The History of the Mystics
I. The Early Years
In suburban NY sometime between the end of the Second World War and 1948, several magicians living on mostly undeveloped Long Island began to hold casual meetings to exchange tricks, ideas and magic stories. Meeting on a semi-regular basis in local restaurants and their homes, the group included a melange of retired professionals, business executives, and military men serving out of Mitchel Field Air Force base.
By 1949, the still-informal group had adopted the name The Long Island Mystics. By that time, the club had grown to the sixteen members now considered the “Founding Members”:
Bill Arenholz of Brooklyn, who performed a snake basket routine as “Foo Ling Yu”;
Sid Barlow, an insurance tycoon who often served as M/C and comedian for Mystics’ shows;
Ed DePalma, a labor-relations specialist with Sperry, and a magic buff who dropped out of the club early on;
Lou Ostreicher, like DePalma, a labor-relations specialist with Sperry. Lou remained in the club until his death;
Fred Daragh, described as a flamboyant “P.T. Barnum”-type, Fred stayed with the club often hosting the early meetings at his home, until his retirement to Florida.
Peter Ernst, a Boy’s Club counselor and coach of a championship basketball team, who also worked as a jewelry manufacturer and printing shop operator;
Dr Jublow, a local MD;
“The Mitchell Field Contingent, aka AF Colonels Wilson, Johnson and Hinkel . Wilson dropped out of the club early on. Johnson & Hinkel remained devoted supporters until they were transferred to Europe;
Carl Rosini, the world-famous but retired professional magician. According to other members, Carl remained a salesman until his death, always promising “special for you” prices;
Fred & Rita Rothenberg, who together performed as “The Redhills” and were best known for their Snowstorm in China illusion;
Larry Shean, described as the busiest man in magic, and long-regarded as one of the most dependable magicians, he was responsible for many of the legendary Mystics’ dinner shows. Larry remained a member until his death in 1994. His legacy lives on through his wife Georgia Kondos Shean, who remains an active member fifty years later.
George Sheefe, who performed as “Georgie Trix” and “George the Juggler”. Loved by all who knew him, he was forced into early retirement by ill health;
Charles Wells, described as a classical English gentleman, Charles was friends with many of the greatest names of magic, including Thurston, Cardini, and Blackstone;
Dr. John Warren, who started out as a coal miner and became the pastor of the Christchurch Episcopalian Church in Oyster Bay, was known as much for his fine sleight-of-hand as his great speaking voice.
Over the next three years, the club existed as a relaxed group of magic aficionados but that would soon dramatically change. In 1951, responding to an offer by AF Colonels Wilson, Johnson and Hinkel to provide a regular meeting place at the Mitchel Field Air Force Base, the club formalized and elected Sid Barlow as its first club president.
Barlow, who excelled as an organizer, was apparently an excellent choice to lead the foundling group into respectability. By the end of his two-year term, his guidance had led to the establishment of numerous club policies, by-laws and committees overseeing Entertainment (chaired by Shean), Admissions (Barlow), Educational Direction (Arenholz & Rosini) and Outside Shows (Ernst). A club fee structure was instituted, including a one-time application fee of five dollars, and a dollar fee charged for every meeting attended. A lifetime membership was also available for $25.
In January, 1953, the club was meeting the first Thursday of the month at the Flagstone Restaurant on Franklin Ave in Hempstead. Many of the members found they had not had an opportunity to eat before the meeting, so an arrangement was made with the restaurant. For an additional $1.50 per person, the Flagstone would provide the member with supper. The dinner tabs for bona-fide magicians who were invited guests would be picked up by the club.
The earliest recorded mention of the Long Island Mystics performing as a group was on April 24, 1953 at the Lynbrook, NY Lion’s Club. A crowd of 250 people were entertained by an all-Mystic roster of Sid Barlow, Foo Ling Yu, Peter Ernst, The Redhills, Bruno Beltrami, George Sheefe and Dr. Warren.
Two months later, on June 29 Mystic members put on a show for twenty-eight patients at the Mitchel Air Force Base hospital. Performing were Peter Ernst, The Redhills, Sid Barlow, Geo Jason, Bruno Beltrami and Ed Begley. Mr. Begley, a well-known actor (and father of actor Ed Begley Jr.) was living near the base in Merrick at the time and while his connection with the Mystics is unknown, it was not uncommon for stars to make guest appearances at such events.
