"George Goebel...without question is the nicest human it has ever been my pleasure to have known." - Don Driver
by William V. Rauscher
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A.T. Jones and Sons is the place to go for serious stage makeup and costumes. The shop is lined with suits of armor, crowns of every sort, and newspaper clippings regaling visitors with the shop's long history in Baltimore. A.T. Jones originally opened up shop on East Baltimore Street in 1868 before being burned out in the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904; the current location dates back to 1955. The Jones family is no longer involved in the business--they sold to George Goebel and crew in 1972--but the place still feels like family. The shop's workers mostly make costumes for operas and theater companies across the country, but they will do individual costumes by appointment if you know your size and what you want to be. These are serious high-end pieces of art. What theater people have discovered is A.T. Jones' huge selection of theatrical makeup. A.T. Jones probably has what you need, and if they don't, they'll order it up. And the kind and knowledgeable staff makes us hope that this Baltimore institution sticks around for another 138 years.

 George Goebel and Carroll Bish assisting Milbourne Christopher


If Central Casting were looking for an archetypical prestidigitator, it could do no better than George Goebel, the veteran Baltimore magician and Houdini expert who also owns A.T. Jones & Sons, the Howard Street costume shop.
"In our day, magicians looked like magicians. Today, they wear jeans and other outfits," Goebel said in an interview the other day.
"A magician should wear a full dress suit, pique vest, turban and have a beard. I remember one time a little boy looked at me and said, 'You have the magic suit on,'" Goebel said with a laugh.
With a head of thick, wavy hair, once dark but now silver, a mustache and goatee, also silver, and dark penetrating eyes, Goebel is still the embodiment of the magician of legend.
Goebel's lifelong love affair with the conjuring arts began when he was a 10-year-old growing up in the city's Evergreen neighborhood.
In 1942, a cousin gave him a Christmas gift that changed his life: a Mysto magic set made by the A.C. Gilbert Co. of New Haven, Conn., better known perhaps for its American Flyer electric trains.
Suddenly, the elementary school student who became known as "Goebel the Magician" discovered he liked performing tricks for his classmates.
"Magicians are like children, and I never outgrew my fantasy," Goebel told the Rev. V. Rauscher, whose biography of the Baltimore magician, "Goebel: The Man With the Magical Mind," was recently published. "Entertainment is what makes a magician; tricks are at the bottom of it."
"My Aunt Dora worked at Ford's [Theatre] and she got me a ticket for an end seat in the orchestra where I saw [Harry] Blackstone many, many times. I also saw him at the Hippodrome. He was a great, great influence on me," Goebel said in a recent telephone interview.
"Baltimore has a wonderful magic history. Many of the legendary magicians such as Blackstone, [Howard] Thurston and [Harry] Kellar would come to the city and perform each year," he said. "Baltimore was really a hotbed of magicians in those years."
Another powerful influence on Goebel was Baltimore-born and -raised Milbourne Christopher, who was known as "America's Foremost Magician."
Christopher, who was born in 1914 and raised on Elmora Avenue, died in 1984 and is buried in Moreland Memorial Park Cemetery in Northeast Baltimore.
Goebel would often spend hours on end with Christopher sitting around the kitchen table discussing magic.
"I consider Chris a major influence and mentor. He was always very kind to me and unbelievably gracious," Goebel said in the interview. "He would show you things and share things."
By the mid-1940s, Goebel was president of the Pyramid Magic Club, and while a student at Polytechnic Institute, performed his magic in the annual "Poly Follies" talent shows.
After graduating from Poly in 1950, Goebel went to work for A.T. Jones, the venerable costumer that was established in 1868 and has been in the 700 block of N. Howard St. for years.
After serving in the Army, he returned to the costume company in 1955, where he managed the company and went on the road performing magic.
By the mid-1950s, Goebel was developing a reputation and a devoted following.
Rauscher writes that in 1956, Goebel was "presenting escape effects in schools, churches, public exhibitions, and was also doing Houdini's needle-swallowing trick, but using razor blades instead of needles.
"He realized, as others had, that Houdini was a name everyone would recognize, and when his publicity was linked with the escape artist, it drew a crowd," wrote the author.
Goebel earned elaborate news coverage in 1958, when he escaped from a straitjacket while suspended upside down from a crane at the Kent Island Fair.
In May 1963, a crowd gathered outside the newly opened Convention Center to watch Goebel successfully re-create a classic Houdini escape that had last been performed in Baltimore in 1916. Goebel, whose arms were tightly bound in a straitjacket and whose legs were bound in rope, was suspended 50 feet upside down from a McDade Rigging Corp. crane.
He married Carole Busby, a social worker, in 1957, who worked onstage as his assistant.
Goebel assembled the George Goebel Magic Show in 1968, which had a cast of 30. His inventory of 15 doves, nine rabbits, five ducks, two chickens, a goat and 60 crates of illusions traveled aboard a 22-foot truck.
Goebel eventually came to national attention when his friend Milbourne Christopher invited him and his wife to appear with him on Jackie Gleason's 1962 Christmas special, which was televised nationally on CBS.
The couple later appeared again with Christopher on a subsequent Gleason show as well as on "The Garry Moore Show" and in a Houdini documentary.
Despite elaborate illusions, Goebel said, a traditional magic show must have three elements: "They are pulling a rabbit from a hat, floating a lady and sawing someone in half," he said.

"While performing in Boston I had the pleasure of meeting George Goebel. George Goebel was one of the last of the grand magicians in the spirit of Harry Kellar, Howard Thurston, Dante and Harry Blackstone. He is also the proprietor of the oldest and most famous costume shop in America, A.T. Jones & Sons, founded in 1868 in Baltimore. A few days after my initial encounter with Mr. Goebel, I found myself in Baltimore, delivering a keynote address on creativity and problem-solving to the Association of American Manufacturers. Afterward, I made a beeline for the costume shop to soak in the atmosphere and to revisit Mr. Goebel.  It is always a pleasure to meet someone with such artistic sensibilities, and who has contributed so much, and who can best be described as a real gentleman." - David Ben

August 8th, 1981 Mayor William Donald Shaefer swimming in the National Aquarium seal tank in a 1920's style bathing suit created by George Goebel's A.T. Jones Company.
McCARL ROBERTS, GEORGE GOEBEL & MARK WALKER interviewed by William V. Rauscher 

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