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The Curator
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Mary Ann
Copyrighted by Christian Chelman 2009.
Thanks to Carl Gibson for his very professional translation.
Date of acquisition: January 1994, London
Origin: Friern Hospital (formerly Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum ) circa 1938/1942





1. Lockable metal box containing the following items: a Warren mouth-opener made of boxwood, a list of patients in a notebook, a small annotated notebook, two keys, a fob watch (nurse's watch), a bottle of opiate-based medicine, a whistle with chain, a padlock, a silver spoon with a rabbit engraved on the handle, a small pocketknife in the shape of a cat, a tin box from the red cross, a pack of Lexicon cards, a pencil sharpener, a silver thimble, etc.

2. Cigar box containing the following items: a white pair of gloves with black stripes, a fan, a hollowed out egg shell with a butterfly painted on it, a dried out mushroom, a fossilised oyster from the Jurassic era (Gryphea - Devil’s Toenail), a white Queen from a chess set, an aluminium pepper pot, a golden key, a pack of cards (incomplete), a bronze (made in Vienna) representing a griffon, a bronze figurine (Japanese?) of a turtle, a coin purse containing 10 shillings and 6 pence, a claw from a large beast, a set of teeth (made by 'Oraform Diatorics'), a mirror in a leather case.

3. Miscellaneous items: Photo of Chester in his game warden outfit (circa 1914, he is holding a hunting rifle and two hares), a small, tin-plated funnel, a toy rabbit (made of rubber), a post card depicting a group of American nurses, a doctor's headlamp (battery powered), a teacup, a book of nursery rhymes, etc.

Investigation, notes and report

"This is the most absurd collection of miscellaneous items ever collected for the Surnateum.
A squeaking rabbit doesn't seem very strange - except that sometimes it doesn't squeak.
At first glance, none of these objects shows the characteristics that would indicate inclusion in our museum. And yet, take this pepper pot: every time you sneeze, a little pig appears!

Oops, I forgot one. The egg appears from a flat wallet.
But let's start at the beginning.".

In 1993, Friern Hospital (located on Friern Barnet Road in the London borough of Barnet) was closed down. It would later be transformed into a block of luxury flats called Princess Park Manor. Naturally, local second-hand goods dealers leaped at the opportunity to empty out the premises and take what they could get. A metal locker was found in an abandoned storage area in the hospital. It had not been opened since the 1950s and was found to contain the items described above. A damaged label stuck to the locker said that it contained the personal effects of one William Chester M., a former guard at Colney Hatch, who generally went by the name of Chester. After an exhaustive investigation that included going through the handwritten notes he had kept about one of the patients in the asylum, we were able to reconstruct the following story.

Prior to 1915, Chester worked as a game warden at Nailsworth (in Gloucestershire). He was a short man, but very strong. An excellent hunter and marksman, he joined the army and was sent to the trenches in the First World War. Unfortunately, he sustained a serious shrapnel injury to the face soon after being sent into action. His jaw was so mutilated that he had to use a special device called a mouth-opener just so he could swallow his liquid food. The bottom part of his face was paralysed into a permanent and rather unsettling grin, hence his nickname 'Grin'. At times, the pain was so bad he had to take opiate-based sedatives.
In the 1920s, he was hired as a guard at Colney Hatch, an insane asylum in London.
In the deleterious atmosphere of long, cold and damp corridors, the new guard could walk around for hours, forgetting that he was disfigured and feeling that perhaps he had less to complain about than the residents. Sadly, the cries of locked-up madmen were preferable to the embarrassed silence and covert glances that ordinary passers-by gave him on the street every day.
One day in 1930, he received an emergency call to go to the women's wing of the hospital to stop an altercation between two patients: one Dorothy Lawrence was grappling with a young woman from the Caféteria. Apparently, the catfight began over a little trifle - something to do with pepper, of all things. As he tried to break them up, he was elbowed in the face. The blow caused a searing pain that virtually incapacitated him. A nurse came to his aid, giving him a potion that stopped the pain immediately. The fight was finally broken up and the two women were escorted back to their cells.

The case contains a large claw. It causes the white rabbit to freeze; in fact, it stops squeaking.
The fan moves the egg in space. The gloves stop time.

