In 1917, five people with an interest in magic met at the home of Gus A. Doeright to form what would become one of the oldest groups of magicians in the world - the Youngstown Magic Club.
Robert Filips of Struthers is considered the leader and backbone of the club and has been attending meetings for 69 years. Filips performed his first magic show during the early 1940s at a going-away party at Taft Elementary School in Youngstown for the first draftees of World War II from the Mahoning Valley before joining the club in 1943.
"Harry Tutter, who was one of the original members, and I became friends," Filips said. "I remember June of 1943 when he pulled into my driveway, knocked on my door and said, 'We are going to the Youngstown Magic Club meeting.' This moment started 69 years of going to magic club meetings."
Special to the Tribune Chronicle
Niland Herbkersman is shown at a Youngstown Magic Club meeting with his magic snake in a basket.
Nick Verina of Niles, past president, has been a member of the club for more than 40 years and a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians since 1971. The Youngstown Magic Club is a chapter of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, a worldwide organization of magicians and enthusiasts devoted to magic as an art.
"The International Brotherhood of Magicians calls their individual club locations Rings because of the Chinese linking rings used in magic, linking all these places together all over the world," Verina said. "We are Ring 2, which is one of the oldest."
According to Gary Morton, president of the Youngstown Magic Club and resident of Leavittsburg, the International Brotherhood of Magicians originally started out as an organization for amateurs. Now the group includes both amateurs and professionals.
Morton started performing magic during the late 1970s. He is an award-winning magical entertainer and has been a member of the Youngstown Magic Club since 1990.
"I love doing close-up magic that happens in the hands of the spectators," he said.
Morton said the Youngstown Magic Club holds a meeting once every month. This gives members a chance to share what effects and illusions they have acquired and gives members a chance to critique each other.
"We help our members hone their magic down so it's entertaining," Morton said. "You have to combine magic with entertainment."
Verina said it's about developing tricks with everyday items.
"Magicians who are impressive work with everyday items like pencils and money, creating illusions with those items," he said.
"People will sometimes buy tricks. With tricks, you know the secret already and therefore, it is not magic.
''In the Youngstown Magic Club, we encourage our members to practice constantly and to create their own style. You have to make the illusion work for yourself. It's how you present magic that makes it seem real,'' Morton said.
The Youngstown Magic Club has members who are doctors, engineers, lawyers, veterans, photographers, graphic designers, professors and golf pros. Some club members are even students in high school and college.
"The club has about 35 to 40 members and has a huge variety of people," Filips said. "Once you are inside our meetings, everyone has a common interest in magic. Members leave their titles outside, and they are magicians once they are at our meetings."
"We bring in guests lecturers to our meetings," Morton said. "Some of the guest lecturers we had over the years are big names in magic, including Howard Thurston, Harry Blackstone Sr. and Harry Blackstone Jr."
But the big names of magic aren't limited to just the guest speakers.
"We had some notable magicians who were members of Ring 2, including Delbert Raymond Petrosky (known as Del Ray) from Hubbard," Verina said. "Del Ray made an appearance on the famous variety show 'The Ed Sullivan Show,' and he has performed at every top club in the United States up until he died in 2003. He was a wizard and made all of his props. He never divulged his secrets."
"Del Ray was given an award in Washington as a National Treasure in Magic," Morton said.
"Another famous magician that was a member of the Youngstown Magic Club was Johnny 'Ace' Palmer, who grew up in Cortland. Palmer is the only close-up magician who has won the World Championship of Magic. This is the Olympics of magic and it is held every three years."
"By seeing these top magicians, you learn what to do in your performance, as well as what not to do," Verina said.
Morton said the club also includes magic enthusiasts, who love to read and research magic and its history. Morton said the club is open for performers and those who are just passionate about the topic of magical arts. He said you don't necessarily have to be a performer to join the club.
For Filips, though, as an honored longtime member, the magic continues.
"This is my 69th year in the club. Magic is a common language that any culture can relate to," he said.