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Lester "Marvelo" Lake, 1904-1977

Location: Just south of the intersection of US 52 and St Peters Rd., New Trenton (Franklin Co., Indiana) Indiana 47060 

Installed 2018 Indiana Historical Bureau and Friends and Fellow Magicians of Lester Lake

ID#: 24.2018.1

 Visit the Indiana History Blog to learn more about Lester Lake.

Text

Lester “Marvelo” Lake, 1904-1977

Side One:

Magician, humorist, and innovator Lester Lake was born in New Trenton. He began performing magic as a profession in Brookville by 1925 and was inducted into Queen City Mystics, Assembly 11 of the Society of American Magicians the same year. He traveled extensively performing at parks, theaters, schools, and nightclubs, 1925-1960. Toured Europe with USO during WWII.

Side Two:

Lake is credited with developing a wide array of tricks and illusions including Burned Alive (1929), The Guillotine (1931), and Disecto (1942). He developed new magic tricks independently and later became an associate of Abbott’s Magic Company in Michigan. His contributions to the field influenced many magicians, such as New Trenton native John Calvert.

Annotated Text

Lester “Marvelo” Lake, 1904-1977[1]  

Side One

Magician, humorist, and innovator Lester Lake was born in New Trenton.[2] He began performing magic as a profession in Brookville by 1925[3] and was inducted into Queen City Mystics, Assembly 11 of the Society of American Magicians the same year.[4] He traveled extensively performing at parks, theaters, schools, and nightclubs, 1925-1960.[5] Toured Europe with USO during WWII.[6]

Side Two

Lake is credited with developing a wide array of tricks and illusions[7] including Burned Alive (1929),[8] The Guillotine (1931),[9] and Disecto (1942).[10] He developed new magic tricks independently[11] and later became an associate of Abbott’s Magic Company in Michigan.[12] His contributions to the field influenced many magicians, such as New Trenton native John Calvert.[13]


Notes: All copies of magic magazines were accessed via AskAlexander.org. All newspapers were accessed via Newspapers.com unless noted otherwise.

[1] 1910 United States Federal Census, District 6, White Water Township, New Trenton, Franklin County, Indiana, Page 8B, Line 80, May 3, 1910, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; 1920 United States Federal Census, District 6, White Water Township, Franklin County, Indiana, Page 1B, Line 87, January 5, 1920, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; Lester Lake, “Men of Magic and Me,” The Linking Ring, 6, no. 2 (April 1927): 328, accessed AskAlexander.org; “Lester Lake,” U.S. Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014, Social Security Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Lester Lake,” The Linking Ring, 57, no. 11 (November 1977): 111; Enumeration for School Purposes, 1911-1924, in Julie A. Schlesselman, Buried Alive Every Afternoon Burned Alive Every Evening: The Life of Lester (1878 Press Company, 2016), 22-23; Business card, “Mystic Lake,” 1926, courtesy of London the Mentalist, in Schlesselman, 50; Lake stationary, “The Sensational Marvelo,” [circa 1935], in Schlesselman, 146; Back of Lake stationary, “Marvelo: Burned Alive in Steel Box,” [circa 1935], in Schlesselman, 123.

Lester David Lake was born to Clarence and Elizabeth Lake on July 28, 1904 in New Trenton, Franklin County, Indiana. Lake is listed as living in his family home in the 1910 and 1920 censuses. He attended school at the District No. 8 School in New Trenton from 1911-1921. Clarence Lake worked as a shop keeper at a general store in New Trenton and Lester is listed in the school enumeration records as “clerk” from 1921-1923, most likely referring to him working for his father.

Lester Lake encountered and experimented with his two passions – photography and magic – while living in New Trenton. In the April 1927 edition of The Linking Ring, Lake said “Then came Thurston, Houdini, Laurant in our chautaqua, also Reno and Henry . . . and then an old timer that kindly showed me some tricks and very nicely ruined me forever.” See footnote 3 for more information about Lake’s photography.

