Sunday, June 25, 2017

Inside Houdini's 278

Last Sunday I spent three remarkable hours inside Houdini's house at 278 West 113th Street in New York City. The occasion was an open house for the brownstone which is now on the market for $4.6 million. I've long dreamed of being able to enter "278" (as Houdini called it), and my dream came true in spectacular manner.

There are only a handful of descriptions of the inside of 278, and those only describe certain areas. I used as my guides the descriptions by Marie Blood in Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss, Dixie Dooley's description and diagrams in Houdini Question Reality, and Marcet Haldeman's interview with Houdini in the Oct. 1925 Haldeman-Julius Monthly. Combining these with what I saw, I've tried my best to puzzle out the house as it was in Houdini time. While I'm certain of some things, other aspects are educated guesses. I'm sure we will have lots to discuss in the comments below.

One thing I'll say up front is that fears the interior of 278 had been radically changed are, happily, unfounded. While the top two floors have been converted into individual apartments, there really has not been dramatic changes to the structure. All the rooms are pretty much as they were in Houdini's time. There has also been no modern upgrades, such as the installation of central air-conditioning, which means the ceilings and walls all remain as they were. So 278, inside and out, is still very much the house Houdini inhabited.

I've been struggling in how to best describe the house and all that I saw last Sunday, so I figure I'll just lay it out exactly as I experienced it. So let's retake the 278 tour together.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

LINK: You can live in Harry Houdini’s historic magician’s lair

The New York Post has an article by Michael Kaplan about Houdini's home in Harlem. The big news this week is that the house is now on the market for $4.6 million.

This is a well researched piece that, I'm honored to say, used a few quotes from me. Also some gems by the great Patrick Culliton.

So click the headline and have a read. And check back here tomorrow for my own mammoth post in which I will take you "Inside 278."


Andrey Fedorov takes on Houdini in Russia

David Saltman at The Houdini File reports that Andrey Fedorov, chief historian of the Russian Association of Magicians, recently presented a lecture at the Fifth Magic History Gathering at The Magic Circle in London that challenged many of the accepted stories about Houdini's one and only tour of Russia in 1903. Chief among these is whether or not Houdini really escaped from the Siberian Transport Prison Van. (Oh my!)

David is himself an expert on Houdini in Russia and says he's in "lively correspondence" with Andrey, so I look forward to reading what David might have this. I'll share his links below.


Friday, June 23, 2017

Your tour of 278 is coming this weekend

I'm home from New York and working hard on my post about visiting Houdini's house in Harlem. I'm aiming to have up this weekend. (I've also been helping the New York Post with a piece that will also run this weekend). I know everyone is eager for this one, so thank you for your continued patience. Soon you will be turning the door knob and stepping inside 278 yourself.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Happy Anniversary Harry and Bess

Today is the 123rd wedding anniversary of Harry and Bess Houdini. The couple married on June 22, 1894 in Coney Island where they were both working as sideshow performers. It's said they later had two more ceremonies to satisfy their families -- one with a rabbi and the other with a Catholic priest. "I'm the most married woman I know," Bess would quip.

If they were in town on their anniversary they would always spend it in Coney Island and take a playful anniversary photo (above is their 1917 pic). Their song -- said to have been the song Bessie was signing when Harry first saw her on stage -- was Rosabel...


(I know what you are all thinking: "Forget this mushy stuff, bring on the 278 pics!" Know that I'm working on it and hope to have the first post up this weekend.)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Dover publishes 'Houdini's Paper Magic'

Today sees the release of Dover Publications new reprint of Houdini's 1922 book, Houdini's Paper Magic. While this book has been reprinted several times, this one is somewhat special as it joins Dover's perennial reprints of Houdini on Magic and The Secrets of Houdini.

Dover's Houdini's Paper Magic can be purchased now at (U.S.) and pre-ordered at (UK release July 28).


Monday, June 19, 2017

WAH in the house!

Yesterday I spent three remarkable hours inside Houdini's house in New York City. It was one of the most incredible Houdini experiences of my life. I made so many discoveries and have so much to share that I will probably do so in two posts; one detailing the house and the other chronicling my full New York adventure. But that adventure is not done yet (off to the Houdini Museum at Fantasma Magic today), so for now, enjoy the below.

My thanks to Beverley Draggon and Detria Davu of Douglas Elliman Real Estate who are handling the sale of 278 and allowed me to run wild!

