PAWTUCKET — Be careful if you’re standing next to Thomas Blacke. While he’s smiling at you, shaking your hand and engaging in friendly chitchat, your wallet, watch or keys can disappear in...poof! A matter of seconds.
Blacke is no criminal, however. His intent is purely theatrical, as he has conjured up a successful career out of being a magician.
“I was gifted with very quick hands,” says the show business veteran and world record holder. “You can learn the skills involved in magic, but you need natural hand speed to do it well.”
Blacke bills himself as the “World’s Fastest Magician, Escape Artist and Pickpocket,” and he has worked professionally for over 30 years. The Johnston native has performed throughout the United States and internationally, and has been featured on TV shows and in books and periodicals. He has also authored six books, mostly on magic, and has starred in four DVDs produced by the International Magicians Society on escape artistry, balloon animals and pickpocketing.
Blacke says he is most proud of his ability to break records, particularly for various escapes. He has been recognized multiple times in the Guinness Book of World Records for achievements such as “Fastest Escape from Chains,” “Fastest Escape from Handcuffs Underwater,” and “Fastest Escape from Handcuffs Blindfolded.” He also broke speed records for making balloon animals (3.1 seconds), as cited in the Record Holders Republic and was highlighted in Ripley’s Believe It or Not for his 2010 escape from a pair of handcuffs underwater in 8.34 seconds.
Blacke even has his own trading card, part of a 54-card collectible set called “All About Magicians.” The cards immortalize many ground-breaking magicians that Blacke has admired, including Lance Burton, Harry Blackstone Jr., and Mandrake the Magician. However, it is the legendary Harry Houdini that Blacke looks up to the most and credits as his biggest source of inspiration.
“Houdini was 5’8” tall and had the same body size as me. And he was the first to create an element of mystery around what he did, coining the term “mysteriarch” back in 1906,” said Blacke. Houdini’s skills as an escape artist and his way of creating an eerie sensation around his performances always impressed Blacke when he was embarking on his own career. He has since trademarked “mysteriarch” for his own magic act.
Blacke also serves as President of Escape Masters, the International Association of Escape Artists, and is owner and editor of Escape Masters/Lulu Hurst Society Magazine. “I feel that I’m a magic historian. I try to give back to the art,” he stated, of his editorial contributions. He adds that he is an avid collector of rare and unusual magic artifacts, including props, old show posters, books and other ephemera.
A longtime Freemason, Blacke is a ranking officer of the Knights Templar of Holy Sepulchre Commandery, which meets at the Jenks Lodge in Pawtucket. He is also Commander in Chief of the Sword of Bunker Hill, a Masonic-affiliated organization that confers titles in six states. He has performed on the Jenks Lodge stage on numerous occasions, and has penned a book about magic centered around Masonic themes called “More Masonic Magic.”
While in Pawtucket recently he brought his small black bag of tricks, and dazzled Times staffers with an astonishing array of card tricks, disappearing objects, and balloon animal wizardry. “I always ‘carry pocket,’ ” said Blacke, referring to the veteran magician’s term of never leaving home without a pack of cards, some balloons and a few other small gadgets of trickery stashed up his sleeves.
A self-professed “people” person,” Blacke never knows when he might have to perform a little magic to someone he encounters. It’s a method that helps promote “Thomas Blacke Productions,” his wide-ranging business that includes performing magic shows for parties and corporate events, and conducting motivational lectures and memory training seminars. He even does sessions designed for law enforcement and casino gaming professionals that demonstrate the darker side of the skill set. He notes that while magic, mentalism, and its related forms are meant as entertainment, the mechanics behind it can also be used to improve memory and other business-related skills.
Blacke says he began doing magic tricks as a child of about 10 years old. His parents bought him a set of magic cards that were advertised on TV at the time, and he practiced with those, as well as the children’s magic kits of the day. He started doing “kiddie shows” and branched out from there, performing professionally since the age of 17.
Blacke kept perfecting his craft, even while earning college degrees in marketing and political science at Rhode Island College and later gemology. Earlier in his career, he worked as a radio sports broadcaster, a real estate broker, a jewelry store gemologist, and a referee for World Wrestling Entertainment. “I would do other things, but the magic would always win out anyway,” he said.
Blacke began concentrating on the magical side of his career and has been making paychecks appear and reappear for most of his adult life. He is also working on his seventh book, but unlike the others, this one will be about Rhode Island politics (which he has also dabbled in at the local level). Additionally, Blacke has put his marketing degree to good use, operating Blacke Media, a full-service marketing and public relations business.
However, the practice of the art of magic — and perhaps seeking a 12th record of some sort — remains Blacke’s priority and passion. He noted he is not an illusionist or a manipulator (a performer who relies on disappearing balls, doves, dollar bills or other props). Rather, his act is his own blend of magic tricks, escape artistry, pickpocket showmanship, and a dose of comedy that he has honed over the years from working with audiences.
“I pride myself in being different,” Blacke states. “You can’t be anybody else...everybody else is already taken. You have to prove yourself. Carve your own piece of the pie.”