Lake began performing magic under the stage name “Marvelo” circa 1930. Secondary sources occasionally misspell this as “Marvello,” however, Lake’s personal letterhead, advertisements for his shows, and advertisements for his tricks are consistent in the “Marvelo” spelling. In the years before 1930, Lake performed using various other stage names including “The Jolly Necromancer,” “Mystic Lake,” “The Jolly Magician,” and “Professor Lake.” In the years after 1930, he performed using a variety of monikers including the word “Marvelo,” such as “Marvelo and his Company of Wonder Workers,” “Professor Marvelo,” “Marvelo the Great” and “The Great Marvelo.” Lake died in Cincinnati, Ohio on August 25, 1977 at the age of 73.

[2] “Queen City Mysticisms, Assembly No. 11, S.A.M.,” The Sphinx, 26, no. 11 (January 1928): 400; “Lester Lake,” U.S. Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014, Social Security Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “A Lester Lake Memorial,” Magic: An Independent Magazine for Magicians, 8, no. 7-12 (March 1999): 22; Business card, “Mystic Lake,” 1926, courtesy of London the Mentalist, in Schlesselman, 50; “Coming Mystic-Lake: Magician – Artist – Humorist,” handbill, [1926], in Schlesselman, 52.

Although Lake is most widely known as a magician and inventor of magic tricks, his act was very diverse, especially in his early career. A 1926 business card lists him as “Mystic Lake: Magician, Artist, Humorist.” A handbill for a 1926 performance at the United Brethren Church in New Haven, Ohio lists the three acts of the show as follows: “Act I: Amazing, Spectacular and Comedy Magic, Act II: ‘A Trip to Spookville’ and the $1,000 Challenge, Act III: Rag Pictures, and Funny Chalk Talk Cartoons, Concluded with ‘Sand Paintings’ the world’s greatest and most beautiful art novelty.” In a review of a December 16, 1927 performance in Harrison, Ohio, John Braun described the show, “Lester Lake, ‘The Jolly Magician’. . .  appeared at Harrison, Ohio, in his full evening show of Magic, Spiritualism and Sand and Rag Pictures.” See footnote 3 for more on Lake’s introduction to magic. See footnotes 7-10 for more about Lake’s magic innovations.

[3] “Mrs. Jerrard Sells Studio,” Brookville Democrat, May 24, 1923, 1; “First Anniversary of The Lake Studio,” Brookville Democrat, July 24, 1924, 1; “Our First Anniversary: July 28, 1924,” Brookville Democrat, July 24, 1924, 3; L.P. Secy, “Queen City Mystics Assembly, NO. 11, S.A.M.,” The Sphinx, 24, no. 11 (January 1926): 425; “Now Under New Management,” Brookville Democrat, September 23, 1926, 1.

Lake was introduced to magic in New Trenton, see footnote 1 for more information. While it is likely that he practiced magic while living in New Trenton, it was not until he moved to Brookville that it became a serious hobby, and eventually a career. Lake moved to Brookville in May of 1923 after purchasing a photography studio in the town. The Lake Studio opened on Lake’s 19th birthday, June 28, 1923. According to advertisements, the studio specialized in “the latest and finest in Photographic Portraiture.” Lake also photographed scenes from around Franklin County, aerials of Brookville, and even practiced “spirit photography,” a method of photography which utilizes double exposure techniques in order to produce an image of a figure imposed over a photograph. Lake would maintain photography as a hobby throughout his life, but sold The Lake Studio in September 1926 in order to pursue his career in magic.

By the time he sold his studio, Lake had been performing magic professionally for approximately nine months. In a January, 1926 article in The Sphinx, Lake’s show was declared a success, “December 12, Lester Lake, our newest member, gave his first professional performance at Brookville, Ind. Several of the boys drove out to see his show and their verdict was unanimous and enthusiastic.” This first performance, sponsored by the Brookville Kiwanis Club, was held in the town hall and lasted two hours. See footnotes 5 and 6 for more information on Lake’s performance career.

