YourErie Roots: ‘America’s greatest magician’ — Erie’s own Harry Kellar

YourErie Roots

Straight into downtown on State St. from Dobbin’s Landing, you’ll see an overpass meant for a train. Before you go under it, you’ll see a post office on your left and the Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Center on your right. Across the street, tucked against that overpass, is Kellar’s: A Modern Magic and Comedy Club.

Since it reopened in the winter after the pandemic shutdown, this club has been home to some of the greatest magicians and comedians in the country every weekend. And the building’s renovation from the former Jr.’s Last Laugh into the spectacle it is now was an homage to a local legend from an admirer.

Harry Kellar’s career has seemingly been forgotten, but his legacy has thrived in magic since he began dazzling audiences around the world in the 19th Century. His work inspired many magicians that followed, including the great Harry Houdini, who called Kellar “America’s greatest magician.” But before his name sparked wonder, he grew up in what is now downtown Erie — across the street from the club that now bears his name, where the Unemployment Compensation Center currently sits.

We spoke with Kellar historian and club owner Bobby Borgia to find out more about this Erie icon in this episode of YourErie Roots.

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