You won’t be surprised to learn that magicians have their own conferences and convention where they trade secrets, buy tricks, have contests, and perform shows. Many legendary events have happened at conventions, of course, and one legendary exploit is the tale of “The Vanishing Man”. This stunt was not performed by a magician, but by a magic dealer, a man who sold tricks to magicians. The dealer’s name was Ken Allen and he performed his miraculous stunt at a convention over sixty years ago, and magicians still talk about it.
It took place at the Society of American Magicians convention in May 1952 in Boston, in room 419 of the Statler Hotel. Word circulated that there was something very mysterious going on in this room, a must-see genuine miracle. As soon as a few people gathered in the room, Ken Allen, along with two assistants presented the following mind-boggling performance.
Ken stood backed into an alcove in front of the door leading to the bathroom as the two assistants lifted a blanket in front of Ken so that he was out of sight for about five to thirty seconds (reports vary). The blanket was then dropped, and Ken was gone. Everyone was permitted to search the entire room and bathroom carefully, but there was no trace of Ken. For half an hour, with hundreds jamming the halls, groups of five to ten people would search the room, the bathroom, in the closet, under the bed, even the drawers, never discovering the magician’s hide-out. After all were satisfied he had disappeared, his two friends again held up the blanket, counted to ten, the blanket dropped and there he was, smiling. He repeated this stunt many times during the convention and all Ken would give for a clue was, “I used to be an acrobat.” It created such a sensation it was even reported in a Boston newspaper.
Here is how he accomplished this. At that time, Statler Hotels had specially designed medicine cabinets in the bathrooms. Once a hidden lock was opened, the whole cabinet swung open allowing workmen to climb through into a sort of air shaft to do plumbing and electrical work. Ken had discovered a way to open the cabinet.
During the performance, Ken would duck down behind the blanket and crawl into the bathroom. He would open the cabinet, and climb into the space between the walls. He braced the rubber soles of his shoes against the opposite wall as he held onto the cabinet from behind. Because there was nothing between him and ground level, four stories down, one slip could have been fatal, which makes the fact that he repeated the illusion several times all the more remarkable.
There is a bonus to this story, and that is the rumor that Ken wasn’t the one who figured out how to pull off this miracle. Another dealer tipped him off as to the mechanics of the medicine chest and encouraged him to perform the stunt. This raises the question, why did this rival dealer supply Ken with this information and encourage him to perform the “Vanishing Man” instead of doing it himself? Because he was having an affair with Ken’s wife, and he knew he’d have a window of opportunity to be in another hotel room with Mrs. Allen, while Ken was creating a legend.