BANGOR, Maine — Professional escape artist Michael Griffin’s greatest escape may have come at the start of his career.
“I had a choice: medicine or this,” said Griffin, a native of Kentucky who considers California his home state. “My father’s a psychiatrist, my cousins are dentists, my uncle is a pediatrician, and we have a bunch of other cousins who are nurses.”
And then there’s the 50-year-old Griffin.
“I am basically the black sheep of the family even though my little brother went into construction,” the self-deprecating and quick-witted performer said with a laugh this week.
Griffin will perform all kinds of escapes from restraints and traps devised by both himself and members of the general public each afternoon and evening during the 162nd Bangor State Fair, which opens at 2 p.m. Friday. His performances will be at 4:15 and 9 p.m. each day.
He already has issued a challenge to fair goers: Anyone who can tie him up with a rope in such a way that he is unable to free himself will go home $1,000 richer.
“I tell you, I understand what the Old West gunfighters must have felt like,” Griffin said. “I see the look of wonder on their faces, and … in some of their eyes I see them sizing me up for a chance at the challenge.”
Keeping Griffin contained or restrained has been an impossible task for decades. He’s the only person to ever win TV’s “World Magic Award Winning Masters of Escape” twice in the same category (best escape artist) and the only escape artist ever to successfully hang on the back of a horse while undoing a 13-knot hangman’s noose in 52 seconds.
Griffin has been practicing his craft for a long time.
“I was probably 5 or 6 when I started,” said Griffin. “My brother and I were always tying each other up and trying new traps. We even used to jump off the house onto the ground. It was a tall, one-story house.”
They survived that as well as hitting each other with arrows, BB gun pellets and even bottle rockets.
Nowadays, it’s straightjackets, handcuffs, jail cells, hermetically sealed steel coffins, frozen rivers and hanging ropes.
Of course, having family members in the medical field did have its advantages, such as readily available health care, among other things.
“When your dad’s a psychiatrist, you have plenty of access to straightjackets,” he said.
Griffin’s grand finale will take place at 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 7. He will attempt to escape from being handcuffed, shackled and chained between two large farm tractors in 30 seconds before being pulled to pieces.
So how does one get the idea to become a professional escape artist?
“I have no idea. When I was little, I’d see these shows like ‘Wild, Wild West’ and ‘Batman’ and want to be the hero all the time,” he said. “I think I was 17 with a splint on my finger. I was chained up with 20-30 feet of chains and thrown to the bottom of some freezing lake. I jumped in and got out.”
It was that escape which convinced Griffin’s father, who was anything but supportive of his son’s career choice, that his son might want to pursue escapism.
“It really freaked him out, but I think it gave him confidence that I may be able to make a go of this thing,” he said.
It’s been quite a career for Griffin.
“I got stuck in a vault once. I’ve had a lot of close calls, and I got to help catch a murderer and gotten 1,200 people out of a burning building when I was doing a rope challenge,” he said.
Griffin was just starting a show in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, when he was notified there was a fire upstairs. Rather than risk panic, Griffin decided to trick the crowd into leaving the theater in a calm, orderly manner.
“I told them I wanted to do something different and I’d do a big stunt outside,” he said. “I got everyone out quickly, and the fire chief and chief of police commended me. It’s just about keeping your head, and maybe that’s why I can do what I do so well.”
Griffin is one of many attractions at this year’s fair. Others include trained performing California sea lions Zoey and Sparky, the West Texas Rattlesnake Show, the Paul Bunyan Lumberjack show, nine concerts featuring Rustic Overtones, Dead Season, tribute bands Faithfully (for Journey) and Draw the Line (for Aerosmith), and up-and-coming country duo The Carter Twins. There are new rides — such as the 90-foot-tall Vertigo, Magic Maze, the Tornado, and Pharoah’s Fury — and the option of the a pay-one-price $10 admission that covers all exhibits, attractions, rides and concerts. For the 16th straight year, the Dean family’s Fiesta Shows will be running the midway.
The fair closes at 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 7.