Monday, January 22, 2018

Preview tonight's Strange Inheritance, Houdini Jewel

Below are a two previews for tonight's "Houdini Jewel" episode of Strange Inheritance with Jamie Colby. I'm not able to embed these, so you'll have to click and view on the FOX Business YouTube channel.



Strange Inheritance "Houdini Jewel" airs tonight, January 22 at 9:30 PM/ET on FOX Business Network.

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Saturday, January 20, 2018

Introducing The New Houdini Chronology


Today I'm excited to launch a MAJOR new site feature that I think will be of interest to Houdini fans and a valuable tool for researchers.

Most of us are familiar with the superb work of the late Frank Koval. In 1993-94, Frank self-published six volumes called The Illustrated Houdini Research Diary in which he tried to pinpoint exactly where Houdini was performing every week of his professional life.

Like everyone, I've kept Koval by my side and have turned to it many times. But I also continued to update it for my own research purposes. Thanks to new books and the emergence of online resources such as newspapers.com, I've been able to fill in many gaps and make corrections. I've also reworked Koval's original dating methodology, adding Sunday to each week, and added select events. I now believe I have a much improved and expanded Houdini chronology, and starting today I would like to share it.

I've now uploaded the first wave of years of what will eventually be the complete chronology online. I've done my best to provide accurate dates and places (trying to find 2 sources for all entries), but I'm sure I've gotten things wrong. I've therefore activated Comments on each year's page so anyone can provide updates and corrections or any feedback whatsoever. An advantage of doing this online is that it can be improved with each new discovery. This will always be a work in progress.

Below is a link to the homepage where you can begin your chronological journey through Houdini's life. I've also added a new drop-down menu where you can leap directly to the year of your choice. I hope you all enjoy...

Friday, January 19, 2018

William Rauscher's Hardeen book released

William V. Rauscher's new book about Houdini's brother, Hardeen: Monarch of Manacles, is now available from David Haversat's 1878 Press Co. The hardcover runs 150 pages and is the first book ever devoted to Dash.

This book is a tribute to one of the world's greatest escape artists. He traveled the world defying police authorities to shackle his body in handcuffs and leg irons, or to lock him in the darkest jail cells, all of which could not hold him. He nightly escaped from a giant padlocked and water-filled milk can. During the day he freed himself from an ironbound wooden crate as it sank to the bottom of murky rivers and swift oceans. Metal "Crazy Cribs" used on the murderously insane could not hold him. The inescapable steel "Tramp Chair" was child's play to "The Monarch of Manacles." 
Beyond escapes he performed on vaudeville stages, appeared in movies, was a Broadway star and experts considered him a wonderful magician. In fact, he was a much better magician than his brother, and well-liked and admired by the conjuring community. 
Now, for the first time, best-selling author, magic historian, and magician William V. Rauscher brings you the revealing story of this wonderful entertainer who, for the first time, justifiably steps out from the shadow of his brother to take his rightful place in the pantheon of prestidigitators. Meet Theodore Hardeen-the sensation of two hemispheres-brother of Houdini!!

Click to purchase at 1878 Press Co.

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LINK: Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Harry Houdini’s Deviled Eggs

I did a post a while back about Houdini's culinary contribution to The Stag Cookbook (1922). But here's a blogger who had the courage to actually try the recipe! How was it? Click on the headline and have a read at Movies Silently.

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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Strange Inheritance unearths the Houdini Jewel, Monday

The FOX Business Network series Strange Inheritance will air an episode this Monday, January 22, devoted to Bess Houdini's royal crown brooch, or what the show is calling the "Houdini Jewel." Host Jamie Colby interviews new owner David Copperfield, former owners Milt and Arlene Larsen...and me!

FOX BUSINESS NETWORK TO FEATURE ARROWHEADS AND A HOUDINI JEWEL IN ALL NEW EPISODES OF HIT PRIMETIME REALITY SERIES “STRANGE INHERITANCE” MONDAY, JANUARY 22ND 
What: FOX Business Network (FBN) will present new back-to-back episodes of the hit primetime reality program Strange Inheritance on Monday, January 22nd at 9PM/ET. These episodes are part of a series hosted by FBN’s Jamie Colby that chronicles the stories of inheritances from people and places all across the country. The first half-hour episode entitled, “Indian Arrowheads,” explores the tale of a North Carolina man who inherits 250,000 ancient Indian arrowheads. 
In the next half-hour episode entitled “Houdini Jewel” airing at 9:30PM/ET, a magician’s wife inherits a jewel-encrusted pin said to have been bestowed on Harry Houdini by Czar Nicholas II.
When: Monday, January 22nd, 9-10PM/ET
Where: Fox Business Network

Below are links to a few posts about the brooch (including a recent update). I fear I might be the villain of this episode who casts doubt on the jewel having come from Czar Nicholas II. Will Jamie get the bottom of the mystery? Find out Monday!

