Shazam! What happens at magicians' convention?

One might have hoped for trick to make all the leisure suits in the hotel ballroom disappear. But the 1,000 or so people attending a recent magician's conference here appeared to be having a good time despite the lack of capes and tuxedos. With the likes of Mr. Fingers and Klamm the Magic Man appearing on stage, even the layman could appreciate the craft behind the art.

The group was assembled for the 53rd annual convention of the Society of American Magicians (SAM) -- the oldest magic association in the country. Formed in 1902 in the back of a New York City magic shop, SAM now boasts some 6,000 members -- second only to the 10,000-plus membership of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.

While everything from doves to "Zombie Balls" was disappearing during the four- day conference, one element remained -- the group's enthusiasm for magic. In a age that is hungry for lavish entertainment, magic appears to be coming into vogue once again. "Not since the days of vaudeville has magic enjoyed such popularity," says one observer, pointing to the number of new magic shows, museums, and clubs that have sprung up across the country in recent yearS.

On stage in the east ballroom, magician Don Ginn of Atlanta was hawking the tools of his trade. With his powder-blue sport jacket and floral print tie, Mr. Ginn could easily be selling Mixmasters or used cars. Instead, the hefty Georgian is aggressively pitching the "Appearing Candle," the "Wilting Flowers," and the $7 "Presto-Westo Wand."

"The wilting flowers, ladies and gentlemen, are adjustable," Mr. Ginn booms. "They wilt three ways. They come in different colors and are only $12 for a single bloom -- $27 for the bouquet." Audience reaction ranges from amusement to boredom. One man with a heavily waxed mustache asks his wife, "Are we ready to eat yet?"

Down the hall from the main ballroom, 43 magic manufacturers are wheeling and dealing in rubber masks, marked cards, and interlocking steel rings. One vendor wears a plastic rabbit clipped to his tie and what appears to be a wand piercing his head. Another dealer is persuading his customers, "These are the most beautiful silks around."

At a display table marketed "Kikuchi's Magic," a poker-faced Japanese magician wearing black horn-rimmed glasses demonstrates the gold-spangled "Fire Box" with a silk kerchief that refuses to ignite. The audience is rapt. One woman clutching her husband's hand, wears a "My Honey is Magic" button. Small boys with balloon animals twisted around their necks move through the crowd.

Behind Kikuchi gleams some of his other now-you-see-them-now-you-don't wares: "Cane to Flowers," and the "Milk Surprise." Also quite a surprise are the prices. An $80 tag on each gimmick keeps them from disappearing too rapidly. There are a few cheaper wares as well, however: sponge balls and sandwiches, "Twentieth Century Silks" ($27), and, of course, David Ginn's Feather Flowers.

Books on magic are as common as rabbits in top hats. Mr. Ginn, who holds a degree in journalism, has written 30 books on the subject himself.

One of the most popular features of the conference is a six-part lecture series by well-known magicians in which some of the performers disclose their top secrets. General Grant -- considered one of the best "dove magicians" around -- was cheerfully demonstrating how to secretly pull the rainbow-hued birds out of the pockets and sleeves of his tuxedo. "I've had to re-invent the pocket in order to get three birds in this jacket without it bulging," he says.

The audience coos its appreciation. Murmurs one spectator, "I can't believe he's giving this all away." Another hint from the general involves the birds' toe- nails. "They can be a real problem unless you keep them properly manicured ," he says. The magician also makes a pitch for his "General Grant Dove Bag" with its special fasteners -- "snaps and velcro won't do."

If nothing else, budding magicians are encouraged to pick up the lecture notes for $5. After the standing ovation at the gener al's conclusion, the sales desk is mobbed.

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