Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Houdini and the President

On the occasion of President Obama's State of the Union address tonight, here's a look back at Houdini with another Chief Executive. This photo of Houdini and Theodore Roosevelt was taken aboard the ocean liner Imperator on June 23, 1914.

John Cox Collection

It was aboard this "last boat out of Germany" (before the outbreak WWI) that Houdini would amaze the former President with a demonstration of Spirit Slates -- accurately pinpointing where Roosevelt had just spent his Christmas holiday. The next day it was said that Roosevelt took Houdini aside on deck and asked him, "man to man," if what he did was genuine Spiritualism.

"No, Colonel," Houdini is said to have answered. "It was just hocus pocus."

Original version
The original version of this photo was of Houdini and Roosevelt standing amid a group of other passengers. Houdini had the others cropped out and proudly gave this out as presentation piece. The above photo, from my own collection, is glued into an inscribed copy of The Unmasking of Robert Houdin (those ink flecks are from Houdini's signature). I've seen several other copies of Unmasking with this photo inside. I'm not sure when Houdini did these or how many exist, but it makes for a terrific presentation copy.

In his book Shots At Sea, Tom Lalicki had some fun with Houdini and Roosevelt's ocean-bound adventures, although he set his action aboard the Lusitania and, of course, worked in his fictional young hero Nate Fuller.

Hail to the Chief(s)!


  1. Always surprised that TR had to ask but it was a different time. Nice crop job, Harry!

    I just noticed that the Pawn Stars post has pipped the Illicit Loves of Harry Houdini. I don't want to speculate on why that might be.

  2. Yes, Pawn Stars is now my most viewed story. It's a little depressing, actually, because I put no work into it whatsoever. I just copied and pasted. But controversy brings in the viewers (and readers), and that episode has been controversial indeed.

  3. 278 did very well though and that was a superb piece of work. Do you want me to click on it a few more times? =)

  4. I would have been depressed if 278 hadn't made it into the Top 5. Yes, go give it some clicks. :p

  5. I for one wasn't even interested in the Pawn Stars story, but all the other ones at the top are fascinating. I'll just have to 'read' them a few more times then. ;)



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