In July, the club’s ranks increased by one with the admission of the first member to join the club since its inception. Arno X. Arnold, a professional club magician well-known for his rhyming patter, was introduced to the club by long-time friend and Founding Member Carl Rosini.
Before President Sid Barlow turned over control of the club to his successor, Col. George Johnson, he appointed two more special committees: Publicity (chaired by Leonard Uman) and Good & Welfare (Rita Rothenberg).
Later that year, the Mystics held the third of what would eventually become an annual tradition for many years - a dinner dance. That year’s celebration was held on a cold November evening at the Base Officer’s Club at Mitchel Air Force Base.
There are no records of dinner dances during the next two years, (nor are there any for the first two dances in ’51 and ’52) but by 1956 the celebration had been moved to Koenig’s Restaurant, and had grown to include a magic show by a celebrity performer. Not content to settle for anything but the best, that year’s guest star was the great Slydini.
Over the next few years the annual dance changed locations from Koenig’s to Cookie’s restaurant in Hempstead.
II. The 1960’s
On November 12th, 1960, the “Ninth” Annual Dinner dance was held at the New Hyde Park Inn. That evening, a special show titled “A Martian at the Mystics”, was produced by club member J. Marberger Stuart. According to the program for that evening, scheduled to appear were Mr. Stuart, The Rectors, Arno X. Arnold, Sid & Elaine Marlo, Patricia Bayne, Georgie Trix (who juggled), and M/C Roy Miller. Also on the program was someone billed as the “Greatest Magician on Mars” named “XZY4GHTZY8WQ”, who arrived “by flying saucer” and later performed a “Martian Illusion”.
In 1961, ten years after they had officially formed, President Roy Miller and the Long Island Mystics took a significant step in the club’s history when it was accepted for membership as Assembly #77 of the national organization the Society of American Magicians. In celebration of this achievement, the 1961 Dinner Dance, held at the Garden City Casino Restaurant, was even grander than usual, and featured the magic of special guest the Amazing Randi.
During this time, the club’s monthly meeting place had bounced from restaurant to catering halls, and frequently the homes of members. By November of 1964, the club had relocated to Duke’s Restaurant on Jericho Turnpike in Mineola, where they would essentially remain for the next two years. The growth in the club’s membership, however, drove them to seek out larger, if not necessarily cheaper, accommodations.
Finally, in December of 1966, the club landed in what would become its primary home for the next 17 years - American Legion Post 1033 in Elmont, NY. Even as the club’s roster continued to increase in size, the various rooms of Post 1033 would serve them well. The club initially paid $15 a month for the use of the facility. (By the mid-1970’s the rental fee would rise to an average of $30 per month, including refreshments.)
Before moving to Elmont in the winter of ‘66, however, the club members attempted to start another tradition that summer. Not content to wait for their annual affair in November, the Mystics held an August picnic at the home of Founder Dr Warren. The Warren’s hosted the picnic for three years, before it was moved to Salisbury Park in 1968.
The Annual dinner dances found a semi-permanent home as well in New Hyde Park, although it would be held at the New Hyde Park Elk’s Club from ‘63-‘65 and the New Hyde Park Inn from ‘66-’69.
In April of 1968, President Larry Seman proposed a new “skull” logo for the symbol of the new executive board. Nicknamed “Skullduggery” by the membership, the logo, and the name, never gained widespread acceptance.
A program that was, however, implemented with more success was the decision to have the club purchase new commercial effects for review. Each month the club would buy a new trick (up to $10) and give it to a club member to demo the following month. It would then be raffled off at the monthly meeting.
On May 13, 1969 Mystics member, J. Marberger Stuart of Plainview, along with his wife Marjorie, wrote and produced an off-off-Broadway play called “Make Me Disappear” which, in spite of relatively good reviews, had a brief run at the Mercury theatre on E 13th St. in NY City. Interestingly, featured along with the eighteen-person cast was a 1900-pound elephant called Champagne, and three characters described in the program as “martians.” It is not known whether one of them was the same martian who had performed at the Mystics’ Dinner Dance in 1960, but one can only conjecture.
In recognition of the club’s 20th anniversary, a brief overview of the LI Mystics history was presented and warmly received at the June 1969 meeting.
