▲△▲

      THEODRA S. ANDREWS: "THE SECRET OF THE ACES"

      COMPILED SUMMARY viii.

Good evening, all! My word, there are a lot of you. At least it seems like there are. Thank you all for coming.

I feel it is necessary to preface this preface with the disclaimer that I do not, nor did I ever, have any interest in magic, divination, spiritualism, mediumship, conjuring, witchcraft, sorcery or anything of the like. This was father’s realm of interest, expertise and, I suppose, obsession to the point where, in the little amount of time I knew him, I can scarcely remember him mentioning anything else.

My father was Jonathan Ernst Andrews and, despite his prolificness in his field of study and practice, he never attained much notoriety that I can observe. He was born in a rural town near St. Louis, Missouri in early 1917, on the precipice of The Great War drawing us in. His father, my grandfather, was a small-time confidence trickster known only as E.S. Andrews, although subsequent research into our family tree has suggested he may have undergone as many as three name changes for reasons we can only imagine.

It was, however, my grandfather who inadvertently instilled in Jonathan the passion for trickery. If you care to look, you would discover that one of the most revered texts among any magician worth their ribbons is commonly known as The Expert At The Card Table (originally Artifice, Ruse and Subterfuge at the Card Table: A Treatise on the Science and Art of Manipulating Cards). It is essentially a pamphlet published sometime in 1902 detailing various methods of card manipulation and sleight of hand and how one might implement these techniques in order to “increase one’s odds” in a game of cards.

The preface to this book is as follows:

    “In offering this book to the public the writer uses no sophistry as an excuse for its existence. Then hypocritical cant of reformed (?) gamblers, or whining, mealymouthed pretensions of piety, are not foisted as a justification for imparting the knowledge it contains. To all lovers of card games it should prove interesting, and as a basis of card entertainment it is practically inexhaustible. It may caution the unwary who are innocent of guile, and it may inspire the crafty by enlightenment on artifice. It may demonstrate to the tyro that he cannot beat a man at his own game, and it may enable the skilled in deception to take a post-graduate course in the highest and most artistic branches of his vocation. But it will not make the innocent vicious, or transform the pastime player into a professional; or make the fool wise, or curtain the annual crop of suckers; but whatever the result may be, if it sells it will accomplish the primary motive of the author, as he needs the money.”

In case you haven’t looked, this book was notoriously published under a pseudonym, and is credited to an S.W. Erdnase. It shouldn’t take too much examination to see where I’m going with this:


    s.w.erdnA SE



Now, while it has often been suggested that the pseudonym reverses and therefore refers to a con artist by the name of E.S. Andrews, publishing anonymously so as to avoid legal or personal ramifications, there is remarkably little evidence that my grandfather was that man. First of all, from the few scraps here and there containing examples of grandfather’s writing skills, he displayed a lack of eloquence that would make writing even that quoted preface from Erdnase an impossibility. In fact, you could say my grandfather appeared almost illiterate. Secondly, grandfather never showed any interest in, let alone proclivity for, legerdemain or even the simplest of conjuring effects. Father had precisely one memory of him proudly “revealing” the method behind a street performer’s cups and balls routine in Lafayette Park, although father’s later recollection of this debunking was that it had been “spectacularly wrong”.

Nevertheless, the minor notoriety the text attracted in the early 20th century had imbued the family with a certain caché in the local community. “Celebrity” was hard-earned back then, especially in rural Missouri, and despite the overwhelming unlikelihood that our E.S. Andrews was the eponymous Expert At The Card Table, people would whisper in hushed tones about his legendary status as a card cheat; “Don’t let him join our poker game!”, “Hold onto your wallets!”, “Watch your wives!” etc. Indeed, grandfather himself courted this attention keenly, never outright proclaiming not to be Erdnase, and I suppose he used it to his advantage in his actual field of deception: small-time business swindles. He would convince townsfolk and the occasional elderly city-dweller to buy into what essentially amounted to embryonic Ponzi schemes, using his reputation as an “expert”; bear in mind, literacy was not high in those days, and many probably hadn’t actually read the Erdnase text, and therefore would be unable to see the absurdity in a man claiming his aptitude for cheeky sleight-of-hand would somehow lend itself to a proclivity for good financial strategy. Furthermore, why anyone would entrust their money to a man playing himself off as an “expert card cheat” is beyond me … even furthermore than that, he most likely wasn’t even the card cheat they believed him to be.

