Mark Kalin and Jinger Leigh are illusionists. The husband-and-wife duo, who go by “Kalin and Jinger,” have performed across the globe, but their home base has been Reno for more than two decades. They built and, for years, operated Magic Underground in a space beneath the Pioneer Theater.
Now, the pair are starting something new in response to COVID-19 and how it has changed the way people seek entertainment.
“Weird Reno” is a walking tour experience that’s part odd history lesson, part illusion.
Earlier this week, they met a group of local reporters on the steps of the Second Judicial District Court in downtown Reno. Kalin passed out three ropes of different lengths as he told a story about a hanging that allegedly occurred outside the courthouse in the late 1870s—telling those in attendance that the ropes would be the same length when his story concluded.
The hanging of J.W. Rover was the first and only public execution to happen in Reno. It took place outside the courthouse on Feb. 19, 1878 and came three years and five trials after the discovery of I.N. Sharp’s dismembered body in the vicinity of the Rabbit Hole Sulphur Mines in Humboldt County.
Kalin retold the story well and with dramatic flair, waxing on the last meal Rover reportedly requested—strawberry shortcake, which was out of season. When he’d finished, he held up the ropes that had ostensibly remained in his hand throughout his storytelling. The three were indeed the same length.
Afterward, Kalin and Jinger walked the group to the old Reno post office across the street and performed another illusion—gathering three rings from their reporter audience and making them appear to link together.
Their tricks are stunningly well done. And the historical sites on the tour—of which there are nine—provide an interesting backdrop, spiced up with strange tales from the city’s past.
Kalin and Jinger are hoping they’ll provide pandemic-weary people with some much-needed levity and bonding time outdoors—following COVID-19 protocols like mask wearing and social distancing, of course. The two hope local families, businesses and visitors will take their 75-minute walking tours together when they open to the public on March 26.
“There are some strange stories—and we say ‘weird’ with affection, not disdain,” Jinger said. “And people need a break. People need to get out. People need to connect. Entertainment was at a standstill, especially live entertainment. So, in one sense, our hands were kind of tied—but, in another sense, we were starting to see what was possible. Really, it comes from wanting to do something that was inherently COVID-safe, COVID-compliant but would have a connection for people to get out, to enjoy the outdoors, to experience a little bit of magic and to learn a little bit of why Reno is so cool and feel a little bit of community pride.”
More information about the tours, ticket prices and scheduling options can be found at weirdreno.com.
A few free preview days of the tour will take place between March 19 and March 21, but these are filling up very quickly, according to Kalin and Jinger.