Thursday, May 19, 2011

Houdini Magical Hall of Fame was in decay by 1978

Here's other discovery I made while browsing The Conjuring Arts Research Center's Ask Alexander search engine, but this one is a little depressing. It appears The Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagara Falls, Canada, was already in a state of disrepair as early as 1978. This is only a few years after it had moved from it's Centre Street location to the top of Clifton Hill. Bravo for David Allen for sounding the alarm in this letter to Genii magazine (Vol. 43, 1979). Shame no one came to the rescue.

Click to enlarge

What's especially upsetting here is the reference to Houdini's plate glass box. I had no idea it was housed at the museum! This is a Houdini classic. There are photos of both Houdini and Bessie inside the box. To hear that it was cracked and falling apart is heartbreaking. Did someone save it? Was it ever seen again? Or did it finally crumble and whatever High Schooler was hired to "curate" the collection that day sweep it up with the garbage?

Was the glass box another casualty of the Houdini museum?

The museum and its priceless contents continued to suffer from decay, vandalism, and neglect for 20 more years, before the museum finally burned down in 1995, taking with it the original Water Torture Cell.


  1. of the most depressing things i've read in awhile...very sad indeed..

  2. One thing good I will say about the old Houdini Museum is, even though it was shambles, at least it gave everyone the chance to see so many of these historic props, including the Mirror Cuffs and the Water Torture Cell. Nowadays most of these items are hidden away in private collections (one collection in particular).

  3. Which is better, to have these treasures out in the open where people mistreat and vandalize them, or have them in a private collection where they are cared for? It's a shame there isn't a middle ground, where they could be seen by those who respect the historical value and significance.

    Wasn't it in your article about Sid Radner where he said several items from the museum went missing. I still have trouble rapping my head around that. So sad but true.

    I'm with you, what happened to the rest of the Glass Box???

  4. John, they should have given it to you to look after. You could have done a better job running it out of your garage.

  5. I visited the museum back in the early 90's. I wish I had taken a hundred pictures that day but all that I have are a few of the USD and mirror cuffs. I remember going in by myself when it opened mid morning. I wanted to see if I could actually handle the USD. Lo and behold I found the place all to myself so I went over the railing, stepped up upon the squal "table" the UDS was sitting on and spent 15 minutes or so with the USD. I have only read one account of the "workings" of the escape and that was in one of Walter Gibson's books. Knowing this I was actually able to "work" the and closed...or at least this is what I believed it to be. The release mechanism worked perfectly after all those years.

  6. Wow, that's a great story, Anon. Do you have Pat Culliton's Houdini The Key? That has photos of the gaff in action.

    I also went in 1990 and, like you, had the place all to myself (and this was midday). I could have walked out of there with the USD on my back if I wanted. I didn't have the nerve to go past the rail, but I did take a lot of pics, including a closeup of the stocks which looked like they had 10 years of accumulated dust on them.

  7. Well, it was Henry Muller's museum, so I'd say the responsibility must rest on him. I wonder how often Sid Radner made it to Canada to see what condition his collection was in? I mean, he pulled his collection from Appleton, which was a REAL museum, for reasons I still don't understand. But I guess he and Henry where close friends. I'm sure there were discussions about what was going on. And the fire...well...that's a whole other story.

  8. No I dont have the book but may buy it if its still available. Being able to actually touch and work the USD is one of my fondest memories. I was also struck as to how small the USD actually was. It was a remarkable piece of craftsmanship thats for sure.

  9. I remember about 1979, I went to visit Bob Lund at his museum, the day before someone came in an asked if Bob wanted to buy this brass corner piece. Bob asked him what it was and the guy said he took it from the glass box at the Houdini Museum. Bob took the peice told the guy he was going to return it and to never show his face again.

    1. Good for Bob! I can't understand how, not only can some people figure they have the right to destroy things that don't belong to them, but to handle in any WAY things that don't belong to them without permission. Such as the one{s} who damaged things in the museam, & ALSO, ones like the person above, who felt they had the right to work the gimmick of the Water Torture Cell!!! Was I the ONLY one who was raised to respect others property???? Sure seems like it more & more. I went there in the mid 1970's, & there were actual autographed photos just thumb tacked to the wall along a very dark hall. Sure, I could have VERY easily taken one, or damaged, or at least touched one, but true to my upbringing, I just looked at them & moved on. Sad the way some people in this world are raised. :/

  10. magicusa said...

