sought out by Broadway directors and rock stars.
He’s old pals with Alice Cooper, created stage effects
for Ozzy Osbourne and The Doors, and most recently
delivered levitations and vanishings for the forthcoming musical Merry-Go-Round, composed by
the Sherman Brothers, who previously wrote the
songs for Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins.
“We turn away much more work than we take
in,” Gaughan says. Hours to spare are essential, he
says, so that he has ample time to make magic for
himself. That means restoring and re-creating the
wonder of magic history. In the dusty storage space
and office behind Gaughan’s shop lies his own incredible museum of illusions past. A glass showcase
filled with exquisitely crafted “ball and vase” tricks
from a century ago sits near stacks of magic boxes,
collapsible metal urns, tables with secret storage
compartments, and piles of unidentifiable mechanisms from long-lost illusions.
“I like looking at these mechanisms and asking
what the maker could possibly have been thinking,”
Gaughan says. “I can usually figure out what something does, but why it does it — what the illusion was
that required the mechanism — is often a mystery.”
Not far away from a display of original Houdini
handcuffs is Houdini himself, or rather a life-size
animatronic model of the famed magician sitting
in a re-creation of his study from 1922. Press the
button and the Houdini robot signs an autograph.
“It’s very close to his real handwriting too,” Gaughan
proudly points out.
Every surface, every shelf, in these cramped
quarters is packed with apparatuses and ephemera
that once delighted audiences. It’s a cabinet of curi-osities that even P. T. Barnum would line up to see.
In fact, if Barnum were alive, he’d be thrilled to
encounter the Android Clarinetist in Gaughan’s
shop. Built in Holland in 1838, it was bought by
Barnum for his own museum, which eventually
burned to the ground. The Clarinetist made its way
to a University of Michigan warehouse where it sat in
disrepair for 100 years until Gaughan got wind of it.
“It was a wonderful mechanism but it was so
rusty and broken that it looked like it came off the
Titanic,” Gaughan says.
Several years of maker surgery brought the
Clarinetist back to life. Its new owner is quick to
point out that this is no music box stuffed inside a
mannequin. The fingers are articulated, enabling it
to actually play Beethoven and Weber compositions
on its custom instrument.
34 Make: Volume 13