He’s a Young Black Magician. People Ask: ‘Are You the Next Houdini?’

From Wisconsin to New York, RJ the Magician has followed the showman’s path. He now directs the Houdini Museum of New York.

Rajon Lynch, 23, was recently appointed the director of the Houdini Museum in Manhattan. He is also known as RJ the Magician.Credit...Anna Watts for The New York Times

 

By Corey Kilgannon

  • Published Nov. 29, 2019Updated Dec. 2, 2019

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Two months ago, Rajon Lynch, 23, was teaching magic in Shanghai when he got an email from the Houdini Museum of New York.

For Mr. Lynch, who grew up in Wisconsin performing in the same childhood town as Harry Houdini, it was a request that seemed set up by the gods of magic.

The museum’s owner, Roger Dreyer, needed a new director and had heard about Mr. Lynch.

“He was intrigued I was from same place as Houdini,” recalled Mr. Lynch, who immediately bought a one-way ticket to New York to meet with Mr. Dreyer.

New York City has many prominent museums. The Houdini Museum — tucked away on the fourth floor of a building in Midtown Manhattan — is not one of them.

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But it has one of the world’s largest displays of the famed escape artist’s memorabilia, with well over 200 items.

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The museum displays some of Houdini's personal items, including locks and handcuffs he used during performances.Credit...Anna Watts for The New York Times

The museum, which shares a modest-size room with the Fantasma Magic shop, offers tours, magic classes and evening shows for a fee.

But it is free to enter and browse, and Mr. Lynch and other young magicians are on hand, showing tricks and dispensing tips.

“People have said to me, ‘Wow, are you the new Houdini?’” said Mr. Lynch, who is known as RJ the Magician and has modeled his magic career after Houdini, who died in 1926.

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He stood in the museum recently as a group of students from the Gotham Professional Arts Academy, a high school in Brooklyn, milled around.

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“Hey, step right up — I’m going to show some magic,” Mr. Lynch said authoritatively.

The room instantly went quiet and by the time Mr. Lynch began doing comic imitations of Michael Jackson dance moves, he had the teens’ complete attention.

He called over a man who was browsing in the museum and had him choose a card and then return it to the deck without showing it. Moments later, Mr. Lynch pulled it out of his own pocket.

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Mr. Lynch invited a museum guest to show his card to the audience —without revealing it to him — while he performed a magic trick.Credit...Anna Watts for The New York Times

Mr. Lynch, who peppers his performances with jokes and ad-libs, tested the man’s reactions by suddenly raising his voice. But the man — Steven Crawford, 65, a doctor from Manasquan, N.J. — didn’t even flinch.

“You must be from the hood,” Mr. Lynch joked.

Later, Mr. Lynch said this crowd — black students who had no exposure to magic — were the type of demographic he especially hoped to reach with his magic.

“We’re trying to get more kids of color in, as well as women and girls,” he said. “I think it helps that I’m African-American and I don’t necessarily look like a conventional magician.”

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Mr. Dreyer, who has a prodigious collection of Houdini artifacts, opened the museum in 2012 in his previous magic shop in Midtown Manhattan. He moved it in 2017 to its current home, where he also runs a business manufacturing toys and magic kits.

The museum’s displays range from a trunk that Houdini would lock himself in to small lock picks he would regurgitate during his escapes.

There are photographs and movie posters, as well a coffin the magician escaped from even though it had been nailed shut with long spikes.

Mr. Dreyer said Mr. Lynch has a “contagious smile,” considerable magical skills, and a flair for Houdini’s genius for marketing and promotion.

He said he hired Mr. Lynch partly to expose urban teens to the motivational power of magic.

“Houdini used to say, ‘My brain is the key that sets me free,” Mr. Dreyer said. “RJ’s enthusiasm is contagious, and he wants to bring magic to the masses. He motivates kids to be the best they can be.”

Editors’ Picks

 

-Fox Valley magician entertained Houdini's hometown. Now he's director of the Houdini Museum of New York.

 

One thing Rajon Lynch is unable to escape? His ties to Harry Houdini. 

Not that he'd want to.

The 23-year-old magician who in recent years performed around the Appleton area, including at the History Museum at the Castle and Houdini's Escape Gastropub, has found a new job in a new city. He's now the director of the Houdini Museum of New York.

