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Of entertainers and blindfolded drivers

“The ‘blindfold street drive' as a good publicity stunt to do for a local car dealer. (Page 18 of Burling Hull 's Encyclopedic Dictionary of Mentalism)”

 “ILONGGO MAGICIAN DRIVES BLINDFOLDED” . This would have been the headline in newspapers more than 25 years ago had journalists gotten wind of a discreet blindfold driving demonstration by a known Ilonggo magician. It would have raised quite a stir then as did the recent blindfold driving stunt that was performed by a self styled “Wonder Lady” who collects donations for her feat and does faith healing on the side.

Blindfold driving is an old magic trick known to most magicians. It sells for about US $ 25.00 in magic shops. In the 1920's, famous mental magician “Dunninger” a.k.a. the “Master Mind”, regularly used blindfolded driving to market himself. In the 1950's, David Berglas piloted and landed a plane blindfolded. In the 1970's, the “Amazing Randi” drove through Red Bank, New Jersey, to drum up publicity for the local Volvo dealer. With gobs of pizza dough over and around his eyes, a blindfold over the dough, a double-thickness opaque bag over his head and tied at the neck, and a reporter right beside him in the car, he still managed to drive all around town. Glen Falkenstein, a Magic Hall of Famer, who once performed in Cebu and Manila , also uses this trick as do hundreds of other magicians.

At the young age of seven , Saroja Roy from India 's southern Hyderabad city is said to be the youngest blindfolded magician. Roy has been training since she was three under H.Guhay, who has a world record in blindfold driving. Saroja's parents planned to take her to the Spanish capital Madrid to participate in the World Magic Championship.

Magicians generally use the blindfold driving test as an advertising tool. This can create a big fanfare and catch the attention of even the most blasé' of persons. One important thing to note though, magicians never claim any supernatural or paranormal powers in performing this trick because there is none. The secret is as physically earthbound as the Cat's Cradle (that trick using a round string wound around both hands)

On the other hand, there are those who use this stunt to prove their claim of psychic powers. There was 10 year old Natalia Lulova. The Wednesday, Feb. 06, 2002 issue of Time Magazine best describes what happened:

­Ashen-faced and weeping, ten-year-old Natalia Lulova sat dejectedly in a Manhattan law office last week while her mother stroked her hair, consoling her. Natalia, who with her family emigrated from Russia three years ago and now lives in Brooklyn, had just failed to win a million dollar prize offered by the James Randi Educational Foundation to anyone who can demonstrate paranormal, supernatural or occult power. It was still another of the seemingly endless setbacks to purveyors of the paranormal.

Natalia's claim, put forth by her lawyer, was that she could both read and discern colors while blindfolded. How? By sheer mental perception. She had willingly submitted to the Million Dollar Challenge, a test proposed by investigator James Randi and agreed to by her lawyer and by her coach, Mark Komissarov, a Russian chemical engineer and expatriate who now specializes in teaching pupils to develop what he considers to be their innate paranormal powers.

Now it was Randi's turn to test. He outfitted Natalia with a pair of swimmer's goggles, the lenses blocked by sponge rubber and aluminum foil, and asked Komissarov again to demonstrate his pupil's talents. After another warmup, and under close scrutiny by Randi, Natalia was successful once more. Undaunted, Randi placed duct tape around the edges of the blindfold, taking care to place an extra strip across the bridge of Natalia's nose. "Please speak only in English," he admonished both coach and pupil, "and Natalia, please do not rub or pull on your face" (actions that Randi knew were intended to loosen the masking tape). Suddenly, Natalia's powers vanished. Time and again, she flubbed her identifications of words and colors. After more than an hour, her lawyer conceded defeat

The most famous of them is Uri Geller, a Jewish immigrant who was brought to the United States in the early 1970's by Dr. Andrija Puharich. and performed metal bending, mind reading and, of course, blindfold driving. He became rich because of the patronage of the wealthy who believed in his powers.

When James Randi later published a book entitled "The Truth About Uri Geller," in which he exposed Geller for the fraud he was, he was immediately sued by Geller for ruining his reputation. In court Randi performed all of Geller's bending tricks, exposing his methods as well. He won the case, and Geller had to pay him for all the court fees. After Geller was shown to be a fraud, his name soon disappeared from the headlines. Today's younger generation never even heard of him. Randi explained that had Geller admitted that he was simply a magician, he would not have exposed him. It's when one claims to be a psychic that he becomes dangerous, since sick people may actually believe his nonsensical claims.

Since the time of Harry Houdini at the turn of the century, magicians have been on a crusade to expose fraudulent claims to supernatural abilities. Houdini barnstormed America and Europe to expose spritualists.

Inspired by Houdini and others, Dunninger took part in the war being waged by magicians against fraudulent mediums and mentalists. Far from being entertainers, these frauds made their living by performing false seances and receiving payment for supposedly allowing the dead to speak from "the spirit world". In conjunction with Scientific American magazine and the Universal Council for Psychic Research, Dunninger offered $10,000 to any medium who could reproduce by psychic or supernatural means any physical phenomena that he could not reproduce by natural means or explain in materialistic terms. Dunninger also offered $10,000 to anyone who, with the aid of "the spirit world", could disclose the translation to secret coded messages entrusted to him by Harry Houdini and Thomas Edison. In addition, another $10,000 was offered to anyone who could introduce him to a real ghost.

The James Randi Educational Foundation offers $ 1 Million to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event. The prize is in the form of negotiable bonds held in a special investment account

No one has passed the challenge so far and the $ 1 Million is still intact waiting for a legitimate psychic to claim it. Our local Wonder Lady could surely use this huge amount for her charity work.

And why do magicians go to lengths to expose fraudulent claims of paranormal powers? “Randi, a self-styled "legitimate charlatan" and a Tonight-show veteran himself, thinks that Geller is a fraud and a liar, and "a very dangerous man." Not only, says Randi, is he living off the money of people who believe what he says -- and life as a psychic phenomenon is not a bad one -- he also may lead people looking for things to believe in to change their view of the world and the way they lead their lives, based on false information.” ( The Uri Geller Story, Okay, He Averted World War III, But Can He Bend a Nail?. March 24, 1999 .)

This is not to pass judgment on the Wonder Lady, but would it not be for the benefit science and humanity if we could validate her claim through a controlled study?