III. The 1970’s
The third decade of the club, would be one of change. Unable to obtain a permit for the annual picnic at Salisbury Park, the Mystics were forced to move the 1969 summer party to the Roslyn Air National Guard Base.
In October of that year, the club meeting day was switched to the 2nd Thursday of each month, and the annual dues reached $13, eight dollars of which went to the National organization. In addition, a $1 fee was still being charged at each meeting..
The last Mystics’ Dinner Dance to be held at the New Hyde Park Inn would take place that November. From 1970-72, the venue was changed to Karl Hoppl’s Restaurant in Salisbury Park. Always generous to the club, the restaurant even made special arrangements one night in April 1971 to allow a regular monthly meeting to be held there when the American Legion Post was temporarily unavailable.
The Mystics helped stage an All Star Spectacular Benefit Magic Show at Clara Carlson School Auditorium in Elmont, NY for the West Nassau YMCA and the Houdini Hospital Fund on June 26, 1970. Scheduled performers included: Steve Rodman, Sam Winiger, Bill Strong, Larry Seman, Angelo Genna, Jerry Callahan, Charles Topping and Leo Serber.
In 1971, the meeting date was changed by popular demand to the 2nd Tuesday of each month. Dues were also increased to $25, with the club receiving $15 and $10 going to the SAM.
MUM magazine, the official publication of the Society of American Magicians produced a special issue in April of 1971 devoted to the Long Island Mystics, and containing tricks and articles written by Mystic members. (There is some reference to dedicated issues also having been produced in 1966/67 and 1972, but this is unconfirmed).
In October of 1971, Nassau County Executive Eugene Nickerson, proclaimed the last week of October “Magic Week “ at the request of the Mystics.
The following year, the Mystics stopped collecting the National dues, and allowed members to pay them directly. After much discussion, a new fee structure was agreed upon that raised the dues to $20 annually and included a $10 application fee for new members. As a concession, the $1 per meeting charge was eliminated. This would be the last dues increase for thirty years.
Monthly meetings were usually preceded by business meetings, during which guests and other non-members would be asked to wait outside the room. As the business meetings grew lengthier, often due to heated discussion about club policies and plans, guests often grew tired of waiting and complained or left. In an effort towards better public relations, the club started a new practice whereby guests would be entertained in another room by a club member during the business part of the meeting. After a series of meetings with no guests made it unnecessary, the practice was stopped and apparently forgotten.
In March of ’72, the monthly meetings moved to the Quiet Village Nightclub in Levittown. Owned by a club member, the Mystics remained there (even after the nightclub’s name changed to Habitat in ’73), until returning to the Elmont American Legion Post in March of 1974.
In late 1974, at the suggestion of President Larry Seman, the Mystics invited a group of five teenagers to present their full stage show “Magic at its Best” at the club’s monthly meeting in Elmont. The show, originally a charity fundraiser, was produced and led by fifteen year-old Pat Darienzo who, 24 years later, would become club president.
Ironically, Pat had been inspired three years earlier after seeing Mystic member Steve Rodman perform at a cub scout dinner. Steve made headlines with his own charity magic show in 1970 when a benefit he had staged was robbed of all proceeds. Twenty-five years later, Steve would go on to found and produce the “Magic on Manhattan” series of one-day magic conventions in New York.
A controversy rocked the Mystics in early 1975. Two-time Mystics’ past-president Tony Spina, who was a co-owner of Louis Tannen’s Magic Shop in Manhattan, had just produced their 12th Annual Jubilee. Several members of the Mystics, led by member Roy Miller, drafted a letter to Tannen’s protesting the admission of non-magicians to the lectures. It was their opinion that attendance should be limited to members of established magic clubs, and not everyone who attended the Jubilee.
Tony, who felt the club members had forgotten their beginnings, found himself in an awkward position. In response, he regretfully chose to resign from the club rather than become enmeshed in the controversy. (Ironically, Tony Spina would be elected Magician of the Year in 1984 by the Society of American Magicians.)
The Jubilee fuss and the manner in which it was handled led to continued hard feelings, and eventually led to the resignation of Roy Miller, who subsequently helped found the Baldwin, NY ring of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.
Photo of Reinhold Jablow, a Charter Member (Far Left) graciously supplied by
his Grandson Ryan Lilienthal.