Some time later, he was called in to handle a situation involving a pervert named Bill (who somewhat resembled a lizard due to a condition gave his skin a scaly appearance). Bill had escaped from the men's wing and made his way into the women's wing. While there, he forced his way into the room of a young female patient he had met before. The girl had violently rejected the attacker, who was lying on the floor, knocked out. That was when Chester met the nurse again. The nurse was a woman in her forties whose sole job was to look after the young girl in the institution. That was a rare privilege in an institution where no staff members really had time to fully take care of the residents. The nurse was American (originally from Iowa) and specialised in helping young patients. She had been appointed by the British government, not by the hospital. The patient herself seemed to respond positively to this special treatment. Her room was much more pleasant than those of the other residents.

That was when Chester began taking an interest in Mary Ann, which was what the nurse called the girl. At first glance, it was impossible to guess the patient's age. One minute she looked about 20 years old, the next she seemed much older. She had been found wandering around in a field in Watership Down (near Kingsclere, Hampshire, England). She was dressed in clothes that would have been fashionable 50 years earlier. She never gave any information about her identity. Suffering from amnesia, hallucinations and kleptomania, she had ended up in the Colney Hatch lunatic asylum. The only item she had in her possession was a silver thimble she would play with absent-mindedly. She spoke a bit of French and would read from an old French book on the 'language of flowers'.
From time to time, a visitor (nicknamed Dr Dee by Chester because of the initials T.D. embossed on his leather briefcase) would visit her. He seemed to be from the army (probably intelligence) because some days he arrived in civilian clothes, but other times he would wear a colonel's uniform (whereupon Chester would call him Mr Dum-Dum ).1 This doctor would perform experiments that looked like hypnosis.

Chester, who, owing to his condition, did not speak much, was authorised to approach Mary Ann (provided he was accompanied by the nurse), because she seemed to relax in his presence. Most of the time she recited nursery rhymes (such as 'Humpty-Dumpty sat on a wall...') and read out absurd poems, but when Chester let her play with a small pocketknife shaped like a cat, she would become normal again.
She said that her name was not Mary Ann, but she couldn't remember her name.
"Do you think me mad?", she asked.
"Well," Chester replied, "everyone's mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."

During one visit, she seemed agitated, as if she could sense an imminent threat. She called it the Jabor-something... The nurse had to leave for a few minutes. Mary Ann nervously tapped her thimble on the table. Chester, who was irritable that day as he was suffering from a splitting headache, removed the thimble from her finger and kept it. But here moments after taking the thimble, it was back on the girl's finger. He removed it again and threw it across the room, but before it even hit the ground it was back on her finger. That was when the nurse came back. Trembling with anger, she forbade Chester to do that again. He must always leave the thimble on her finger. Chester was dumbfounded by Mary Ann's larcenous abilities (and her propensity to systematically steal the nurse's pocketwatch). In return, the young lady seemed fascinated by Chester's 'smile'.
Sometimes, she would give Chester a little gift she had nicked from here or there. He always stored them away carefully in his locker, but would never give them any more thought.

The thimble always returns to its original place.
The pack of cards is amazing: A few cards are missing and the Jack of Hearts has been disfigured… If you wear the thimble on your index finger and then tap it on the pack of cards, the Queen of Hearts appears.
If you put the white queen from a chess set on a specific combination of three cards, the queen turns red.

The girl seemed to be able to move freely about Colney Hatch. One day, he received an invitation to a tea party in the company of friends. He was given a little purse containing 10 shillings and 6 pence and instructed to buy a hat for one of the guests. No more details were given. Since he was unable to find the right hat at that exact price, the sum of money always remained the same in the purse.
When he arrived at the tea party, he saw that the girl's 'friends' were actually photos. It seemed to Chester that one of the two photos was bored... Hard to say why. The tea he was sipping changed taste every time he turned the spoon in the cup.

The 10 shillings and 6 pence cannot be spent.
The invitation makes you yawn. The book translates the names of flowers from English to French. The spoon generates chaos in the cup of tea.

Mary Ann would sometimes surprise him with astonishing intuitions. During one conversation, she took his hand, gave him a small figurine of a gryphon (god only knows where she nicked it) and described in great detail the very moment he was wounded. She herself was holding something in her closed fist. "There were two of you out on manoeuvres in the trenches. A bald man was with you. He had a butterfly tattooed on his chest. You had just scaled a wall when the bomb exploded. The other man was killed instantly; you were wounded in the face." Chester was so moved he had tears in his eyes. Nobody could know all those details … Humphrey Dumson, nicknamed 'Eggnog' because of his smooth, dome-shaped head and his penchant for a wee dram, did indeed have a tattoo hidden under his uniform. The doctors couldn't save him after the explosion.
That same day, the girl gave him a wooden egg, the gryphon and a little turtle made of bronze.

