Magic Museum provides mecca for experts, fans alike

MARSHALL, Mich. - If a magician were ever to win the Superbowl, it's doubtful he'd look into the camera and shout, "I'm going to Disneyworld!" Instead, the magician's victory celebration would most likely be a trip to a historic town in mid-Michigan - home of the American Museum of Magic.

Mr. Toad's wild ride it's not. Marshall is known as a haven for antique shops and historical homes. A drive down the main drag is like a quick trip back in time. As an establishment devoted to preserving every aspect of the history of the conjuring arts, The American Museum of Magic fits in perfectly. For more than 20 years, it has been recognized as a mecca for magicians and students of legerdemain's rich history.

The ground floor of The American Museum of Magic in Marshall, Mich. showcases hundreds of relics from the golden age of magic.
The museum opened its doors in1978 and houses the gargantuan personal collection of Robert Lund, noted magic historian and author. Like many youngsters, Lund's initial interest in magic was as a performer.

But at an early age, Lund gave up life on that side of the footlights, realizing that although he could master the technical aspects of the craft, he lacked the all-important flair for performing. He decided to make his mark on the magic world in another way - by becoming a student of magic history and collecting anything and everything related to the art that he so dearly loved.

While he may not have known it in his childhood, Lund ultimately gathered a collection that grew to be one of the worlds largest and greatest. Lund's collection - now, the museum itself - includes posters, playbills, books, photos, apparatus, scrapbooks, letters and thousands upon thousands of other pieces of magic memorabilia and ephemera.

Lund also believed in representing famous magicians and "tall grass showmen" equally in his collection. While Houdini posters adorn the walls of the museum today, so do those of little known men like Marquis, Staples, Mysterious Smith, The Great Benyon, and thousands of others. Many of these magicians are still unknown today - even to magic historians - but they live on in the American Museum of Magic.

Of course, magical luminaries also have their place in The Museum. Displays on the ground floor include several of the great self-liberator's illusions, including the "Milk Can" and the "Overboard Packing Case" escapes. Other major illusions on display include much of Harry Blackstone, Sr.'s show, Doug Henning's "Zig Zag" illusion, and apparatus used by Howard Thurston. Thurston, until David Copperfield's appearance on the stage, trouped one of the largest illusion shows across America, starting in 1908. Until his death in 1936, the Thurston show was billed as "A National Necessity."

The Museum's holdings are spread out over three floors, including a cavernous basement. The ground floor is home to larger displays of illusions, programs, photos and apparatus. The walls on the first and second floors are equally plastered with a veritable mosaic of gorgeous posters of prestidigitators from the past and present.

The second floor, in addition to housing more apparatus, accommodates The Museum's sizeable library. Totaling nearly 10,000 volumes, the bulk of Lund's library includes tomes devoted solely to conjuring. Many visitors are unaware, however, that the library includes volumes that make only fleeting references to magic or magicians. For example, if a biography of Fatty Arbuckle mentions Houdini, as it was Houdini who gave Arbuckle the nick-name "Fatty."

Another portion of the second floor is home to the collection of books devoted to the magician in fiction. Horatio Alger novels that include magicians as characters sit side by side on shelves with more recent works like "The Confessor," by John Gardener.

For many seasoned visitors, The Museum's basement is the real source of fascination. While material in the basement is not on display, there are undoubtedly more items stored there than in any other portion of the building, including the library. A long row of Steelcase filing cabinets occupies much of the floor space in the basement. Their contents, to many, are the most valuable commodity in the entire building.

Alphabetically organized, the cabinets hold files on tens of thousands of magicians. The files include any and all, information Lund had ever gathered about a specific magician. If he owned three or more pieces of paper concerning a specific performer, amateur, collector, or magic enthusiast, a file was opened. Many of the Museum's scrapbooks, larger files of correspondence, and the personal effects of some performers are stored in apple boxes.

The rest of the basement serves as storage for other major Museum holdings. These include one of the largest aggregations of magic sets in the world, several illusions that remain in storage, and a major collection of unique, original typescript author's manuscripts of various magic books.

Robert Lund passed away in1995, at the age of 70. His death was a serious blow to the magic community - for nearly 50 years he had been regarded one of the world's foremost authorities on the history of magic, not to mention an outstanding writer. In "civilian life" Lund worked as an editor of Motor, an automotive magazine, and is the only writer to ever be inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame. A confidant of magicians both big and small, Lund shared the magic in his life with all who were interested.

Robert Lund, with Elaine, his wife and partner, put their heart and souls into the Museum. The couple worked together, with a tightly knit group of four friends, over a period of several years, to restore the building that now houses the collection, to its former glory. They installed the displays and made the American Museum of Magic part of their lives by moving to Marshall not long after the grand opening on April 1, 1978.

Today, Mrs. Lund runs the Museum, just as she and Robert did together. It is open by appointment and typically only available to serious researchers and magicians.

Mrs. Lund's vision of the future is far-reaching - she plans for the institution to outlive us all. For anyone fascinated in conjuring and its remarkable history, the American Museum of Magic is, and always will be, the happiest place on earth.

GABE FAJURI/Daily

02-04-99

Next Article

HOME| NEWS| EDITORIAL| ARTS| SPORTS| ARCHIVES|


©1999 The Michigan Daily
Letters to the editor
should be sent to:
daily.letters@umich.edu
Comments about this site
should be sent to:
online.daily@umich.edu