I put on the only suit that I own (It belonged to my father who wore it when he was younger than I am now.) popped a few breath mints, and it was time. Jason and I got off the elevator and followed some dressed-up folks to the reception table. Once they took our names we were each issued a little blue velvet sack that contained an extremely cool commemorative coin...
Feeling gratified, we wandered into the first of three chambers. A long table displayed Adams relics that were being offered in a silent auction to benefit various animal welfare organizations (proceeds from the overall event went to the same cause).
Magic and prank sets, vintage signage, and even an original vial of Cachoo Sneezing Powder (the very first product Adams offered) made up the assortment of goodies.
The next room was more lounge-like in nature, and many of the two hundred guests were assembling there. Lots of mingling, milling about, and mixing took place as folks sampled appetizers and spirits from the wet bar. The attendees had come from all over the US and had many different associations with the company. They ranged from friends and family to retailers, magicians and journalists along with many Adams enthusiasts and collectors.
An appropriately mysterious player piano provided the soundtrack to the early evening.
Chris Adams (co-owner and grandson of S.S.) also operates a local piano shop, and he supplied this beauty...
The table set-ups were exactly what I wanted to see. A black magician's hat served as the centerpiece and each setting included a Snake Mint Can and some pieces of souvenir Asbury Park Taffy. Much discussion centered around the taffy. Tables argued whether or not it was a prank since Adams used to sell taffy treated with various nastiness. Turns out it was the real thing. Most guests (myself included) weren't about to risk a bite, so it became sort of a "reverse prank" if you will.
The ballroom was gorgeous and perfectly fitting to the occasion. The Art Deco decor and the recorded music from the 1920s and 30s kept reminding me of the party scenes in The Shining. (I was pleased to hear several ghost stories from an ex hotel employee who sat at my table.) The environment effectively transported us all back to the glory days of the business. (Even during the Great Depression the United States' craving for cheap amusements meant success for Adams. The profits from the Joy Buzzer alone enabled the company to endure the times without letting go a single employee or cutting a single wage.)
The program began with an introduction from author and magician William Rauscher who was followed by Adams Co-Owners Chris Adams and David Haversat who each gave their own presentations. Then came the cavalcade of magicians consisting of Tom Ewing, Al & Rebeccca Lloyd, Michael Miller, and my personal favorites Richard and Joanne Gustafson who performed their 'Magic by Candlelight' routine which they've been perfecting since they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Most of the magicians on stage and in the audience shared one thing in common.. their very first magic trick was an Adams. Such is also the case with my arch enemy, David Copperfield (who wrote a letter of congratulations that was read aloud at one point.)
It was, well, a magical evening. After the entertainment ended I had a great time chatting about the Life of the Party book and struggling to think of witty things to write in people's copies. I especially relished my chance to meet the extended Adams family. S.S. Adams' daughter Gertrude 'Tud' Adams gave me the sweetest hug and some wonderful compliments to go with it. To hear her say that the book has flooded her with a wealth of lost memories was heartening to say the least.
As the night unravelled I pondered how amazing it is that this unusual and innovative little company has altered the lives of so many and so drastically impacted the culture we live in. (Not to mention generating a century's worth of hilarious and unforgettable moments.) Maybe it's because Adams has tapped into the timeless art of deception. Every customer has a choice.. you can trick to humiliate or trick to amaze. Some of us take satisfaction in simply knowing the principles behind all the trickery. Maybe it helps us feel more equipped for life in a world full of shysters.
The next morning provided us with a chance to tour the factory building. In 2005 I spent a week within it's walls as I worked on Life of the Party, but I still found myself giddy as we pulled into the parking lot once again. It's truly a wonderful place.. ancient, mysterious, historic, haunted, and full of heavy machinery made of that beautiful pale-green metal. Here's a look...
A freshly made spring emerges from the mechanism. Add a patterned sheath and you've got a terrifying snake.
William Rauscher demonstrates the Egg Vase trick. (I finally got to meet him on that tour. He wrote a history book about Adams several years ago, and he just oozes with class.)
The novelty-geek in me savored the moment pictured above. Chris (left) and David (right) are talking shop with Graham Putnam, owner of rival gimmick makers Fun Incorporated. You're looking at the industry giants taking part in a rare meeting of the minds! The number of trade secrets that were stolen that morning is anyone's guess.
By Sunday afternoon the event that we'd been discussing for more than a year.. was over. But we still had one more stop on the itinerary. A favorite ebay seller of mine happens to operate out of Salem, Massachusetts which is about four hours from the Adams factory. A couple years ago I had a ball visiting his warehouse where I spent hours digging through boxes of vintage unsold store stock. I reminisced about it with David (of S.S. Adams) during numerous phone calls since he too is insane for this junk. We saw this as possibly our only opportunity to visit this place together. I was glad that we had planned it that way because there's nothing like the promise of generic mid-century plastic to keep the bittersweet thoughts of the Adams banquet at bay.
Before I ever visited Salem I wondered if the whole "witch thing" was something I should avoid bringing up around the locals. It doesn't take long to figure out that it's a topic the town has come to accept...
We located the warehouse and spent the next four hours coughing on vintage dust, saying to each other "ever seen one of these?" and loving every minute. Since this was a private appointment (there's no public storefront) we had to commit to a large (to me) minimum purchase, so this made us feel like a couple of high-rolling VIPs of the vintage plastic scene (if there is such a thing.) Here's a glimpse of a tiny fraction of his stash...
I don't think this seller would mind me telling you that his ebay moniker is atomic-candy. He makes his living peddling this stuff online and he admitted that he's not too thrilled about folks invading his headquarters and rummaging around (I know we left quite a mess) so I'm thankful that he's so generously allowed me to crash his place. Here's a shot of my plunder...
Then we drove back. Then I flew home. Well. That's what happened.