UPDATEInside Houdini's 278.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Houdini at home

Here's an unpublished photo of Houdini inside his home at 278 West 113th Street in New York. This comes from the collection of the American Museum of Magic and gives a nice look at the house's interior. I thought this was a good time to share this as 278 is on the market for the first time in 26 years. Perhaps Harry is fielding offers below?

I also wanted to provide something interesting to look at for the next few days because, yes, I'm off to New York to attend the 278 Open House on Sunday! I can't believe that I will soon be standing in the very room we see above. (Exactly which room this is, I'm not sure, but that's one of many things I'll try to puzzle out.)

I will also be squeezing in as many other Houdini sites as I can in the short time I will be in the city. You can follow my adventures on Twitter @HoudiniWild. I'll also post a full report when I return.


Friday, June 16, 2017


Houdini's famous New York home at 278 West 113th Street in Harlem is for sale. The 4-story brownstone is being listed by Douglas Elliman Real Estate for $4.6 million. There will be an open house this Sunday, June 18, from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm.

Curbed New York has a nice article about the sale with some remarkable photos of the inside of the house (below). In one you can see that part of Houdini's original bookcase still stands in what I believe is the second floor parlor. The house itself has been converted into a three-family home, with an owner’s duplex occupying the first two floors, a one-bedroom apartment on the second floor, and a two-bedroom on the third floor. The house still contains the original wood in the foyer and tin ceilings.

Houdini purchased "278" (as he called it) in 1904 for $25,000. Bess sold the house in June 1927 for $20,000 to her neighbors, John and Fillippina Bonanno, whose daughters lived in the house until the late 1970s. This is the first time the house has been on the market in 26 years (interesting number). The last time it sold was in 1991 to Fred Thomas. When Thomas bought the house he was not told it was the former home of Houdini. But today's listing at Douglas Elliman proudly uses it as a selling point.

Of course, my great wish is that someone in the magic world will buy the house and open up at least part of it as a museum. But whomever purchases the house, I hope they honor and preserve the Houdini history that is still left inside. This is a magical place indeed.

Check out the article about the sale at Curbed New York (who nicely linked to WAH). You can view the listing and all the photos at Douglas Elliman Real Estate. Agents are Beverley Draggon and Detria Davu.

Thanks to everyone who altered me to this this morning.

UPDATEInside Houdini's 278.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Wonder Woman - escape artist

I'm a Wonder Woman fan, so I'm very happy with the success of the new Warner Bros movie with Gal Gadot. To help celebrate, I went in search of any connections between the Amazon Princess and the Handcuff King.

First off, if you've seen the movie, you might have noticed that an escape artist makes a quick appearance on a London street freeing himself from chains. Even though the movie is set during Houdini's lifetime (World War I), it's unlikely this is supposed to be Houdini himself. The website speculates that this could be Thaddeus Brown, the mentor to another D.C. Comic hero, Mister Miracle "Master Escape Artist."

While Houdini has met Batman, we've yet to see a Wonder Woman Houdini mash-up. But Diana has played Houdini herself on occasion. Check out this passage in the book Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World's Most Famous Heroine:

In Wonder Woman #6, dated Fall 1943, Wonder Woman appeared at a charity function to benefit the women and children of Europe affected by the war. The main event was a Houdini-like escape, where Wonder Woman was chained up and submerged in a tank of water. It was one of the rare instances outside or Paradise Island where Wonder Woman was willingly bound. Of course, everything went wrong. Cheetah added the golden lasso to Wonder Woman's bonds and she barely got out of the tank alive.

Of course, capture and escape is a regular part of Wonder Woman's everyday job. Below are a couple of panels that seem inspired (consciously or unconsciously) by Houdini. Escaping from his Milk Can after it was filled with real milk was something Houdini did from time to time. And Diana's use of the air space at the top of the tank seems right out of Houdini's under the ice exploit.

Oh, and then there's this:

Below are links to a few more "wonder women" escape artists.

UPDATE: Another connection has been pointed out to me on the Houdini & Doyle Fan Group. In the new movie young Diana is played by Emily Carey who also played Mary Doyle in last year's Houdini & Doyle ITV/Fox series.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Hardeen's Tramp Chair to be displayed in Maine

The original "Tramp Chair" that Theo Hardeen escaped from in 1913 will be displayed at the upcoming Oakfest in Oakland, Maine. Who even knew the chair still existed!

The Morning Sentinel reports that the "so-called tramp chair" is about 800 pounds of steel and stands just 52 inches high. The chair is housed at the Oakland police station where Gary Bennett, owner of Snow Pond Cruises and Historical Tours, said it always raises a lot of interest during his tours. He thinks the lock on it today is the original lock that was used in the early 1900s, as the historical society doesn’t have a key that opens it. The chair is just one of two in known existence from the dozen or so made.

