Parked on the sidelines of the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, Blackwolf the Dragonmaster shouts at a woman who has let her 10-pound poodle off the leash and is now eyeing the wizard staff as a chew-toy.
“Please retrieve your pooch!” he hollers to her in a thick English accent.
She seems confused at being chastised by a 6-foot man cloaked in a robe and felt hat, with a stuffed dragon perched on his arm. Still, she apologizes and drags the dog off.
For nearly 20 years, Blackwolf has performed around the fountain — he calls it his “stomping grounds” — telling children’s stories and doing magic tricks for the cost of a few “doubloons.” It’s all a fantastical sight, but wouldn’t have happened if the man behind Blackwolf hadn’t found magic in the darkest times of his own life.
Blackwolf’s backstory is complicated and convoluted: He was a wizard to the high king until he was cursed with a poison that eventually led him to be punished by the leader of the multiverse. He’s forced to serve out his time in Lower Manhattan trotting around Central Park, meeting with celebrities for on-camera gags and attending Renaissance fairs.
The real story of the man behind Blackwolf, 51-year-old Richard Washington, is strikingly similar to the one he’s made up for his character.
Washington said he had a “wonderful” 11 years in school but then experienced the two worst years of his life after being diagnosed as manic depressive. He became a ward of the state and was forced to take prescribed medications. He was near suicide and needed to find a way out, he said.
“You don’t know what it’s like to be in that situation,” he said, losing his bright English accent to a deeper, slower drawl. “I flushed those pills down the toilet and never looked back.”
Washington turned to his magical muse — Harry Potter — for enjoyment, and wound up creating Blackwolf, the character.
“It was an escape into imagination from a life that was no longer worth living,” he said, pulling at his fake beard, showing a patch of his own facial hair underneath.
A group of tourists interrupt the conversation, then pass by. Blackwolf encourages a few to come close. They continue to stroll — maybe a few snap photos. It doesn’t faze him.
He looks around and says that he hopes people learn to “never abandon imagination.”