The girl seemed to have another talent: she could guess the contents of technical documents. This 'power' did not work with novels or illustrated books, but only technical manuals. That didn't seem to be very useful, unless you were a master spy of course. That was when Chester made the link with the army and Dr Dee.
He started taking a closer look at gifts, although there didn't seem to be any kind of link between them. A golden key affected locks, a 'mushroom' contained substances that reduced or increased pain depending on where you rubbed it2, and so on.

The pocket mirror duplicates one pence pieces, but nothing else.

In June 1941, after the Blitz was over, Dr Dee arrived in the company of Colonel Dum-Dum. To Chester's surprise, they were twins. They had come to remove Mary Ann from the hospital. She was taken away in a Red Cross ambulance. Chester never saw here again. The only thing to remember her by was her thimble, which had been left behind on the table in her room. The final gift from the girl to her friend.

He happened to see the nurse one more time after the war and asked her about her patient. Her cryptic reply was: "So, you never guessed who she was and what role we played in that little game?"
Before leaving, she gave him a little white rabbit, a rubber toy, with a smile on her face. But she never said what had become of Mary Ann. Apparently, it was a matter of national security.
Chester started taking a closer look at the 'gifts' he had received from Mary Ann and took notes. Some of the items had functions that were totally absurd and of no use whatsoever. Some would only work in combination with others. It seemed like a piece of the puzzle was missing; he needed a user's guide.

The key opens all doors and locks.
Yet, why did Mary Ann never escape from Colney Hatch?
Who was Mary Ann?

In 1953, William Chester died unexpectedly of a heart attack on his way to work at the institution, not long before he was due to retire. Nobody ever thought to empty his locker.

The egg is used to prevent accidental death (for instance, from a bomb).
Telepathic and memory effects can be demonstrated at the end of the story.



1. Joke referring to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; a dum-dum is a type of expanding bullet.

2. List of objects and functions
- Thimble (always returns to its owner).
- Egg (appears from an impossible location, gives intuitions/premonitions that allow the owner to avoid fatal accidents).
- Mirror (multiplies one pence pieces)
- Fan (causes the egg to fall from the eggcup, or teleports it)
- Fossilised oyster (provides amazing powers of memory)
- Spoon in teacup (generates chaos)
- Pack of cards (ambitious Queen of Hearts, provided you are wearing the thimble; 2, 5 and 7 of Spades change the white queen from the chess set into a red queen)
- Mushroom (increases or reduces pain; does the same with the size of objects)
- Pepper (causes you to sneeze and causes a little pig to appear)
- Gloves (stop time)
- Golden key (opens locks and causes other keys to turn)
- Bronze gryphon from Vienna (protects Mary Ann from the 'Jabor', an imaginary monster that terrorises her). When combined, the gryphon and turtle enable an elementary form of telepathy.
- Claw (causes sounds to disappear)
- 10 shillings and 6 pence (impossible to separate the coins; if you take one away, 10 shillings and 6 pence will always remain)
- White queen from a chess set (changes colour under certain conditions)
- Pocketknife (blocks the powers of the other objects)
- White rabbit (sometimes it squeaks, sometimes it doesn't)
- Invitation to a tea party (causes the person in the photo to yawn)

