Ed Reno Magician



Ed & Emma Reno


1886 - 1927


Edward Munn Burdick married Emma M. Austin on November 13, 1886, in Atchinson Kansas. This was to be “home” until 1900 when they moved to Kankakee, Illinois.  Emma traveled with Ed and became his on-stage assistant for the first few years, but did take time off for the birth of their children.


Ed and Emma had four children:


Emily Margarete Burdick                  June 15, 1889

Auline Burdick                                October 25, 1893

Edward Austin Burdick                    December 24, 1894

Ruth Burdick                                   March 14, 1896


Ed still had William B. Alvord working as his advance man booking dates in most of the towns west of the Mississippi. One of the most interesting events that happened to Ed during this period of time happened in Utah in 1892. The following is a quote from The Spinx,  August 1941, in an article by Ed Reno recalling said incident.


“Sometimes things happen to magicians which make them very glad that they are magicians.  Things happen entirely apart from their shows and yet magic comes to their aid.  I was in such a situation in June of the year 1892 in Utah.  I had been making a tour through that territory and traveled from place to place in a Bronco drawn cart which was just large enough to hold my outfit and myself.  It was my misfortune to be just a little west of Pleasant Valley Junction at the time a band of Utes started an uprising and I was captured by these Indians who were on the warpath.  I thought that I was destined to visit the happy hunting grounds until I had the idea of trying out my magic.  First I picked up a small stone and by manipulation caused it to disappear and appear.  I produced a large pocketknife from a small purse and then apparently swallowed the knife.  I also did the pistol trick and caught the bullet in my teeth and then took the pistol, which I made disappear only to find it again in a squaw’s blanket.  The Indians were fascinated by the magic and became friendly at once.  They were so kind to me that they piloted me safely to Lehigh, Utah, and always called me friend or brother.  That was a time when magic surely helped me out, but as I look back upon the years, magic has helped me all of the life.”


After being guided by Alvord for a period of years, Ed Reno and Ed Alvord formed a partnership called “The Reno and Alvord Circus.” The startup date is not known, but in David Price's book, Magic, A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theater, David places the time as around 1895.  Alvord was part owner in the circus for only the first few years before he retired from show business, and Ed and Emma took over the whole operation.  We have pictures that show the circus still in operation in 1908, so it went on for at least 12 years.


The circus had a big round top tent, and the first year the only entertainment was Ed and his magic show, plus a trained mule called “Denver.”  There were enough wagons and horses to move from town to town, and outside of the “Big Top” there was a small zoo, not much, just a few monkeys, two leopards, and a porcupine.


The circus continued to grow.  It soon consisted of contortionists, wire walker (first daughter, Emily), acrobats, a band, and others. The picture below shows the “Crew.”



This picture is believed to be taken just before moving from their winter quarters in Aurora, Nebraska.  Ed and Emma are seated in the center.  Oldest daughter, Emily, is on Emma’s left.  Auline is the girl on the ground in the flag dress.  Young Ed is the boy on top of the wagon on the left, and Ruth is the little girl on the top of the wagon on the right.  The age of the children puts this picture around 1900.  The “ticket” wagon says, “Reno’s Circus,” so Alvord was retired when this picture was taken, consistent with David Price’s data.


We know that the circus was still running in 1908 because below we have a picture of Emily on the high wire dated August 1908. The circus worker on the ground is believed to be her husband, Arthur Argus.



The circus only ran during the summer months, so during the winter, Ed, Emma and the children traveled the Redpath Lyceum circuit doing shows in schools, etc.  Emily’s act on stage was to do some magic tricks while balancing on a big ball.  On one of our pictures of Emily, Ed has written, “Emily, the girl on the ball.”


David Price’s book does a very good job of documenting Ed Reno and his association with the Redpath Lyceum and Chautauqua Circuits and is required reading for anyone interested in these circuits.  We have letters from the Redpath Bureau from 1914 through 1924, so we know that he was with Redpath at least through these years.  He may have started with Redpath Lyceum as early as 1895, and he was on a Redpath Chautauqua show in 1927 when Emma took sick. So that is a possible 32 years. For more information on the Chautauqua and Lyceum circuits, visit the "Interested in magic" page in this web site.


