The Substitution Trunk Mystery

This escape illusion is in great favor for it seems to be accomplished with terrific speed. It is not as speedy as the

audience thinks, but the method of working at the psychological moment gives the impression of instantaneous escape work. Houdini, ably assisted by Mrs. Houdini, featured the Substitution Trunk Mystery for years.

The trunk used in this mystery may be used as a regular traveling trunk, then at a moment's notice it can be prepared for this startling illusion. Some performers carry the trunk carefully packed in a crate to protect it, but a trunk which shows use creates less suspicion and is more effective.


Performer has a committee of two men come up from audience. They are asked to examine trunk carefully — to kick the sides, to hammer it, and see that it is just an ordinary trunk. Magician then asks one of the men to remove his coat and he puts the coat on himself. His hands are then tied behind him and he steps into a sack which is pulled up over his head and tied. Magician is now lifted into the trunk and the lid is closed down over him. The trunk is locked and strapped by the committee and placed in an enclosure on the stage.

The lady assistant now draws the two curtains which are in front of the enclosure in which the trunk was placed. She stands back of the curtains but keeps her head in view. She counts three and suddenly moves her head out of sight behind the curtains. At almost the same instant, performer's head appears. Performer opens curtains and has the committee bring the trunk forward. It is now unstrapped and unlocked by the committee and the lid is lifted. A figure in the sack stands up and the sack is opened, revealing the girl assistant. She is wearing the coat of one of the committee, which the performer put on originally, and has her hands tied behind her back. She is assisted from the trunk, her hands released, and the coat returned to the member of the committee.


1 -- A Substitution Trunk.

2 -- A cloth sack, large enough to cover performer.

4 -- Cloth tape to bind hands together.

5 -- Special cabinet with cloth sides and front curtains to screen trunk while illusion is being performed. In emergency, parlor screens may be used to conceal trunk or a curtain may be pulled in front of it.

6 -- Three leather straps to fasten around trunk.

7 -- A small, flat pocket flashlight for performer and one for girl assistant. The Substitution Trunk:

This trunk is specially constructed. It can be closely examined and appears to be an ordinary trunk, but at the back

there is a cleverly concealed door. Even when the trunk is locked and strapped, an escape can be made from it through this door.

The trunk is 40 inches long, 26 inches wide, and 28 inches high. The trunk is bound with wooden slats. Figure 1 shows front of trunk.

Figure 2 shows rear of trunk. The slat going around the middle of the trunk helps to conceal the top of the secret door. The metal binding around sides and bottom of trunk help to conceal sides and bottom of secret door.

Figure 2 shows rear of trunk. The slat going around the middle of the trunk helps to conceal the top of the secret door. The metal binding around sides and bottom of trunk help to conceal sides and bottom of secret door.

Assistants Revenge Illusion

Figure 3 shows secret door partially open. To keep door from pushing inward before time, bottom of trunk has a special hinged panel, about five inches wide and running the length of the trunk at the back.

Figure 4 is a diagram, showing a cross section of the trunk from one end. It shows the secret door in place with the special panel in position to hold door.

Figure 5 shows panel lifted. This is done by inserting a buttonhook in the small ring which is in center of panel.

Figure 6 shows secret door open. It opens inward and upward and is also raised by inserting a buttonhook in a small ring at the bottom of it.

Sub Trunk Illusion Plans Free
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To close door, it is allowed to drop into place and the panel is forced down against it.

The hinges in these secret arrangements are, of course, sunken and are not visible. The inside of the trunk is heavily lined to cover up any cracks and hinges.

This trunk will withstand use on the road with things packed in it, and yet when unpacked, it becomes a valuable piece of apparatus for a rapid escape illusion.

The Cloth Sack:

This should be a straight cloth sack, about three feet wide and about six feet long. The bottom is left open and then basted with black thread. Tie a large knot on one end of thread or sew a small button to it. This should be on inside of sack so that person in sack can grasp button and pull out basting thread easily.

Figure 7.

The Tape:

This should be cloth tape about half an inch wide and about two feet long to tie around top of sack.