Chester's notes

- Mary Ann had an irrational fear of a monster whose name she couldn't pronounce. It was something like 'Jabor'. She said that saying its name out loud would make it appear. She told me she was worried and she didn't want to end up in a mad house. I told her that everyone was mad here: I was mad, she was mad, etc.
- Today, the pain gave me a beastly migraine. Mary Ann was irritating me by constantly tapping the table with a thimble. I took it away from her, but somehow it immediately returned to her.
- The second time I tried to take it, I threw it across the room. But before it even hit the ground it was back on her finger! I've never seen such a skilful pickpocket. Ethel came in and gave me a lecture.
- She regularly gives me the little items she has nicked. I don't understand where she steals them from. She often pinches her nurse's pocketwatch. I generally keep it for her.
- (10 March 1938) Mary Ann gave me some money: 10 shillings and 6 pence. She asked me to buy a hat so she could give it to an 'invisible' friend. It was not for a birthday present. But I couldn't find a hat that cost exactly that amount. She organised a tea party in her room.
- (8 February 1939) Dr Dee subjected her to more absurd tests. It looks like he is trying to hypnotise her. War with Germany looks inevitable.
- I am in pain again; the potion is not helping. Mary Ann gave me a strange mushroom. She asked me to lick the mushroom. The pain immediately lessened considerably. If I lick the base of the mushroom, the pain increases.
- (6 June 1941) Dr Dee came today to take Mary Ann away. He was accompanied by Mr Dum-Dum, his twin from the army. I don't think I'll see her again. Her nurse left with her. Mary Ann left behind her thimble and the pocketwatch.
- (8 September 1946) I saw Ethel in London today. We stopped for a cup of tea. She didn't tell me anything about her patient. She only said: "So, you never guessed who she was and what role we played in that little game?" She gave me a little white rabbit (a rubber toy), before taking her leave.
- I began examining the items she had nicked. The thimble cannot be stolen. Incredible. If I show this to anyone, they'll lock me up in the asylum.
- Nursery rhymes seem to play a role in terms of how the objects function. I whistled the tune to Humpty Dumpty, and the egg ...
- The pepper pot causes a small pig to appear; totally absurd. The gloves seem to have an influence on time. The fan has an influence on space.
- The purse always contains 10 shillings and 6 pence, even if you take some of the coins away. Never less, never more.
- The pack of cards always displays the Queen of Hearts. The pack is incomplete and the Jack of Hearts has lost his face. I should sell it to a conjurer.
- Strange. My cat-shaped pocketknife blocks the powers of the other objects when its blade is open. I think the gryphon works in combination with the turtle.
- The mirror doubles one pence pieces, but no other coins. The reflection is solid, but can return to the mirror. The tea changes taste when stirred with the spoon. Earl Grey tea tastes like mint, then like strawberry, then garlic, and so on. Tempest in a teapot?
- The golden key has an affect on locks. Why didn't Mary Ann use it to escape? Are there other objects? Who is Mary Ann?

Third Degree

Remeber this topic ? Here's my interpretation, after one month of work.
Mary Ann is a fusion of two imaginative works: Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass; and the television series The Lost Room. Lewis Carroll's books are very well known, but I would also encourage you to watch The Lost Room. It is an excellent series and gave me the idea for putting together a show based on magical objects.
All of the characters in the story are transpositions of the inhabitants of Wonderland: Chester is the Cheshire Cat; the nurse is the White Rabbit; Mary Ann is Alice (the White Rabbit calls her Mary Ann in the book); Eggnog is Humpty Dumpty; Bill is Bill the Lizard: Dorothy Lawrence is the Duchess; Dr Dee and Mr DumDum are Tweedledee and Tweedledum; Colney Hatch is Wonderland.
The objects that Alice 'steals' are also referred to in the book. Their magic derives from their original role. The hard part is telling the story of Alice without it being obvious to the spectators, because the sudden discovery (the 'a-ha' effect) at this level of interpretation unleashes an emotional reaction of pure surprise. However, it is up to the spectator to uncover it; it is not the performer's job to spell it out.
I call this principle the Third Degree of magic.
Zero Degree comprises the basic mechanics of the effect. It does not generate magic, just a vague sense of curiosity. Magicians often pay high prices to buy mediocre, pointless tricks simply to satisfy this sense of curiosity.
The First Degree is the immediate illusion. I am going to make this object pass through the table. The object has passed through. When performed well, the very impossibility of what you have done is an effect in itself. Sometimes, the conjurer will have a bit of patter to go with the trick, but the trick itself remains the focal of the illusion.
In the Second Degree, the effect is linked to a source outside the trick. For instance, an amulet might make it possible to read minds. In general, when correctly linked to a story, this concept makes it possible to broaden the idea of the effect. Vampires really do exist, time travel really is possible, etc. In other words, the 'trick' is a way to demonstrate the 'effect'.
The Third Degree is hidden. It is the unifying theme which underlies the story, but which is not apparent. It provides solidity, consistency and depth for the other degrees. In this case, Alice provides the internal logic for the structure and effects, even though the effects themselves are absurd. But since Wonderland is absurd, the logic of the performance is retained. The Third Degree speaks to the unconscious. Many excellent works of cinema and literature operate on this level.
The spectator is not required to perceive the Third Degree; he can remain at Zero Degree, First Degree or Second Degree. But finding the Third Degree is the icing on the cake.



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BRILLIANT! When I realized that chester was the cheshire cat just reading through the script, CHILLS ran up my spine. I can't imagine what the effect would have been if I'd actually seen the effects performed and the objects in front of me.
Mr. Quackenbush believes that there is no such thing as a good magic trick.
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Curator srikes back ...
curator, the return.
the son of the curator.
curator: the origins.

you know I love your work, and once again, you outdid yourself.

