Magician to recreate tricks at Johnson Hall Market Fair

JOHNSTOWN – Clad in knee breeches, red waistcoat and a tricorn hat, Robert Olson will reincarnate Mr. Bayly, an 18th Century magician, at Johnson Hall’s Market Fair on July 11 and 12. Olson will give three performances throughout each afternoon.

According to a news release, Bayly first performed in New York City in 1767. He advertised that he would present his feats of magic “without the use of Pockets, Bags, or Sleeves.”

Notices advertising Mr. Bayly’s performances can be found in New York, Baltimore, and Alexandria, Va., where he eventually made his home. At one show in 1782, money must have been in short supply, as potential customers for the show were told that they could use flax, wool, beeswax, or cotton as the price of admission.

Robert Olson, from Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, has spent the past 30 years studying and recreating magic shows of history. “It began as a hobby with a Mysto Magic Set I received as a Christmas present when I was eight years old.” Olson said. “The history part came later. I began to read the 18th and 19th century magic books, the broadsides and advertisements that magicians put out; the diaries and letters from people who actually saw them perform. It was like they were whispering in my ear.”

The advertisements for magicians like Bayly listed what was in their shows. According to a news release, Olson was able to recreate the tricks by using magic books published before 1800. Bayly’s tricks are done with cards and coins, cups and balls, and a vanishing soldier, called “The Bonus Genus.” Unlike the magic on television, most of Mr. Bayly’s magic takes place right in the hands of the audience.

Olson has performed at museums and historical societies across the U.S., Canada and England. The magic is done with recreated props, 18th Century costume, and the early language that appeared in the magic books of Bayly’s time.

“I was surprised myself,” Olson said in a news release, “on how much both children and adults enjoy the show. The history of magic, the hidden science used by magicians, the fun of Mr. Bayly with his language, all work together so well. I think Mr. Bayly would be proud if he could come back and see how people today were still enjoying his magic.”

Market Fair will also feature other historical performances, as well as colonial life demonstrations, a sutlers market, a colonial encampment, period music, an Open House and much more. Johnson Hall is located at 139 Hall Ave. For more information visit johnsonhallstatehistoricsite.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees 180 state parks and 35 historic sites, which are visited by 60 million people annually. For more information, call 474-0456 or visit, connect on Facebook, or follow on Twitter.