Meet the Turk, the Automaton Chess Player - Atlas Obscura

Atwater Village, California

Meet the Turk, the Automaton Chess Player

An evening with one of the most controversial figures of the 19th century, and with the man who brought him back to life.

Join Atlas Obscura for a guided visit to the workshop of one of the most cunning minds in the art of magic, and meet his most celebrated creation.

John Gaughan is an expert conjurer who prefers to remain behind the scenes. Rarely seen on the stage, he is the mastermind behind many of the most acclaimed magic illusions of our time—Siegfried & Roy, David Copperfield, and Criss Angel are just a small sample of his exclusive clientele; he has also consulted for Jim Morrison, Elton John, and Michael Jackson; his work has been featured in LA Weekly, The New York Times, and by the BBC, just to mention a few.

Gaughan’s workshop flourishes with mechanical figures, mysterious apparatus, and secrets centuries old. “It’s pretty spooky at night in here,” he told the New York Times. A gigantic cabinet of curiosities hidden in plain sight, in a populated area of Los Angeles. Among myriad artifacts, John’s most celebrated creation—or, rather, re-creation—is probably the one known as the Turk, the Automaton Chess Player.

In 1770, Wolfgang von Kempelen conceived the Turk, a “thinking machine” that took the world by surprise. The Automaton Chess Player delighted members of the royalty in Europe and mesmerized multitudes in America, gaining admirers and detractors around the world—many accused him of being a hoax. In 1854 the Turk burned in a fire. The world wouldn’t see him again for over a century, until John Gaughan brought him back to life.

In this Atlas Obscura adventure, John opens the doors of his workshop and invites us to take a look at his private collection. Join us to discover some of the Turk's closely guarded secrets.


  • Street parking and limited parking at the property are available.
  • Photography is highly encouraged! Tag #atlasobscura


Email Siegfried Tieber at

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