I partuclarly love your degree theory.

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Thinking about this.

curator, are you familiar with the work of Umberto Eco in semiotics? your notion of the third degree puts me in mind of his notion of texts as "machina pigra" whos meaning is created by the work put in by the reader.
Mr. Quackenbush believes that there is no such thing as a good magic trick.
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Brilliant in concept and execution. In his hands no doubt exceptional.
A most impressive thought process shared so freely.

Thankyou Christian.

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Curator, your degree classification is strong enough to transform ones approach to performing. I'll be giving this third degree serious consideration, rest assured.

You provide valuable theory here, and then you illustrate it with a brilliant example. Bravo!
Beware of this and that.
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Curiouser and curiouser. Another triumph in story telling magic! Thanks for sharing this with us. I like all the little touches, such as the 10/6 reference with the money, etc.
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"Mary Ann" is also an hommage to all those little tricks that seem uninteresting to put in a real magic show, and yet...
The routine started with the Luna book test but, contrary to what I've done with the Witches Almanach (the Coney Island Witch), Luna isn't at the focal point of the story. I've create personal links between the Homicide Trilogy UK character (Time Capsule) and this one.
I'm familiar with most of Umberto Eco's work, but not the "machina pigra".
Is it this ?
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That's a very interesting read Christian! It's not precisely what I was thinking of, but an interesting corollary.

There's an essay in Eco's "Kant and the Platypus" that captures it quite well, and that's an excellent book in it's own right btw. Eco's primary point is that meaning is created not by an author, but by a reader. What the author creates is the machine that allows for the possibility of meaning. But the machine only works if the reader puts something into it, because the machine is lazy and has no energy of it's own. I think about this a lot when I'm writing poetry for example because it's important for me to respect this important contributtion of the reader and allow them to work with a poem to create the meaning. I think your thought of the third degree of magic gives a similar framework for how to do such a thing in magic. It's the effect that isn't shown, but is left for the audience to discover for themselves, in essence helping to create that level of meaning for the effect for themselves.
Mr. Quackenbush believes that there is no such thing as a good magic trick.
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The basis of all my magic is that magic is created by the spectator's interpretation of what happened. But you have to feed the poetic act with personal contents; that's the artistic part of the creation. The deeper they're, the most interesting...
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Excellent Stuff. Thanks for Sharing. How long does it usually take for you to get all the pieces and flush out the final story?
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Usually, such a routine/show takes between 6 month and 1 year. The Coney Island Witch took 8/9 months to create and build.
This time, it was extremely fast, 5/6 weeks max.
I collected various items during years, so I had 80% of my needs at home. The last 20% were quite easy to find. The starting point was the "magpie" discussion and the Luna Book test.
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You out did yourself on this! A very NICE read!

Explaining the Third Degrees of magic was informative.

Once again, nicely done.

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Wonderful, Wonderful, Wonderful!
The Curator
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Some hidden references too and personal jokes.
William Chester M. is a reference to William Chester Minor ( ), Watership Down is an obvious reference to a famous place infested by Rabbit holes...
I also created 18 short routines for the show, all original interpretations of classics, or new creations.
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People, trust me, the effects are as good as (and then some) the script itself!
To see the man doing it, is ... impressive (Jurassic Parc-impressive)!!
The Epiphany Before Christmas: this day (12/23/13) I leave the Café for good!
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Je plussoie !

I saw the performance two weeks ago and all I can say is that this routine / show is completely crazy !
All effects are a total non-sense, they have no reason to exist except that they open a door to Wonderland…

A very new style in the Surnateum’s story telling / show, surprising and astonishing once again.

Well done Curator !
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I would love to see Curator perform this, I'd love to see him perform .

This has to be my favorite yet alongside Witches which I think is another wonderful piece.

Bravo Curator...
For as long as space exists,
And living beings remain in cyclic existence,
For that long, may I too remain,
to dispel the sufferings of the world.

Engaging in the Conduct of a Bodhisattva
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This is beautiful!

And of course, your attempts to verify even the names, were met with "I'm sorry. Confidentiality forbids me from either confirming or denying any of your questions."
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus” -Mark Twain
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On 2009-04-28 09:52, Silvertongue wrote:
I would love to see Curator perform this, I'd love to see him perform .

This has to be my favorite yet alongside Witches which I think is another wonderful piece.

Bravo Curator...

I told you that Alice was a good idea...
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