Part One TONIGHT at 9/8c on HISTORY

Friday, September 30, 2011

The mystery of Carrie Gladys Weiss

We know she was almost totally blind from a childhood accident. We know she lived with the Houdinis at 278 for many years. We know that her voice is contained on one of the unreleased Houdini wax cylinder recordings. But aside from this, we know almost nothing about Carrie Gladys Weiss, Houdini's sister and the youngest Weiss sibling. We don't even know exactly when she died.

Now, professional writer and historian, Ann Etheridge, has sent me an email with what could be a major discovery. Did Houdini's sister live to age 100 and die in 1982?

Ann uncovered evidence of Gladys' long life on Ancestry.com (here's the link for those who are members). The listing shows her as being born in Wisconsin in 1882 (check), living in New York City in 1900 at age 18 (check), residing in "Manhattan Ward 12, New York, New York" in 1910 at age 28 (?), and dying at age 100 in 1982. There is no citation for her death, but Ann has sent an email to the person who provided the Ancestry entry asking about the date and the proof.

If this is accurate, it would be remarkable, but also perplexing. If Gladys Weiss was alive into the 1980s, how is it the major Houdini historians of the day, such as Sidney Radner, Milbourne Christopher, or Manny Weltman never tracked her down and interviewed her?

Dean Carnegie of Carnegie: Magic Detective also did a little digging on Ancestry and says he's turned up several profiles listing Carrie Gladys Weiss; two show her dying in 1982 and one in 1943 (same year as Bessie's death). None have documentation for the death date. In his self published book Benjilini on Houdini (1994), author The Great Benjilini, who takes a keen interest in Houdini's family and Jewish heritage, says Gladys died in 1958, but gives no source for the information and notes it with a question mark.

The real answer may lie in Bernard C. Meyer's Houdini A Mind in Chains (1976), a controversial book with provocative theories, but one that I find a remarkable source of information. On page 5 Meyer says Gladys suffered her "final illness" in January 1959. He cites hospital records in which Gladys, via dictation, says she was born in France (!) and that her profession was "ghost-writer". Meyer says the truth was Gladys had been supported by her brother Leopold for many years.

I'm prone to believe this 1959 date, not only because I respect Meyer's research, but also due to the fact that Gladys is buried in the family plot at Machpelah Cemetery. (Her undated headstone, along with Leopold's, were removed after they were damaged by vandalism and have yet to be restored.) While Gladys herself could have remained hidden from Houdini buffs for all these years, I don't think anyone would have missed a fresh interment at the Machpelah plot in 1982! Also, Gladys' headstone is very much in the same style as Leopold's, who took his own life on October 6, 1962.

Still, the idea of Gladys living undiscovered until in 1982...pretty cool.

Gladys photo from 'Houdini His Legend and His Magic' (1977) by Doug Henning and Charles Reynolds.

UPDATE: Patrick Culliton in Houdini The Key lists Gladys' death as October 1972. He got his info from the New York State death index. This should have been included in the above and was a huge omission on my part. Sorry, Patrick.

UPDATE 2: Our friend Tom Interval has solved the mystery of Gladys' death date. Looks like Meyer had it right. She died in mid January 1959. Check out Houdini Museum for the details. Thanks Tom!

22 comments:

  1. Are Gladys and Leopold really buried in the Houdini plot?

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    1. "Kevin Connolly
      Sep 30, 2011 09:38 AM

      "Are Gladys and Leopold really buried in the Houdini plot?"

      Yes! Because of the cemetery asking us to adopt the upkeep of the grave, because of our restoring the Houdini bust, such as trying to keep the grass cut there, and other work we do, they brought out the damaged headstones for us to see. We are looking for donations to restore them.

      We are also looking for people to join our "Houdini Commandos" to help keep Houdini's wish to restore and upkeep the graves of magicians around the world.

      Dick Brookz & Dorothy Dietrich
      Houdini Museum
      Scranton, PA
      http://Houdini.org

      Delete
  2. Yep. That was actually news to me as well. But check out the Benjilini book. He shows exactly where the graves are/where. Also check out this 1996 NYT article. The guy who controls the plot says he has the broken stones and is "looking for someone to restore them.'' Apparently the Copperfield donation only paid for the benches.

    http://www.nytimes.com/1996/11/24/nyregion/houdinis-plot-is-cleared-up-and-then-thickens.html

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  3. ..i've always wanted to know more about Gladys, she seems to be overlooked in just about every book i've read...this is a cool bit of info...

