Saturday, April 6, 2013

Believe in Magic? Visit This Library!

Everyone finds their library enchanting, but the Conjuring Arts Research Center is a truly magical place. Housed in an undisclosed location in midtown Manhattan, the library is a hidden treasure of rare books, many of them secretly published, by magicians for magicians. A magician, William Kalush, founded the library in 2003.

Carrington, "Le Formidable Magicien," stares down at vistors to Conjuring Arts Research Center.

"I'd always had a healthy interest in the history of magic," Kalush told the Wall Street Journal, "and a few books and a few bookshelves over a short window turned into a lot of books. So I looked around one day and I realized that I had a pretty substantial personal collection, and I thought, 'I'm going to turn it into a foundation and make it accessible to people."

Anyone with a specific interest or query can access the Conjuring Arts Research Center by making an appointment; however, no browsing is allowed and visitors are supervised. Increasingly, the library is making more of its holdings available online. Trade journals, magicians' personal papers, and other items are being digitized and added to the library's online database, "Ask Alexander," named for a poster of a turban-wearing stage mentalist. Library members pay up to $500 annually for access to this database.

World-famous magician David Copperfield praised William Kalush's efforts to preserve and make accessible these usually elusive materials on magic. "He's made arcane and secretive knowledge that's been buried throughout time available to the people who need it," Copperfield told the Journal. "It's an enormous gift for the history of magic."

One of the books that's available to researchers at the magical library in midtown Manhattan.

The Conjuring Arts Research Center has over 15,000 books "dating from yesterday back to the late Medieval period," Kalush said in the Journal interview. The books are arranged in sections by topic, including mentalism, ventriloquism, hypnosis, escapology, sleight-of-hand, juggling, and cheating at gambling. There are volumes such as "Indian Rope Trick" and "Mnemonica," on memorizing cards. The books are kept on towering bookshelves in rooms furnished with antique tables and chairs, and the windows in these rooms are cloaked in heavy velvet curtains. Vintage posters of magicians adorn the walls.

In addition to published books, the library also features manuscripts, letters, pamphlets, and artifacts, such as a pair of handcuffs owned by Harry Houdini that are on display in a glass case. Materials are handled by a team of volunteers and interns, plus a staff of six. The head librarian, Jen Spota, has been playfully called "a Muggle." She said that Harry Potter references fly forth whenever she tells people that she works at a magical library.

For more about the Conjuring Arts Research Center, see the Wall Street Journal article HERE. The article contains a video interview of William Kalush that was recorded within the mysterious confines of the library.

* Top photo: CJSC/Flickr; bottom photo: Brian Smith/Wall Street Journal 

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