UPDATE: Visit the FOX Business Network website for a preview of the episode.

Images: FOX Business Network.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Monday, January 15, 2018

Doug Henning talks Houdini with Bob Lund

The Doug Henning Project has posted video of Doug and Debby Henning guest hosting a Detroit morning show called Kelly & Company in the 1980s. It's a remarkable 58 minutes, but what will be of special interest to Houdini buffs is Doug's interview with Bob Lund of the American Museum of Magic. They discuss Houdini at length, and Bob shows a coin tray that belonged to Houdini (I love it when Debby just wants to touch it). Doug also shows a collection of letters Houdini wrote to an executive of the Ford Motor Co. Unfortunately, they don't explain what those letters were about.


There's a lot here to love, so click on over to The Doug Henning Project and have a watch. The Bob Lund interview starts at 43:35.

UPDATE: Thanks to Chuck Romano, I now know what those letters were about. Houdini was corresponding with Fred Black, the assistant to the president of American Motor Co, who has done some research into the Booth family on behalf of Henry Ford. Houdini was fascinated with the Booths and John Wilkes Booth in particular. Lund penned a three part series about the correspondence called "Afterword on Houdini" for Abracadabra starting in the July 21, 1956 issue.

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Sunday, January 14, 2018

Houdini Magical Hall of Fame site today

Fellow "Houdini Nut" Stacey Zimmerman was recently in Niagara Falls, Canada, where he took this photo of the former site of the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame atop Clifton Hill. Today it is Ripley's Moving Theater 4D.


The Houdini Magical Hall of Fame first opened in May 1968 at 5019 Centre Street. Four years later it moved to this location at 4983 Clifton Hill, where it remained until a suspicious fire on the night of April 30, 1995 destroyed the original Water Torture Cell and closed the museum for good. Below is a photo I took during my one and only visit in 1990.


Thanks Stacey!

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Johnathon Schaech shares story of sexual abuse

Johnathon Schaech, who played Houdini in the 1998 TNT cable movie Houdini, is latest person to come out with a story of sexual abuse at the hands of a person in power. In a piece written for People.com, Schaech says director Franco Zeffirelli made repeated sexual advances on the then 22-year-old during the making of the movie Sparrow.

Says the actor, "For my son, for the future of all of our kids, we have to stop it. Stop the evil. That’s why I wanted to talk. I want future generations to know they’re not alone."

Zeffirelli's family have denied the accusations, saying their father is currently ill and unable to defend himself.

Houdini, which co-stars Stacy Edwards as Bess and Mark Ruffalo as Hardeen, is available on DVD.

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Friday, January 12, 2018

A new twist in the tale of the "Czar's brooch"


Last year a brooch that belonged to Bess Houdini sold for $72,000 in a Potter & Potter auction. Bess gave the brooch to Geraldine Larsen in the 1940s, and it had remained in Larsen family until the sale last year. The buyer was David Copperfield.

According to the Larsens, Bess said she had received the brooch from the Czar of Russia. Trouble is, there's no record of Houdini ever performing before the Czar. I suggested she more likely received it from Grand Duke Sergei Alexsandrovich during the Houdinis one and only tour of Russia in 1903. But now I've found something that makes me question even that!

Below is an article from the May 23, 1899 Joplin Daily News about a dressing room robbery while the Houdinis were performing at the Pavillion Theater in Joplin, Missouri. Check out what was stolen:


...a diamond brooch, valued at $1000 given her by the Czar of Russia...

So here we have Bess claiming to own a brooch given to her by the Czar four years before the Houdinis even traveled to Russia. In 1899, the Houdinis were still relative unknowns who had only ever travelled as far as Canada. The idea that the young couple had ever performed for royalty was shear vaudevillian hokum.

So now we have evidence that Bess (or Harry) peddled a fiction about owning jewelry gifted from the Czar of Russia. That means if Bess really did later get a brooch in Russia (from the Grand Duke or otherwise), we'd have to accept it as a coincidence that this fiction came true. That's not impossible. But I'm not a fan of coincidence, especially when a more likely scenario is present.

Suddenly it seems a lot more likely that Bess simply made up the story about the later brooch being given to her by the Czar of Russia, just as she had about this earlier brooch that was stolen. Like her husband, she wasn't adverse to pinning false medals to her chest. Either that or Bess and Czar had something pretty serious going on!

