Each Friday, Jerry Oppenheimer ties his shoes, packs some tricks and takes a bus down from Riverdale to the Magic Table, a weekly gathering of the city’s magicians at a corner table in a quiet Midtown café.
At the meeting, coins are palmed. Coffee cups levitate. Mr. Oppenheimer’s own specialty transforms one dollar bills into fives.
The Midtown tradition goes back to World War II and has included some of the world’s most famous conjurers, including Tony Slydini, Doug Henning and David Copperfield — many of whom Mr. Oppenheimer, 93, recalls meeting personally.
But magic also resides in the Bronx.
Mr. Oppenheimer was recently named Magician of the Year by the Society of American Magicians, which describes itself as the oldest and most prestigious such organization in the world. Seated in a Riverdale apartment adorned with glass, porcelain and crystal rabbit statues, he reflected on the honor and his start in magic.
“It was unexpected,” Mr. Oppenheimer said, adding that unlike previous winners, he had never been a career magician. “But I’m very proud to have the award.”
As a youngster living in the South Bronx, Mr. Oppenheimer listened to radio serials like “Chandu the Magician” and read everything he could about legendary mystifiers including Erich Weiss, more commonly known as Houdini. Scraping together his pennies, Mr. Oppenheimer would ride a bus down to Midtown and buy a few tricks to impress his friends.
When World War II came, Mr. Oppenheimer enlisted in the Air Force and served in the Pacific theater. Writing from Okinawa, Japan, he pulled off what he still calls his “greatest trick” when he proposed to his sweetheart, Lee, who accepted. When Mr. Oppenheimer returned from the war, the couple moved to Kingsbridge Road in the Bronx. He began studying to become a court reporter and the tricks from his youth were piled into boxes he kept in his basement.
Mr. Oppenheimer rekindled his interest in the art when his daughter, Janet, asked whether he could teach her a trick or two.