A "half tank holiday" to a magical museum in Marshall
Every night elaborate magic shows pack theaters up and down the Las Vegas strip. You can’t get to Vegas on a half tank…but downtown Marshall fits the bill. That’s where WMUK’s Brian O’Keefe went for this “half tank holiday.”
Driving into downtown Marshall felt a little like driving onto a Hollywood set of a post-war, small town America movie. A fountain welcomes you, a local bakery has fresh donuts to start your day, and a local brewery offers a destination to end the day. The American Museum of Magic isn’t in Las Vegas or New York, it's three blocks east of that fountain, right there in Marshall. Dave Schwaninger is Vice Chair of the Museum Board. He said, "the museum is the largest collection of magic ephemera that is open to the public." Schwaninger added, "there are a couple in Europe, but not in the Americas."
Nearly all of the items in the museum were once part of Robert Lund's personal collection. Lund was a newspaper reporter in Detroit, and automotive journalist; but his love was magic and magicians. Schwaninger said, "He was a magic enthusiast…loved magicians…loved magic…but he never became a performer himself but got into collection posters and all the things that go along with being a magician…the ephemera as we say.” Over the year Lund's collection grew to the point it filled every corner of his home. Robert Lund and his wife chose to put the museum in Marshall even though they never lived in the community.
Lund's collection of posters greets you when you walk in the museum door. Rows and rows of brightly colored advertisements hang on the walls. There are magicians you may’ve never heard of, and those that became household names. Toward the back of the museum's first floor is an exhibit that celebrates Harry Houdini. Schwaninger said, "Houdini is probably the most famous of all magicians, arguable he was probably the first American superstar." The American Museum of Magic’s collection includes an oversized milk can and a wooden chest Houdini used for his famous escapes. Schwaninger said, "it makes sense that those stunts resonated with people." He added, "think about what was going on in America at that time, people were escaping from Europe, they were escaping other governments and coming to America, so they were interested in the whole concept of breaking away."
If you climb the stairs to the museum's second floor and you'll find Schwaninger's favorite item in the collection, a 'Zigzag Box.' Schwaninger explained why it's so special, "it's what we call a modern classic. It was invented by a British magician and inventor called Robert Harbin." The American Museum of Magic Board Vice Chair added, "Harbin created this and had no idea the impact it would have." For a while every big, stage magic show was doing a zigzag. The illusion gives the appearance that the magician's assistant's midsection is slid to the side, while here head and legs remain in line, her body zigs and zags. It points to the importance of the assistant. Schwaninger said, "it helps the magic if you believe that when that girl is put in the box and she's sawed in half, that she doesn't know anything about what's going on." In reality the assistant is actively working to make sure the illusion works. So it's like there are two magicians on stage.
You can learn about magic and magicians throughout the years at the American Museum of Magic in downtown Marshall…its open Wednesday through Sunday, learn more at www.americanmuseumofmagic.com.