116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
HIAWATHA — “When I was 70, if you’d said, ‘You’re going to open up a magic shop,’ I would’ve said you’re crazy,” Marlin, now 72, said one recent afternoon. “Why would I do such a thing?
“But here I am, and I’m having fun.”
As with so many other things in 2022, COVID-19 had something to do with it. A longtime magician and student of its history, Marlin helped out at a friend’s Iowa Magic Shop in Marion when the pandemic first hit.
“They decided, we’re going to close the shop and we’re going to sell online,” he said. “Where does that leave me? I liked meeting the customers, I like meeting the kids, I liked everything about it.”
Marlin decided to maintain the area’s sole brick-and-mortar magic shop, provided he could find an affordable location.
Ken’s Magic Shop opened in March in Hiawatha, its modestly sized storefront filled with tricks, puzzles, games, instruction books and props. He stocks something for every skill level.
“This rack right here has a lot of beginners’ stuff,” he said. “A lot of that works itself.
“It’s not like you’ve got to know how to do it. They all come with instructions, and I tell them, ‘If you’re having trouble doing something, come back in, I’ll show you.’
“And I show them how to do it before they leave. Because they’re paying for the secret. The secret is in the package, but I’ll show you what the secret is before you leave here. I’m not going to sell you something that’s way beyond your ability.”
Marlin’s lifelong interest was sparked during his Ottumwa childhood by “The Ed Sullivan Show” on television.
“He had magicians on every once in a while. I saw one when I was about 10,” he said. “I don’t remember who, I’m sorry to say.
“I turned to my mother and said, ‘I wish I could do that.’ She said, ‘I know a place that sells that kind of stuff.’”
Answering an ad in the back of a magazine, Marlin bought a simple cup-and-ball trick from a mail-order house.
“I bought it for a dollar, and I still have that,” he said. “It just went from there. I bought a few more tricks from them, and found a few other mail-order companies.”
As a teenager, Marlin joined a variety troupe that played local venues.
“They’d have a singer, they might have a baton twirler, a piano player, a guitar player, and I was the magician,” he recalled. “You learned a lot doing that. Didn’t make any money.
“We played for civic groups, small church groups, that kind of thing. It was a good learning experience. After I went to college, magic kind of went on the back burner.”
Owner: Ken Marlin
Address: 320 Blairs Ferry Rd., Hiawatha
Phone: (319) 551-6579
During his career working at Anamosa State Penitentiary, Marlin’s interest shifted from performance to the history of magic.
He collected photos and memorabilia and has researched and nearly finished writing a biography of T. Nelson Downs, a popular magician from Marshalltown who toured internationally from the 1880s through the 1930s.
“He was a coin magician, if you can imagine being in a big theater at that time doing coin magic,” Marlin said.
“He’s buried in Marshalltown, and I’m doing a book on him, a biography which is this close to being published. There’s been books on a lot of magicians over the years, but nothing on him. I felt that Downs deserves a book of his own.”
Most of Marlin’s customers are amateurs, hoping to surprise and amaze friends and family.
“It’s a pastime, a hobby,” he said. “They bring their kids in, their grandkids in. I take great delight in that. You never know where the next David Copperfield is going to come from.”
Card and coin tricks are most popular.
“What we would call close-up magic, as opposed to stage magic,” Marlin said. “Although I carry things along that line, too. If I don’t have it, I can probably get it.”
Ken’s Magic Shop also hosts meetings of the area’s Ring 327 of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and an informal Sunday afternoon gathering at which tricks are demonstrated and feedback provided.
He recommends would-be magicians do a little research.
“A lot of them are going on YouTube and they’ll see a lot of this magic and they can learn from that,” Marlin said. “That’s OK, it’s just different.
“Go to your public library. Take a look at their magic section, they’ve got books on card tricks.”
Marlin and his part-time assistant will take it from there.
“Everybody that comes in, we show them something,” he said. “Even if it’s just a little entertainment.”
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