I don’t have a great deal of respect for my grandfather, from what I do know of him. My father, however, was utterly enchanted by the idea that he was borne of the blood that wrote such an influential text - even though he admits to never being convinced of this association, even as a child. But he loved the mystery of it - the illusion, I suppose. I think he perhaps even admired grandfather’s tendency towards deception in general; the dangerous indulgence of fantasy. This, in turn, inspired him to take steps to become the fantasy himself. Since a very young age (seven, or possibly sooner), he began avidly collecting anything and everything related to the field of magic, including the Erdnase text his father was supposed to have written - despite there being not one copy lying around the house. Indeed, my father learned to read at a significantly younger age than was customary for that time and place, purely so that he could consume as much about magical history and method as possible.

This is, as my mother so often put it, “boythings”. I think there’s a good reason why we women traditionally weren’t known for falling down this particular bottomless hat. Certainly, back in the  earlier days of magic, it was seen as somewhat undignified for the fairer sex to exhibit the kind of pretense required of a performing magician, especially ascertaining her intellectual superiority over any men who might be in the audience by “fooling” them, so they tended to fall instead into the kind of roles expected of the social strata at the time; permagrins, silly twinkle-toed outfits and displaying utter submission to the spell of her conjuring master - who just may, at his own discretion, opt to saw her in half or trap her in a box pierced with swords to entertain his braying audience, before casually saving her life and taking his heroic bow.

Obviously, the world has changed considerably since then, and while we are seeing more women tread the boards of magic and mystery, I still tend agree with my mother that the very heart of it, its essence, is and always will be: “boythings”. There’s something about the requisite obsession; the days upon months upon years spent slaving away to perfect a method or a presentation, often at the expense of one’s family and loved ones (more on that later), that doesn’t seem to appeal to us in the same way. Perhaps similarly to why an average man, left to his own devices, may be less inclined towards charity or childrearing - it doesn’t trigger the same synapses. I could go on. Suffice to say, it never really appealed to me; in fact, I rather resent it.

Another important thing to mention about those with magical aspirations is that any notion of carving even a modest living out of the passion is, itself, fantastical in most instances. Indeed, many of the most famous, most respected, most influential magicians throughout history died penniless and often alone. My father was eventually spared this fate through marriage to my mother (an heiress to a considerable fortune), though he spent his life up until the age of 30 or so in fairly abject poverty as he attempted in vain to make a name for himself as a conjuror. Indeed, my mother would often openly wonder how it is they ended up together given the great disparity in their lifestyles and social standing. “Black magic”, she would murmur, though eventually reading some of their correspondence from those earlier days there is painted a far more romantic picture than her grumblings let on - like an old romance novel, really, where the noble-blooded princess finds herself swept away by a lowly … court jester, I suppose. It goes without explanation that her family didn’t approve of her choice of suitor, but fortunately for mother her father passed away before he was able to re-draft his will. Her relationship with her mother never quite recovered. I wonder if she resents father for that, at all, or perhaps she resents herself - too young, naive, at mercy to the whims of her fanciful notions.

But back to my father.

My father’s family moved out East in 1930, presumably after E.S. rubbed a few too many Missourians the wrong way with his schemes. He would have been about thirteen at this time and, from what I can gather, he had all but abandoned any formal schooling and dedicated as much of his time as possible to street performance and low-rent sideshow appearances, along with other odd jobs that actually paid (one letter implies that he briefly worked on a fishing boat in Pennsylvania). Eventually, in 1934, he left his family entirely and moved to New York City, in hopes of finding kinship with fellow magicians of the time if nothing else.

It was there that he met a man known as Theodore Annemann. It was there that my story began.

 

THEODORE ANNEMANN PUBLIC BIOGRAPHY

 

 



Excuse me. Yes? Theodore “Theo” Annemann was a moderately well-known magician operating out of New York City in the 1930s, known especially for his performance and innovation in the field of mentalism. Mentalism refers to magic tricks or effects concerned with the psychological or spiritual - think mind-reading, telepathy, telekinesis, hypnotism etc. More often than not, the methods behind these effects bore little distinction from traditional conjuring other than presentation. While traditional stage magicians would present themselves broadly and vaguely as “magical”, mentalist magicians might hone in more on having psychic abilities or other such paranormal intuition or psychological expertise. While it is generally considered bad form among magicians to present any acts of mentalism as demonstrations of genuine psychic activity, this particular form of stagecraft owes its existence, in many ways, to people who did just that.

