Mount Prospect magician pursues puzzled audiences

By Sam Wagner
Updated 8/19/2011 12:14 PM
  • Jeff Scanlan is a master of Impossible Bottles.

    Jeff Scanlan is a master of Impossible Bottles. Photo courtesy of Jeff Scanlan

Jeff Scanlan just wants to make you think.

Scanlan, who grew up in the Northwest suburbs and lives in Mount Prospect, is billed as America's Sports Magician.

With 19 years of professional experience, he challenges minds with his sports-themed performances and more recently, he has taken to a new brain-busting art form: Impossible Bottles.

Impossible Bottles have been around for centuries -- think of the model ship inside the sideways bottle -- but the art form is very guarded. Scanlan said he is one of only about a dozen people who know the secret.

As a modern twist, Scanlan puts ordinary objects, like decks of cards, baseballs, corkscrews, and even gym shoes into glass bottles with necks so small it seems like a physically impossible feat. He sells finished bottles on, for anywhere from $100 to $1,400.

At Depot Nuevo, a Latin American restaurant in Wilmette known for its wide selection of high-quality tequila, owner Rob Garrison asked Scanlan to put a deck of cards into a tequila bottle.

Garrison said that customers notice the bottle displayed on the bar and think it's fake -- until they take a closer look.

"You can tell when you look closely that he hasn't broken the bottle," he said. "The bottle looks perfect, yet this large object is inside it. It must have gone through the top."

Scanlan got his start when he was 6 years old and Santa brought him a magic kit. He performed throughout college and when he joined the workforce, he incorporated magic into many of his sales presentations.

After almost seven years in sales, he started doing sports magic full time. Signed MLB baseballs appear out of thin air, miniature balls multiply in audience member's hands and trading cards jump.

Most shows are for corporate audiences or sports teams, including the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Milwaukee Brewers.

But his performances are also a hit with teens. He has performed at Maine West High School's after prom party for the last two years and both shows have been great successes, said Dan Winiecki, vice president of the Maine West Athletic Boosters.

Winiecki has known Scanlan since he first performed magic professionally, so when he took charge of planning the after prom party, he knew he wanted Scanlan. The student reaction was even better than he anticipated.

"He knows how to relate to the teenagers; he just figures out what they want," Winiecki said. "The kids are still talking about it."

For Scanlan, impossible bottles are just an extension of magic. Just like tricks, the bottles require him to use his mind and be creative. More importantly, he said, the bottles, like his performances, make people think.

"As a magician, it is my job to make people wonder," Scanlan said. "People don't think as much as they should ... these bottles make people think, 'How in the world did he do it?' -- it's a puzzle."