Tape to Bind Wrists:

This should also be half-inch tape, about two feet long.

Special Curtained Cabinet:

It is necessary to screen movements during performer's escape and entrance of girl into trunk so the curtained frame has come into popularity. This frame is five to six feet square and six to six and a half feet high.

The frame itself is usually made of gas pipe with threaded ends which can be screwed into joints at the top and flanges at the bottom. Thus frame can be taken apart and carried in a compact form. Any good mechanic can make this frame. A wooden frame may be used or a frame made of metal rods, but the important thing is to have it substantial.

Figure 8 shows frame set up.

A cloth curtain big enough to go around three sides of frame is arranged with hooks around top edge and hung on top bars of frame. Curtain is not attached at bottom but each end is fastened to front vertical bars to keep from pulling away from sides.

Figure 9.

Across front of frame are two curtains attached by rings to top bar. These curtains slide easily and they are extra wide and full so that when they come together they can overlap. One edge of each curtain is fastened to side bars to keep from pulling over from the sides.

Figure 10.

A piece of cloth, shaped as shown in Figure 11, is fastened over the top of the cabinet.

Figure 12 shows the cabinet when it is completed.

Figure 12 shows the cabinet when it is completed.

Swinging Curtained Cabinet — This style is popular in the theater or in a place where a cabinet can be suspended from a wire hanging down from above.

The frame used is the same as described above, made of pipe or rod. Chains are fastened to each corner of top of frame and brought together in a central ring.

Figure 13.

A wire is suspended from above and cabinet is hooked to the end of it by the central ring.

Figure 14.

Ferme Traditionnelle Coupe

Straps for Trunk:

These straps should be of leather and fairly wide. One should be long enough to go around trunk the long way and two to go around the narrow way. Each strap should have a strong buckle on it.


To Prepare:

Have curtained cabinet set up in center of stage. Front curtains are opened fully. Side and rear curtains may be thrown back so that spectators can see around and behind cabinet.

Trunk may be in center of cabinet. On a chair to one side should be the tapes, straps, and cloth bag.

Place chair on each side of stage for the committee of two from the audience. Both you and girl assistant have small flashlights concealed in clothing. To Perform:

Have two gentlemen come up on stage to assist. Shake hands with each and lead each one to a chair on stage.

Go to cabinet and pull trunk out a few feet. Ask the gentlemen to come forward. Turn trunk around, striking it and kicking it to show that it is solid. Have one of the men do likewise. Then open trunk and tilt it so that audience can see inside. Have one of the men strike inside of trunk. When gentlemen are convinced that all is fair, set the trunk about three or four feet in front of cabinet with the lid open and front of trunk to audience.

Say to one of the committee:

"Now, sir, I should like to borrow your coat. Remove the contents of your pockets, if you choose, or just leave everything intact."

You take coat from gentleman and slip it on.

"You would know your coat again if you saw it, wouldn't you?"

Girl assistant now picks up piece of tape and you hand it to gentleman with the request that he tie one end around your wrist -- then the other end around your right wrist. Hands are tied behind your back.

Figures 15 and 16.

Figure 17.

When tapes are tied in this manner, the right knot automatically becomes a slipknot. It can be slid over and tape removed from right wrist very easily. Knot at left wrist can also be pulled into a slipknot. It is easy to do this if you hold one end of tape while gentleman is tying your wrist with the other end. However, in emergency, knot on left wrist can be untied and quickly tied into a slipknot when you are in the trunk.

Figure 17.

Show audience that your hands are securely tied together. Assistant has bag ready. She shows it inside and out and then holds it down on the floor so that you can step into it. Assistant then pulls bag up over your head and hands one of the gentlemen a piece of tape with which to tie the top of the sack together.

Figure 18.

When you are concealed in the sack, test the tapes to see that they can be moved easily. Remove them from your wrists but keep hands in same position behind you.

Have the two gentlemen lift you into the trunk. You crouch down and lie over on your left side with your knees pulled up as girl closes lid of trunk down. Assistant then has the two men lock the trunk and put the straps around it. The key is then given to one of them to hold.