But as I said then, the origin of the brooch really isn't all that important, and I don't think it changes the value whatsoever. There's no doubt that Bess owned the brooch, and that's what makes it precious today.

Last year I filmed an interview for the popular FOX Business Network show Strange Inheritance in which I talked about the brooch and its mysterious origin. Too bad I didn't have this detail to share then! The new season starts January 15. The brooch episode will air on Monday, January 22nd at 9:30pm EST.

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini #2 released

Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini #2 by Cynthia von Buhler has been released by Hard Case Crime and Titan Books. At least I think it has. The second issue in this adult four part series comes in two variant covers, as you can see below.

Unappreciated at her father's detective agency, the fabulous, rabbit-loving Minky Woodcock straps on her gumshoes in order to uncover a magical mystery involving the world-famous escape artist, Harry Houdini. Created by acclaimed artist, author, director, and playwright Cynthia Von Buhler.

You can buy issues at comic book stores or online at Midtown Comics. For more on the series visit minkywoodcock.com. Also check out Bleeding Cool for a collection of photos from a recent launch party.

A collected edition of all four issues will be released in June and can be pre-ordered at Amazon.com.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

New development to rise on site of Statler Hotel

The Detroit Free Press reports that a new multi-use development will rise on the site of the former Statler Hotel. The Statler was where Houdini stayed during his final performance in Detroit on October 24, 1926. It was from the Statler that he was taken to Grace Hospital at 3AM at the urging of doctors, including the hotel doctor, Dr. Daniel Cohn.

The 800-room Statler Hotel was built in 1915 and was among the largest and most luxurious places to stay in Detroit. In the 1950s it was sold to Hilton and renamed the Detroit Hilton Hotel. It was demolished in 2005.

The developer plans to hold a ceremonial groundbreaking Thursday for the new apartment and retail complex to be called City Club Apartments CBD Detroit.


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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Newsweek mischaracterizes Houdini's Wild Man as a geek act

Newsweek has released a special issue celebrating P.T. Barnum and "The Circus - 110 Years of the Greatest Show on Earth." In an article titled "The Circus Hall of Fame," Houdini is featured along with a nice two page photo (from The Grim Game). The accompanying paragraph discusses how Houdini once performed as a "Wild Man" at the Welsh Bros. Circus during his struggling days. That part is true.

However, it then goes on to say Houdini's Wild Man was a "geek" act, in which one bites the heads off live animals. That is not true. Nowhere is it said Houdini's Wild Man was a geek. Geeks tended to be mentally impaired men or alcoholics lured into the despicable act with money. Geek shows where largely frowned upon, and the Welsh brothers took pains to present a "wholesome" show, with strict rules of conduct spelled out in performers contracts. There was even a clause protecting female performers from harassment (yes, in 1898).

What little we do know about "Projea, the Wild Man of Mexico" is that Houdini, in face paint with frazzled hair, was fed raw meat by ringmaster Clint Newton (Houdini quit after being hit in the eye with a piece of meat). It's also said Houdini used sleight of hand to make it appear he was consuming cigarettes thrown into his cage by the audience. He would then distribute the cigarettes among his fellow circus performers. Not sure why Newsweek didn't go with these known details, but...


You can buy Newsweek's The Circus Special Edition HERE. Newsweek is owned by IBT Media.

Thanks to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz for the alert.

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Monday, January 8, 2018

LINK: Houdini and Tony Curtis to thank for Tranent couple’s 60 great years

The East Lothian Courier has a wonderful article today about a couple celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. And what brought them together?

Margaret said: “I was at Haddington Picture House with my two friends and there were these three boys a few rows behind us and we got chatting. I always remember the film, it was Houdini.”

Click the headline to read the full story at East Lothian Courier.

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Sunday, January 7, 2018

100 years ago Houdini vanished an elephant


It was 100 years ago today, January 7, 1918, that Houdini first vanished a live elephant at the enormous Hippodrome Theater in New York. To this day, no one knows exactly how Houdini did it. But that hasn't stopped magicians from speculating.

In the effect, an elephant named "Jennie" was ushered into the rear of a large cabinet decorated as a circus wagon. The cabinet was closed and turned toward the audience, a task requiring a block and tackle and 30 men. On Houdini's command, both the front and back of the cabinet were opened so the audience could see through to the back of the stage. The elephant was gone. "No special background, in full glare of the lights, and it is a weird trick," Houdini proudly proclaimed.

