Duck inside Nob Hill’s best-kept secret passageway and the first side-room to appear is the Magic and Juggling Shop—a zany bazaar where trick kits entice from glass cases, sleight-of-hand artists trade tips, how-to DVDs perch next to packaged rubber vomit and snippets of esoteric conversation may include, “Sorry, we just sold out of Bite Coin.”
The second room down the corridor is Illusions Magic Parlor. It’s an intimate theater space where two rows of folding chairs flank a 19th-century set-up best compared to one of those old-fashioned sepia photography studios at the mall. Electric candles flicker off bordello-maroon walls. A whiskey bottle rests on a Mexican-
Enter the ghost of Milton J. Yarberry, stage right. Albuquerque’s first elected sheriff, Yarberry is dressed to the hilt in frontier get-up à la said kitschy studios. He’s a crazy-eyed, foul-mouthed Wild West gunslinger, and though the 127 years since his hanging for murder haven’t tempered his appetite for gambling, drinking, cussing and killing, they do seem to have endowed him with magical powers and a historical perspective.
He’s a crazy-eyed, foul-mouthed Wild West gunslinger, and though the 127 years since his hanging for murder haven’t tempered his appetite for gambling, drinking, cussing and killing, they do seem to have endowed him with magical powers and a historical perspective.
Play along and it’s the early 1880s, the railroad has just arrived in Albuquerque, and Sheriff Yarberry is soon to meet his grim fate at the gallows. Card tricks, dice tricks, knot tricks, water tricks—all serve to spin the spirited yarn of Yarberry’s exploits from Arkansas to Texas to Colorado to, finally, New Mexico.
This entertaining, audience-
“It’s one of my favorite characters that I’ve ever done,” says Blake, who has also street-performed as Merlin the Wizard. “I’m working toward having Yarberry be a traveling show. I’m currently booked to do a show in Vegas in February, so it’s becoming quite popular.”
“It’s history, it’s comedy, it’s magic—and it’s very interactive. We love it.”
Wayne Hicks, co-owner Magic and Juggling Shop
Wayne Hicks, co-owner of the Magic and Juggling Shop, agrees. “We sell the show out, or almost sell it out, every time,” Hicks says. “It’s history, it’s comedy, it’s magic—and it’s very interactive. We love it.”
Audience members at the May 1 performance, however, offered mixed reviews. Some said they found the humor and hijinks hokey, while others belly-laughed, oohed and aahed. One thing they were nearly united on was an appreciation for Blake’s magicality.
Fellow illusionist and audience member Jake Wicked couldn’t figure out a key maneuver in how Blake made a Zia symbol wind up inside a locked box. “I was real impressed with that,” Wicked admitted. “It’s like cooking. There’s a thousand ways to make chocolate-chip cookies. You can’t always identify all the ingredients, or you don’t know how much of this or that they put in. So there was a missing ingredient for me today, and that’s always fun to come across.”
Brothers Max Protzen, 13, and Nic Protzen, 11, budding magicians themselves, said they were “blown away” by two tricks—one with an ignited bullet, the other with a telegraph machine operated by Yarberry’s dead wife Sadie through a séance.
And what edifying take-home message stuck in their minds about the legacy of Milton J. Yarberry? “He was a freaky guy that killed some people … and stole their money,” Nic summarized.
“Mom,” Max asked, turning to Rhonda Protzen, “can I go buy something from the shop?”
“I’m getting Slush Powder,” he explained matter-of-factly. “It’s what Yarberry used to make the whiskey turn solid.”