Reunion with trunk used in old act magical moment for Cavett

February 26, 2017 GMT

Did you hear the one about “The Turtle Lady,” a pack rat and the late-night talk show host?

The punch line came as a surprise to Nebraska native Dick Cavett during a visit last week to his home state.

During a stop at the John Neihardt State Historic Site in Bancroft on Monday, the 80-year-old author and star of “The Dick Cavett Show” was reunited with an old wooden trunk he used in his magic shows as a teenager in Lincoln.

“Cavett The Magician” read the inscription on top of the green box. There also were some mysterious Japanese words written on it.

“This is a heartfelt moment for me,” Cavett said after he saw the old magic trunk.

He later explained that the trunk was a repurposed footlocker used in World War II by his stepmother, Dorcas Cavett, one of the first women to enlist in the Marine Corps.

The Japanese lettering, the talk show host said, was added by him. “I was studying Japanese at age 15 for some reason,” Cavett said, so he painted some onto the trunk.

Like Johnny Carson, another Nebraskan who won fame as a late-night talk show host, Dick Cavett cut his early entertainment chops as a magician.

He said he won a trophy as a 15-year-old at a magicians convention in St. Louis. One person he topped was the president of the Society of American Magicians.

“The headline (in the Lincoln Journal) was ‘Young Lincoln sharpie bests magicians’ group head,’ ” Cavett said. “Some people haven’t figured it out yet.”

The keeper of the trunk now is Mark Brohman of Lincoln, an admitted pack rat and director of the Nebraska Environmental Trust. The Trust awards state lottery funds as grants for lake renovations, recycling projects and other efforts to help the environment.

Brohman was given the trunk in 2011 by Angie “The Turtle Lady” Byorth, who ran a turtle rescue program for years in Lincoln and got a state law passed protecting Nebraska’s native turtles.

Byorth said she helped care for Dorcas Cavett in her elder years and talked with her son frequently. The magic trunk, she said, was destined for the trash as Dorcas Cavett’s home was being cleaned out by her son, Byorth and others, for Dorcas’ move to a retirement center.

After Dick Cavett left for New York, Byorth saw the old trunk. She said she couldn’t bear to see it discarded, and called him. Cavett said she could have it.

But then, in 2011, Byorth was faced with cleaning out her own house after she suffered a stroke. That job included finding new homes for more than 100 turtles, including Big Boy, a 100-pound African, spur-thighed desert tortoise. Brohman, who had worked with Byorth on the turtle legislation as a state legislative aide, led the turtle transfer.

“He was so helpful. I told him he could have the trunk,” said the 63-year-old Byorth, who has returned to work as a real estate agent.

Brohman said he has no plans to ever sell the old trunk, but offered to lend it to Cavett at any time, or lend it to any exhibit done on the talk show host.

“I’ve always been fascinated by history,” Brohman said, “and being a fifth-generation Nebraskan, just having a little piece of history is exciting to me.”