    Not easy to do this. Ask us,not Alexander!
    In the years The Houdini Museum in Scranton has been open tens of thousands of people have come through with an interest in Houdini. Yet almost non offer any help. Not even "in kind". We have been the only building in the world totally dedicated to Houdini for two decades. We are the largest continuing display about Houdini and his life that is available to the general public. Finally the City of Scranton has come up with a $30,000.00 grant to fix the facade of the building because they realize we need help! It is sorely needed. They realize the value of the Houdini Museum and the tens of thousands of tourists we have attracted here. BUT it is a matching grant, and we must come up with the other $30,000.00. That is the good news. The bad news is we do not have it, so the grant may go by the wayside. As a new development, we have started adding people to our Honorary Board of Directors which we have not done for many years. Mostly because of time constraints. Here is a partial list...
    Walter B. Gibson, Emeritus (Early supporter and founder)
    Harry Blacksone, Jr. Emeritus
    Jeff Blood
    John Bushey
    Mick Hanzlik
    Ian McColl
    Steve Moore
    Ken Silverman

    As our bumper stickers say, "Houdini Lives in Scranton!

    Dorothy Dietrich & Dick Brookz
    Houdini Museum
    1433 N Main Ave.
    Scranton, PA 18508

  11. :( What a sad, sad story. It makes me want to cry when people mistreat and neglect historically significant items on display. They should have closed the museum before it burnt down...and maybe it wouldn't have burnt down anyway if it hadn't been in such a run-down state?

  12. I still don't get how hard it is to look after things properly. The main gripe of the writer of this letter appears to be that within the space of two years, the exhibits were neglected and allowed to deteriorate while people who came through the place were "allowed" to manhandle them. I don't think it was just a matter of no money but clearly, no idea either. If the Niagara Falls place couldn't look after the exhibits while allowing public access then it would have been better to have shut down perhaps. Easy for me to say in hindsight but I think the priority should have been preservation above all else.

  13. When you're in debt, it's easier to sell off artifacts on the sly, burn the place down, and take the insurance money. I'm not saying that's what happened. I have no idea what happened. But I'm just saying that's one way to get out of the hole.

    Mostly I'm just cheesed that I can't take my kids to visit this (formerly) wonderful place so they could be inspired by it the way I was nearly thirty years ago.

    1. I'm not so sure you're 100% wrong on that one Robert. I remember reading in a magic mag at the time, that one of the things that supposedly perished, was Robert Houdin's trapeze artist automata "Antonio". But oddly enough, & luckily so for all of us, it's in the hands of John Gaughn. Whitt Smith

  14. Went there when I was about 13, around summer of 1972. I was very sad to learn last week that it burnt down. I was hoping to revisit. What a wonderful thing to have been able to see the water torture unit. Sad that it was mostly destroyed. A true shame. Did we ever learn of the cause of the fire? Was there ever an investigation by the insurance company?

  15. Harry Houdini died on HALLOWEEN, Oct 31, 1926 (88 years ago) .... I was invited to and photographed an official seance at the Houdini Hall of Fame Museum at Niagara Falls Ontario on the 64th anniversary of his death (Oct 31, 1990). The seance was an attempt to bring Houdini back (from the dead) through the medium at the table. Sidney Radner and Henry Muller were two of the participants. I possess the official press release kit and the photographs from that event ..... The Houdini Hall of Fame Museum was destroyed by a fire in 1995. Some of Houdini's stunt props, including his famous water-torture cell, were salvaged and restored ....
    Doug Johnson ....

  16. Hello, I was wondering if you could tell me the dimensions/measurements of the plate glass box that Harry and Bess used in their performances? I'm a writer, currently writing a poem about Bess Houdini, and have seen a fantastic picture of her inside the glass box. It looks pretty tiny! I would love to mention this in the poem, so any info regarding the size of the box would be greatly appreciated! If the poem ever gets published, I will of course send you a copy!

    Many thanks,

    Alex Toms

    1. I'm afraid I don't know the dimensions. Sorry. I'm not even sure what happened to the box.

  17. I visited the museum while on vacation with my family during the summer of 1968. The museum felt very new then, and I loved it. I always hoped to get back there as an adult. It's sad to learn of it's decline and disappearance.

  18. In 1968 I was part of students exchange and I had the luck of being with Henry Muller family for 2 weeks it was a great families and very great time for me, so special,,, I met all the employees and the great magician of the place, Mr. Hugo Furny very tall guy very impressing magical man, Gerry Muller was working at the musium in the morning as a magician and in every afternoon me and Gerry we were going visiting all kind of great other places before going to the motel LaSalle enjoing the swimming pool there wile waiting to be pick up by Henry to go for dinner
    at home, Gerry have a sister name Alice l year yonger it was the trip of lifetime even after I travel all my life this trip was the best, best time, best peoples, best place, I seen it all there thanks to that great Henry Muller family for all those memory of the summer of 68',,, André Côté, story,,,
    Thanks to theme fot then, Love you guy's,,,



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