How David Copperfield Made The Statue Of Liberty Disappear

Aside from Harry Houdini himself, it's hard to think of someone who did more to popularize the art of magic than David Copperfield. Having risen from middle-class New Jersey roots to do quite well for himself asĀ one of the most popular performers in Vegas, Copperfield, who took his stage name from a Charles Dickens novel he never actually bothered to read (via Britannica), has left an indelible mark in the world of magic, as performers following in his wake have felt the need to continually make their shows bigger, louder, and more bombastic.

It's not for nothing, either. As Copperfield's reputation grew, he frequently stepped away from the stage (even the enormous stages that Vegas offers) and employed his magic on global landmarks: escaping from Alcatraz, walking through the Great Wall of China, and even flying over the Grand Canyon. But perhaps the most memorable moment of his career was when he made the Statue of Liberty itself disappear in 1983 (watch it here on YouTube).

The trick was simple, straightforward, and baffling, at least to people at the time. Copperfield seated his live audience on a platform on Liberty Island facing the statue, showed them the statue blinking on a radar screen, and raised a curtain in front of it. When the curtain fell, the statue was gone. And it wasn't just in shadow. The blip had disappeared from the radar, and the searchlights that had been pointed at it now trailed off into empty air. Whoa! How'd he do it?

The secret: a rotating platform and some showmanship

As with a lot of magic tricks, the secret behind the "disappearing Liberty" bit is almost annoyingly simple. If you don't want the "magic" spoiled for you, now would be a good time to quit reading.

The secret to the Lady Liberty illusion was nothing more than a rotating platform (via iHeartRadio). Copperfield had seated his audience on a surface that turned via a hydraulics system. He then raised the curtain and kept the audience distracted with loud music and general showmanship, while the platform was slowly rotated a few degrees. Then, when the curtain was lowered, one of the pillars that had previously supported it now blocked the audience's view of the statue. In the area that the platform now faced, Copperfield and his team had set up a circle of lights identical to the ones that encircled the real Liberty. Oh, and the radar? It was fake. Just a picture on a screen. But you probably guessed that already.

Copperfield (born David Kotkin) claimed the point of the disappearing Statue of Liberty trick was that our freedom could be taken away at any moment, which seems a little overly earnest. We're pretty sure the real point was that making giant things disappear is super cool.