The first clue that magic is afoot on North Howard Street is the collection of oversized alabaster clown masks that smile enigmatically through the dusty display windows of A.T. Jones & Sons, Inc. Enter the costume shop, and you face more sentries: a row of medieval suits of armor line the wall. A few are Victorian antiques, but most of the armor was fabricated from fiberglass. You can’t tell the old from the new, and that is the point.
A.T. Jones & Sons has been in the business of casting spells since opening its original shop on Front Street in 1868. Every period costume transforms its wearer into a fantasy world, and the audience is swept with the performer into a new imaginary realm.
At the center of a constant swirl of activity in the first floor workroom is the 81-year old owner, George Goebel. Goebel, who still works 12-hour days alongside his employees, started at A.T. Jones in 1950. In addition to his love of the history and craft of costuming, George Goebel has had an international career as a renowned magician who performed in his own large-scale illusion shows. Now retired as a performer, he continues to entrance audiences indirectly through his company. His son Rick, 53, runs the old-fashioned atelier with his father.
A small but loyal staff scrambles to produce the extensive wardrobes for a new show about every two weeks. They have just wrapped up the costumes and props for the annual Gridiron show in Washington, D.C. Seasonal outfits, from the Easter Bunny to Santa, are available, but the mainstay of the business are theatrical productions, mostly operas. George Goebel ruefully observed, “We seldom see the shows. Literally we don’t have the time.”