Happy Medium

From Merlin to Charles Dickens, the spirits of the late and the great are all present at the party in magician-channeler Lawrence Furman's head

Standing before the audience gathered around him on the Lincoln Road mall, he looked like someone from another century. "Would you care to see some stealing, lying, and cheating -- and magical effects?" he asked of some passersby. Dressed in an oversize top hat, a purple and tan vest, and baggy brown pants, the lithe, dark-haired magician had his carpetbag of tricks next to him as he launched into his patter. Lawrence Lemon, as he called himself, was just one of the entertainers hired to perform at this summer's Buskers Festival '94 on the mall, but there was something eerily entrancing about his conjurer's art that held the crowd of about twenty spellbound.

He was, in fact, good enough to win the job of host of a forthcoming syndicated TV series on magic, and here on Lincoln Road he was singling out a particularly self-assured man in a light blue jacket and handing him a box of playing cards. Lemon instructed him, "Very carefully take the cards out of the box and open those cards in front of me." The man complied, warily fanning open the cards while keeping the pictures and numbers hidden from the magician. "Notice one card in the deck," Lemon said with an amused air. "Will you remember the card you see?" he added, and when the man nodded in agreement, Lemon's voice took on a high-pitched verve, as he exclaimed, "Wonderful!"

Real, unexplained magic was about to begin, but as things turned out, it was not nearly as strange as the life of the man who performed it. He was a survivor of experiences so bizarre that they made his off-stage life today as a medium for dead spirits seem almost normal, even placid.

Lemon told the fellow to give him back the deck. Then the magician put it in his rear pocket. A moment later he reached into his carpetbag and took out a wallet. He flipped open the billfold, displaying the back of a playing card stuck neatly in a slit on the wallet's left side. Like some medicine-show barker, he said, "I know what you might not be thinking: It would be absolutely impossible for the card that you had noticed in that open deck to be the same card that is here inside my wallet." Lemon handed the audience member back the deck, asking him in an odd English accent to announce out loud the card he noticed earlier.

"Ten of diamonds," the man said. Up to that point he had done nothing to indicate his choice; he simply had looked at the deck of cards and silently picked one in his mind. The man's assurance waned after he was asked to look through the deck again to find his card A and discovered it missing.

"Well, that's because the ten of diamonds has jumped to my wallet!" Lemon announced with a grand flourish. He opened the wallet, pulled the card out, and turned it around to display...the ten of diamonds. The audience burst into surprised applause.

That night on the mall, Lemon did that trick four times, always with a different audience member -- and a different card. Other tricks he unveiled were, quite simply, astonishing, a form of magic known as "closeup" that requires great dexterity and sleight-of-hand skills. A card marked up with a felt-tip pen by one onlooker somehow surfaced again inside a container gripped tightly by another spectator; Lemon gave out coins and dollar bills, which seemingly changed form inside the closed palms of dumbfounded gawkers; colored handkerchiefs appeared out of nowhere. All the while Lemon kept up his monologue, shifting into different voices every now and then to brighten his act.

Different voices -- and personalities -- often have lived within Lawrence Furman, as he's really called. He was haunted so much by them in his youth that he was put into a mental hospital for months at a time. And these days, at age 45, he is building a growing following "channeling" the purported spirits of a wizard and extraterrestrials, an ancient healer, and even Mary, the mother of Jesus, among others, before small groups of believers from all over Dade.

On a recent Sunday evening, Furman sat in an overstuffed armchair in the well-appointed living room of Marcy Roban, a new-age-style healer who had invited a few friends and fellow seekers to her townhouse in Kendall to hear the entities speak. Furman led the eight people in the room -- mostly professionals ranging in age from their late 20s to over 40 -- in prayer and then drifted into a trance state as they chanted "Om" seven times. He was ready for whatever would come through him.

He breathed deeply, grunted a few times, and as his body shuddered, an English-accented voice -- similar to one he uses in his magic act -- suddenly began to speak; it was the voice, Furman and his listeners believed, of Merlin, the wizard from Arthurian legend. "Thank you for bridging the gap between your world and the world that I come from, and providing a way for me to enter," Furman -- or was it Merlin? -- said. He talked rapidly and forcefully, without the occasional hesitations of Furman's normal speech, but nothing he said either could prove or disprove the phenomenon of channeling. For this group, though, no proof was necessary.

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