Thursday, September 20, 2012

Deli Items & Floating Hats

I was walking down Easton Road in Glenside, PA after purchasing some deli items at O'Neill's Market... 

... 1/4 lb of Boar's Head Liverwurst, 1/2 lb of Boar's Head Ovengold Roasted Turkey, three Amoroso rolls, and two small containers: one of coleslaw, the other potato salad... when I came across a negative lying on the pavement. No, it wasn't a handwritten note saying, "Those pants make you look fat" or some other less than positive comment. It was a real negative, actual film, rarely seen today since everything has gone digital.

I hesitated... pick it up? ... or leave it and walk away?

Now what? ... do I keep it? ... or put it back on the ground where I found it?

With an umbrella in one hand, (predictions for a heavy downpour at any moment), a bagful of deli items and the negative in the other, I weighed all things and headed home.

It was now close to 2PM and my stomach was grumbling loud enough to disturb the neighbors. Intrigued with my 'find', I chose curiosity over hunger, put the deli items in the 'fridge' for later, and held my negative up to the window for some light and a quick peek.

The images appeared to be snapshots of some sort of family gathering. It's hard to read negatives, especially colored ones, where the colors have no correlation to the actual colors in real life. There were two people holding drink glasses in one photo, four people grouped together in a vertical pose in another, and smack in between both shots, was this picture of a seated man and... what looked like a floating hat! Really... A Floating Hat!

I can't say for sure what event these people were celebrating, but I strongly doubt the photos were taken during a magic show.

Ooooo... magic!

Remember Harry Houdini?

He fascinated me. Years ago, I read several books on Houdini and viewed a few films. It wasn't so much his tricks that intrigued me, but how he lived his life and magically reinvented himself. Born in Budapest, Hungary as Erik Weisz, later Americanized to Ehrich Weiss, claiming to be born in Appleton Wisconsin, he transformed himself from a poor immigrant, working as a messenger and garment cutter in a necktie factory, into Harry Houdini, the world's greatest stunt performer and escape artist of all time.

So when Michael and I found ourselves in Scranton, PA for a day, back in 2004, with no plans and time to kill, we were thrilled to learn that a Houdini Museum existed in town at 1433 North Main Avenue, but a little disappointed when we found it to be a small converted house in a residential area.

The museum wasn't what we expected nor was the policy of having to conjure up a magic word along with the price of admission in order to gain entrance into the premise, which from the lobby, looked and felt like someone's private home.

Hmmm... do we stay? ... or do we leave?

Unsure of our surroundings and circumstance, I timidly played along whereas Michael remained silent. 'Abracadabra' was my buzzword, "a fine choice", I was told by our female cashier. And with the words 'Open Sesame' delivered, either by me or acquiesced by Michael, doors swiftly opened and we were ushered into a small theatre, which soon became filled with patrons.

After a short movie on Houdini, a magic show was next. I was just getting comfortable in my seat when I was whisked on stage to become part of the act. This was not a good thing. I'm definitely more of a 'behind the scenes' type person... someone who can paint a good backdrop, but not memorize a script or perform in front of an audience. I have no idea why this magician, who also happened to be our cashier, would choose me. It certainly wasn't for my knowledge of magic, for which I had little, or originality of anything I said, unless 'Abracadabra' was the secret word of the day. Suddenly, I had flashbacks to my grade school days of silly costumes and forgotten lines. This was definitely not good.

Turns out the attractive magician / cashier was Dorothy Dietrich, famous in her own right, sometimes called the first lady of magic and the female Harry Houdini by other magicians. Here's Dorothy...

Before I could even say the magic word 'no'... Poof! my legs were moving like one of the 'Rockettes' while my arms waved some cloth, a wand, and a black hat. 'Shazam'... out of nowhere, there was a flutter of wings. Birds spontaneously appeared... live doves!!!... or maybe 'dove' singular.

The details are sketchy. It has been eight years. Unfortunately, the things I tend to remember most clearly are the embarrassing moments and luckily, for me, this was not one of them. I quite enjoyed myself and so did Michael, who was surprised and amazed with my 'hocus-pocus' routine and thankful to be seated during the performance and not on stage. In fact, the whole museum experience... movie, magic act, artifacts and history, photos, souvenirs and hospitality of the owners was absolutely magical!

