“Bellcamp” The Magician by Ann E. Schuyler
This writing series article was first posted on the Little Falls Historical Society Museum website.
“Uncle Archie, can you make me disappear?” I asked. “Yes,” he said, “Go in the other room.” I was expecting something like levitation. Oh well, we continued our card game.
My first memory of him was when I was 7 years old and he came to our home on West Main Street in Little Falls, driving a 1939 Ford Roadster Model A. He asked Mom, Dad, and me if we wanted a ride to the Eysaman family homestead where his girlfriend, Elizabeth Eysaman lived. Dad rode in front and Mom and I took over the rumble seat. For those of you who are too young to know what that was, it was a two-seater that opened like a trunk. The necessary blanket was ready so off we went. Riding up Main Street. we waved to friends who were “green with envy.” As we went up the East Monroe Street hill, we tucked the blanket around us. By the time we got to the top of the hill, we were freezing. We wished we had mittens and earmuffs. After all, it was a fall evening, and we were at a higher altitude than in the city. After a visit with Great Aunt Ella and Aunt Betty, it was time to leave. It was a school night, and I was looking forward to a hot bath.
Magic was in Archie’s blood.
He had an uncle who was an amateur magician and on his passing Archie inherited his uncle’s collection. At this time, Uncle Archie worked as a salesman for Beechnut Co. When December 7, 1941 happened, America entered World War II, and he enlisted (or was drafted) in the Army. Surprisingly, they put him in the Engine Corps, but his entire time in the Army was as an entertainer, amazing the troops and guests with his “tricks.”
He was sent to England, Belgium, and Germany. In England he got the honor of meeting the Lord Mayor of London.
Service men could write home and all of the mail was censored (and so stamped). Then it was turned into “V-mail, a downsized photo of the original letter. All mail from servicemen was sent free.
When the war was over, he was discharged in New York City. Guess what he did? He went into Tiffany’s and bought a beautiful diamond solitary ring for Aunt Betty.
Now his magic career really took off. He purchased more equipment and gave free shows at hospitals like Pinecrest in Salisbury and at many local schools, and at the Masonic Temple and churches.
His first trip to see if he could travel far and alone was out West. When he got to Arizona, he hit a sheep and totaled the Model A and it burned up. He was lucky to escape with minor injuries, but all the magic tricks were gone. Even a magician couldn’t save them. He took a train home. He resumed being a salesman again, long enough to restock his magic tricks.
Happiness was to be realized in December of 1945 when he married the love of his life, Aunt Betty.
After a busy holiday season with family and friends, with a new bride in tow, and a new car full of magic tricks, they left for an unending honeymoon. New to the hotel audiences he soon found the best ones were classy ones on the east coast. Sometimes they would run into people from the Mohawk Valley, and he introduced his new bride. A man from back home said Aunt Betty was the best trick of all.
Coming back home in the spring to the old homestead was a joy. They were welcomed by family and friends. The big old house, built in 1810, was now lit up every night. Archie loved flowers and made several gardens and a rose arbor. He took care of the south lawn, my dad maintaining the north lawn and a huge vegetable garden.
During the height of the vacation season, off they went again, this time to the Adirondacks and New England. Sometimes they met up with the same people they saw in the South.
They usually returned home after Labor Day. In 1953, they interrupted their tour because my wedding was on September 5, a Saturday, and they came home for that.
Bellcamp came by that name because his middle name was Campbell and he just switched it around. I remember one trick in particular which was threading sewing needles in his mouth. See accompanying photo. Don’t try this at home!
He used Bunnies for the “Rabbit in the Hat” trick. When they grew too big for the act, he gave them to me. I had one bunny with black eyes. The rabbits always had to be white so there was a contrast between it and the black top hat.
Archie and Aunt Betty spent many years on tour together. However, finally they realized it was time to give up the traveling because packing and unpacking got to be too much. One-night stands took their toll.
Many of us were amazed at his talent, being self-taught, and compared to today’s artists, his acts would be considered primitive.
His illness put an end to his career, and he passed away from Hodgkins’ Disease in 1959 in the beloved old house in the Town of Manheim.
PS: He never did make me disappear.
Ann Schuyler is a member of the Little Falls Historical Society and the Salisbury Historical Society, where she volunteered in years past. She has also written articles and was a volunteer for the Salisbury Historical Society newsletter.