Michael Griffin is known as the only escape artist in the world to accept challenges, and to date, he hasn’t lost a single one.
He’s seeking to keep that title on Aug. 4 at Taylor High School after he accepted a challenge from Kirk Amos, a retired US Army veteran and 1987 THS graduate. He will be handcuffed in multiple pairs of cuffs, laced with heavy leg irons, sealed up in an airtight waterproof bag, and put into a box.
If he can’t escape, he will pass along $100,000—an amount he offers to anyone who can prevent his escape.
Amos challenged Griffin after it was announced that the escape artist will be making a trip to THS to perform several stunts as a fund raiser for the school’s band and color guard. With three kids in band and an alumnus himself, Amos felt compelled to give Griffin a run for his money.
In his official challenge submission to Griffin, Amos said the manner in which Griffin will be bound “would be impossible for [him] to make [his] escape.”
However, Amos said he’s being realistic and has to look at Griffin’s track record. It’s definitely proven.
“You have to look at the statistics. These guys train very hard just like I did in the military. They train in and out and for tough situations they have to deal with. That’s the reason Houdini was so great and some of the others. So I’m hoping for his safety that he can escape,” Amos said.
Griffin accepted the challenge on the condition that Amos must remain on stage, along with Griffin’s assistant, in the event that anything goes wrong, “including possible suffocation.”
The 57-year-old has been doing escapes since he was a teenager. His fascination with it stemmed from his love of superheroes like Superman and Batman who were constantly captured and bound and had to get out of it before the whole world perished.
That’s what he wanted to do—be one of those superheroes in a way.
When Griffin was about to turn 16, his dad asked him what kind of car he wanted. Griffin told him he didn’t want a car, and his dad insisted that a 16-year-old living in California had to have a car. When it became clear to his dad that Griffin was serious, he asked Griffin what it was that he wanted instead.
He told him he wanted a straitjacket.
His dad granted his wish—and then more. The straitjacket Griffin received for his sweet 16 wasn’t any ordinary straitjacket. His father was a psychiatrist, and some of his colleagues used to work at Alcatraz. He asked them if they could get him a real-deal straitjacket, and they found him one that actually was made on the island.
“That was my first straitjacket,” said Griffin fondly, thinking back to the day that paved the way for his now more than 40-year career.
Griffin came from a family of doctors, and it was assumed that Griffin too would take that path. But he had other ideas. It was when he was a junior in high school that he finally told his dad that he was going to forgo college and be an escape artist instead. It also was around that time that he arranged for the United States Postal Service to challenge him to get out of one of their mailbags that padlock on the outside.
He got one of the mail bags, and he was at home practicing getting out of it. He went ahead and showed his dad how he made the escape, and that won him over.
“I said, ‘Hey, dad. I’ll show you how I do this.’ So he’s like the only human that ever saw how I do it, and I got out. He was like, ‘OK, well maybe you could try this. I’ll leave some funds back for you, but give it a shot.’ I told him I didn’t want to be 80 and look back on the coulda, woulda, shoulda,” he said.
Griffin started making money right out of high school, doing shows at birthday parties, nightclubs, bars, schools—anywhere that would have him. When he was 18, he performed his first “death-defying” escape in Lake Arrowhead in California. He was wrapped in 40 feet of chains and locks in the freezing cold and dropped into the lake. He escaped with a single broken finger that required surgery the next day.
Then when he was 20, he plunged to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and again broke free of 25 pounds of chains and locks. Four years later, he escaped a maximum-security cell in Wichita, Kan., in 14 pairs of handcuffs, six leg irons, and chains.
He’s also known as the only person to survive a public hanging and the only escape artist granted permission to reenact Houdini’s 1912 escape.
In 1993, he was named the “Escape Artist of the Year” by The International Magic Awards Committee, and the award hasn’t been given to another performer since. He’s been seen on “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not,” “America’s Got Talent,” and regularly on “Masters of Illusion.”
When asked if he’s had any close calls, he said, “Oh god, yeah. I mean, yeah. But you just shut up, and you get it done.”
On Aug. 4, Griffin will bring many of the stunts he’s known for to Kokomo in more of an “intimate, unplugged” type of show, he said.
Tickets in advance are $10 for ages 18 and up, $5 for children 6 to 17, and free to ages 5 and under with a donation. Price at the door is $15 for ages 18 and up and $10 for ages 6 to 17. Tickets are available in advance at Healing Hands Spa (116 N. Dixon Road) and LeaderOne Financial (202 N. Main St.).
Proceeds from the event will go to purchase new marching band uniforms, which cost between $15,000 and $20,000, according to Corinne Connerton, publicity director for the THS band department.
The average lifespan of a uniform is typically eight to 12 years, and Taylor’s uniforms are entering the 12th year of use.
“This is just a great opportunity for the band and the kids, and I hope that we raise a lot of money to get new uniforms for these kids because they work so hard for their competitions,” said Connerton.