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  4. Thanks gang. But my thanks go to Ann Etheridg. She sent me down this Gladys trail. Yeah, we need to know more about good old Gladys. Think we might also need to launch two new campaigns -- "Release the Gladys tapes!" and "Restore the stone!"

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  5. I've been wondering WHY the parts of the wax cylinder recording (the one that features Houdini's speech for the water torture cell) that have not been released are just sitting around unreleased. Does it really cost so much money to get it out? Does the owner not give a crap? Or is there something in the recordings someone just doesn't want out for public inspection?

    In any case, this is a very cool article. It would be nice to get the full scope on Houdini's siblings. And wow, I had no idea both she and Leo were buried in Machpelah! :O

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  6. Hello, this is Ann Etheridge. I thought I should update that the person whose Ancestry tree stated Gladys died in the 1980s wrote me back and said that he did not know where he had gotten the date from and could not find any documentation to support it. He was going to remove the date from the tree.

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  7. Well, Bess's stone is there and she's not there. As for Leopold, from what I read about Jewish cemetery customs, Leopold would have to be buried in a different part of the cemetery because of his suicide and not with the family.

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  8. I wanted to leave a comment earlier but flubbed it somehow. Having another shot.

    Like Cat and Beth, I've always wondered about Gladys. In many books she seems to be referenced only peripherally. Am I right in thinking that she lived a fairly sheltered life and may even have been institutionalised towards the end?

    There was a mention of her in Secret Life having been scalded as a child and that Mama somehow blamed herself for it but I haven't gotten round to looking that up further yet. I assume there will be a reference to it in the follow up notes for that book.

    Thanks as always for the interesting read.

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  9. Melbo--I also saw that line in the Secret Life book and I was frustrated because there was no source referenced. It left an impression, frankly, that they were making stuff up. As a historian, I found that very disappointing.

    Perhaps, if anyone has those two additional volumes, they could look in them to see there there is something mentioned about Carrie Gladys Weiss and what that may be.

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  10. Here is another twist. Patrick Culliton's book HOUDINI -The Key, on page 16, shows Gladys died Oct 1972 in Lynnbrook NY

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  11. Oh my, he sure does. I thought Pat told me he got his Gladys info from Ancestry. I'll check this out with him.

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  12. melbo & lisby -- I checked Secrets of Houdini Laid Bare and the source of the boiling water accident story is: "M. Samuel White letter to Ken Silverman, July 24, 1993, cited in the Silverman notes deposited in the Houdini Historical Center at the Outagamie Museum, Appleton, Wisconsin."

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  13. The great Kevin Connolly over at Houdini Himself has thrown his hat into the ring on this one (although I'm not 100% convinced that pic is Gladys -- I think those are all Rahners).

    http://houdinihimself.com/?p=3634

    I'm very surprised at how this Gladys post has caught fire!

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  14. Thanks for checking that reference, John. Much appreciated.

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  15. No prob, melbo. Thing is, who is M. Samuel White and why should we believe him? Silverman didn't include this story in his book, btw.

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  16. According to her Harry Hardeen, Gladys Weiss, and his sister
    Gladys Hardeen both died in the fifties.
    Gladys Hardeen is seem in several pics as an assistant to her
    father, and was ingaged to Doug Geoffreys at the time of Hardeens death.
    Carry Gladys Weiss was legally blind from birth,and blamed her father for this. She was under the impression he was to
    old to have children, and this is why she was blind.
    Jon Oliver

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    1. Very interesting, Jon. Thanks. Wasn't it written somewhere that the cause of her blindness was a childhood accident? Scalding water from stove or something like this. It's always been vague. But hearing that she was blind from birth and blamed her father...very interesting.

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  17. The record Pat mentioned also can be found on the following page, which lists three people named Carrie Weiss whose last residence was New York: http://tinyurl.com/carrieweiss

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    1. Cool. Thank you, Tom. It shows that Carrie as being born in 1885, so it might not be our girl. In fact, none of the Carrie's on that page show an 1882 birth and a 1959 death.

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  18. when I was young my father used to tell me stories about him taking my great aunt, who was also blind to a school for the blind. I wished I would have asked more questions. He grew up in Brooklyn NY. and I remember visiting my aunt many years ago in NY but I don't remember where she lived. My fathers name was Nelson Irving Stephen King. I wished I knew more. Darlene King-McEldowney

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