Many of the techniques used by mentalists to this day were devised and proliferated by self-professed “spiritualists” and “mediums” in the 19th century - essentially little more than confidence tricksters themselves, who would utilize what now seem rather basic methods to convince the press (and paying customers) that they were able to communicate with the dead, predict the future or make contact with some otherwise divine realm. This formed what would later be referred to as the “Spiritualism” movement, which continued well into the 20th century and, some would argue, still exists today (albeit burdened with far more healthy skepticism). The history of “Spiritualism” is worthy of a lecture entirely to itself, but for now we will only apply this brief description to the context of Annemann’s career.

As a magician who found some degree of fame and respect as a mentalist in the 1930s, Annemann went on to publish several texts which are still widely-cited by magicians to this day, most notoriously a posthumous compilation of his work entitled Practical Mental Magic published in 1982, itself a more or less faithful reproduction of his own compilation of effects published in his self-published magazine The Jinx. As a result of his innovation and generous publication of his effects (we’ll discuss the concept of “exposure” later on), he is often referred to as the Father of Mentalism. If he was the Father, then my own father was the adopted Son.

It appears as though father was taken under the wing and tutelage of Annemann from the time he moved to New York up until Annemann’s apparent death by suicide on January 12, 1942 at the young age of 34. Little is publicly known about the specifics of Annemann’s death, although it is widely-reported that he was suffering from depression, substance abuse or anxiety relating to a more spectacular (and more dangerous) indoor bullet-catch routine he was scheduled to perform for the first time just two weeks later.

Among the magic community, there has been much speculation surrounding Annemann’s somewhat enigmatic nature and personality, and even some of the most thoroughly-researched compendiums and biographies of the man admit to only fragmented understanding. For reference, Annemann’s Enigma (compiled by Todd Karr, with contributions and essays by mentalist Max Maven and illusionist Jim Stersare you listening?





n’t until my father himself passed away in 1998 that I even learned where my name came from. Oh I can only imagine his disappointment when he learned that I wasn’t a boy. Actually, on second thought, I needn’t imagine… [pause]



As I explained earlier, the modern public’s understanding of Annemann’s later life and personality is largely obfuscated by a lack of record or even reliable anecdote. I expect much more would be known if they had only thought to ask my father, who scarcely even appears by name in any published biography of the man. It would seem, from his journal entries, that father spent more or less every day between the years of 1937 and 1940 in Annemann’s company, even briefly moving into the home he shared with his wife Jeanette (née Parr) before meeting his own wife (my mother, mentioned), with wh————move to California in 1941.

[deleted]
[redacted]
[deleted]
[deleted]
[deleted]
[redacted]
[redacted]
[deleted]
[redacted]
[redacted]
[redacted]
[deleted]
[deleted]
[redacted]
[redacted]
[deleted]
[deleted]
[deleted]
[redacted]
[redacted]




In the year following my father’s move to California (and the year preceding Annemann’s death), Annemann remained uncharacteristically out of touch with him. Given that this was a man who would routinely send him letters even whilst living in the same house together, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that there had been some sort of conflict surrounding my father’s departure, although there is no written evidence to suggest that and I don’t like to speculate.

But it wasn’t the last he heard from Annemann, so it would appear. A package found in my father’s collection bears the postage date January 31, 1941, and while it is not explicitly signed by Annemann, even a cursory analysis would attribute it to him. In the following months, a further two packages of a similar nature would arrive (dated March 8, 1941 and May 4, 1941 respectively). To attempt to concisely summarize their contents all in one would be a feat more impossible t—— As such, it is perhaps better to study each of them individually, as intended by the sender.


The first package dated January 31, 1941 (hereby referred to as The Ace of Spades) contained a curious selection of three articles, catalogued below:

THE ACE OF SPADES - ARTICLE I

THE ACE OF SPADES - ARTICLES II & III
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see, whatever the true nature of its contents was hidden by a series of encryptions, which could be revealed only by - only

Sorry, can we take a moment? I can't for the life of me recall...







 

The-Ace-Of-Spades-Article-I.png
The-Ace-Of-Spades-Articles-II-III.png