Mind reader brings his passion for magic to WKU

Lewis D. Chaney performs a mentalist routine in the Downing Student Union on Oct. 25. Chaney has been interested in mentalism since he left the broadcast news industry in 2011.

Griffin Fletcher

By the time Lewis D. Chaney of Henderson had spent his first five minutes inside Downing Student Union on a quiet Thursday afternoon, he had already drawn a crowd. Maybe it was his flammable wallet, maybe he just has a way with people.

Whatever it was, a group of nearly 10 huddled around Chaney near the entrance of the Fresh Food Company as he performed card tricks, made palm-sized red foam balls disappear, reappear then multiply, Chaney asked the group, “Is mind control real? I can prove it.” 

One of the few who noticed Chaney performing and decided to stay and watch was Nashville sophomore Savannah Waffird. She wanted to find out how.

Waffird followed Chaney’s command as he asked her to sit down and think of someone special to her. He asked her to think of an event that reminded her of that person, and second, a song. Chaney said he could guess the person’s name.

The group fixed itself on the scene, wondering if the hesitation signaled doubt or something different. Aside from a general shuffle of tired feet or the bustle of the nearby Burrito Bowl, it was silent.

With his right index finger pointed forward, a slight bend in his knees and eyes closed tight in concentration, it was clear Chaney was contemplating his answer. Suddenly, quickly, he opened his eyes and said a single word: a name.

“Jacob!” Chaney said, the focus of the group unflinching, anticipating Waffird’s response.

Her eyes flew open, her mouth dropped. Jacob was her brother’s name.

“Mind-blowing,” Waffird said. “That was wild.”

The crowd applauded, and Chaney moved on to do much of the same with a few other groups scattered throughout DSU.

Since leaving the broadcast news business in 2011, Chaney has focused the majority of his energy on mentalism, a form of magic he describes as “sleight of mind.”

Now 55 years old, Chaney said he first became interested in magic at age 7 after watching one of his cousins perform a magic trick. Since then, he has become the president of Ring 56, based in Henderson, of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, which he was initiated into in 2001.

Though he’s done everything from working with Nashville musicians to homeless people and spending over 25 years in broadcast television, Chaney said nothing has made him happier than mentalism. As a mentalist, Chaney aims to create an illusion of extra sensory perception, or a “sixth sense,” solely for entertainment purposes. After so many years in news, Chaney said he feels compelled to spread happier news, which he believes is possible through mentalism.

“I have seen things I can’t unsee, and I’ve read things I can’t unread, and now what I’m doing is I have a chance to give back to people,” Chaney said.

Chaney does this by sharing the oftentimes amusing and amazing tricks he’s learned over the past two decades.

“I have spent the last 17 years learning, and I haven’t stopped, and you never stop,” Chaney said about mentalism and magic. “When you get into this artform, it’s continuing an education all the time.”

Chaney said people who watch him perform routinely ask if he possesses psychic abilities or special “gifts.” If he does, he won’t say.

“The only ones I have are when someone has given me something for Christmas or my birthday,” Chaney said. “But I create the illusion of that because I just like entertaining people and giving them something to walk away with and feel good about.”

Chaney said people’s reactions are what he loves most about his work. Through each reaction, he said he believes a memory is formed.

it becomes a very personal thing,” Chaney said. “In that moment, to me, the connection with people is what makes it all worthwhile.”

Chaney’s son Evan Chaney, a freshman at Henderson Community College, said he skipped his classes for the day to watch his father perform at DSU. He said the thing he most enjoys about his father’s work is watching those reactions.

“It’s always just entertaining,” Evan said. “It’s always great to see the reactions.”

Chaney will host a “Magic of the Mind” mentalism show Saturday from 6:30-8 p.m. and Nov. 17 from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Hardin Planetarium. Tickets cost $20 and are available at Chaney’s website: lewisblewmymind.com 

Chaney said the performance is prepared especially for the Hardin Planetarium and is intended to evoke a range of emotion through a mix of mentalist and magic-influenced tricks. He said he believes the show will be unlike any other.

“I would like for Bowling Green to see that I’ve created something for them,” Chaney said. “Bowling Green hasn’t seen something like this.”

Though Chaney said he believes magic is often stigmatized as only for children, he wants to show it’s possible to make money through working as a mentalist or magician. Right now, Chaney works weekly as entertainment at two Turoni’s restaurants in Evansville, which he’s done for five years at one and two years at the other. He said he consistently performs at other scheduled gigs as well. 

Chaney said he’s in the process of working to perform more regularly and on a larger scale if possible. He compares his progress to that of anyone else who has a dream.

“Everybody is nobody until they’re somebody,” Chaney said. “And I’m in the transition right now of trying to be somebody.”

Features reporter Griffin Fletcher can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected].