Wednesday, January 11, 2012

This is J. Gordon Whitehead

This is the only known photo of Jocelyn Gordon Whitehead, the McGill University student who punched Houdini in his dressing room at the Princess Theater in Montreal on October 22, 1926. Whitehead's blows either started, contributed, or covered-up (lots of debate about this) the appendicitis that would take Houdini's life nine days later on Halloween.

J. Gordon Whitehead circa 1950.

This photo comes from The Man Who Killed Houdini by Don Bell, a MUST read for anyone interested in the events of 10/22/26. It shows Whitehead in Rodick's Bookstore in Montreal around 1950. Bell says Whitehead was 31 when he delivered the blows, so this would put him in his mid 50s here.

Sort of ironic that Whitehead is holding a book here. Returning a borrowed book was how he gained entry to Houdini's dressing room that fateful day. He was also charged with shoplifting books twice in 1928.

According to Bell, the troubled Whitehead died a recluse and hoarder in 1954. He is buried in an unmarked plot in Hawthorn-Dale Cemetery in Montreal, Canada.

Thanks to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton for this image scan. 

UPDATE: Is this J. Gordon Whitehead at McGill in 1926?

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30 comments:

  1. His unmarked grave on "Find A Grave": http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?GRid=11432883&page=gr

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    1. HOW DO YOU KNOW THIS IS WHITEHEAD IF THE GRAVE IS UNMARKED?

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    2. Cemeteries keep records of who is buried in which number plot. It sometimes occurs that a grave goes unmarked. A headstone is an expense some can't afford. Ed Saint also has no marker, as we discovered a while back.

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    3. Did whitehead get fined for punching Houdini?

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    4. No. There were never any charges for anything brought against him. It was considered an accident.

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  2. Interesting. Thank you, Joe. Funny they call him a boxer. He wasn't. That's part of the myth. Bell and Smiley both say he was a divinity student.

    You know, as he died in '54, I wonder if he ever crept out into the night to see the Tony Curtis Houdini movie? If so, what thoughts must have been going through his mind?

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  3. Well if we're giving out sites for Whiteheads grave, go here http://deadconjurers.blogspot.com/2011/01/j-gordon-whitehead-man-who-killed.html
    This is my Dead Conjurers site. Interestingly, Whiteheads grave has received more hits than all the magicians graves combined, even Houdini's.

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    1. Thanks Dean. I had forgotten you posted this last year. I've linked to it in my post.

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  4. What's an unknown nothing like Whitehead doing with borrowed books from one of the most famous people in the world? Is there any info concerning how these two met and how he got to borrow books from Houdini? Seems weird that HH knew this guy well enough to let him borrow books!

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  5. You know why no one answered that? Who is asking?
    Anonymous posts don't belong on a site like this.

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  6. Oh, I don't mind Anonymous comments. Some people are still spooked about putting their names online.

    I've wondered about the book(s). Did Whitehead and Houdini meet before? It's just one of the outstanding mysteries.

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  7. Patrick needs to relax. Why would anyone care if someone is called anonymous, Bill, Tom or anything else? I have no issues having my name on here but never thought it necessary. We are talking about incidents that occurred nearly 90 or more years ago not the secrets of the CIA! Many have responded to my posts including you in the past. Anyway.....they must have met prior to Houdinis dressing room if he was returning books to him. On another subject my wife is a nurse for many years and the idea of the punches to the gut causing an eventual infected and ruptured appendix is a real possibility. She said that several doctors she works with had seen this type condition over the years.

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  8. One tiny comment regarding the first line "the only known photo of J.Gordon Whitehead". John, you've actually got an older post on Whitehead and a photo there that was on the cover of some sort of program. So maybe the photo here is the last known photo of Whitehead. http://www.wildabouthoudini.com/2011/02/j-gordon-whitehead-takes-stage.html

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    1. Oh, that's not Whitehead. That's a fictional book with just a pic of some dude. A Whitehead stand-in.

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    2. I'm a very distance relative of Whitehead and I see no resemblance to anyone whiteheads in the family from this photo.
      john williams

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    3. You are aware "John Williams" that features change throughout the generations yes? My brother for example looks nothing like our father, he is a spitting image of mum.

      The only way you'd see resemblance, seeing as you say distant relative, to your whiteheads and this whitehead is if they kept marriage "very close" as in married their cousins. Given as whitehead was obviously a coward, I wouldn't be surprised if incest happened there.

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  9. just imagine how he must have felt, i`m not saying i don't blame him but after the incident he just vanished. Then when he died his grave was unmarked and now it`s just covered in grass :/

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  10. Whitehead allegedly asked Houdini if it was true that he could be punched in the stomach without harm, then unloaded a barrage of blows on the magician's midsection. Why did he ask that particular question? I find it very curious that a man who apparently knew Houdini well enough to borrow his personal property i.e. books from him, would not also know about Houdini's famed ability to withstand blows to the stomach! I find Whitehead's actions to be highly suspicious. We've all heard the speculation that Whitehead may have been a hit-man sent by the mediums that Houdini angered. Perhaps there's something to it after all!

