Los Angeles, USA

The Wild West at the Magic Castle

One of the nice things about being a Magic Castle member is the special events for members only. This one was Soapy Smith Night, a night not to honor Soapy Smith’s dishonesty, but rather his skill at it.

This event is an annual fundraiser held in the downstairs Inner Circle to raise money for the Dai Vernon Fund. Dai was a legendary magician considered a grand master of close-up magic. I met him but never got to know him very well. He was quite old at the time. He died in 1992 and his estate established the Fund. It originally provided a cash grant to the Close-Up Magician of the Y+ear. It has since expanded to fund education for talented young magicians, and to provide emergency cash when magician members fall on hard times.

Jefferson “Soapy” Smith was a con artist in the old West. Born in 1860, he ran a gambling house and was also a crime boss. Not really a good guy, actually. He had many businesses, including auction houses, a cigar store, and a telegraph office. None of them were legitimate. For example, his telegraph was not actually hooked up to anything.

At the event they had lovely ladies selling bars of soap. Around some of them were wrapped actual money (A $20 bill) which was far in excess of what the soap cost. At the Castle, you really could win money. Not so much the way Soapy did. The audience saw him wrap money around some of the soap before enclosing it in the wrapper and adding it to the pile. It ranged from a dollar to up to a hundred dollars. The very first person to buy one of the $1 soaps opened it to find the money. Of course, he worked for Soapy. No one else won.

I got the true Soapy Smith experience from the Soap Girls – no money in the soap they sold me. There were winners, though.

What you might not realize is just how expensive Soapy’s bars of soap were. At the turn of the twentieth century, $1 had the spending power of over $25 today. Soapy would literally clean up on this deal.

The original Soapy Smith in Alaska where he went to liberate gold from miners during the Klondike Gold Rush.

There was a silent auction with lots of great stuff donated. There was a costume contest and members really did go all out with many great costumes. The magic classroom was turned into a photobooth so you could memorialize your great costume.

All around the room were different stations offering a wide variety of gambling options, including lesser known games like Faro. I tried my hand at blackjack, and turned my $20 in Soapy dollars into $250, still unfortunately in Soapy dollars that had no actual value. That seems very in the spirit of Soapy Smith.

It was a fun evening and all for a good cause. I will certainly plan on being their next year.

Note: Photography is not allowed at the Magic Castle, except in rare cases of events like this where members are allowed to take photographs.

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