[4] L.P. Guest, “Queen City Mystics, Assembly No. 11, S.A.M.,” The Sphinx, no. 9 (November 1925): 268-269; john Braun, “Queen City Mystics No. 11,” The Sphinx, 37, no.6 (August 1938): 155-156; H. Tracy Balcom,  “Queen City Mystics No. 11,” The Sphinx, 38, no. 5 (July 1939): 136; Ronald Haines,  “Queen City Mystics Assembly No. 11 (MW) (H-S),” The Sphinx, 41, no. 5 (July 1948): 134; Ronald Haines,  “Queen City Mystics Assembly No. 11 (MW) (H-S),” The Sphinx, 48, no. 3 (May 1949): 72; Ronald Haines, “Queen City Mystics Assembly No. 11 (MW) (H-S),” The Sphinx, 49, no. 4 (June 1950): 87; Harold Nichols, “Cincinnati, Ohio,” M-U-M: Magic, Unity, Might, 41, no. 1 (June 1951): 48; Robert Kleeman, “Cincinnati, Ohio,” M-U-M: Magic, Unity, Might, 46, no. 1 (June 1956): 38; “About the S.A.M.,” The Society of American Magicians, accessed https://www.magicsam.com/?AboutSAM; “History,” Assembly 11 Cincinnati, Ohio, accessed https://assembly11.weebly.com/history.html.

The Society of American Magicians (S.A.M.) is a fraternal organization serving to “advance, elevate, and preserve magic as a performing art, to promote harmonious fellowship throughout the world of magic and to maintain and improve ethical standards in the field of magic.” According to their website, S.A.M. was founded on May 10, 1902 in New York City. Membership lists include such famous magicians as Harry Houdini, Harry Blackstone, Jr., Siegfried & Roy, Lance Burton, and David Copperfield.

The Queen City Mystics, Assembly 11 of the Society of American Magicians, located in Cincinnati, Ohio, was incorporated in 1908 by members of the preexisting Cincinnati Magicians’ Society. It is likely that Lester Lake began attending Queen City Mystics meetings in the months leading up to his membership being approved, but there is little concrete evidence for when exactly he was introduced to the group. Brookville newspapers regularly state that Lake was visiting friends in Cincinnati on weekends during 1924-1925, and it would be reasonable to think he may have been spending time with members of the Queen City Mystics.

According to The Sphinx, Lake’s application for the Queen City Mystics was approved during a meeting on October 25, 1925. Lake continued to be active in the Queen City Mystics throughout his career. In June, 1938, Lake was elected president of Assembly 11 of the Society of American Magicians. He held that position until May 12, 1939 when he was succeeded by John Braun.  In May, 1950, Lake was elected 1st vice-president of Assembly 11 of the Society of American Magicians. The 1951 election results did not include the office of 1st vice-president. It is unclear if the office was discontinued or if Lake held the office still. Further research is needed to see when Lester Lake left the 1st Vice-Presidency.

[5] “Second Bargain Day is Scheduled,” Dayton Daily News, July 8, 1928, 37; “Bargain Day,” Dayton Herald, July 7, 1928, 7; Lester Lake Again to Put on Mysterious ‘Coffin Act’ at Forest Park and Zoo,” Dayton Daily News, August 5, 1928, 19; “Another Thriller,” Dayton Daily News, August 17, 1928, 27; “Illusionist Engaged for Another Week and Will Offer New Mystery Ace at Forest Park,” Dayton Daily News, August 12, 1928, 22; “See Lester Lake in World’s Greatest Mystery Act,” Richmond Item,  July 5, 1929, 15; “Fireworks Display Thursday Night,” The Dayton Herald, July 3, 1929, 11; “Coming! Lester Lake,” Brookville Democrat, October 14, 1929, 6; “Men and Matters,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 27, 1931, 8; 1930 United States Federal Census, District 20-42, Charleston City, Kanawha, West Virginia, Page 8A, Line 47, April 22, 1930, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Magicians To Meet Next in Kenton,” [Richmond] Palladium-Item, June 5, 1931, 7; “Magic Convention Will Close Tonight,” Detroit Free Press, June 17, 1934, 11; U.S. Citizen Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Key West, Florida, 1898-1963, March 28, 1935, S.S. Cuba, Sailing from Havana, Cuba, Arriving at Port of Key West, Florida, line 5, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; Bill Sachs, “Magic,” The BillBoard, July 13, 1940, 25; “Fawn Morning Slated at Two Pogue Stores,” Cincinnati Enquirer, December 7, 1930, 34; “Como Ave Fenix Que Surge De Dud Propias Cenizas, Asi Marvelo Escapa A Las Llamas,” newspaper clipping from Cuban newspaper, from Ken Klosterman’s Salon de Magie, in Schlesselman, 148.