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    1. With all due respect, who is gonna hire a hitman that uses gut punches instead of bullets?

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  11. Was Milbourne Christopher the first to divulge Whitehead's name as the assailant or was it revealed in an earlier Houdini biography? The Christopher book is the only older biography I know of to divulge the name. Many books just referred to him as a "McGill University student."

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  12. A magazine article by Sam Smiley revealed Whitehead's name in 1953.

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    1. Actually, the article in the September 12, 1953 "Weekend Magazine" was by Stanley Handman. But Smiley was the source who revealed Whitehead's name in his interview with Handman. I'd like to read that article. Very important piece of Houdini history.

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  13. Here is the 1953 article from Weekend Magazine. As I have only seen a typewritten transcription, I can only assume that Handman gave his column that week to Smiley. You will recognize descriptions later used by Christopher, Silverman and others.
    http://www.houdinisghost.com/smiley1953.html

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  14. It's been a while but I hope someone can answer my question: did Whitehead get prosecuted/arrested for Houdini's death?

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    1. No. He was deposed along with the other 2 boys in the room at the time, but it was deemed an accident. No charges.

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  15. ESE ERA UN ABUSADOR

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  16. My theological analysis from an over arching world view:

    Harry Houdini who was a master illusionist and who's main area of expertise was escaping from a myriad of man made traps, bindings etc... the reality is this; he couldn't escape death. Harry Houdini was not going to live forever, everyone dies and I believe that whichever way he died people would still expect him to escape death and be upset over his loss.

    For his persona was one of generating admiration from the people by escaping when it seemed impossible, this is proven by the fact that even to this day people still attend seances to see if he will escape from that final judgement of his. But remember what he said: "I'm tired of fighting."

    Now about his death. The man seemingly set up his own death through his own pride. He prided himself in his ab muscles so he challenged people to punch him. I actually believe that he challenged Whitehead, this not just because of witness reports but because of the fact that he made such an effort to make it seem like Whiteheads punches didn't actually hurt him. He didn't cancel the show and didn't seek medical attention right away for fear that if he did that Whitehead would find out that "he got him" and then his pride would be deflated and it would be a slashing to his unsoiled name.

    God set up his death so that there is a lot of irony. I believe that throughout history God makes statements that those who have "ears to hear" will be able to understand. The master of escape... not killed by a mere punch but by a trap of his own making which he couldn't escape from because of his own pride and inflated ego.

    Now... what was the real important message to the world. Just before he got his fatal blow he was asked a simple question that most people seem to ignore or gloss over. Houdini was asked what he thought of the miracles in the Bible. He answered in a way that implies that the miracles in the Bible were just well performed tricks that people in the past were just too ignorant to know what was really going on. This consists with Houdini's world view because although he was of Jewish descent he didn't practice Judaism but rather practiced free masonry. He was an unbeliever.

    So the summary is this. Harry Houdini did not believe in the gospel or in man's need to escape from the shackles of sin and death through Christ. The master escape artist did not believe that he needed to escape from the most important thing that needed to escaping from. This butts heads with God's message to the world. Well we all know how the story ends. Do not make the same mistake.

    Do not get me wrong. As a person Harry Houdini was indeed a marvel. Someone who was extremely skilled and worthy of respect. I am also sure that if I lived in his time that I would be amazed if I watched one of his shows but the fact of the matter is that the eternal destiny of our souls are more important than our entertainment and God has made this clear through out history more often then not.

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    1. Actually, Houdini did not answer Whitehead's question about miracles in the Bible. He waved the question off. In fact, in Houdini's program, it specifically states that he will not answer questions about the Bible. He knew this was spiritualistic bait.

      A lot of people think because Houdini was a skeptic he must have been an atheist or what you call an "unbeliever." He wasn't. Again and again he expressed a belief in God, even under oath in front of Congress. Your reference to free masonry is interesting because Houdini actually equated belief in God as being a necessary part of being a Mason. Here are two exact quotes from his congressional testimony:

      Houdini: "[I] believe in premonition absolutely, but, not in spiritualism…I believe in the subconscious mind, in the hereafter, in the Almighty God."

      Houdini: "My religion and my belief in the Almighty have been assailed. I stated yesterday that I do believe in the Almighty. I have always believed and I will always believe. I am a Mason, and you must believe in God to be a Mason."

      But I appreciate you sharing your worldview take on this and how Houdini's life and death could have been part of God's plan. It doesn't quite resonate for me. Unlike Houdini, I am an atheist. But it might resonate for others. So thank you.

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    2. Well handled John, you are a class act, Harry would be proud.

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