this adventure.

Thursday, September 17, 2020


 We are fine.  Unscathed, even.  Well a piece of debris hit an outside faucet, breaking the handle and, in doing so, turned on the water.  I'm not sure how long it had been running before I found it and turned it off; I'll probably find out when the water bill comes in.  We lost neither our electrical power or our internet.

Christina had four window shutters torn off and an uncounted number of roof shingles.  she may need a completely new roof.  Water leaked down from the ceiling into Erin's bedroom.  Water also came in through some of the front windows.  Her back yard was flooded.  Trees came down in her neighborhood but her property was saved from that.  She lost her power for a while and the freezer in  her garage blew something -- some food may have been lost.  She has no internet at the house but can access it on her phone.

In Pensacola, Jessie's neighborhood was completely blocked off  by fallen trees and two large trees from neighboring properties fell into her back yard.  She lost power yesterday and has not gotten it back yet, so a lot of food will be ruined.  For some reason her cell phone is not working, although Amy's is.  Her neighborhood had some fallen trees and some mailboxes took to the air, but there was no major damage to life, limb, or property.

Areas of Pensacola -- including the downtown are -- were flooded.  It will be a while before there are full damage estimates.  The Pensacola Bay Bridge (a.k.a. The Three-Mile Bridge) from Pensacola to Gulf Breeze is closed.  A section of it is now missing.  This is a new bridge; the first half opened this spring and is temporarily used for traffic going both ways while the other half of the project is under construction.  I have heard that up to eight barges broke loose and slammed into the bridge.  At least one crane toppled onto the bridge and drone footage shows some small chunks missing from the side of the bridge.  This bridge was the only direct access we had to Pensacola.


 In the 1981 film version of Agatha Christie's Evil Under the Sun, Diana Rigg and Maggie Smith enter into a singing catfight, in which Daphne Castle (Smith) tries to ruin Alena Stuart Marshall's (Rigg) rendition of this Cole Porter classic.

A lovely and entertaining piece of film with two great actors.

Rest in peace, Diana Rigg.


 I don't know if the groundhog saw his shadow in 1949, but he may have listened to this program on .

Jewel thief and safecracker Boston Blackie was created in "The Price of Principle" (The American Magazine, July 1914), the first of twenty-three short stories by Jack Boyle (19228-1928) that were continued to 1920; the first four stories in the series were published as by "No. 6066."  While working as a newspaper reporter, Boyle became addicted to cocaine and began a slide into crime.  He was jailed for writing bad checks, then imprisoned for robbery at San Quentin, where he began writing his Boston Blackie stories.  Five years after his release, he cannibalized some of the stories to produce his lone novel about the character, Boston Blackie.

Boston Blackie became a detective for the movies, radio, and television.  From 1918 through 1949 there were twenty-five Boston Blackie movies released, the most popular being those starring Chester Morris, beginning in 1941.

Morris then took the character to radio in 1944 as a summer replacement for Amos 'n' Andy.  The show was revived in 1945 for syndication to the Mutual and other networks with Richard Lollmer in the title role.  More than 200 episodes were produced before the program ended in 1950.

From 1951 to 1953, Boston Blackie became a syndicated television show with Kent Taylor as Blackie.

In this episode, Mary Wesley (Jan Miner) asks Blackie to get her cousin's song published.  As you can glean from the title, things go wrong.


Wednesday, September 16, 2020


 In honor of a certain storm.

And this is what we've been going through:


 My brother thinks he's so smart.  The other day he told me that onions were the only food that can make you cry.  So I threw a coconut at him.