I recently sat down with 19th century reenactor Rick Green who performs as Professor Barclay – The Wizard of Edinburgh.
- Professor Barclay, The Wizard of Edinburgh
What do you do?
I am a combination of a reenactor and a professional magician; I do a presentation of 19th Century conjuring as a Scottish-born magician living in the South during the Civil War. The show is called, “Professor Barclay: The Wizard of Edinburgh .”
How long have you been doing it?
I have been performing magic since 1995, and created this show around 2003.
How did you get started?
I’ve been interested in history since I was a small child and when I got into magic, I was naturally drawn to the stories of the magicians in history. Most magicians will have an extensive library of magic books, and I am no exception; the difference is that about half of my magic library pertains specifically to magic history.
The idea for the show came after a chance meeting with a few re-enactors. I had been performing a show called, “Victorian Secrets”, which is a ‘tribute’ to the European salon magic shows of the 1840s-70s. These folks saw my show, liked what they saw, asked me to perform for their reenactment group Christmas party and, as they say, the rest is history!
Who or what influenced you a lot to get started, stay motivated?
One of the first magician conventions I ever attended happened to take place here in Nashville , TN. Until that time, I’d never thought of magic as a ‘theatrical artform’, but more as just something one could do in small informal setting…kind of like David Blaine does on TV. At this convention, however, I saw a man by the name of Max Howard. Max is an Emmy Award-winning actor as well as being a magician, and at that convention he performed a show called, “The War Wizard”. In his show, he was performing as an actual magician who had lived during the Civil war named Gus Rich, who happened to have been the bass drummer for the 23rd North Carolina Regiment as well as being a fantastic magician. After the war ended, Gus performed throughout the Blue Ridge region of North Carolina performing in what he called, The Great Southern Sleight of Hand Show. Upon learning about Gus, Max did quite a bit of research and put together “The War Wizard.” Upon seeing that, I had my eyes opened to what a presentation of magic COULD be.
What do you like most about what you do?
Meeting the people involved in reenacting, as well as having the opportunity to learn so much more about our country’s rich history.
CWG: What do you like least?
Performing in the cold!
Can you speak to the challenges you have faced? Over come? Still have?
Magical apparatus from the 19th Century is neither readily available, nor cheap to have reproduced! Most of the “props” in my show are reproductions or close facsimiles. One great example is the classic ‘cups and balls’ trick. The cups that are available today look very little like the ones used in the 19th Century; I wanted to stay with ‘period correct’ pieces. After some searching, I found someone who was able to make them for me…in SWEDEN !!
What is your show like?
Well, the show is a presentation of what was called, “Salon Magic”. Every piece in my show…from the “Duo-Chromatic Handkerchief” to the afore-mentioned cups and balls…is a reproduction of something from that period. Also, as one who is a descendant of Scot-Irish immigrants, I can do a fairly decent Scottish accent. Knowing that Professor Barclay would be performing for both Union and Confederate reenactors, I didn’t want to pick sides, so I made him a Scot who lives in the South and understands their issues with the North, but doesn’t particularly have anything against the North himself; except for the fact that the Union troops in Nashville took over his home! As Barclay would say it, “They call it requisitioning; I call it stealing!” In my back-story on Barclay, he and his family moved to Franklin as a result of this.
Were these kind of showmen really around in mid 19th century, and if so, who were they?
Not only were they around, they were some of the highest paid entertainers in the world! Signor Blitz traveled from his native England to perform across the US, including Washington, DC and Boston, MA. The French magician, Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin, is called the ‘Father of Modern Magic’, and is also the namesake of the great Houdini; he lived and performed in Paris , France in the 1840’s until his death in 1871. In Austria , you had Johann Nepomuk Hofzinser, who is still considered to be the greatest magician with cards who ever lived. He was performing in Vienna from 1856-64. The one that I most admire is John Henry Anderson, aka, “The Great Wizard of the North.” He was from Aberdeen , Scotland and a favorite of Queen Victoria . He performed and toured the world from 1837 until he died in 1874. A quick story on Anderson : he had been scheduled to do his second performance tour in the US in the winter of 1860. He had sent his promotional material, including posters and broadsides, to the city in which he was to perform: Richmond , VA. When he arrived in Richmond, he found his posters and marketing materials had been destroyed and he was told to leave quickly at the risk of his own life because his billing title, the ‘Wizard of the North’ had so incensed Southerners, he had to leave immediately. He never again performed in America .
Can you share a funny story or two about your craft or personal experience?
This was the very first time I performed as Barclay, and is a true story. I’ll tell you before you read this next part that this was entirely impromptu.
I’d been hired to perform for the 19th Alabama Regiment’s Christmas Party in 2003 which was going to be held at the Elm Springs home in Columbia, TN, which is the headquarters for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The entire evening was magical since it was all done as though it was Christmas 1862. Anyway, during dinner, everyone was chatting away and talking; one of the ladies who happened to be sitting across from me asked me (in character, of course), “Professor, isn’t it true that there is an animal that is native to Scotland that is not found in any other part of the world?”
“Yes, my dear. They are huge, ugly beasts with long red hair, horns as wide as a man’s armspan, and the most foul smell. Ugly, smelly beasties, they are!”
“What are they called?”
The entire table was nearly on the floor laughing! This really set the stage for the rest of the evening.
What personal goals do you have related to your show?
My biggest goal is to continue to perfect my show and have presentations that stay true to the history of the Civil War.
How can you be contacted?
The best place to get info and contact me is via my website, www.wizardofedinburgh.com,
or you can email me at richard[at]wizardofedinburgh.com