Born: Sept. 8, 1932
Karl Jay Wagner fell in love with magic when he was a boy. As a man, he used magic to teach thousands of children about safety.
With the stage name Kaptain Karl, he performed his show more than 10,000 times for schools and youth organizations nationwide to bring his message of safety, using magic to make his points.
He taught children about staying safe while crossing streets or handling small animals. He taught gun safety and how to identify poisons. He taught children about bicycle safety.
“Every trick I did and every move I made had a safety implication or message,” said Wagner, who is 81.
Teaching safety was Wagner’s fulltime job, he said. He called himself a safety instructional entertainer.
“People would always joke with me, ‘Why don’t you get a job?’ and I’d always say, ‘I have a job, a good job.’“
Wagner and his brother and sister grew up with their parents in the western states, Arizona, California and Utah. In the 6th grade, he and his family were living in Salt Lake City, Utah. That’s when he saw a magic show matinee. He was so impressed, he asked his mother to take him to the evening performance of the show and she did. That really hooked him.
In high school, he was the stage manager for the drama class and had the privilege of being back stage when a magician performed at the school and made a horse disappear. “I saw where the horse went, but I wouldn’t tell anyone,” Wagner said, laughing.
He spent five years in the U.S. Navy and was active in the Church of Latter Day Saints. He agreed to help raise money for the church by holding a magic show. One of his tricks was being nailed into a box and freeing himself in less than a minute.
“No one knew how I got out,” said Karl.
He went to the University of Utah and continued giving magic shows for fraternities, sororities and other groups, such as the Lion’s Club.
He moved to Indianapolis to attend Lincoln Chiropractic College, but he continued doing magic for birthday parties, scouts, nursing homes and other groups.
“Most of the time, it was for free, but it was then that I began building credibility as an entertainer with a message,” he said.
While participating in a magic show with other magicians, he met a promoter who hired him to take his act on the road, performing magic with a message about safety for children across the country, Wagner said.
“I went from Berlin, New Jersey to San Jose, California. We used magic to keep their attention, but they also got a safety message,” he said.
Wagner also wrote a book about using magic to teach children about safety. The book, “Safety Magic for Children,” is 320 pages of tricks and tips for teaching children about safety. It has chapters about fireworks, strangers, sharp objects and much more and remains available through a variety of outlets.
Wagner was married and had four children but divorced after 10 years. He remarried about 38 years ago and his wife, Rachel, became his booking agent. She also became part of the show as a clown, calling herself Oh No Joe. She passed about a year ago.
Today, Wagner continues to entertain children and some of his peers at Countryside Meadows in Avon. He said he is doing a magic show soon at a school in Avon and the show will have a safety theme.
He regularly uses magic to cheer up residents if he notices they have become depressed about their illness or other problems. “I always carry a deck of cards and do tricks and that always makes them smile.”