Escaped Crusader

Bob's scrapbook sits on his living-room table.
It contains many pictures from Bob's teen years, which were spent in the small, idyllic town of Springfield, Illinois. Bob, 33, flips proudly through the pages. There he is hanging out with his buddies. There he is smiling with a girl. There he is all dressed up in a tux.

And there he is on fire.
And there he is chained and padlocked into a glass cage being lowered into the dark waters of a frigid lake.

And, oh, there's another one; this time there's an eight-ton backhoe shoveling mountains of dirt on top of Bob, who is lying in a grave seven feet deep. Seems he is being buried alive.

It is true that most teens in Springfield--a state capital rich in agriculture and home of Abe Lincoln's law practice from 1837 to 1861--do not engage in such rituals. But then most teens in Springfield, or anywhere else for that matter, are not the Mystifying Gorsich.

Indeed, there is only one Mystifying Gorsich, gambler with death, scoffer at terror, ignorer of fear, king of crude but effective escapes devised in his backyard and performed at shopping centers, school auditoriums, county fairs, Kiwanis clubs, churches and Cub Scout meetings throughout the great state of Illinois, and in parts as far off and exotic as Minnetonka Beach, Minnesota.

And now the Mystifying Gorsich walks among us, right here in the Valley of the Sun. He has relocated to Gilbert, where he is so mystifying that no one knows who he is.

For the time being, the Mystifying One, who with his red hair and happy face looks Ron Howard-wholesome, is cleverly disguised as a salesman for a local furniture store. He's a regular guy who takes care of his family in a tidy little apartment where we find a wide-screen TV in the living room, pictures of his kids in the breakfast nook, and cages containing two doves, a hamster and a floppy-eared rabbit.

But even this apartment holds secrets.
In one closet lurks a disassembled guillotine--"for cutting off heads"--lengths of rusted shackles, and the Floating Lady Trick. In another there is a box used to slice people in half. On the back porch sits the custom-built glass water-torture cell. In the back bedroom, there is a straitjacket made by J.T. Posey Company of Arcadia, California. It is medium.

According to the Mystifying Gorsich, these tools of intrigue will not remain hidden for long; he is ready to escape from semiretirement, truly a difficult feat.

"My wife doesn't really like the idea of the escape stuff," admits the Mystifying Gorsich. "But I always talk about it and if someone said, 'Hey, we've got this thing we want you to do,' I'd be there. It wouldn't take me a second to think about it."

If you go to see David Copperfield perform, you will be dazzled. Not only by Copperfield's hypnotic powers of illusion, but by the fantastic props and sets, the high-tech sound and lighting, the Broadway-level staging, and the incredible army of beautiful women that assists him. All of this costs a great deal of money, which Copperfield obviously has.

If you go to see the Mystifying Gorsich, you will not see fantastic props and sets, staging or any of the rest. Instead of buxom assistants, there are guys in white jumpsuits and feed caps. Which don't cost a lot, as TMG does not have a lot of money.

But this is not to say that you won't be dazzled. In fact, judging by the scrapbook and a videotape I saw, a Gorsich show packs all of the big-time wallop, and adds some seductive, honest, gut-level horror Copperfield cannot begin to conjure up.

It's like the attraction of the midway versus Disneyland, the pure adrenal thrill that this is very, very real, and consequently something just might go very, very wrong.

So far, nothing has. Like Houdini and Henning and so many masters before him, Gorsich takes great care in planning his escapes (which he pronounces "excapes"). The burial stunt, for example.

"Most people, when they're buried alive--as far as for magical reasons--they're put in a box. And let's say you're in a six-foot grave and you're put in a three-foot-tall box. All you have to do is go through three feet of dirt, which is a little simpler than what I do," he explains. "You also have oxygen to breathe, and you have somewhere to displace the dirt. The way we did it, I was chained to a board, I was lowered into the grave and then bulldozers dumped the dirt on my body. It took me 10 minutes."

The artist reveals a series of snapshots of this feat. First, his hand emerging as a few people standing in an Illinois field look on. Then his head, then his assistants move in to yank him the rest of the way. His outfit is covered with soil. But it is no form-fitting Knievel jumpsuit, no Copperfield skintight black jeans with billowy pirate shirt.

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Peter Gilstrap
Contact: Peter Gilstrap