The moment lid is closed, put tapes in right coat pocket, reach down to bottom of bag and pull out the basting thread to open it. If you need it, use the flashlight to help you. Pull

the bag from over your head and place it in one side of trunk with opening in position for girl to crawl into.

In the meantime, girl is directing gentlemen on how to strap the trunk. She then tells them to place the trunk in the center of the cabinet and stand it on end so that performer can stand upright. The trunk should be placed diagonally so that one corner of it faces directly front. The back of the trunk is to the rear. While most performers crawl out with trunk in horizontal position, it is easier to get out when it is in the vertical position, which I have suggested. The angle which I suggest in placing the trunk also helps to cover movements of girl in getting in should the curtains open accidentally.

Figure 19.

Curtains at sides and back of cabinet are pulled down. Girl asks gentlemen to take their seats at sides of stage. When she says this, it is a signal for you to open secret door. Insert buttonhook in screw eye in special panel and lift it, then do the same with the door. You are now ready to crawl out at the proper signal. Another signal which you may use is to have girl knock on trunk and ask whether you are still there. You answer her knock.

Girl steps into cabinet and draws the two front curtains together so that she is concealed entirely except that her head is still in view.

Figure 20.

As soon as she is concealed by curtain she kicks trunk twice with her foot. This is your cue to come out of trunk. Once outside, quickly remove your coat and come up to girl. She holds curtain with alternate hands as you slip coat first on one arm and then the other. While doing this, she says:

"You are about to see one of the greatest miracles of modern magic. It is an effect that you will never forget. All done in the twinkling of an eye. When I say three — Watch! One - two -three!"

She closes the curtains quickly and hurries around to back of trunk. She gets in through secret door under the strap, quickly pushes door closed and special panel securely into place. She pulls opening of sack over her head and down to her feet so that she can stand on it and conceal opening.

Figure 21.

Once inside the sack, girl slips tape on to left and right wrists, binding her hands behind her back.

NOTE: Some performers use two tapes. One is prepared with slipknots for the girl to use. This one is kept in performer's trousers' pocket and then transferred to the gentleman's coat when performer is in the sack. He also has a pair of blunt end scissors in his trousers' pocket. With these he cuts the tape around his wrists and replaces scissors and puts cut tapes in his trousers' pocket out of the way.

Now that we have the girl all ready, we can go back to the routine as the audience sees it. The moment girl says "Three!" and disappears, performer sticks his head out of the curtains in the same place that girl's head was. The moment girl is in trunk she gives you a signal, and you throw curtains open suddenly and show trunk. Girl can then continue with her work of closing door and getting into sack, for audience cannot see rear of trunk even with front curtains open.

When all is in readiness, you request that the two gentlemen come forward. Trunk is then pulled out in front of cabinet again and placed in horizontal position. Side and back curtains of cabinet may be thrown up now to show that there is nothing concealed. Straps of trunk are then unbuckled and dropped down. The trunk is unlocked, lid is opened, and girl springs up to standing position. She must be careful to stand on bottom of sack so that opening will not be revealed.

Figure 22.

You quickly untie sack, allowing it to drop down. You assist girl as she hops out of trunk. She shows her hands tied behind her back and you cut the tapes quickly. Remove coat from girl and return it to gentleman, then dismiss both men, and bow to applause of audience.

NOTE: Richard Davis, a well known magician, performs the trunk mystery without an assistant substitution. He has an assistant close the front curtains and he gets out of the trunk quickly and jerks the curtain open to make his appearance. He then tells the audience to watch again. He quickly closes the curtains and gets back into the trunk and sack again. The assistant is used merely to guide the committee and to open and close the curtains. Davis makes of this a sensational illusion.

Some performers have the girl placed in the trunk first and then change places with her. This illusion offers other possibilities also for substitution.

It will be necessary for you to practice getting in and out of the trunk to speed your work. - You are working to create an INSTANTANEOUS EFFECT in the minds of the audience and any hesitation or delayed action will prove ruinous. Every movement must be timed — and remember that speed is essential.

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