Teddy Roosevelt looms large in the cozy library of the Madison Club. His portrait overlooks the books and artifacts flanking the room. As a darkened historical space it’s an optimal setting for an evening of spooky thrills.
Guests are upstairs enjoying a catered meal before they descend into the library with Lochlan Masters — the magician who curates the encounter with the other side. And no, Teddy Roosevelt himself is not on the guest list.
Visitors encounter Beatrice, a nurse from the Colney Hatch Mental Hospital located in what is now a borough of London, and what happens from there is never the same twice. She will introduce guests to at least one patient from her time at the hospital.
Three intake books from Colney Hatch are scattered around the large dining table. They are authentic.
Although Masters is a professional magician who enjoys building illusions, what takes place during his séance performance is not always up to him.
“There are what you can call ‘magic tricks’ associated with it, but sometimes those magic tricks don’t work,” he said. “Then you all start to lean in and the craziest, most amazing things happen. And at the end you bow and take credit for it knowing full well that you didn’t do that. You aren’t sure what happened.
“That is, to my knowledge, a universal experience amongst magicians who do these (séance) shows.”
What occurs during the performance can catch even the stingiest skeptics off-guard.
There is no preparation for suddenly seeing the wooden planchette whisk itself across a Ouija board when no one was touching it firmly placing itself by the word “no” after Masters politely asks for Beatrice to ring a bell and says she never interacts with the Ouija board — it’s there for aesthetics.
Anything can happen during the séance, which only adds to the thrill of being there.
All in all it’s completely fair to say that Masters’ séance feels real. But people often ask him if it’s truly a “real” experience.
His answer is definitive: It is “real.”
He said he has difficulty with the verbiage surrounding the concepts of magic, séances and psychics because it’s difficult to fake an experience.
“Scientists have shown that we don’t perceive reality as it happens,” he said. “Everything we see and hear and feel gets filtered through out preconceived biases. So it’s very difficult for me to describe what you actually experience is fake.”
As far as Masters’ life in magic is concerned, he was doing and studying magic before he even knew what it was. He did his first stage performance at 10.
He has performed on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and sold illusions to some big-time performers. David Blaine even flew Masters and a few friends out to New York one weekend to talk about using one of Masters’ illusions on his television special.
But since “90 percent of magicians in America” mostly do birthday parties for children, it didn’t seem like a good career path, according to Masters.
So, he went into mechanical engineering and magic remained a side gig.
Ten years ago, however, Masters decided to take his side hustle full time. He’s been doing magic ever since. Or as he would prefer to say, he’s “a reformed mechanical engineer and professional magician.”
When he isn’t hosting guests for séances Masters does a variety of magical work. A specialty of his is working the trade show circuit representing companies with unique illusions he builds for them.
He began doing trade shows when he was hired to entertain for a financial services company.
It can be hard to get people into a booth for a financial services company so he designed a 15-minute show to keep people interested.
Masters would borrow a $10 bill from an audience member and ask if everyone is familiar with origami paper folding. Then he would fold the bill.
“I would tell people about the miracle of compound interest and that would bring people into the booth,” he said. “Then I would take the $10 bill, fold it up and turn it into a $1 bill while warning them about inflation.”
Since there isn’t always much in the way of entertainment at trade shows, Masters’ unique addition helps bring more leads to the companies that hire him. If a company does well on their own they might get “20 or 30 leads,” but with Masters’ help they were raking in “200 or 300,” he said.
Masters’ favorite performance is his séance. And he has his good friend Dave Heide, proprietor of Liliana’s and Charlie’s on Main, to thank.
Just about three years ago Heide proposed that Masters develop a show for a family day he could do once a month at one of his restaurants. But Masters isn’t one for children’s magic so he proposed a counter offer. He suggested a “spooky magic show.” He said he got the idea from traveling to New Orleans.
Heide’s restaurants have such a cool New Orleans vibe and he could come up with some great plating ideas, Masters said.
The séance lived at Charlie’s on Main for about two years before it ventured over to the Madison Club. Because the Madison Club is so central it would be easier for guests to get to.
Masters’ inclinations haven’t been wrong either. The séances sell out every time.
They aren’t large performances. They max out at 14 people to ensure that everyone gets the intimate séance experience that can’t be imitated by large-scale séances staged in theater venues.
He refers to The Dark Séance as a “magic show wrapped in a ghost story.” There’s nothing hokey about it, there aren’t jump scares or anything akin to a Halloween-time haunted house.
“The séance isn’t terribly scary,” Masters said. “No skeletons fall out of the corner. It’s not scary like an amusement park ride. Sometimes it’s very uplifting or scary like Alfred Hitchcock.”
Even skeptics, which Masters admits he definitely is, can sometimes have a hard time explaining away what they’ve experienced post-séance.
Masters says after all the séance performances he is “more skeptical of my skepticism” than he was before he embarked on the performance journey. There are simply things he cannot explain that go on at the show.
But magicians love a good puzzle which makes the unexpected evenings of séance a perfect fit for Masters as both a skeptical magician as well as a gifted illusionist.
“Everything in the séance is very hands off for me, which is the best part,” he said. “My goal for the séance is to believe I had nothing to do with it, and that’s the kind of magic in the séance.”