Where does a magician go when he disappears?
While your eyes are focused on some type of misdirect, the magician is already gone, presumably to a realm that only practitioners of sorcery can access.
When William Hager, part-time magician and soon to be fully retired digital marketing consultant, disappears on Halloween — his last day of work — he won’t be hard to find.
I initially struck up conversation with Hager, a lifelong Lancaster County resident, after he called me regarding a story I wrote on a Lancaster County singing group from the ‘60s.
When he mentioned off-hand that he would be “disappearing” on his last day of work, I took that to mean that he would be perhaps throwing down a smoke bomb or vanishing behind a shroud, leaving his co-workers in a state of shock.
It turns out that “disappearing” is just the obvious turn of phrase for someone with a decades-long interest in magic and showmanship. We met at the Columbia Diner for breakfast one day recently after his annual physical.
“My doctor told me that I was going to live until I’m 90,” says Hager, 67, with a laugh. “I said, ‘Doc, I don’t want to be 90.’ He says, ‘Tell me that when you turn 89.’ ”
Hager’s entrance to the supernatural side of life came from his father, also an amateur magician, who introduced him to the craft at age 10.
“He told me, ‘If I don’t teach someone the secret to these card tricks, I’m going to die with no one knowing,’ ” Hager explains. To this day, Hager always has a deck of cards with him.
In a former life, before he was employed by internet marketing company EZ Marketing, Hager was known as “Mr. Halloween.”
In his early 20s, Hager paid a visit to Lancaster County’s first haunted attraction, Scream in the Dark. Convinced that he could do better, he pleaded with his parents to let him turn their Columbia Avenue dwelling into a haunted house. Dubbed “Dr. Regah’s Haunted Mansion,” Hager welcomed visitors seeking the absurd and abnormal for a dollar a pop, with funds helping to benefit Goodwill Industries of Lancaster.
Later, he would take the show on the road for a series of “Twilight Mystery Tours.”
“I was reading a list of phobias recently, and ‘death’ was below 'standing in front of people and giving a presentation,' can you believe that?” Hager explained. “If you do magic and screw up, you’re in real trouble. It’s a ‘wow’ factor for me — that’s the fun part.”
Hager's jump back into the world of magic was nearly something out of a story, itself. While vacationing in Hawaii a decade ago, Hager volunteered on the spot to do a magic show for a magician who hadn't shown up. Putting on an an Irish accent and calling himself Darby, Hager performed a show for a group primarily from the UK. Afterwards, new fans came and got one last surprise out of Hager when they found out that he wasn't Irish.
"I figured, if I can fool the Brits, I can fool the Yanks," Hager says.
For a 67 — or, as he corrected me, “67.5” — year-old man on the precipice of retirement, it would probably be easier to list the jobs and organizations in which he is not currently active. The Lancaster Road Runners Club counts him as a board member. He recently combined a love of photography and storytelling into pieces of performance art, including a show titled “Dianna Blackwell and the Oracle of Santa Maria.” Thanks to over three decades as a member of the Sertoma Club, his closet has clothes that will never lose the smell of chicken.
When asked where a magician goes when he disappears, Hager is coy — “Second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning.”
He’s right, though. A magician doesn’t — and shouldn’t — reveal his secrets, whether they are as minor as a card trick or major as a significant life shift.
Oct. 31 will come, and he will go. However, Hager is a sterling example of the fact that stopping working doesn’t have to equate to stopping living. And, as he reminded me before showcasing an impressive card trick at the diner, there are far scarier things in life than death.
“People ask me why I don’t fully retire,” says Hager with a grin. “I say, ‘Have you seen daytime TV?’ ”