Angels in the Adirondacks?

A little known fact is almost all magicians are either skeptical or total disbelievers of paranormal phenomena. And, being a magician myself, I’m likewise skeptical.

Magicians -?as opposed to non-magicians -?know all too well that what you see is all too often not what you get. In fact, with us it’s always not what you get. We also know that what people often attribute to mysterious, even mystical, causes can be explained by simple, natural means.

Take mind reading, for example. While the “mind readers” indeed know what people are thinking (and all sorts of other amazing things about them), they did it by simple ole skullduggery, not the amazing powers of mind development or any of that other bumpf.

Ditto for psychics. When their predictions are actually analyzed statistically, by impartial judges, their putative prognostication is nothing more than guesswork. Besides, just think about it: If they can foretell the future, why would they do it for peanuts? All they’d have to do would be bet a bunch of moolah on a horse race or prize fight or election, always betting on the underdog, and they’d never have to do an honest day’s work in their life (not that they’re doing it as psychics, anyway).

Then there are the faith healers. Some are entirely sincere; a lot are out-and-out amoral rip-off artists. But for all of them, their “cures” don’t hold up to any kind of statistical analysis by impartial authority. Besides, a lot of their claims are based on what’s called soft data (you feel better or less stressed or something else immeasurable), rather than hard data (the X-rayed fracture healed overnight; the arteries unclogged on their own, and so on). As one skeptic said, if faith healers really could perform miracles, then let them regenerate a missing limb. Salamanders do it all the time, without any divine intervention.

There are of course all sorts of other phenomena – auras, telekinesis, precognition, all of them pretty much dismissed by magicians.

That said, there was one occurrence in My Home Town many years ago that, while possibly explained by physics, never has been.

It involved someone named George Carter.

The warm-up

George Carter was an old man when I was a kid (which only means he was at least in his fifties). I knew who he was but didn’t know anything about him, except what everyone in town knew. One, he was a very devout Catholic, and two, he was a very lousy driver. I remember looking in his Cadillac and being reminded of both those things, seeing on his dashboard a matched pair of St. Christopher statues. I was further reminded of them by a story Bob Agnew told me.

On a frigid winter day, Bob and George were going to Tupper. George was at the wheel and as usual, he was highballin’ down the road, slipping and sliding all the way. Bob had served on PT boats in the Solomons in WWII and was one very cool and unflappable character, but George’s driving finally got to him.

“Hey, George,” he said, “don’t you think you might want to slow down a bit?”

To which George replied, without missing a beat or getting a feather ruffled, “Oh, don’t worry, Bob.” Then he pointed at the dash and added, “I’m not driving this car, Saint Christopher is.”

and the grand finale

That incident, while amusing, is not the one I referred to earlier. This one took place in 1967, when Mr. Carter, who was a contractor, was cleaning up the ruins of the first St. Bernard’s church, after its disastrous fire. Over the years, I heard about it from a bunch of different people, including a guy who was there at the time.

The way it unfolded was this: Mr. Carter was atop an eight-foot stone wall, prying out stones with a crowbar. At the bottom of the wall was another guy. Mr. Carter was struggling like mad to loosen one stone, when suddenly the crowbar slipped out and Mr. Carter fell off, back first, landing in a pile of rocks and other debris below.

The guy at the bottom heard a thunk, looked up and saw no one on top of the wall, and froze.

It’s a simple fact that if you’re in your 60’s and fall 8 feet into a pile of rocks, on your back, there’s going to be some serious damage and not to the rocks.

Some statistics: If you fall from ten feet, your terminal speed is about 15 mph. Doesn’t sound like a big deal? Well, just imagine hitting a brick wall at that speed, after getting thrown from a bicycle. Another one: 80 percent of falls from 20 feet are fatal, but a lot of fatal falls are from lesser heights, some from just falling on a slippery floor.

Of course, you don’t need a physics degree to know how bad things could get from a fall like Mr. Carter’s. But a physics degree would be no use explaining what actually happened to Mr. Carter.

As the other guy was standing by the wall, still unable to move, terrified of what he’d find on the other side, Mr. Carter suddenly appeared, grinning ear-to-ear.

‘Y-y-you OK?” stammered the guy.

“Fine,” said Mr. Carter, obviously none the worse for wear.

“How?” said the guy. “What happened?”

“Well,” said Mr. Carter, uttering a line that got repeated all over town for years, “right after I fell, I was lowered to the ground by angels.”

And he was entirely serious.

So what do I think of it, as a magician and a skeptic?

Well, for the last word, I’ll use a quote from a writer who’s sometimes considered more skillful than me, namely: “There are more things in heaven and earththan are dreamt of in your philosophy.”