by Ron Cartlidge

Joyce Zachary, the National Secretary of the Society of American Magicians, proposed a motion to accept the charter of Austin Assembly 206 at the S.A.M. National Council meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada on July 6, 1984.  The motion was seconded and unanimously approved by the delegates.  Little else is known about the early years of the assembly or where the original charter is.  What is known is the assembly was the 206th chapter of the Society of American Magicians.

The Waco, Texas Assembly #197 had been chartered perhaps a year in advance of the Austin group.  Other chapters of the Society of American Magicians that were charted near the same time were:  Fayetteville, Arkansas #203, Montgomery, Alabama #204, Rochester, Minnesota #205, Napa, California #207, Frankford, West Germany #208, San Juan, Puerto Rico #210 and a little later, Twin Falls, Idaho #211 and Wichita Falls, Texas #216.

The secretary of the Austin Assembly never filed a report for Austin Assembly so there is very little history about those old days of the assembly.  We do know that the first charter members in 1984 included Robert Castillo, Steve Farmer, Bartford L. Heath, Merianne Myers, Thomas M. Myers, Ben Vineyard, and Carl H. Schorlemmer.  Robert Castillo and Steve Farmer continue their membership in the assembly to this day.

The new member applications for the assembly show three new members in the early days of the assembly: Richard E. Maris, Helen P. Griffiths (joined in July 1984), and Carol M. Fairchild.  Both the Waco and Austin assemblies disbanded when Joyce Zachary proposed stripping the two assemblies of their charters on July 10, 1987.  The motion was seconded and passed.  Austin Assembly 206 had lasted a mere three years.

Despite the early failure of the Austin Assembly, better years were ahead.  Joyce Zachary proposed that the Austin charter be reinstated at the National Council meeting in Tampa, Florida in July 1989.  David Luther was the first new member applicant listed in M.U.M. in December 1989 and he continues his membership in the assembly today.  The first assembly report was published in the mid 1990’s by Valarie Bennett, assembly secretary.  The short report in the M.U.M. was for June 1990 and listed Kent Cummins as President.  Valarie continued to produce reports in the M.U.M. until she resigned due to the fact that she and her husband Ken were moving to Las Vegas.  The assembly met on the third Thursday of the month and you had to call to find the location which apparently moved from place to place.  The guest lecturer for that early 1990 meeting was Ramon Galindo who talked about “Parakeet Magic”.

The July 1990 meeting hosted 12 members.  Ray Anderson was a guest at that meeting.  The subject was “Teaching Magic” with Kent serving as moderator and he was assisted by the Great Scott and Judy.  Some of the members at this time included:  Jonathan Baker, Kenneth W. Brennen, Mitch Harwood, Michael Kaufman (Mystical Magical Michael), Daniel Murphy, Dean Paxton, and Anne Elizabeth Perkins.

By May 1990, the assembly was meeting at the Burger Tex.  Guest speakers were Opie Houston and Peter the Adequate.  The first ever “On Time Prize” was presented by Kent Cummins.  It was a Blackstone Magic Trick.  David Luther gave a report as the first assembly delegate to the S.A.M. convention.  The following meeting was on “Comedy Magic”, with Kent Cummins again the moderator and Don Drake (of Black Art fame) and C. J. Johnson (C. J. the Clown) assisting.  David Luther produced bound handouts and lecture notes for the assembly members (another first).  Some of these early workbooks are still in the assembly files.

On July 13, 1990, at Stamford, Connecticut, Kent Cummins became the first member of the assembly to be elected a national officer of the Society of American Magicians.  He became the Gulf Coast Regional Vice-President.  The first member of the assembly to appear on the cover of M.U.M. was Michael Ammar.  He was on the cover of the July 1985 issue and had won the F.I.S.M. Sleight of Hand Championship in 1982.  At the time, Michael was living in Bluefield, West Virginia and would not become a member of the assembly until the early 1990’s.  Since then Michael has appeared on several magic magazine covers as well as members Kent Cummins and Ramon Galindo.  Another fact of interest is that assembly member Jack Yardley was President of the Waco Assembly #197 in 1990, which had been reinstated shortly before the Austin Assembly.

At T.A.O.M., Labor Day weekend 1990, members C. J. & Debbie Johnson won the stage competition while member Mitch Harwood won the close-up competition.  This was the first double win in competition for members of the assembly.  A steady stream of new members joined this active club in 1990 and Kent Cummins and David Luther attended the charter night banquet of “sister” club Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  During the National Magic Week of October 1990, the Austin Assembly produced 16 public library shows, 16 public school shows, Westgate Wizardry, a segment of public television, a haunted house, and a proclamation from the City Council.  Later, at the S.A.M. National Convention, Assembly 206 was awarded 1st place among four contenders who had submitted scrapbooks.