Ed was known for his non-stop commentary while on stage, most of the time making fun of himself.  He would almost always call someone from the audience up on stage to “assist” him.  One of his tricks was to announce that he was going to pull a rabbit out of his hat. Well, when he looked for the rabbit in the hat, it was gone.  He would then make comments about, “I have to tie a string on that rabbit so that it will not get away from me again.”  He would then look for the rabbit under his flower cones, under the table, around the stage, and then “find” it hiding behind the back of his assistant from the audience.


The following is the inside cover of a mailing that was sent to all of the Redpath Circuit stops to inform the committee planning the show about Ed’s upcoming stage show.  Be sure to read the “Running Fire of Comment.”




Ed never gave credit to himself for performing the tricks.  He always gave credit to his wand saying, “It’s all in the stick.”



From 1908 (the earliest possible closing of the circus) to 1914, Ed and Emma’s work is unknown.  They may have been still running the circus or working for some booking agent.  The first letter that we have from the Lyceum Redpath Bureau is dated January 1914, so we know that he was working for them at that time to “overflowing houses”.  He would work the Redpath Chautauqua Circuit in the summer and Redpath Lyceum Circuit in the winter.


Ed traveled around both circuits mostly by train.  He was having trouble with the baggage agents charging extra for his doves, duck, goose, rabbit, etc.  Also, some agents wanted him to “cage” his dangerous animals.  Below is a letter written to Ed in 1915 after Ed asked for a permit to move his animals on the Northern Pacific Railway without caging and/or paying an extra charge.



Meanwhile Emma started working a separate act in vaudeville theaters with her own magic show known as “Madame Reno, Empress of Magic”.



The date to be filled in on this window card is 191_.  So she was showing on her own sometime during the 1910s.


Both Ed and Emma must have been a joy to be around, always full of fun and joking about themselves.  Below is a picture of Emma in stage dress along with a rabbit.



As you can see, see has written on the bottom of the picture,

“Me & Bunny – That’s me with the dress on.  Tad.”  (Tad was the loving personal name that Ed called Emma.)  She must have had quite a sense of humor.


By 1925, Emma, her oldest daughter, Emily, along with Emily's second husband, Harry Gilbert, and their two small children, were known to join Ed Reno, Jr. in his troupe, "The Reno Funmakers" touring in the South.  For more information on Ed Reno, Jr. (Edward Austin Burdick) and Hary Gilbert and his wife, Emily Burdick, see “The Children” section of this website.


On July 26, 1927, Emma passed away.  Her obituary is posted below.


Funeral services will be held tomorrow afternoon at 2:30 o'clock from the Hertz funeral chapel with the Rev. David Creighton, of the First Presbyterian church, officiating.  The body will be taken to Baldwinsville, New York, for burial in the family cemetery.

Mrs. Reno, whose maiden name was Emma Austin, was born on August 31, 1867 at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and when a small girl moved with her parents to Omaha Nebraska.  On November 13, 1886, she was married to Edward Reno at Atchinson, Kansas, where they lived until 1900 when they moved to Kankakee.”


The official cause of death on her death certificate was ptomaine poisoning.


She is buried in the Burdick family plot in Riverside Cemetery in Baldwinsville, New York, along with Ed’s mother and father, grandfather and grandmother, sister Lovina, and brother Isaac.  Her son-in-law, Harvey Francis Connell, Ruth’s husband, was laid to rest next to Emma upon his death in 1953.


We cannot find any official documents that Edward Munn Burdick ever officially changed his name to Reno.  All the birth certificates of the children list their name as Burdick, and Emma is buried in the Burdick plot.  Ruth’s marriage certificate lists her maiden name as Burdick.


Around Kankakee, Illinois, Ed was known as “Reno,” and all his real estate tax statements and work orders on his houses are all listed in the Reno name.  He is buried in Kankakee under his stage name of Reno.


It is our belief that to properly address the last name issue, we would approach it this way:


Edward Munn Burdick, a/k/a Ed Reno.


After Emma’s death, Ed did remarry twice.  We have no documented information as to any travel that Ed did after Emma's death.  In all probability, with Ed being in his early 70's ,and it being during the Depression, Ed only performed close to Kankakee, IL. For information on the rest of his life, go to “Ed and second wife Minnie” on this website.