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The Magnificent Floyd

Floyd E. Stewart Performing Magic, c. 1936
Edward W. Cochems (American, 1874-1949); Santa Ana, California
Photographic print; Various Dimensions
Gift of Mrs. Weston Walker
April Fools bring May LOL’s It takes a rare skill to fool others, especially in a way which delights and entertains rather than leaves one somehow feeling cheated. The preference for the former brand of fooling was certainly held by Floyd E. Stewart, an early Santa Anan remarkable for the talent he possessed in sleight of hand. In a premature celebration of April Fool’s Day, the collections blog pulls the rabbit out of Floyd E. Stewart’s hat, shining the stage lights on one of Santa Ana’s earliest professors of parlor tricks.
Making a Magician
Photograph of Floyd E. Stewart from
The Magic of Slight of Hand (36248).
Stewart’s background is as mysterious as his profession. There are several Floyd E. Stewarts born across the United States within the likely timeframe, but it is most probable that he was born in Maryland c. 1905. By 1928, he was already living in Santa Ana, California at a house on Riverside Dr. Originally, he worked as a taxi driver, but by 1930 at the young age of 25, he already declared himself an actor working in vaudeville. His main connection to Santa Ana and to the Bowers Museum was his close relationship to Edward W. Cochems, a prolific Orange County-area photographer active between 1919 and 1949. After 1936 the pair served as president and first vice-president of the Santa Ana Breakfast Club which changed its focus around the abilities of its then-newly elected second-in-command, suddenly featuring magic shows at many of its events. Other local distinctions include being introduced at a PTA show as having traveled Europe and performed for a “number of royal families of Europe” and receiving the unanimous vote for Best Beard at the Fiesta del Oro beard growing contest, tragically unphotographed.
Clean Hands, Clean Conscience
It can be said that the immense dexterity required to perform magic tricks can make many wary of its practitioners, but Stewart was hardly a thimblerigger. He insisted “that the true magician has always a clean sense of morality.” In his somewhat malapropped book published with the help of Cochems, The Magic of Slight of Hand: Exposed and Taught, Stewart spends significant time explaining that there is nothing in the least bit supernatural about the work of magicians. The ability to fool and amaze onlookers with cunning is instead something earned with hard work and perseverance. In this vein, Santa Ana’s Houdini spends an entire section of his manifesto discussing proper hand care. Of course, intensive hand exercises to improve dexterity are part of his regimen, but the real secret of this magician is the near-constant application of quality lotion to keep the hands “supple, soft and pliable.”
“It has often been said: I would like to become a magician, but it takes so long to learn, and then perhaps I would be a failure. Here let me put your mind at rest” 
—Floyd E. Stewart
The Magic of Slight of Hand: Exposed and Taught, c. 1936
Floyd E. Stewart (American, 1905-?); Santa Ana, California
Paper and ink; 8 x 5 1/2 in.
Gift of Mrs. Weston Walker
Parlor Slick
Details of "the Vanishing Silk" from The Magic of Slight of Hand (36248).
So much has been said about Stewarts’ life and philosophy, but as this is a post written for the annual celebration of fooling one’s friends and family, let us now briefly sojourn into the how-to of one of the more famous magic tricks enclosed in Stewart’s book: “the Vanishing Silk.” The trick is one the reader likely knows well. A ‘magic’ silk neckerchief is pushed into a closed hand by the magician, an incantation is said, the hand is opened, and voila the cloth has disappeared. The secret to the trick is the use of a silk pull, an uncomplicated mechanism which can be composed of a short section of carboard tube and an elastic cord. One end of the cord is attached to the cardboard and the other end is attached to the inside of the vest. The cord is strung through the inside of the sleeve, and hidden in a closed hand. After the neckerchief has been pushed into the silk pull, one releases the pull during a flourish and the elastic cord pulls the entire device into the sleeve, amazing crowds when one reveals an empty hand. Of course, the tricks outlined in The Magic of Slight of Hand are only the most basic. Like all magicians, Stewart’s best wiles were trade secrets; their mysterious names alone—such as “the Magic Rug from Badgad,” “the News of Allah’s Press,” and “the Human Salamander in Flames of Death”—all tantalize and leave much to the imagination. This year when celebrating April Fool’s Day take a page from Stewart’s book and dupe with magic!

Text and images may be under copyright. Please contact Collection Department for permission to use. Information subject to change upon further research.

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