Tuesday, December 12, 2017
News Roundup

Steve Cargill believed in magic, made a living at it

LARGO — Pick a card, any card.

Steve Cargill, an unmistakable presence with puffy shirt sleeves, skinny vest, mutton chop sideburns and an unlit cigar in his mouth, had been saying that since he was 6 years old.

Usually, Mr. Cargill entertained small groups, from cruise ships to bars to birthday parties, rather than with splashy illusions. But the career magician did make an appearance on a Jerry Lewis telethon and performed card tricks for a delighted Johnny Carson.

Though he worked a few odd jobs as a young man, he never lost sight of his dream. He owned the Trick Store for 30 years, which sold everything from fake squirting ketchup to beginner's books on magic to tools for professionals like himself.

He had been practicing magic for so long, he could still do card and coin tricks after he lost the feeling in his hands last year.

Mr. Cargill, who kept his warmer side hidden like the cards he concealed, died Monday at Morton Plant Mease of multiple health problems, including diabetes. He was 61.

He loved to surprise and annoy his audiences.

"If somebody couldn't figure out what he was doing, he was happy," said Martha Cargill, his wife.

For example, Mr. Cargill might ask a customer to pick a card and insert it back into the deck.

Then he would ask him to find it again, something the customer could not do.

"It wouldn't be there," said Mrs. Cargill, 63. "He would say, 'Keep looking. It's up front!'"

Finally, the audience member would look up. There, plastered against Mr. Cargill's forehead, would be the card.

Mr. Cargill was born in Fall River, Mass., and grew up in Rhode Island. He got hooked on magic in elementary school.

"I attended a school assembly where a magician was making things disappear," he told the Times in 2008. "I wondered why the teachers weren't teaching this stuff. This is what I really wanted to do."

He collected books and magazines and practiced.

His career took a leap forward at the close of his Army days in Europe, when Mr. Cargill performed on cruise ships. He tended bar and performed magic tricks at a bar in Chicago, then moved to Tampa Bay and picked up odd jobs — working at Kmart, doing electrical wiring on yachts or working at a lumber yard.

He was working as a mall Santa Claus when he caught the eye of a shopper, Martha Baxter. They married in 1978.

In 1981, he opened the Trick Store in Largo on Missouri Avenue. About 17 years ago, the store moved to 11419 Starkey Road.

He was rarely seen without a cigar in his teeth.

"He was a little gruff sometimes," his wife said. "He didn't like to get too close to people."

If anyone, male or female, insisted on hugging him, Mr. Cargill had a patented response. "He would kiss them on the mouth," his wife said. "It was like, 'They are going to stop this nonsense.'"

But he warmed up to people he thought were serious. Such was the case with John Gilbert Jr., who checked out the Trick Store after an acquaintance suggested that celebrity magician Criss Angel was satanic.

"I wanted to teach my kids it wasn't witchcraft," said Gilbert, 48, who has a house cleaning business.

Mr. Cargill directed him to books in his store.

"He was my mentor and I was like his pupil," said Gilbert, who flourished under the training and began performing locally. Mr. Cargill began to reveal closely guarded secrets to tricks, and eventually passed along his old books and magazines.

"He was a very kind, soft-hearted person as I got to know him," Gilbert said.

Worsening diabetes forced Mr. Cargill to close his store in November. Artifacts from his lifelong passion still lie everywhere around the house, his wife said, including two statues of Merlin, decks of cards, silver dollars and a black top hat.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

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