His ties to Appleton — the onetime home of Houdini, history's most famous magician — didn't land him the job. But it certainly didn't hurt.

"I think it definitely piqued his interest," Lynch said of the museum's owner, Roger Dreyer, who hired him in September. "Being from Appleton, when I started getting in the papers and stuff, the main thing was Houdini was old and Appleton might be looking to revive magic. Because I started writing about that stuff, I felt like I had a good grasp in terms of what people want from magic." 

Houdini famously claimed to be a native of Appleton, though he came here as a child from Budapest, Hungary and left well before finding fame. Lynch, who performs as RJ the Magician, is a native of Racine who came to this area for college — he earned a communications degree from University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in the spring — and often performed in Appleton while in school. 

In 2017, he launched a dinner-show program called Now Serving Magic, which was hosted at times by Houdini's Escape, the History Museum and Oshkosh's Time Community Theater.

He spent the summer after graduation teaching magic in China. That's where he was when he was first contacted about the opening at the Houdini Museum, which is found in the same city Houdini now rests. The great illusionist is buried in a cemetery in Queens. 

Opened in 2012, the museum itself is a small, a one-room showcase on the fourth floor of a Midtown Manhattan building, but it houses more than $3 million in memorabilia. With cuffs, posters, keys, a coffin and a trunk from the famous "Metamorphasis" stunt, it's the largest public collection of Houdini items.

One of the goals of the Houdini Museum, according to the official website, is to "inspire all age groups to realize once you focus and set your mind on something, you can accomplish anything you desire." It's fitting, then, that shortly before Now Serving Magic was starting in Wisconsin, Lynch told The Post-Crescent his plans after college were simple: "I want to be in New York," he said. 

The operation also includes the Fantasma Magic Shop, which Lynch now oversees. He said they often sell magic kits to kids, and he joked he sometimes feels like "black Santa."

"You don't see magic shops around anymore," said Lynch, who owned a Fantasma kit as a child. "When my parents were younger, like every neighborhood (in New York) had a magic shop where you could go and learn some tricks. Now it's all converted to online." 

Besides peddling magic wares, the duties he took on in September include giving tours, producing magic shows, performing and chatting up the guests. 

He also helps market the museum, something he's already getting the hang of. In his few short months he's been covered by New York's ABC, NBC and Fox affiliates, AM New York and the New York Times. (And now, of course, The Post-Crescent.)

As a young, black magician with a background linked with Houdini, he knows he has a story hook.

"I was able to learn that I kind of had a knack for writing, especially about magic," he said. "And that's probably why I got this job, because I love magic, I love people and I love making connections like that." 

MORE:Remembering when two of Appleton's most famous residents crossed paths

RJ the Magician returns

Rajon Lynch, aka RJ the Magician, will be back in northeast Wisconsin for a performance with two other magicians. The event is at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 24 at Tim Community Theater, 445 N. Main St., Oshkosh. RJ will perform with Caleb Hyatt and Noah Sonie. Hyatt is based in Milwaukee and Sonie is from Minnesota. Tickets start at $15 and are available at eventbrite.com

Contact Shane Nyman at 920-996-7223 or snyman@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @shanenyman.

Virtual magic tricks with RJ the Magician and friends

Things to do

Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock

Time Out says

You'll have to see it to believe it! On Wednesday at 7pm, RJ the Magician—a NYC-based enchanter with a TV show in the works and the former director of The Houdini Museum of New York—will take over the Time Out New York Kids Instagram account to show magicians in the making how to perfect their tricks. Joining RJ is Ran’D Shine, and Noah Sonie; Ran’D Shine has performed at President Obama's inauguration and starred in various TV shows while Noah Sonie is the producer of Minnesota's The Magic Underground and performing (virtually) all over the country. Don't miss out on the fun! All ages. 

POSTED: MONDAY DECEMBER 28 2020

Details

Event website:https://www.instagram.com/timeoutnykids/

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Racine native finds himself and history through magic

https://journaltimes.com/news/local/racine-native-finds-himself-and-history-through-magic/article_e8c86af6-fe8f-5271-8207-46c4700cfece.html

RACINE — Rajon Lynch, who goes by RJ, admitted that he was the “class clown” while attending Park High School.

