For those in search of April Fools trickery, Eagle Magic in Burnsville has almost as many pranks and jokes as magic tricks: “snap snots” that can sail across the room, vintage cans stuffed with spring-loaded snakes, even itching powder and cigarette loads that explode.
“Things go bang, they smell bad, they shock, they snap,” said Larry Kahlow, the shop’s owner.
Finding the shop, tucked away in a commercial building on County Road 11, is a trick in itself. Eagle Magic moved from its downtown Minneapolis location seven years ago and is now marked only by a tiny sign. It maintains the same setup inside as its old downtown store — showcases crammed with pranks and jokes on one side, magic on the other, and plenty of room for the seller to demonstrate.
The shop, in existence since 1899 — the oldest magic shop in the country, according to Kahlow — is part store, part museum of pranks, trickery and illusion.
There are vintage gag gifts in cases and antique lithographs of tent show magicians. There’s a desk from the 1880s where, according to Kahlow, Harry Houdini once sat. Kahlow keeps copies of “The Eagle Magician,” a magazine put out by original owner Collins Pentz in the early 20th century. A cabinet of curiosities is packed with items like autographed cards from the Magic Castle, a private Hollywood, Calif., club where magicians perform.
What’s for sale in the crowded cabinet depends on Kahlow’s mood.
“Some of it is [for sale], some of it isn’t,” he said. “I would just have to decide at that time.”
Growing up with magic
Kahlow started going to Eagle Magic in the 1950s as a 10-year-old boy. One of the three women who manned the counter sold him his first trick deck of cards and then told him, “There’s the door.”
They weren’t mean, he said, just preoccupied.
“They would sit in the backroom at a card table and play cards and eat cheese sandwiches and drink Pabst Blue Ribbon in little Dixie cups,” said Kahlow. “They’d pop one can and share it.”
He kept coming back.
“I knew when I was 15, this was what I was going to do,” he said.
He brought tricks to school, and while some teachers asked him to put them away, others had him perform for the class. He soon started performing for pay, and his father said if Kahlow could make money doing magic tricks, he could afford to buy his own shoes.
“So that’s what I did,” he said, grinning. “Which teaches you something right there: Maybe it’s better to be quiet.”
Kahlow started working at Eagle Magic in 1970, and he bought the business in 1976.
Lots of famous people, or those who would later become famous, stopped in throughout the years. He sold Steve Martin a couple of arrow-through-the-head illusions. The Amazing Kreskin, a magician, would come into the store when he was in town with the circus. Kahlow has a picture taken with Muhammad Ali, who spent about six hours there in the early ’80s.
It was always a lively spot, he said. Chefs would drop in and do cooking demonstrations alongside magic performances. The bail bondsman on the corner bought pranks like fake dog poop or the dollar snatcher and used them out front on unsuspecting customers.
“It was always something happening every day,” Kahlow said. “What I’ve missed a little bit is the hoopla associated with the street.”
Moving to Burnsville
When the Sexton Building in Minneapolis converted to condos, Kahlow said he had to move, and his customers helped move him to the Grain Exchange Building. But the rent kept going up, and he had to move again a few years later, with the help of customers, to the current location.
“A lot of these magic shops have gone by the wayside,” said Barrett Solberg, an insurance agent and magician, a shop regular. He recently stopped by intending to buy sponge bunnies and got talked into several additional items, adding that he often stops by to pick up pointers, too.
“There’s a stereotype that magicians are secretive,” he said. “There’s nothing that makes a magician’s day [more] than passing on these skills.”
Kahlow, who also performs and teaches classes, agrees that strongholds like this one are rare. But he’s made it work.
Kahlow doesn’t advertise. He’s not keen on technology. He doesn’t have a computer at the shop and only started accepting credit cards last year. His catalog business from the 1970s through the 1990s “got beat up with online presence,” he said.
“I’ve never bought anything online, and I’ve never sold anything online, and I don’t plan on it,” Kahlow said. “I’m not complaining because I’ve managed to survive by doing it my way. I’ve always had a good time with this. I’ve never had a bad day. Not many people can say that.”
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.