Tucked up on the fourth floor of a nondescript building on West 35th Street, the Houdini Museum of New York has more than 10,000 artifacts from two centuries of magic, not only from the escape expert himself but superstars like David Copperfield, Siegfried and Roy and Harry Blackstone.
And as of this week, there’s a new magician in its gallery-like halls.
Enter 23-year-old Rajon Lynch, the museum’s new director. On Monday, he started his new job by giving tours of its antique show posters, shadow boxes holding metal handcuffs, lockpicks Houdini would regurgitate during his shows and essential magic props, in addition to performing tricks for visitors. Most importantly, Lynch is tasked with helping to reinvigorate the museum and its programming.
It’s a big responsibility as the museum’s youngest employee, but "RJ the Magician," feels how he got the job was kismet.
"Communication and magic are my two loves," he told amNewYork at the shop on Wednesday. "I felt it was too lucky not to take this opportunity."
Lynch actually has things in common with Houdini — both of them hail from Appleton, Wisconsin, studied sleight of hand and magic tricks from a young age, and had dreams of coming to New York City.
"I started to see this parallel, which did kind of push me to stick to the plan [to be a magician]," he said, explaining he graduated with a communications degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. "When I tell people I am a magician, it’s fun because I don’t necessarily look like a magician — people have this expectation of what they should look like, and I think part of that is that I’m African American and the other part is that I just don’t try to look super magic-y."
After teaching at a performing arts camp, where he learned from professionals, doing magic dinners and comedy nights, he took his show to Shanghai two years ago to help start a summer magic program. Just this year he "moved to New York with a one-way ticket."
The museum’s curator, Roger Dreyer, said that Lynch is tasked with revitalizing the museum, which holds the second-largest Houdini collection in the world (next to David Copperfield).
"We really wanted someone who was going to take this seriously and make the museum and our magic shop their baby, make it their own," he said. "He isn’t wasting any time."
Lynch has "so many ideas," including organizing intimate cabaret shows inside the museum, which has a small stage, he said.
The museum, which is also part of the Fantasma Magic retail shop and toy manufacturer, opened in 2012 with more than 1,000 pieces of memorabilia, including Houdini’s 1907 escape coffin and Metamorphosis Trunk, his wife Bess Houdini’s stage costume and more.
Walking through it is like stepping behind the curtain or peering behind the stage, and Lynch is excited to be a part of it.
"In the future, I want to be able to tell all these stories," he said. "Roger and the people who work here always have these stories about people who came in, or things that happened, or movies they worked with. Everyone here has a story. It’s the best part of the shop."
The Houdini Museum of New York at 213 W. 35th St., Suite 401, is open 7 days a week, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is free and guided tours are $10.