“In my friend group I was always talking,” he said. “But I wasn’t funny enough to be a comedian and I couldn’t sing or dance.”

What he could do was magic. Lynch said he got into magic when he was 8 years old, after watching a Disney Channel show from which he learned to create the illusion of putting a salt shaker through a table. But he said he was only casually interested in magic until he was 19.

He started taking magic more seriously when French Woods, a performing arts camp in New York, hired him to teach magic. Larry Denburg, head of the magic department at French Woods, said Lynch taught the children of such celebrities as Ben Stiller and Debra Messing.

At first, Lynch said he was too nervous to perform and was known as the “balloon guy” who taught kids how to make animal balloons. But he gradually learned how to be a better performer and entertainer and discovered it suited his personality.

“They really taught me how to take the tricks and turn them into acts that people want to watch,” he said. “I can be the loudest person in the room or the funniest person in the room, and people pay me for it now.”

The legacy of black magicians

In addition to teaching magic, Lynch, a University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh student, performs professionally as RJ the Magician. Last year he joined the International Association of Black Magical Artists, an organization that collects and archives the history of black magicians.

It was through IABMA that Lynch began to learn about the history of black magicians, particularly those that inspired famed Appleton native, Harry Houdini.

One was Richard Potter, an American-born magician, ventriloquist and showman who died in 1835 in New Hampshire. Not much is saved from Potter’s shows but a plaque commemorates his home in Andover, N.H.

“He was America’s first big celebrity — especially the first black celebrity,” said Lynch.

Another is Benjamin Rucker, who performed under the stage name Black Herman. Rucker, born in the late 1800s, allegedly would bury himself three days before he was scheduled to perform, then just before the performance, he’d unbury himself and walk into the show.

“That’s something that’s actually written,” said Lynch.

Quite a bit of the history of black magicians is based on oral history passed down over the years, corroborated by a smattering or artifacts.

“We have a lot of history that’s not documented,” said Lynch. “If you could see it in examples from magic, you could see it anywhere.”

Aspiring playwright

Lynch is writing a play about four black magicians that he hopes to have finished in time for Black History Month in 2019.

“They were the first black entertainers that paved the way for me,” he said.

Lynch also has a lot of respect for Houdini who, as a Jewish person, also was a minority.

“He took what was popular and took them to the next level,” said Lynch. “He helped push the culture forward.”

In addition to honoring magic’s history, Lynch continues to build his career as a performer. He said now, probably more than any other time, people need a little mystery in their lives.

“There is so much in the world that as adult we know already or have seen already. I think magic interests us because we don’t know how it’s done and we don’t have a lot of that left in the world,” he said. “It’s a little mystery at a time where we don’t have a lot of that.”

Lynch is organizing a three-course dinner with magic performances by him and two other magicians in between courses. Called “Now Serving Magic,” the event is scheduled for 7 p.m. on April 5 at Reefpoint Brewhouse, 2 Christopher Columbus Causeway, where Lynch got his first job at age 16.

-

RACINE — Rajon Lynch, who goes by RJ, admitted that he was the “class clown” while attending Park High School.

“In my friend group I was always talking,” he said. “But I wasn’t funny enough to be a comedian and I couldn’t sing or dance.”

What he could do was magic. Lynch said he got into magic when he was 8 years old, after watching a Disney Channel show from which he learned to create the illusion of putting a salt shaker through a table. But he said he was only casually interested in magic until he was 19.

He started taking magic more seriously when French Woods, a performing arts camp in New York, hired him to teach magic. Larry Denburg, head of the magic department at French Woods, said Lynch taught the children of such celebrities as Ben Stiller and Debra Messing.

At first, Lynch said he was too nervous to perform and was known as the “balloon guy” who taught kids how to make animal balloons. But he gradually learned how to be a better performer and entertainer and discovered it suited his personality.

“They really taught me how to take the tricks and turn them into acts that people want to watch,” he said. “I can be the loudest person in the room or the funniest person in the room, and people pay me for it now.”

New director at Houdini Museum

https://www.fox5ny.com/news/new-director-at-houdini-museum

By Jessica Formoso

Published October 1, 2019

Midtown

FOX 5 NY

NEW YORK - Rajon Lynch, A.K.A RJ the Magician, is the new director of the Houdini Museum of New York at Fantasma Magic. 