Hardeen escaped from the tramp chair on Tuesday, December 10, 1913 at the Bijou Theater in Bangor, Maine. He was shackled and locked in the chair by a committee from the Bangor City Department. He escaped in 11 mins. Afterwards he told reporters, "I saw the shackles were strong and old-fashioned, not at all like anything I had every tried to get out of, and I knew I would be bothered considerably by this new sort of imprisonment. But I found it easier than I expected. Nothing gave me much trouble but the Yale Lock."

Hardeen was proud of this unique challenge. He printed the full newspaper account of the escape in his pitchbook and also featured it on a poster.

A police cruiser will carry the chair in the OakFest parade at 6 p.m. on July 21. It will then be displayed in a tent during OakFest, July 21-23. The chair is currently available for viewing at the police station during business hours.

For more information on Oakfest visit the official website. You can see more images of the tramp chair HERE.

UPDATE: In the book Houdini's Escapes and Magic by Walter B. Gibson, it's said that Houdini also escape from a Maine Tramp Chair in Boston. Except he called it a "Witch's Chair." It's not clear if it was the same chair here.


Monday, June 12, 2017

The Master Mystery 6-sheet restored

In April came news that David Haversat of David Haversat Magic had uncovered a hitherto unknown 6-sheet poster for Houdini's silent serial The Master Mystery. Now David gives us a first look at the fully restored poster below. A beauty!

The poster was found among a number of antiquities and other silent film posters in Canada. It's for Episode 14 ("The Tangled Web"), which was the second to last episode of the 1918-19 serial that featured Houdini and what is said to be cinema's first robot.

Thank you David.


Houdini exhibit in Davenport, Iowa

A special Houdini exhibit is currently on show at the German American Heritage Center in Davenport, Iowa. "Houdini: The Magic and Mystery" opened May 28 and runs through November 4.

The exhibit was compiled by assistant director Kyle Dickson and intern Michael McMahon.

"His influences comprised mostly German sources; his immigrant story is a great one," says Dickson. "There's so  many cool stories people don't know. He was a modern man stuck in a pre-modern world."

The exhibit includes historic photos, advertisements, shackles from the Sidney Radner collection, video footage of Houdini's escapes, a recording of the Final Houdini Seance, and a straitjacket that visitors can put on, borrowed from Augustana College's theater department.

On September 23, Duffy Hudson will appear at the museum with his acclaimed Houdini one man show.

For more information visit the German American Heritage Center's website, Facebook, and Twitter. A nice article about the exhibit can be found at QCOnline.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Is this a Houdini sub trunk?

Our good friend Jon Oliver checks in today with a Houdini mystery. Below are photos of what might be a hitherto unknown Houdini sub trunk. Here's Jon's story:

About a month ago I was performing outside of Chicago. After the show, Sandy Marshall (Jay Marshall's grandson) asked me to meet for dinner. 
Over dinner, Sandy Jr. told me about some large items that were still at the old shop on Lincoln Avenue, one of which was a 100 year old sub trunk that he was told was once owned by Houdini. 
Unfortunately, as with many items Jay Marshall acquired, he never wrote down upon paper its history. Jay planned to, but until the end, he relied upon his incredible memory. 
The trunk sat in the back part of The Little Theatre close to the stage, but on the left side. It had a small amount of mold on its back and inside. I offered to clean it up for him, and took it back to Michigan.
The trunk's outside hardware is identical to one of the of two trunks I own from Houdini. The lock upon the trunk was replaced, maybe by Jay, as were the outside handles.

The secret is different from the trunk Patrick Culliton once owned, and at the request of the Marshall family will keep it concealed.

So can anyone out there help identify this trunk? If so, please leave a comment below.

UPDATE: David Charvet over at Kevin Connolly's CONJURING HISTORY - BUY, SELL AND TALK Facebook group points out there were "lots of Sub Trunks sold back in the day." Below is an ad from Arthur P. Felsman's 1924 catalog, coincidentally, in Chicago.


LINK: Second Prison Cell and Barrel Mystery poster

Joe Notaro by way of Fred Pittella has posted to his blog a NEW image of the second Prison Cell and Barrel Mystery poster glimpsed in the famous lobby display photo below. It gives us a much better look at the poster details and text. But you'll have to go to Joe's site to see it, SO GO!

Below are links that give us looks at a few of the other (not so lost anymore) Houdini posters in this image.



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