Bob Sims is a Mason who raises the magic of Freemasonry to a different level. A member of North Shore Lodge No 7916, Bob is also a member of the Magic Circle and he fascinated and amazed an audience of Masons and non-Masons after a regular meeting of his lodge when he gave a talk on the ‘Magic Circle and Freemasonry’, describing how membership of the Magic Circle bears a close resemblance to that of Freemasonry.
Plunging with little preamble into the main topic of his discourse, Bob related how the structure and progression through the degrees in Freemasonry was adopted as a blueprint for membership in the Magic Circle; proposed and seconded by existing members of the circle, a period of apprenticeship to qualify as an associate of the Inner Magic Circle and, rising through merit to a full membership of the Inner Magic Circle. Little wonder that the society’s structure reflects that of Masonry for many of its founding members in 1905 were not only prominent magicians but also Freemasons. The motto of the society is ‘indocilis privata loqui’, roughly translated into ‘not apt to disclose secrets’. All Masons can identify with those words.
Bob presented a captivating account of the growth of the Magic Circle and spoke in some detail about two of the most famous magicians who were also Freemasons; Chung Ling Soo and Harry Houdini.
Chung Ling Soo (a bogus Chinaman whose real name was William Ellsworth Robinson from Westchester County, New York) is best remembered today for his tragic death after his famous bullet-caught-between-his teeth trick went dramatically and tragically wrong. Indeed, it was at that moment when he had been hit in the chest by the bullet that he uttered his last words on stage, “Oh my God. Something’s happened. Lower the curtain.” It was the first and last time since adopting his persona as a Chinaman and sobriquet of ‘Chung Ling Soo’ that William Robinson had spoken English in public. For 18 years, Robinson had faithfully applied his guise as a Chinaman by never speaking in public. He even engaged the services of a fake interpreter during radio or newspaper interviews to uphold his deception.
Harry Houdini, born Erik Weisz, is arguably the best known magician of all times. His very name conjures up visions of death defying stunts, exciting escapes, mystical marvels, and an enigmatic persona capable of the impossible. For many years he was the highest paid performer in American vaudeville. Harry Houdini was initiated into St Cecile Lodge No 568 in New York on 17 July 1923 and was passed on 31 July and raised on 21 August of the same year. Even that achievement would be bordering on miraculous under the constitution of the United Grand Lodge of England nowadays. Houdini at one point contemplated adding the bullet-catching trick that had killed Chung Ling Soo to his repertoire but was persuaded not to by his fellow magician and Mason Harry Keller, who considered that there were too many elements of the trick that could go wrong. It would appear that their Masonic connections taught them to be cautious.
In his dialogue, Bob also mentioned that there are over 1,500 members of the Magic Circle, including Charles, Prince of Wales, David Copperfield, Ken Dodd, Wayne Dobson, Dynamo, Nigel Mansell, and Paul Daniels. The club was male-only until 1991 and there are now around 80 female members including Paul Daniels’ wife Debbie McGee.
Bringing his own brand of magic to the evening was Peter Bentham, Chairman of the Blackpool group of lodges, himself a member of North Shore lodge. Along with the others present, Peter was held in awe by Bob’s performance of magic tricks; levitating a table and skull, visibly cutting rope into short lengths and mystifyingly returning the shreds to a single undamaged piece, and defying Isaac Newton’s laws of gravity by suspending water in mid-air. It is said that magic is an art in which you use sleight of hand or illusion to create wonder. And Bob certainly created wonder that evening.
But the real magic of Freemasonry is not an illusion and, on retiring to the festive board, the brethren swiftly made their three course meal disappear without a trace. It was a perfect end to a most enjoyable, entertaining, and mystifying night. Bob had been the bill-topper and kept his audience spellbound with a fascinating talk and magical performance.