Some of the meeting topics during these early years were “Misdirection”, “Marketing for Magicians”, “Linking Rings”, “The Suspension of Disbelief”, and “The Magic of Silks”.  Michael Ammar was a guest speaker in early 1991 and the assembly sponsored an assembly of the Society of Young Magicians.  At the March meeting, the assembly held a birthday party for Harry Houdini complete with birthday card and cake.  At some point in the evening, the card was picked up by Harry.  After eight reports in the M.U.M., Valarie Bennett passed the pen to Mary Cay Patterson (Gold) who went on to compile a record 13 consecutive monthly reports for the M.U.M.

During this time, the assembly moved into a permanent home at the Community Room at the Westgate Mall and also hosted their first show at the Polo Barn Dinner Theater in Georgetown.  The assembly also won their second national award, taking the Harry Kellar Award for membership growth in their population division.

In September 1991, Michael Ammar made a historic presentation to the assembly.  In a gesture for his gratitude to members helping on his most recent magic video, Michael donated $2,500 to the assembly to be used in cataloging and organizing the Harry Houdini collection at the University of Texas.  At a December meeting that year, over 25 illusions were set up from the collections of Kent Cummins, C. J. Johnson, Peter the Adequate, and Michael Lyon.  The topic for the evening was “Performing Illusions”.

The slate of officers in 1992 included:  David Luther President, Mark Wade Vice President, Mary Cay Patterson Secretary-Treasurer, and July Donaldson Sergeant at Arms.  Daryl drew a record crowd of 55 when he lectured for the assembly in April of that year.  Kent, Mary Cay, and David Luther were all active in the national organization at this time.  Kent was serving at Regional Vice-President, Mary Cay was in charge of “Words of Good Cheer” (in M.U.M.), and David was the chairman of “International Publicity” for the S.A.M.
In 1993, Kent Cummins elected not to run for regional vice-president and Mary Cay Patterson took the post.  Kent was in charge of the special projects committee for the S.A.M and Michael Ammar served on a committee too.

It was about that time that the assembly began a slide that would take years to recover from.  According to a presidential plaque that we have, three different presidents served during 1993.  There were no reports going to the M.U.M. and membership in the club began to decline.  There were a trickle of new members coming into the club, Opie Houston (March 1993), Robert Castillo rejoined, and Will Mannis were all new members during this time period.  Attendance at most of the meetings was low and membership continued to dwindle.  According to the April 1996 issue of M.U.M., Opie Houston resigned from the office of President and will Mannis agreed to move up from vice-president.  Apparently this lasted for a couple of months, because in the September 1996 issue of M.U.M., Roland Adams was listed as president.

There were a few bright spots among the struggles however.  Mike Collins was probably the first ever secretary to have three assembly reports in one issue of the M.U.M.  Some how, Mike got the August, September, and October notes into a single issue of the M.U.M.  One program that was a hit during this time was on cardboard illusions, another was on your favorite magician and performing one of their tricks or telling their history, and still another in 1997 had a formal induction ceremony for several new members (the last time it was held by this assembly).

A lot of the credit for the survival of the assembly goes to 2002-2003 President Opie Houston.  The assembly grew back to a respectable twenty-seven members during that time.  Opie is also credited with obtaining our current meeting facility, the Omni Hotel Southpark, which has been called the finest meeting facility in the world, outside the Magic Circle in London.  Ron Cartlidge, who was secretary in 2002 and part of 2003 brought back the old Austin Magic Auction.  It was a club auction that was held at the Omni Hotel and almost $2,000 exchanged hands in 2002.

In 2004, Ron Cartlidge became President and brought a new order to the assembly.  He introduced the first assembly survey and a board retreat and planning session for the new officers.  Each meeting was opened with a ceremonial presence of removing the wand from its holder.  The work books were brought back from the old days of the assembly and Vice-President Doc Seaton chaired a tremendous array of programs for the year.  The assembly developed a new constitution and bylaws as well as incorporating the club.  The Austin Magic Auction was moved from the Omni to a ranch facility and the magic community was invited to attend.

The assembly won the Harry Houdini Award in the largest population division, more than doubling the membership of the previous year.  A framed portrait of Houdini with clippings of his visit to Austin in 1916 was presented to the Paramount Theater during Magic Week.  In 2005, Vice-President Doc Seaton introduced our annual magic competition, the magic auction moved to the current facility (First Baptist Church), and the assembly won the Harry Houdini Award for the second consecutive year.  The membership was now at a record seventy plus members.  The assembly also presented a bid for and won the right to host the 2010 T. A.O.M. convention.  In addition, the assembly bid on the site for the S.A.M. Magic Center and won that bid too!

In 2006, Doc Seaton broadened the magic competition so that the competition flip-flopped between stage and close-up competition.  The assembly topped 100 members for the year and won a third consecutive Harry Houdini award.  Seaton also developed a plan to activate new members and hosted a new member night and family and friends night.