National Smoke and Mirrors Day

Though the origins of National Smoke and Mirrors Day, March 29, are unknown, it is most likely designed to foster appreciation of the art and talent of magicians who specialise in illusions, as well as to warn us all to be aware of misleading methods in everyday life. Nowadays, “smoke and mirrors” mainly refers to being duped into believing something is genuine or functioning when it isn’t. It’s a reminder that, unlike Dorothy, we shouldn’t wait until the end to determine if what we believed was true was actually great forgery.


On March 29, Smoke and Mirrors Day, magic, the invisible, and the unknown are celebrated.


For ages, the practise of the magical arts has been driven by skill, secrecy, and deceit. The basic cup and ball trick was discovered on the wall of an Egyptian tomb by archaeologists. Priests were the primary practitioners of magic in pharaonic Egypt, where they were regarded as custodians of a hidden knowledge bestowed upon humanity by the gods to ‘fend off the blows of fate’.

Real lector priests conducted magical ceremonies to defend their king and aid the reincarnation of the dead. Magicians appeared to have taken up their job by the first millennium BC (hekau). Amulets were a source of magical power that could be obtained by ‘protection-makers’, who might be either male or female. Some practitioners of magic carried metal wands depicting the snake goddess Great of Magic.

By the 1770s, the traditional method of “smoke and mirrors” was in use in Germany. Johann Georg Schröpfer utilised these materials to create the illusion of a creature hovering in the air. To generate pictures, Schröpfer used a magic lantern, a rudimentary forerunner of the slide projector that combined a concave mirror with convex lenses and a candle for light.

Schröpfer had organised a splinter Freemason lodge in Leipzig, claiming that only his group understood the authentic Masonic secrets and that only he could contact with the spirit world. He acquired a coffee shop and remodelled it to serve as a place for séances. After his death, other showmen took on, performing what became known as Phantasmagoria performances. These programs were known for their otherworldly hilarity.

The Sphinx Illusion, invented by a British professor in 1865 and popularised by magician Colonel Stodare, is one of the most renowned mirror tricks. The illusion purported to display the Sphinx’s disembodied head, which had been cursed by a pharaoh. The illusion is supported by two contiguous mirrors positioned such that they reflect a surrounding backdrop material, while the person kneels behind with the head visible above the entire artifice. The separated head appears to float in mid-air. This fundamental idea of reflection is crucial in deception.


1963: The Magician’s Mecca

Bill and Milt Larsen carry on their late father’s legacy of magic performance by founding The Magic Castle in Los Angeles as an exclusive private club for members of The Academy of Magical Arts.

1876: By the Book

“Modern Magic”, by Professor Hoffmann, is the first book in English that teaches how to do magic, from coin and card tricks to enormous stage illusions. It was published in London by George Routledge & Sons.

1862: With a Grain of Salt

British Scientist John Henry Pepper originally exhibited “Pepper’s Ghost”, a special effects method that is still used in haunted houses and theatres today to conjure ghostly pictures by reflecting them off a sheet of plexiglass.

1832: Shut Eyes
In “Letters on Natural Magic”, Scottish philosopher and scientist Sir David Brewster, creator of the kaleidoscope, debunks and demystifies apparitions, emphasising that the sight cannot be trusted to make sense of our environment.

Show us your skills:
Every town used to have a magic store where youngsters could learn their first tricks and develop their manual dexterity. It’s never too late to start learning! Most of the stores are closed, however you may learn the Spoon Bending technique and other classics by watching a video online

Look out for Penn & Teller

Check your local listings for “Penn & Teller: Fool Us”, their weekly show. You’ll meet magicians from all around the globe who perform for the famed combo and try to keep them guessing about their deceit.

Spoiler notifications from Google.

Aren’t you curious how David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty vanish in front of a live audience? Many secrets are now available online. You can look up the disclosures on Google, but be warned: you will have to live with the information.


Houdini was duped by Dai Vernon

Dai Vernon defeated Houdini’s pompous challenge that no one could fool him three times in a row by fooling him eight times in a row.

Keys were swallowed by Houdini

Many of Harry Houdini’s stunts featured escaping from handcuffs by regurgitating keys he had swallowed onstage.

Criss Angel is supreme on YouTube

Criss Angel is the most-watched magician on YouTube, with over 60 million people seeing his “Walk on Water” illusion.

David Copperfield earns a higher salary

David Copperfield is widely regarded as the most commercially successful magician working today, having received 18 Emmy Awards for his television shows.

Siegfried and Roy were cartoonists

The illusionists that wowed Las Vegas with their giant cats were executive producers of “Father of the Pride”, an NBC animated series about a white lion who obtains a job in the famed show.

Magic evokes memories of childhood:
You undoubtedly attended a birthday party as a child where a magician extracted a cent from behind a friend’s ear. Nothing will ever match the feeling of being a child and experiencing something you don’t believe is possible.

Today, many magicians are celebrities

Celebrity illusionists and magicians such as Penn & Teller, Criss Angel, David Copperfield, Mat Franco, and David Blaine perform on television specials and in complex Las Vegas shows. Lance Burton’s Las Vegas act lasted almost 30 years.

Being duped tests us

Even though we know that the magician’s “smoke and mirrors” toolkit includes misdirection, duplication, false bottoms, and manual dexterity, we like being duped and attempting to find out how it happened. Our brain refuses to believe what our eyes claim to have seen as a result of magic.

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