After Lake joined the Queen City Mystics, he spent time trying, unsuccessfully, to secure a position as a magician’s apprentice. Also in the first years of his career, he traveled throughout Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan performing small shows in churches and schools, all the while collecting letters of recommendation. By 1927, Lake was staying with an old photography partner, C.J. Haney in West Virginia, where he was playing in Charleston theatres. By June 1927, Lake was touring on a show boat called the “Golden Rod.” Officially, he was on the boat filling the lead in the on-board production of the Cat and the Canary but he also performed magic. He had closed his tour with the Golden Rod by early November 1927.

By July 1928, Lake was performing as the “Jolly Magician” at the Forest Park and Zoo in Dayton, Ohio. Early newspaper advertisements promote Lake’s performance of “magic and sleight of hand.” By early August, Lake was performing the Buried Alive Illusion twice a day at Forrest Park. An August 12 article in the Dayton Daily News announced that Lake would be “presenting another of his interesting performances, this time freeing himself from shackles and manacles while in a tank of water.” This description, while not lining up exactly, may be referring to Lake’s Boiled Alive act. Lake was still at Forest Park in the summer of 1929 when newspapers announced his Burned Alive act.  

From 1929-1960, Lake performed at a variety of venues. During the 1930s and early 1940s, he predominately toured performing in theaters and outdoor venues on the East Coast, in the Midwest, and even in Havana, Cuba. Through the late 1940s and early 1950s, he performed in nightclubs. Towards the end of his career, he returned to the small shows in schools, churches, and private parties from early in his career.

While Lake’s tours were often confined to Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan, his magic career took him to the East Coast, the West Coast, the American South, Cuba, and Europe.

[6] “New Trenton,” Brookville Democrat, March, 23, 1944, 7; “New Trenton,” Brookville Democrat, June 21, 1945, 3; Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957, April 9, 1946, U.S.S. Sea Witch, Sailing from Le Havre, France, Port of Arrival: New York, New York, line 19, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “New Trenton,” Brookville Democrat, May 2, 1946, 3.

The United Service Organizations (USO), founded just before the onset of American involvement in World War II in 1941, was made up of the Salvation Army, Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), National Catholic Community Services, National Travelers Aid Association and the National Jewish Welfare Board. The purpose of the organization was to lift the morale of military personnel. The USO employed a variety of entertainers – from bands and singers to magicians and television stars – in order to fulfill its purpose. Lake first travelled to the western United States with the USO in March 1944. In June 1945, Lake returned to his parent’s home in New Trenton before leaving for Europe, where he toured before returning to the States in April 1946. To learn more about Lake’s time with the USO, see his service records at the Ohio State University Library in the Lester Lake Collection.

[7] “A Lester lake Memorial,” Magic: An Independent Magazine for Magicians, 8, No. 7-12 (March 1999): 22; “The New Tricks,” The Linking Ring, 22, Number 7 (September 1942): 43; ”Lake’s Original Shredder,” Abbott’s Magic Mrg. Co. Colon, Michigan 49040 U.S.A. Catalog 21,  1976; 11; The Sphinx, August 1938, 34-35, as quoted in Schlesselman, 285; Advertisement for The Cat and Canary trick, “Here’s A Good One,” in Julie Schlesselman’s personal collection, in Schlesselman, 105; The Sphinx, July 1935, as quoted in Schlesselman: 77-79; “Lester D. ‘Marvelo’ Lake,” FindAGrave.com, accessed https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/112248993/lester-d.-lake.

