Magician Ralph Pierce

Although he isn’t known today outside of magicians, in his day, Ralph Pierce was a well-respected performer who came to McHenry at least three times. Pierce’s magic performances took him all over the world. Born in 1913 in Shell Rock, Butler County, Iowa, Ralph picked up magic when he attended the sixth grade. He competed in a talent contest during high school. Even though Ralph didn’t win, his act was well performed and received a hearty applause from the audience. Out of high school, he started working with John Calvert, who also had a very successful career in magic. After Ralph and Calvert went their separate ways in 1933, Ralph and his wife, Lois, began performing at church programs. Lois and Ralph were high school classmates and married in Shell Rock in 1935. During his career, Ralph performed in front of such people as Franklin D. Roosevelt and his family, as well as Father Flanigan, who started the Boys Town organization. He also performed at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.

Ralph performing during World War II from the 28 Dec 1944 Ashton Gazette.

In 1941, Ralph came to the McHenry County area putting on shows that were 40-minute matinees and two-hour evening shows. Performances in Marengo and Woodstock high schools were sponsored by the junior class of each institution. Some of the magic acts performed were a scarf made to look like a dancing snake, lit cigarettes pulled out of thin air, and Ralph cooking dinner in a guest’s hat. At the Marengo performance, Ralph gave away the three rabbits used in his act. Mr. Pierce’s signature act was the illusion of removing an audience member’s head by using a dozen whirling blades.

His career in magic had solid footing when World War II started. During this time Ralph continued to perform for crowds across the country. In May 1944, he enlisted in the Navy and was placed in a submarine division with other performers, such as musicians. Ralph’s rank was Magician, third class. He performed in front of his fellow sailors, putting on shows at bases across the allied controlled Pacific. At one point he put on 64 performances in six weeks, with crowds of up to 5,000 people.

Advertisement from the 27 Jan 1944 Daily Sentinel in Woodstock, Illinois.

Upon moving to California after the war, Ralph and Lois started another show, the Madcap Magic Revue. Again, they hit the road traveling the country with their magic act. One of their stops this time was McHenry in the spring of 1946 and 1949. For the 1949 performance, Ralph came to McHenry after performing in New York. Both of the shows were fundraisers for the Future Farmers of America and were held at the city’s high school. Tickets cost 25 cents for kids and 50 cents for adults. One notable trick mentioned was the passing of a live bird from a paper bag to an empty lightbulb. The highlight again was the removal of an audience member’s head illusion. Ralph told the audience that it took him three years to learn the trick. He started having audience members participate in his acts after his assistant, presumably Lois, was sick one night. Ralph would retire from magic and become a photographer in the 1950s. Ralph and Lois then moved back to Ashton, Illinois where they retired.


  • “Ralph Pierce Entertains Servicemen At Advance U.S. Bases In Pacific” The Ashton Gazette. (Ashton, IL) 28 Dec 1944, 5. Web. 17 Nov 2022.
  • “Ralph Pierce, the Magician…” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 18 Apr 1946, 2. Web. 17 Nov 2022.
  • “Ralph Pierce, the Magician, To Be In City April 9” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 4 Apr 1946, 1. Web. 17 Nov 2022.
  • “Ralph Pierce Comes To City With Magic Show” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 24 Mar 1949, 1. Web. 17 Nov 2022.
  • “Ralph Pierce, the Magician, Will Appear Apr 1” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 31 Mar 1949, 1. Web. 17 Nov 2022.
  • “Magic Show Was Huge Success Friday Evening” The Daily Sentinel. (Woodstock, IL) 31 Mar 1941, 4. Web. 17 Nov 2022.
  • “Magician To Show At High School Friday” The Daily Sentinel. (Woodstock, IL) 27 Mar 1941, 1. Web. 17 Nov 2022.
  • “Juniors Present Magic Show” Marengo-Republican News. (Marengo, IL) 6 Apr 1944, 1. Web. 17 Nov 2022.
  • “FFA Sponcors Magic Show At High School” Marengo-Republican News. (Marengo, IL) 4 Nov 1948, 4. Web. 17 Nov 2022.
  • “Ralph Pierce Entertains” The Ashton Gazette. (Ashton, IL) 18 Sep 1941, 1. Web. 17 Nov 2022.
  • “Pierce The Magician Gives First Performance Since Naval Career” The Ashton Gazette. (Ashton, IL) 31 Jan 1946, 1. Web. 17 Nov 2022.