A skull wearing sunglasses cackles to announce the arrival of visitors to Magic Central, a retail shop on Weaverville Highway in North Asheville. The shop appears empty except for the autographed posters of celebrities that grace the walls and glass cabinets displaying magician’s wares. Finally, shop owner Ricky D. Boone appears from behind the back curtain, energetic and disarming. “Unfortunately the wheelchair is the first thing people see,” he says.
Boone was born with rare bone disease and breathes with just one lung. He can’t drive or clothe himself and has limited movement in his hands. But maybe the wheelchair shouldn’t be the first thing people see: Boone, a practitioner of magic for more than 40 years, has been using comedy, illusion and the art of misdirection to captivate audiences for decades.
That, and he was featured in Magic Man, a 2006 Emmy Award-winning ABC news documentary by Leighton Grant. Boone is the founder of the 25-year-old WNC Magic Club and owns Magic Central. One of his magic tricks even earned him a Lifetime Achievement in Magic Award from the Southeastern Association of Magicians in 2008. And now the local magician is onto a new project, and he wants the community to get involved.
Since last February, Boone and his business partner T.J. Shimeld have been putting on monthly performances under the auspices of their nonprofit organization, The Vanishing Wheelchair Inc. As always, their goal is to inspire people, but they also hope to form a community for disabled people and those who want to help them.
Boone exudes positivity. “People need somebody ridiculous, and I’m ridiculous,” he says. He seems to embody magic: His whole life has been one long death-defying magic trick. “The doctors told my parents I wouldn’t live to be 4 years old,” Boone says. “I just turned 54.” He had a heart attack onstage while performing magic at a convention for more than 500 people at the Renaissance Hotel, yet somehow completed the show. Two years before the heart attack he had brain surgery, which he claims “wasn’t so bad.”
Shimeld first wandered into Magic Central seeking the camaraderie of fellow magicians. But it was later, after a devastating car accident left his left hand in ruins, that Shimeld tapped into the healing powers of Boone’s story. He remembered one of Boone’s signature tricks, an escape act complete with handcuffs and thumb cuffs. Boone says to the audience, “We all feel trapped and contained by our bodies. Maybe you wear glasses or you don’t like your hair.” Shimeld goes on to explain, “Then Ricky escapes his chains the way he’s escaped his condition — by his magic, by doing what he loves.” Shimeld eventually regained full motion in his hand and went on to author Boone’s biography, The Four Foot Giant and the Vanishing Wheelchair.
Boone attributes his interest in magic to a teacher he met when he was 13. He recalls first seeing Grove Norwood disembark from a Harley motorcycle. The Vietnam veteran soon became the school principal. Norwood inspired Boone’s comedic sensibility when he would order Boone to his office over the school intercom and then admonish him in front of the secretary. But once the two cohorts were behind closed doors, Norwood pulled out some magic tricks and showed his protégé the ropes.
The goal of the Vanishing Wheelchair takes inspiration from this formative relationship that made all the difference in Boone’s life. “We don’t just want disabled people involved, we want all kinds of people to come together,” he says.
The magician sees himself as lucky. “I’ve lived more in the real world than the disabled world,” he says. But he admits it’s been hard. Boone is especially angry at the way society perceives the disabled. “Einstein would be in a mental institute now,” he says, only half-jokingly.
Now entering its second performance season, The Vanishing Wheelchair Inc. will be continuing its monthly shows, which are free to the public with donations greatly appreciated. “We don’t want to leave anyone out,” Boone explains. Performers include magicians Boone, Shimeld, Vanishing Wheelchair Vice President Gil Carlson, Judy Kovacs and Robert B. Jones, as well as storyteller Vixi Glenn and singer Kelti Buchholz.
Funds raised at the performances will help facilitate monthly social dinners with the goal of discovering what people want to learn and what others have to offer. Boone refers to his business plan as the snowball effect, starting small and growing according to the desires of those involved. “If one thing doesn’t work, we try another,” Boone says — it’s a strategy that’s worked wonders so far.
Anyone wanting to perform, teach skills, sign up for info about the social dinners or just to find out more, visit VanishingWheelchair.org.
— Toni Sherwood can be reached at Toni_sherwood@yahoo.com.
what: The Vanishing Wheelchair’s Magic, Mirth & Meaning
where: St. Mary’s Church, 337 Charlotte St.
when: Saturday, Jan. 4, 6:30 p.m. (also, Saturdays, Feb. 8, March 22 and April 26)
$10 adults/$5 children. Advance registration encouraged.