Sunday, August 01, 1999

Klosterman's collection of magic is second to none

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Ken Klosterman is leaning on a marble-topped Egyptian sacrificial table, surrounded by thousands of pieces of magic memorabilia, trying to figure something out:

        “Which piece is most important to me? Ooooh. That's like asking which of my kids I like best. I don't know where to start.”

        That's understandable. Mr. Klosterman, as in Klosterman Baking Co., is standing amid his passion — one of the largest private collections of magic memorabilia in the nation.

        “For size, it's one of the two largest,” he says. “But you know what thrills me? Magicians consider it the most important historical magic collection in the country.”

        He calls it the Salon de Magie, a 2,500-piece collection he has been assembling since the late 1960s — tricks, costumes, handbills, posters, props, even theater seats.

        And books: 7,000, some from the 1600s, fill dark wood shelves. The library, with pewter gargoyles peering down and air filtration equipment humming, is so complete that it's one of the stops for magicians around the world researching new tricks. David Copperfield, Harry Blackstone, Penn & Teller, the Pendragons, Night Court's Harry Anderson have all studied here.

        And so, probably, will the five magic acts coming in to work their wonders at Abracadabra (five performances, Aug. 20-22), the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park fundraiser he founded nine years ago and still oversees, making sure only the best acts available are booked.

        This is the basement of the home Ken Klosterman shares with wife Judy, a sprawling three-bedroom log house in Goshen, sitting on 235 acres of pasture and rolling lawns.

        Idyllic, a paradise really. But it's not what Mr. Klosterman likes to show off. The Salon is his world. Follow him down down 13 steps into a dimly lit foyer and he's ready to give you a tour.

        “The Salon is 83 feet down, in an abandoned salt mine,” he says as he steps into a paneled elevator. It's a fake. It shakes and rumbles to give the illusion of descent, but doesn't go anywhere because the basement is really, well, just a basement and far from 83 feet down.

        “Something for drama,” he says with a wink.

        The elevator doors open to a stone passage that curves to a blank wall. A hidden door creaks and presto! you're in a Victorian parlor crowded with small tables, glass cases and four walls of crowded shelves.

        A 30-seat theater, all in reds and greens with a fully equipped stage and elaborate lighting grid sits to the right, ready for a show.

        “I love this parlor. Judy used to be in the antique business, and she found the furniture — hand-carved wing-back chairs, a hall seat, assorted tables.

        Everything in the room belonged to one of the big magic names of the past.

        • Here are five cards signed by Harry Houdini. His handcuffs, leg irons and pick kit lie nearby. The belt buckle he was wearing when he died hangs on the wall. They're flanked by rose bushes that grew magically during his act.

        • There's a large silver cone Alexander Hermann used to make just about anything disappear.

        • An early box (1930s) that the Great Thurston used when sawing women in half — and his floating silver ball, the one that lifted itself off tables and hovered in front of him.

        • Over there, on a glass table, sits Harry Kellar's vanishing lamp. Throw a cloth over it and it disappears.

        Cool. How's that work?

        “Very well, thank you.”

        No point in asking Mr. Klosterman for the secret. He's as quiet as the gargoyles in his library.

        Over here, against the wall, looms a large hall seat with floor-to-ceiling mirror. “It came out of a Victorian brothel, then was used in Newport during prohibition,” he says, reaching for a hidden knob.

        The mirror swings back and presto! again. You're in an Egyptian tomb complete with 8-foot sacrificial table, 7-foot sarcophagus and two rows of hieroglyphics. Painted by a local Egyptologist, they tell the story of Mr. Klosterman's life.

        “You asked about my favorite piece. This might be it,” he says, pulling out a small gold and crystal casket, its beveled edges reflecting the light. “Napoleon once owned it, then it went to Robert Houdin, the father of modern magic.

        Houdin converted it to an illusion where he'd pluck coins from the air, throw them at the casket and it would fill with coins ... while still closed.”

        Wow. How's it work?

        “Very well, thank you.”

        One half-wall here is lined with six glass shelves full of ball vases. They are all versions of the trick in which a magician puts an egg in the vase, waves a wand and a mini cannon ball comes out. Or grain, dice, corn, anything but an egg. Most are from the 1880s to 1910.

        “If the casket isn't my favorite, this is,” he says, unlocking one of the glass cases lining the tomb's rear wall. He pulls out a wooden doll in a red velvet dress. Dating to 1793, it's his oldest piece. The doll accepts coins, ducks into its dress and poof. It's gone and so are the coins, only to reappear in a box a few feet away.

        Cool. How's it work?

        “Very well, thank you.

        “Now look at this,” he says, pointing to a red Chinese cabinet. He bangs a gong three times, the cabinet swings out and presto! again. You're in the library.

        Two of the books are dear to him, and so rare only one other copy of each is known to exist: 1654 and 1665 editions of Reginald Scott's Discovery of Witchcraft. The British Museum has the only other copies. The rest were burned hundreds of years ago when witch hunts were still politically correct.

        “What makes this book so important is that 90 percent of the tricks, even the ones today, are here in one way or another.”

        You mean it tells how all these things work?


        Cool. How do they work?

        “Very well, thank you.”


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