So what happened? It’s been two years and Houdini still rests in his grave. Unfortunately, the truth of this event is now as murky as the poisoning theory it was meant to dispel.
The authors assured me as of last year that it was sincere and was in the hands of the lawyers. I’ve no reason to doubt them. The popular media, on the other hand, has largely concluded that it was just a publicity stunt.
The Washington Post was the first to suggest something was rotten in their coverage of the March 24 news conference. Held at the American Jewish Historical Society, the paper noted it was impossible to take a photo of the event without including a blown-up copy of the cover of The Secret Life of Houdini hanging being the news conference principals. A little digging by the paper revealed the media spectacle was not orchestrated by the family of Houdini, but was organized and paid for by the authors in conjunction with the PR firm Dan Klores Communications.
As time wore on, the authors said legals issues were delaying the exhumation, which seemed credible after the Blood family and members of the magic community raised objections. “We want to do this the right way,” Sloman told the Daily News. “We don't want to offend anyone.”
But that same article revealed that the parties involved never filed legal papers to preform an exhumation, and that George Hardeen had pulled out, saying, “I am not intimately involved in this.”
Now, two years later, all the parties have gone quite.
So what happened here? Was this a sincere attempt to investigate a controversial theory as the authors claim? Or was it a crass publicity stunt as the press say? Or was it some combination of both (which is what I’m now prone to believe). And was it harmless?
Personally, I wouldn’t have minded seeing Houdini exhumed. I freely admit I have a morbid curiosity to see the famous bronze casket and what remains of the old boy (not to mention the letters from mama buried under his head). Granted, if I were family, I might feel differently, but certainly Houdini wasn’t above prying the lid off deceased family members. He did exactly this with both his father and half-brother Herman when he had their bodies moved to the Machpelah family plot. I also would have loved all the publicity it would have generated (Will Houdini be inside?) and the Discovery Channel documentary that was vying to cover the event.
But to have gone this far would have required joining a collective conspiracy of belief in the poisoning theory -- which most Houdini historians, including myself, find highly dubious. In the end, there was just no sincere reason to do this, and maybe that’s why it never happened.
For better or worse, the proposed exhumation of Houdini is now a part of the Houdini story. One day it would be nice to exhume the full truth.
- March 22, 2007: AP: Houdini kin wants body exhumed
- March 23, 2007: Houdini dig conjures stir
- March 24, 2007: Why not just hold a seance?
- March 27, 2007: Blood family speaks out against exhumation
- December 12, 2007: "Death Expert" Bill Bass to examine Houdini's corpse
- March 4, 2008: So when do we start digging?