Mary’s Queries – Magic Tricks for Kids

Introduction: In this article – to prepare for the summer family reunion season, or any family gathering really – Mary Harrell-Sesniak presents magic tricks (and their solutions) she found in the pages of old newspapers. Mary is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background.

A magician will never tell you the secret of their tricks – but an old newspaper might. So next time your kids are bored, search for magic tricks in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

An article about magic tricks,
Evansville Press (Evansville, Indiana), 13 April 1941, page 80

You could either perform the magic tricks for the family yourself, or reveal the secrets for your youngster’s performances. Either way, this will provide hours of entertainment – and if you’re heading off to a family reunion, keep this in reserve for anyone who remembers Grandma or Grandpa doing the same.

Merry Queries

To assist you, I’m going to disclose my “trick” for finding magic tricks in old newspapers: I simply enclose my favorite keywords in quotation marks and go about my Mary (ha ha merry) query!

A screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page showing a search for "magic card trick"

These are some of the keywords I searched on:

  • “magic trick”
  • “magic card trick”
  • “magic egg trick”
  • “card conjuring”
  • “prestidigitator”

If you don’t want to spoil your own delight at wondering how a trick is done, set your tricky youngster up on the laptop next to you and enjoy their process of self-discovery as they do a “merry query.”

As you peruse my examples of magic tricks, I’ll show you some of the answers – but not all of them. To find some of these solutions, you will have to query for yourself.

Magic Egg Trick

The recipe for the setup in the magic egg trick includes:

  • an egg
  • an egg cup
  • a button hook
  • a ring

Follow the simple instructions and your child will be able to put on a fun show.

An article about magic tricks, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 20 November 1932
Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 20 November 1932, page 15

Card Tricks

You’ll also discover a wide variety of card tricks, such as the Cap’n Zyb ruse.

It has to do with finding a card in the deck after someone has selected one and placed it in a new position.

It’s so simple, I’ve been wondering why I didn’t figure it out on my own. Read on if you want to know how the Cap’n Zyb process works – and if you don’t, simply hit print and hand the page to your budding magician.

An article about magic tricks, Times-Picayune newspaper article 27 July 1924
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 27 July 1924, page 75

The setup in this next clip is revealed, but I’m going to make you look up the solution yourself by finding and reading this newspaper article. Hint: this trick will require an ally to pull it off.

An article about magic tricks, Plain Dealer newspaper article 3 November 1943
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 3 November 1943, page 14


In addition to various tricks, you can also learn about specific magicians and prestidigitators in the pages of old newspapers.

In 1892, one trickster named Herman performed so well that his tricks were revealed in the newspapers after the show. This article even explains how the term prestidigitation came about. (The term is a combination of two Latin words meaning quickly and finger.) The article goes on to reveal tricks such as:

  • The rabbit in the hat (any stuffed animal will do)
  • An escaped prisoner who is substituted for another
  • The goldfish in the dish
An article about magic tricks, Portland Daily Press newspaper article 23 May 1892
Portland Daily Press (Portland, Maine), 23 May 1892, page 3

Newspaper Magic Trick!

If you want to know how Herman did these tricks, you’ll have to do a merry query in old newspapers. You’ll find enough tricks to keep everyone busy for a long time!

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