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After career as homicide detective, York College grad turns to life of magic

May 23, 2019
George Ripley stands by a police vehicle.

Pick a card and memorize it, sign your name, and ease it back into the deck. Now, get ready: George Ripley ’95 is about to show you something amazing.

The owner of “Ripley’s Believe it. It’s Magic” came to York in the early 1990s to attend York College majored in Behavioral Science, and was a York homicide detective for more than 10 years. He spent countless hours walking city neighborhoods and many more talking to residents, often at the worst of times, all the while observing. He’s studied the place; he knows its people.

So, before he finds your signed card in the deck, allow him to offer something on a related subject: the magic of York.

“There’s a real false perception about the city sometimes, but it’s just beautiful,” George says, “and there are a whole lot of people pushing it to be better each day.”

‘So many good people’

George arrived in York in 1991, after his wrestling coach recommended York College. The New Jersey native was instantly drawn to both the city and school, glad for the balance between big-city entertainment and small-town charm.

“I liked the quaintness of the campus. I just thought it had a real cozy feel,” he says. “And I started to spend a lot of time in the city, too.”

He worked for a time as a valet at the Yorktowne Hotel and eventually as a senior intern with the York City Police Department.

It was during his subsequent 21 years on the force, though, when the magic really happened — close up, sleight-of-hand magic, that is.

Long hours of tough, often heartbreaking investigative work brought to the surface an old love dating back to when, as a 16-year-old, George saw a card trick while on vacation. The thought was to bring that same sense of connection, a gentle relief from hard reality, to those in the community he served.

Soon, canvassing neighborhoods for leads might include a disappearing dollar bill to create a rapport with potential witnesses. An interrogation room card trick could be used to break the tension.

It worked like a charm.

Each new trick he learned brought a fresh opportunity to meet York residents. And each of those magic meetings brought one homicide detective a little closer to a truth about the city, one you might miss if you blink.

“Really, there are so many good people in York but so much of it, you just don’t hear about,” he says. “I did see some bad things in my time there, but I saw so much more that was good.”

York’s magic

Today, George lives in Manchester Township and thinks back with fondness on his time in York. He works as an investigator for a Pennsylvania insurance company during the week, while weekends are spent practicing and performing magic at corporate events and weddings.

“Ripley’s Believe it. It’s Magic” is bringing ever more gasps and grins to venues across the area, including York.

“If I’m smiling and they’re smiling,” George says, “well, there’s just no better feeling than that.”

That’s where the subtle beauty of magic lies — in the shared experience.

So, when George finally pulls a single playing card from that deck you can almost see him picking out one person from a bustling street and taking the time to talk. Another connection made in a hopeful city.

When he hands that card over, then, it’s an opportunity for someone else to find that same magic of York, an invitation of sorts placed in the palm of your hand.

If you look, it’s got your name on it.