Lake is credited with inventing or improving over 300 tricks and illusions during his career. His headstone at Maple Grove Cemetery in Brookville, Indiana, which was placed on July 14, 1999 by friends and fans, reads “Lester Lake, 1904-1977, The Great Marvello, Magician and Inventor of over 300 magic effects including the legendary guillotine illusion.” This impressive number is arrived at by counting illusions that Lake improved or made his own version of and those which were new inventions. Examples of improved or altered versions of existing tricks include Cat & Canary, which was a three-card monte trick, and a version of the Indian rope trick. Examples of Lake’s original illusions include Boiled Alive, The Shredder, and Disecto. While there are descriptions of many of his tricks, many more are only mentioned in passing in magic publications and newspaper articles, without any details of how the trick was performed. To see a list of many of Lake’s illusions, see Schlesselman’s Buried Alive, p. 279-290.

[8] “Forest Park and Zoo,” Dayton Daily News, June 28, 1929, 50; “Lester Lake Returns to Forest Park to Mystify With His ‘Burned Alive,’” Dayton Daily News, June 30, 1929, 62; “Forest Park,” Dayton Herald, July 1, 1929, 6; “Cooler Fire to be Ordered,” Dayton Daily News, July 2, 1929, 3; “Buckeye Lake Park,” [Coshocton, Ohio] Tribune, July 25, 1929, 5; “Announce Magic Program for Tuscora Park Sunday,” [New Philadelphia, Ohio] Daily Times, August 24, 1929, 5; Doc Nixon, “Nixonian News Shots,” The Seven Circles, 3 no. 1 (April 1932); 10-12; “Grand State Show: Free at Fair,” Orlando Evening Star, February 16, 1933, 1; “Will Fill Act of Vaudeville,” Portsmouth Herald, January 17, 1933, 8; “’Burned Alive’ Act At Williams Grove,” Harrisburg Telegraph, June 22, 1935, 7; “Sunday at Rocky Glen,” [Wilkes-Barre] Evening News, July 6, 1935, 5; “Burned Alive!” Scranton Republican, July 9, 1935, 15; “Legion Fair is a Huge Success,” Brookville Democrat, August 6, 1936, 1; “Buried and Burned Alive,” Akron Beacon Journal, August 13, 1941, 15; “Lester Lake on TV,” Brookville Democrat, June 19, 1952, 1; “Former Area Man, Lester Lake, Dies; Was Magician,” [Richmond] Palladium-Item, August 28, 1977, 5; “Lester Lake,” The Linking Ring, 57, no. 11 (November 1977): 111; “The Boiled Alive Thriller Staged by Lester Lake,” The Billboard, September 1, 1928, 36, as quoted in Julie Schlesselman’s Buried Alive Every Afternoon, 76; “Buried, Boiled and Burned Aline – Magician’s Stunt,” Boston Sunday Post, January 29, 1933: 50.

In the early years of Lake’s career when he was performing at the Forest Park Amusement Park in Dayton, Ohio, Lake began to perform a Buried Alive act, during which he would be laid in a coffin and buried for up to 15 minutes before being unburied and shown to be alive but semi-conscious. Schlesselman’s Buried Alive quotes Lake from a 1933 Boston Sunday Post article explaining how the trick was performed, noting “First, you must have a firm belief in yourself. The next step is to temporarily arrest the workings of all the organs of the body. This is done by manipulating a section of the spine by one’s own hands until rendered unconscious. It is, in a way, a sort of self-hypnotism. When the climax is reached I fall back stiff into the arms of my assistants, and placed in a box. Then I dream…then I feel my face being sharply slapped. It is my assistants reviving me.” According to the same article, Forest Park management was impressed by his Buried Alive act and asked for more spectacular stunts. In answer, Lake developed a new trick – Boiled Alive. Schlesselman’s Buried Alive quotes a September 1928 article in Billboard:

Boiled Alive Thriller Staged by Lester Lake,” “Not content with his thrilling performance of being Buried Alive. . . Lester Lake thrilled thousands of visitors this week with his stunt ‘Boiled Alive.’ Bound hand and foot with chains and shackled, Lake jumped into a tank of blazing fluid, to emerge a few moments later free of all his bonds . . . Weeks of efforts were spent in perfecting the stunt, and to prove that there was no fraud in the manner in which the chains were bound about him or locked, Lake permitted public inspection of them before making the leap.

At the beginning of the next season, Lake would unveil one of his most famous acts – Burned Alive.

On Monday, July 1, 1929, Lester Lake unveiled his Burned Alive act. Newspapers report that there were some adjustments to be made for future performances, noting “At Monday night’s performance the oven in which Lake allows himself to be placed became ‘a little too hot.’ He emerged from it as per schedule, but a little too warm under the collar. A fire that is not too hot has been ordered by Lake for future performances.” The performance itself was described in the Dayton Daily News, which noted

Placed in a zinc casket he is locked in an oven, under which a large fire is started. Not until the stove has become red hot and it seems it would be impossible for anyone to exist, does Lake emerge from his casket and the stove, smiling and seemingly none the worse for his experiences. Many months were required to perfect this stunt, which Lake terms his most daring and dangerous . . .” There are newspaper reports of Lake performing this act at amusement parks, fairs, and beaches in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Florida.

[9]Reginald Scot, The Discoverie of Witchcraft (London: Elliot Stock, 1886), 293; Donald Mackenzie, Egyptian Myth and Legend, (London: Gresham Pub. Co., 1913), 146-147; William Sachs, “Magic and Magicians,” The Billboard, November 9, 1929, 38;  Leslie Guest, “From Our Secretary’s Desk,” The Linking Ring, 10, no. 12 (February 1931): 1543; “This Letter From Lester Lake, World’s Only Manufacturer of Guillotines,” The Linking Ring, 10, no. 12 (February, 1931): 1557; Lester Lake, “ The Guillotine,” The Seven Circles Magic, 1, no. 1 (April, 1931): 46; “Cuts Woman in 3 Parts – Oh, Yeah, Magic Men Meet,” [Wilmington] Evening Journal, June, 6, 1931, 23.

Decapitation illusions in general have existed in various forms for centuries. In Egyptian Myth and Legend, Donald Mackenzie describes an illusion done by the ancient Egyptian illusionist Dedi, “A duck was brought forth and its head was cut off, and the head was thrown to the right and the body to the left. Dedi spoke magic words. Then the head and the body came together, and the duck rose up and quacked loudly.” In the 1584 book The Discoverie of Witchcraft, Reginald Scot includes an illustration of “The decollation of John Baptist,” which was an illusion used by jugglers during which, one would “cut off ones head, and…take it in a platter.” In the years between Discoverie and Lake’s Guillotine, many illusionists did various versions of the decapitation illusion, some of them even using guillotine-like devices, however, Lake’s version was specifically made to be used in a traveling act. Weighing 30 pounds, it was compact enough to be carried in a case by one man, which made it much more feasible for the magicians of the time, who were often travelling on the vaudeville circuit.

In 1929, The Billboard, a magic magazine, reported that “Lester Lake, escape artist…was a caller at the magic desk last Friday. He announces that he is at present busy at his home in New Trenton, Ind., framing a number of novelty effects to work in conjunction with his standard act at the fairs and parks next summer.” While it’s not certain what “novelty effects” Lake was working on in the off season of 1929, by early 1931 he had perfected his stage Guillotine, meaning that there was a good chance that in 1929 he was already working on the illusion.