The 23-year-old moved to New York a month ago.

"I'm trying to get fresh faces in here, some fresh magicians, that are in the community. Get talent in here like people from America’s Got Talent," Lynch says.

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Lynch is the youngest director ever employed at the museum which is now located on West 35th Street in Midtown Manhattan.

He is well versed in the history of Harry Houdini, he even says they have a lot in common.

New director at Houdini Museum

Rajon Lynch is the youngest director ever employed at the Midtown museum.

"When I started getting into magic all my gigs were in Appleton at the Houdini Plaza, Houdini’s restaurant was my first magic show and then I got to work at the Houdini Museum and I started to see the connections between me and Houdini and I found out he moved to New York," Lynch says.

Some of Houdini’s personal items are inside the museum, from his handcuffs to robots, to a famous casket he escaped from. 

On October 11th Eric Jones, who was on America's Got Talent, will be performing at the museum. Tickets are $45 and $65 for VIP tickets.

The Houdini Museum of New York’s new director is a 23-year-old magician

By Shaye Weaver

Rajon Lynch, the new director of the Houdini Museum of New York, hails from the Appleton, Wisconsin area, which is also Houdini’s hometown. Photo Credit: Todd Maisel

Tucked up on the fourth floor of a nondescript building on West 35th Street, the Houdini Museum of New York has more than 10,000 artifacts from two centuries of magic, not only from the escape expert himself but superstars like David Copperfield, Siegfried and Roy and Harry Blackstone.

And as of this week, there’s a new magician in its gallery-like halls.

Enter 23-year-old Rajon Lynch, the museum’s new director. On Monday, he started his new job by giving tours of its antique show posters, shadow boxes holding metal handcuffs, lockpicks Houdini would regurgitate during his shows and essential magic props, in addition to performing tricks for visitors. Most importantly, Lynch is tasked with helping to reinvigorate the museum and its programming. 

Lynch shows Brooklyn resident Leeat Massuda a multiplying bubbles trick. Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

It’s a big responsibility as the museum’s youngest employee, but "RJ the Magician," feels how he got the job was kismet.

"Communication and magic are my two loves," he told amNewYork at the shop on Wednesday. "I felt it was too lucky not to take this opportunity."

Lynch actually has things in common with Houdini — both of them hail from Appleton, Wisconsin, studied sleight of hand and magic tricks from a young age, and had dreams of coming to New York City.

"I started to see this parallel, which did kind of push me to stick to the plan [to be a magician]," he said, explaining he graduated with a communications degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. "When I tell people I am a magician, it’s fun because I don’t necessarily look like a magician — people have this expectation of what they should look like, and I think part of that is that I’m African American and the other part is that I just don’t try to look super magic-y." 

Brooklyn resident Adina Krinsky and daughter Sarah, 5, visit the Houdini Museum. Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

After teaching at a performing arts camp, where he learned from professionals, doing magic dinners and comedy nights, he took his show to Shanghai two years ago to help start a summer magic program. Just this year he "moved to New York with a one-way ticket."

The museum’s curator, Roger Dreyer, said that Lynch is tasked with revitalizing the museum, which holds the second-largest Houdini collection in the world (next to David Copperfield).

"We really wanted someone who was going to take this seriously and make the museum and our magic shop their baby, make it their own," he said. "He isn’t wasting any time."

Lynch has "so many ideas," including organizing intimate cabaret shows inside the museum, which has a small stage, he said. 

Tommy Burnett shows Eryeh Leib Krinsky, 9, a magic trick. Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

The museum, which is also part of the Fantasma Magic retail shop and toy manufacturer, opened in 2012 with more than 1,000 pieces of memorabilia, including Houdini’s 1907 escape coffin and Metamorphosis Trunk, his wife Bess Houdini’s stage costume and more.

Walking through it is like stepping behind the curtain or peering behind the stage, and Lynch is excited to be a part of it.

"In the future, I want to be able to tell all these stories," he said. "Roger and the people who work here always have these stories about people who came in, or things that happened, or movies they worked with. Everyone here has a story. It’s the best part of the shop."

The Houdini Museum of New York at 213 W. 35th St., Suite 401, is open 7 days a week, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is free and guided tours are $10.

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