The vanishing elephant was an instant hit, and it led to the longest engagement of Houdini's career (19 weeks). But some magicians thought the presentation was lacking. They complained that because of the semi-circular seating inside the huge Hippodrome auditorium, only people directly in front of the cabinet could see that the elephant had actually vanished. Others had to take Houdini's word for it. But while magicians might have criticized the effect, they could still not explain how Houdini did it.


Houdini's elephant was part of the "Powers Performing Elephants" troop, a regular feature of the Hippodrome show. Houdini claimed she was the daughter of Barnum's famous Jumbo and that she was "gentle as a kitten." He also pointed out, "I never allowed a hook to be used, relying on block sugar to make her go through her stunt, and she certainly is very fond of me." Some descriptions say Jennie wore a large blue ribbon around her neck and a giant wristwatch on her leg (so the audience could see her until the last second). Interestingly, Jennie would outlive Houdini by many years. An article from May 25, 1950 shows her alive and well at age 86.

Of course, with a trick the garnered as much attention as the vanishing elephant, competitors rushed to create their own versions. Always one to aggressively protect his effects, Houdini took out ads in the trades warning competitors of his copyright. This appears to have worked as no other vanishing elephants appeared during Houdini's lifetime (that I'm aware).



Houdini revived the elephant vanish in 1922 at the Times Square Theater in New York before screenings of his film The Man From Beyond. Some say the trick was more effective in the smaller venue, in which Houdini alternated between two smaller elephants borrowed from the Ringling Circus. As little as we know of the Hippodrome vanish, we know even less about the Times Square version, which may or may not have employed the same method.

How did he do it?

No one knows exactly how Houdini vanished his elephant. But that hasn't stopped the publication of explanations. J.C. Cannell (The Secrets of Houdini) wrote that the elephant passed into a second hidden cabinet. Walter B. Gibson and Morris N. Young (Houdini's Fabulous Magic) described a method that employed the use of black art. Modern Mechanic claimed the elephant was hidden behind a false backdrop. Even the infamous "Masked Magician" revealed a method involving mirrors, but his presentation bore no resemblance to how Houdini presented his effect. Interestingly, Houdini must have revealed the secret one night when he invited a committee of engineers, in town for a convention, to enter the cabinet. He then vanished them to the delight of their fellow employees.

The theory that holds the most water was first put forth by Guy Jarrett, who had pitched his own vanishing elephant idea to the Hippodrome management and was turned down. Jarrett's explanation was based on the Disappearing Donkey, an effect Houdini had purchased from Charles Morritt in 1914. While Jarrett's theory was dismissed by many as unworkable at this scale, it was championed by Jim Steinmeyer, who demonstrated the feasibility of it at the 1983 Magic Collectors Convention in Chicago using a toy elephant and a scale replica of the cabinet. Steinmeyer later published his theory in his book Hiding The Elephant (2003). As for its flawed presentation, Steinmeyer wrote, "It might have been a great illusion disguised as a bad illusion."

The great Patrick Culliton, who published his own Notes on the Vanishing Elephant, believes that the Jarrett/Steinmeyer theory is most likely the correct one. In fact, Patrick thinks Jarett, who never actually saw the illusion himself, might have been tipped to the method by Clyde Powers, the stage manager of Cheer Up!, who owned a magic shop where Jarrett worked.

However, the Jarrett/Steinmeyer theory relies on eyewitness accounts of how the trick was presented, specifically that the audience looked through a round opening in the front of the cabinet. But in a 1992 issue of the Mystifier, William M. Doerflinger, who saw the trick as a youth, specifically refutes this, saying:

"Some later commentators suspected that the audience had looked through a circular opening at the front of the cabinet as well as through the back, somewhat as though the cabinet was a huge Phantom Tube. My own visual image agrees with those who say there was no circular opening at the front; it was completely curtained until Houdini drew the curtains aside."

Frustratingly, there are no surviving photos of the cabinet or any of the apparatus Houdini used during his vanishing elephant to help settle the matter of exactly how it appeared to the audience. There's not even a known poster. So in more ways than one, the vanishing elephant remains one of Houdini's great mysteries. As Houdini himself said, "Even the elephant doesn't know how it's done."


The above illustration is from Escape King: The Story of Houdini (1975) by John Ernst.

UPDATE: David Haversat of David Haversat Magic has shared with me the unpublished notes of Milbourne Christopher explaining how he vanished his own elephant. Christopher writes that he believes his method is the same that Houdini used. As a rule, I don't expose secrets on this blog, so even though David has given me permission to share the notes, I'm reluctant to do so. But I will say I think Christopher's method makes sense, and it allows for the front of the cabinet to be fully opened as some eyewitness say that it was. I'm now thinking Milbourne Christopher may be the one who finally got it right.


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