In the February, 1931 issue of The Linking Ring, an early advertisement for the Lester Lake Guillotine appears. In the advertisement, Lake mentions that there are already several magicians who had bought the illusion, so it is almost certain that this is not the earliest advertisement, but it is referred to in a different passage as “new,” so this must be toward the beginning of Lake’s marketing campaign for the product. Lake describes the illusion: “In effect, they see a sharp steel knife over 10 inches wide shoved right through the neck of the victim. Only there is no pain or loss of life.”

Lake used the Guillotine in his own act, but he also sold it. Many of his advertisements claim that Lake was the “World’s only manufacturer of Guillotines.” Originally, the Guillotine was sold in one size for $75 and came with a “beautiful Oriental Prayer Rug for [the] victim to kneel on, free of charge.” Later, a second, slightly larger version was added for $125.

[10] “Abbott’s DISECTO is Still Tops!,” The Conjurors’ Magazine,  1 no. 4 (May, 1945): 47; “Announcement Extraordinary! Abbott’s Disecto Illusion,” Abbott’s Magic Mfg. Co. Colon, Michigan 49040 W.S.A. Catalog 21, 1976, 178; “The Most Successful Trick That We Have Ever Released: Abbott’s Disecto Illusion,” Tops Magazine, November 1942, in Schlessinger’s Buried Alive, 287.

Described as “a Magical phenomena [sic] that comes only once in a Magic lifetime,” advertisements for the Disecto illusion appeared in the November, 1942 issue of Tops Magazine. The advertisement describes how to carry out the illusion:

First show the customers how the DISECTO works by cutting three carrots…The victim’s hand is now inserted in the DISECTO . . . and held firmly in position with lock pieces attached for that purpose. While this is going on, the blade is in full view of all. Now a carrot is placed in the top hole – one in the lower hole – and a lighted cigar or cigarette in the opening alongside the victim’s hand. Slowly and deliberately the Magician forces knife through the first carrot, cutting it cleanly in two pieces – the blade still being visible. Even as the knife is forced through the victim’s wrist . . . it can be seen by the audience. When blade is halfway through victim’s wrist (and before it cuts through the lighted cigar or cigarette), Magi asks victim if she can feel the blade and strangely enough she says, “Yes,” for she does feel the blade. Now as blade passes through victim’s wrist . . . at the same time it cuts through the lighted cigarette and then through the carrot in the lower hole.

Advertisements for the Disecto illusion confirm that “the idea of this illusion came from Marvelo, who originated the first Guillotine and the Abbott’s Chinese Chopper.”

[11] William Sachs, “Magic and Magicians,” The Billboard, November 9, 1929, 38; Lester Lake, “This Letter From Lester Lake, World’s Only Manufacturer of Guillotines,” The Linking Ring, 10, no. 12 (February 1931): 1557; “Lester Lake (Marvelo) Says,” The Seven Circles, 1, no. 1 (April 1931): 46.

Early in his career, Lake worked to develop new tricks independently in New Trenton, Indiana. It is unclear from the available sources whether he worked in a workshop or in his family home. Advertisements for his early illusions, including the Guillotine, list “Lester Lake, Box No. 15, New Trenton,” as the address to which orders were to be mailed.

[12] “Abbott’s Magic Novelty Co., Colon, Mich.,” The Linking Ring, 15, no. 10 (December 1935): 81; “Abbott’s Magic Novelty Co., Colon, Mich.,” The Linking Ring, 15, no. 11 (January 1936): 56; “Abbott’s Magic Novelty Co., Colon, Mich.,” The Sphinx, 34, no. 11 (January 1936): 331; “Abbott’s Magic Novelty Co., Colon, Mich.,” The Sphinx, 35, no. 1 (March 1936): 42; “Abbott’s Magic Novelty Co., Colon, Mich.,” The Linking Ring, 16, no. 11 (January 1937): 885; Tom Bowyer, “Reviews: Magazines and Books,” The Linking Ring, 16, no. 13 (February 1973): 965; “Abbott’s Magic Novelty Co., Colon, Mich.,” The Sphinx, 40, no. 9 (November 1941): 273, “History of Abbotts Magic Shop,” Abbott’s Magic Company, http://www.magiccapitol.com/abbottsmagicshop1.html.