Speaking of magical, 'Abracadabra' isn't gibberish as I once thought. I learned online, from Rabbi Matt Cutler, that it's an Aramaic phrase, avra kehdabra, and means, "I will create as I speak" or "I will create as I have spoken" and is used by a magician as a continuation of his appeal to suspend logic, as if to say, "Watch me do something unbelievable because I said I would".

Also unbelievable and coincidental, is that just two days before finding the mysterious negative on the street with the image of the floating hat, I found this great children's book in the library written and illustrated  by D. B. Johnson called 'Magritte's Marvelous Hat' based on the life and work of Surrealist Rene' Magritte.

Here is an image of the author / illustrator along with images from his book.

Here is a portrait of the artist Rene' Magritte and two of his works.

Notice the floating hats?

And these distinctive white 'ghost hats'... some 4,000 of them, part of an installation, created by the Japanese design firm Nendo to give contrast to the masterfully crafted hats by the famous milliner Aiko Hirata whose works were being shown in a retrospective exhibition at spiral Garden in Tokyo.

Enough on hats, except to clarify one thing... one big thing. That hat on the negative I picked up of the family gathering, upon closer inspection, while having a liverwurst sandwich with mayo on a roll with some deli slaw and potato salad on the side, wasn't 'floating' at all. Turns out the hat was being balanced on top of a stair railing and only appeared to float above the seated man's head.

Hmmm...'Smoke and Mirrors'... it's all magic to me.

Here are a few links you might find interesting:

Some hat facts here and here with a hat quiz here.

Some hat videos and more by Hat Academy here.

And well worth the trip if you're ever near Scranton, PA, the Houdini Museum here.

'Hats off' to me for completing my 12th post for this blog... Yea!!!

When was the last time you took your 'hat off' to yourself for something you did or were surprised by something you found... maybe while walking down a street?

Here's my idea of a magic hat.

Here's Michael's

T'hat's all for now. 


  1. Hats off to you for such a lively post. As I read about magic, out of the blue came a remembrance of my favorite Xmas gift ever. It was a "SNEAKY PETE" magic set. It came complete with tricks, materials, sayings and even a magicians hat. Within 2 months, I was celebrating my 8th birthday and decided to put on a magic show for my guests. It became the talk of the second grade. Of course my friends insisted that I tell them how to do some of the tricks.... To this day, I'm look for the element of surprise in the everyday, and include it in my gratitude journal.

    1. Hey 'Sneaky Pete'

      A magician at the age of eight... I can picture you as the great performer and the envy of all your classmates. Do you remember your magic act? I bet you still have a few tricks up your sleeve.

  2. I got a kick out of your experience at the Houdini Museum. Also enjoyed the interesting facts about hats.

    Magicians both amaze and annoy me. I am amazed by their incredible tricks and annoyed because I can't even begin to fathom how they do it!

    As a kid, I loved the annual showing of "Peter Pan" on TV with Mary Martin. I was absolutely sure that she was really flying,despite my parents telling me otherwise.

    1. Hey Bevo

      I love how you phrased your description of magicians being both amazing and annoying. It started me thinking about how many things amaze and annoy me at the same time like... people on cell phones while driving, people putting on makeup while driving, or people eating while driving. I'm sure I could find other topics to discuss that both amaze and annoy me, but I've barely touched the surface on this 'driving while doing other stuff' scenario. Honk! Honk!

    2. This is in response to your question: When was the last time you took your hat off to yourself? I'm not sure that this example is the latest but it is the biggest. It was when I completed the hike in the Grand Canyon, going from the South Rim to the North Rim and back again to the South Rim. It was a grueling, 5 day trek which I did at the age of 51. It took 6 months of going on monthly "prep hikes", each more difficult than the last, and weekly treks at a local park. In the beginning I thought I was going to have to drop out because of terrible pain in my knees (going downhill, not up)but gradually, I was able to reduce the pain and used the aid of walking sticks. When I reached the top of the South Rim at the end of the trek, I can't remember being more elated. I should have thrown my hat in the air but having worn a hat the entire time, I would've scared everybody with my horrible "hat hair"!

    3. Multiple hats off to you for completing that 5 day grueling adventure and a few extra hats thrown in for the 6 months of getting in shape prior to making the trek. AMAZING!

      Just walking 30 minutes up and down the block is plenty trekking for me. I can't even begin to imagine what you went through.

      Although, I can relate to the 'horrible hat hair'... very funny!