Wizard of the Blue Ridge

October 21, 1916 (Twin City Sentinel)

By trade he was a tinner. He was the only son of Jacob and Ann (Nancy) Reich. His father was a coppersmith and had a shop on the corner of Blum (formerly Siberia) and Main streets, just above the old Zevely Hotel.

He was born on the sixteenth of July, 1833, and was christened as W. Augustus Reich - a name which quickly dwindled to Gus Rich when he entered upon his career as a magician.

When asked where he learned his tricks, the wizard replied with a discernible twinkle in his half hidden eyes, "I don't know." The questioner realized that the query was out of order, but asked to be told at least how he happened to began giving public shows.

"The way I got into it," he said, "was by going to see a traveling magician named Everett, who had put up a tent in the yard of the Hotel Butner. I was completely carried away by the wonderful things he did, and have ever since had it on the brain."

Mr. Reich gave his first public performance in the old Salem Concert Hall - which stood upon the lot now occupied by the home of Mrs. C. F. Shaffner - in 1860, the year before the war. The entertainment was given for the benefit of the Forsyth Literary club, and it is said that the large auditorium was packed and jammed. So the magician's career opened most auspiciously.

But the occasion was of even greater moment than even he realized at the time. In the audience was a maiden who found for the first time that she loved Mr. Reich. this was Miss Mary Kitchell, who five years later became Mrs. W. A. Reich.

When the Civil War broke out, Mr. Reich was recruited as drummer in a band under the leadership of Captain Mickey. The band was formed for Wheeler's Battalion, but on the capture of that command at Roanoke Island, Captain Mickey went to Newbern to seek employment.

Thus he describes his meeting with Vance: "I was sitting in the lobby of the Gaston House, Newbern, when a man wearing a colonel's uniform came in with a loaf of bread under each arm. This was Zeb Vance. I spoke to him and told him my errand. Colonel Vance replied: "You are the very man I am looking for. You represent the Salem band. Come to my regiment at Wood's brick yard, four miles below Newbern."

So Mickey's band joined the twenty-sixth. The other members of the band were: A. P. Gibson, Julius Lineback, Julius Transou, Dan Crouse, Charles Transou, Gus Reich, Will Lemly, A. Meinung, J. O. Hall, A. L. Hauser, D. J. Hackney and Ed. Peterson. One A. L. Hauser, died during the war.

All thru the progress of the Civil War the band was given frequent short furloughs to go to nearby cities to hold performances, the drummer, Gus Reich, being, of course, the drawing card. These entertainments brought in thousands of dollars for the Confederate cause.

They were also the means by which Gus Rich was able to return home occasionally. After one camp entertainment, at which a general was present, the magician asked for a furlough that he might take his trunk home where it would be safe from the Yankees.

The general was still under the wizard's spell. He slapped his knee and exclaimed:

"Yes, you shall have a furlough! Don't let them get that trunk, by any means!"

On the day before Lee's surrender at Appomatox Courthouse, the Salem band was captured and, with hundreds of Confederate troops, herded into a cattle pen and there placed under armed guard.

The men all believed that they were to be lined up and shot the next morning. They spent a miserable night in the open pen, huddled together like cattle awaiting slaughter. When at last morning came, and the gates of the pen where thrown open and they were told to "git," they were considerably bewildered.

"Where are we to go?" they asked the guard.

"Go!" he exclaimed. "Why go to hell!"

The Confederates moved out, and soon word reached then that "the old man had given up."

Mr. Reich was given his parole, and was the first to return to Salem. When he was espied by the towns people, they said, "Here comes the Salem band." But Mr. Reich replied, "I'm the only one."

Lee surrendered on the tenth of April and it was not until the third of July that the other members of the band were released and allowed to return home.

On December nineteenth the Wizard married the girl whose love he had won on the night of his first performance. This couple have lived happily together for fifty-one years, last December celebrating their golden anniversary.

From '71 to '73, Mr. and Mrs. Reich lived in Mt. Airy, where during these years Mr. Reich had a tinshop. The Reich's lived near the famous Siamese twins, and upon their death, Mr. Reich made the tin coffin in which the twins were laid to their final rest.

It was while at Mt. Airy that he thought of the epithet by which he became well known throuout four states. He was standing with his wife looking out over the glorious prospect of the Blue Ridge mountains heaped on the horizon, and a thought occurred to him:

"Mary," he said, "I am the wizard of the Blue Ridge."

And so he become.

  • continued

    Newspaper Reviews and Articles

  • January 4, 1861 (People's Press)

  • October 24, 1862(People's Press)

  • October 19, 1866 (People's Press) (first tour after Civil War)

  • September 15, 1881 (Letter to People's Press)

  • October 5, 1882 (Letter to People's Press)

  • February 27, 1890 (Peoples Press)

  • Undated clipping from Scrapbook

  • Summary of Events and Tours of Gus Rich


    Words can't really express my gratitude to Gary Hunt of Durham, NC for sharing these wonderful articles. Gary is also a magician and over the years has collected as much information as possible on W. Augustus Reich, known as Gus Rich, Wizard of the Blue Ridge. If you know of any descendant or relation of Gus, please contact Gary as he is still looking for a photograph of Gus. Gary's email address is: garyhunt@mindspring.com

    Gary is co-editor of The On-Line Journal of Magic History

    This site is a member of The American Local History Network

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