Magic Museum Full of Surprises, Not Secrets

Oct 6, 2014

American Museum of Magic Director Jeff Taylor stands in front of a large milk can Houdini escaped from in one of his acts.
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

The American Museum of Magic in downtown Marshall looks like any other storefront. But inside there’s a collection more eclectic and more thorough than anything you’ll see in the country.

Kids in the Ladd family of South Bend dress up like old-time magicians on a stage
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

Museum Director Jeff Taylor says the Magic Museum in Marshall is one of the few of its kind that’s open to the public. He says there are larger collections, but they’re usually private or dedicated to only one performer.

That’s perhaps why Bob Lund, a would-be magician, opened his collection to the public in the late 1970s.

“Bob did not enjoy standing in front of an audience, that just wasn’t his thing. So, he actually became an automotive writer and worked in the Detroit area for numerous automotive publications, but maintained his interest in magic his entire life. And the way he stayed involved in magic by not being a performer was to be a collector,” says Taylor.

“And so he searched high and low for just anything magic related that he could get his hands on.”  

And Taylor means anything. Lund even kept a small library with every book he found that merely mentions magic or a magician—including at least one Nora Roberts romance novel.

The majority of what Lund collected was memorabilia from one-man acts you’ve probably never heard of.

“Bob was particularly interested in what he called the 'tall grass magician.' And those were the magicians that didn’t perform in New York and Chicago and Detroit under the big lights. They’re the magicians that earn their living traveling from small town to small town,” Taylor explains. “A guy by the name of Gus Rapp, a guy by the name of John C. Green. These were guys that were just one man shows.”

Taylor says many of these posters and fliers are the only records we have of these magicians. So in a way, Lund preserved their work for years to come. Of course, there are a few artifacts from the big stars.

“This is an actual milk can that Houdini used in his act,” Taylor says. “The milk can was a way of bringing an underwater trick into the theatre.”

Taylor says one of his favorite pieces in the museum is a book called The Discovery of Witchcraft that was written in 1584. Taylor says it’s the first book to reveal how magic tricks are done.

“In that time period, the phrase ‘witch hunt’ was a literal term. So what Reginald Scott did in this book The Discovery of Witchcraft was go around and say, ‘Look, there are no demons walking amongst us. There are no witches amongst us. These “magicians” these “wizards” these “witches” are just doing tricks,’” Taylor explains.

“There’s a drawing here where it actually shows a beheading and shows how it’s actually done. You can see a body laying on the table, but then you can see the individual that’s actually attached to the head sort of underneath. This isn’t a trick that’s done anymore which is one of the reasons we reveal this secret.”

Taylor says just because it’s a museum doesn’t mean they’re going break down the tricks for you. The museum only explains how the illusion was presented—not the magician’s secrets.

Why? Taylor gives two reasons: First of all, the museum wants to keep a good relationship with the magic community. Secondly…

“It really takes the fun out of it. When you know how these things work, they’re usually so simple,” Taylor says. “Bob Lund used to say that the magician is the last place we can go for that sense of wonder because, as you grow older, you find out the secret to everything.”

The American Museum of Magic in Marshall is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The museum closes for the season in November.