According to its website, The Abbot Magic Company opened as a magic store in Colon, Michigan in January 1934. Sometime between the shop’s opening and December, 1935, Lake began working in partnership with Abbott’s Magic Co. In the December 1935 issue of The Linking Ring, an advertisement for the January, 1936 issue of Tops magazine announces that the magazine “will include articles and tricks from…Lester Lake.” From that time, many advertisements can be found in various magic magazines featuring original Lester Lake tricks being sold by Abbott’s Magic Co. It is unclear from the available sources if Lake was still working in New Trenton at this time or if he had a workshop in a different location. It is also unclear what the parameters of the partnership were, for instance, if Lake retained any rights to the tricks he produced for Abbott’s, or how the profits for the illusions sold were split. Many of Lake’s original illusions are available in the Abbott’s magic catalog, as of September 2018.

[13] 1920 United States Federal Census, District 6, White Water Township, Franklin County, Indiana, Page 1B, Line 87, January 5, 1920, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; Allen Hoffman, “The Wizard Burned Alive At High Noon In Giant Hotfoot,” [Huntington] Daily News, June 17, 1947, 7; “Magicians Fool Each Other Today,” Holland Evening Sentinel August 20, 1964, 16; Tim Bucey, “Guillotine Magic Gives Him Edge,” Pittsburgh Press, August 14, 1970, 2; Tony Kiss, “It’s Magic: John Calvert Still Levitating After 60 Years in Business,” Asheville [North Carolina] Citizen-Times, March 27, 1991, 21; Schmeelk et al., Magicians’ Guillotine Apparatus, Filed October 23, 1995, Patent no. 5,605,508, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, accessed Google Patents; William Rauscher, “John Calvert: Legend of Legerdemain,” The Linking Ring, 88, no. 8 (August 2008): 27-31; John Calvert, “Conversations with Calvert: Lester lake: Daredevil Inventor,” The Linking Ring, 88, no. 10, (October 2008): 78-79; Mike Barnes, “Legendary Magician John Calvert Dies at 102,”  Hollywood Reporter; David Ng, “Sleight-of-hand magician was ‘40s films’ ‘Falcon,’” Los Angeles Times, September 29, 2013: 31.

Many of Lake’s innovations are still in use among magicians today. Abbott’s Magic Co. still sells Lester Lake original illusions and workshop plans. This includes the Lester Lake Guillotine, the Shredder Illusion, which they now call “Get The Point,” and the “Disecto” Illusion.

The Guillotine illusion is still featured in many stage magic acts. In 1995, William Schmeelk and Alan Wakeling secured a patent for the Magicians’ Guillotine apparatus, which was an improvement on the Lester Lake Guillotine, allowing the illusionist to be completely surrounded while performing the trick. The patent lists The Lester Lake Guillotine as a non-patent citation, showing the influence of Lake’s original design on Schmeelk and Wakeling.

John Calvert, who was a popular magician, performed magic across the country for over 80 years, between the late 1920s and 2013, when he passed away at the age of 102. Both Calvert and Lake were born in New Trenton, Indiana – Lake in 1904 and Calvert in 1911. In an article in The Linking Ring in October 2008, Calvert describes being a “guinea pig for Lester Lake’s original guillotine illusion.” He wrote:

One day Lester stuck a head of cabbage in a vicious-looking contraption he called a chopper. The blade slammed down, and the cabbage fell to the floor in two halves. Then with Lester’s guarantee I would not be injured, I reluctantly stuck my head in the hole. Down came the blade, and a chill went through my body that I shall always remember. A miracle had been performed. My head was still in place…” Later in the article, Calvert directly states that Lester Lake taught him the art of magic when they were young together in New Trenton, writing, “Should I blame or give credit to Lester for teaching me magic when I was a kid?