Magicians Undercover — “Professor” Leon and the Counterfeiters

Undercover MagicMagicians and undercover work go hand in hand. The ability to surreptitiously take, leave, or swap an item under watchful eyes is extremely helpful in situations where discovery could mean life or death.

One agency which is historically linked with magicians is the Secret Service. Before they were assigned to the protection of the President, the Secret Service was originally created in 1865 to suppress counterfeit currency.

The New York Times reported on May 15, 1886, that in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a man named Ezekiel Wellington Jones was arrested for passing counterfeit silver dollars. He was arrested along with a man named Morehouse and was taken to the Kalamazoo Jail. Also arrested was “Professor” Louis S. Leon, a “reputed magician and sleight-of-hand performer.

Professor Leon gave information to the officers who raided Jones’ “underground cellar, where they captured a large quantity of dies and other counterfeiting implements, with a large quantity of finished and unfinished coin.”

Leon was held at another jail in Cassopolis, Michigan, almost fifty miles away. As per Secret Service practice, undercover agents will submit to arrest until headquarters can be contacted. And, as the New York Times noted in the article, “It is suspected… that Leon is really a detective.”

Magic and Espionage: The Arts of Deception

Magicians and spies have one very important thing in common: they both practice the art of deception. Making your “audience” look one way while you do something else has been practiced in venues ranging from an uncle pulling a coin out of a child’s ear all the way up to the invasion of Normandy in World War II.

It was inevitable that magicians and spies would eventually work together and share techniques. During the Cold War, the CIA had a top secret program called MK-ULTRA where various techniques for behavioral engineering — mind control — found intelligence operatives working with magicians and hypnotists.  This was one of the inspirations for the SMOKE & DAGGER series.