Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Connecticut estate of Leo Weiss?


Just when we solve the mystery of one Houdini Mansion, here comes another.

According to Virtual Globetrotting, a massive estate in Ridgefield, Connecticut, known as The Highmeadow Estate, has been taken off the market after being listed for sale in 2008 for $7,490,000. The description on the page, which appears to have been taken from this 2007 auction listing, says the home once belonged to "magician Harry Houdini's brother."

Unfortunately, it doesn't specificity which brother, but I think it could only be Leopold Weiss, who became successful as one of New York's first radiologists. Bill Kalush in The Secret Life of Houdini confirms that "Doc" Weiss had "a huge Connecticut estate."

Of course, Leo was also the brother Houdini ostracized for reasons that are somewhat vague. The general belief is that because Leo married the divorced wife of his older brother, Nathan, Houdini believed the family scandal contributed to his mother's death. However, looking at this house, could Leo's real crime have been that he was every bit as successful as Houdini?

But this house also presents us with an entirely new "Houdini mansion" mystery. The listing states that the house was also owned by actor Robert Vaughn. But Vaughn told our friend and Houdini expert Patrick Culliton -- who worked with the actor on Kung Fu: The Legend Continues -- that he owned Houdini's Connecticut home. Patrick assumed that Leo later took over the estate, which Houdini dubbed the "Weiss farm."

Trouble with this is according to Gresham (Houdini The Man Who Walked Through Walls) Houdini's Connecticut "farm", which he purchased around the same time as 278, was in Stamford. This property is in Ridgefield. Also, this house is said to have been originally built for John Stokes, the U.S. Ambassador to the Court of Saint James, in 1910.

The Highmeadow Estate is located on 5.67 acres and is one of the largest homes and most expensive homes in all of Fairfield County. You can check out more pics of the house here.

UPDATE: Dean Carnegie has confirmed that, yes, this is Leopold's house. In fact, Dean did a nice blog post about it back in December 2010. Thanks, Dean!

15 comments:

  1. Did anyone check to see if there are personalised tiles in the bathroom? That might answer the question ... ;)

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  2. WOAH! That is one classy mansion! I wouldn't be surprised if Houdini was maybe a little jealous (if, indeed, it was Leo's estate.) Why the competitiveness towards Leo, though? Houdini and Dash were in the same business, and they seem to have gotten along fine. If anything, you'd think there would have been a rivalry between THEM?

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  3. Yes, this is Leopold's house. I wrote about this on my blog a long ways back. You are correct, it's different from the Houdini farm which as far as I know there are no photos of. I looked and looked for photos and even a definative location for the farm but I only got as far as it being located on Webbs Hill Road in Stamford CT.

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    1. Ah, thank you, Dean. Sorry, I didn't remember your blog post.

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    2. Gack! I even commented on that post. Senility... I've updated the article. Thanks Dean.

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    3. I can't tell you how many of your old blog posts I've read while thinking, 'wow this is fantastic, I've never heard this before' and then discovering that I had commented on it in the past,LOL. It happens and it's a wonder it doesn't happen more often really.

      I sure wish we could get a picture of the Houdini Farm House, but I have no idea if the building is still there and which property on Webbs Hill Road it is.

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  4. Wow.

    Correct me if I am wrong. I do not believe Houdini made the kind of money to be able to own and keep up such an opulent country estate.

    David Copperfield should buy it for his collection.

    Dick Brookz
    Houdini Museum

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  5. I live a couple hours from Stamford. What would be the odds if I ask a local about the Houdini house that they would know where it is or was?

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  6. Leopold later committed suicide in 1964. I understand from the Kalush bio that he lost his fortune. Anybody have more details?

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    1. I'm really not sure about the details of Leo's fall. I think he got wiped out in the crash of '29 -- divorce -- illness. He was blind or nearly blind when he took his life.

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  7. Amazing to think that as late as 1964 we could talk with Houdinis brother. Wonder had he not died as he did in 26 when would have Houdini died?

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  8. After reading Houdini; a Mind in Chains (and after being a younger brother, hehe) I believe that Houdini resented Leopold for succeeding at a more "conventional" life for a nice Jewish boy: i.e. an MD, lots of money and a Jewish wife (correct me on the last if necessary; was Leopold's wife a Jew or did he also marry out?)

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  9. A bit late, perhaps, but here's a little more info/feedback to add to the mix:

    Another source to back the claim that it was Leo's house:

    "Few people in this section were aware that Dr. Weiss, who has a beautiful home on West Mountain, Ridgefield, was a brother of the great magician."
    The Norwalk Hour (Norwalk, Connecticut), Nov. 16, 1926, p. 4

    And here's a source claiming Houdini visited Leo at the mansion "frequently" (note that the estate was once referred to as "Sunset Hall"):

    "In telling the story of Sunset Hall, it was noted that Harry Houdini was a frequent weekend visitor to this fabulous estate. It was owned at the time by Houdini's brother, Dr. Leopold Weiss."
    The Ridgefield Press, Dec. 3, 1987, Section D

    Also, it's conceivable that Houdini did own the property first, then sold it to Leo. Maybe Gresham noted the general area since Stamford and Ridgefield are less than 20 miles away from each other (Webbs Hill Rd. is only about 15 miles, or about 30 minutes, from Ridgefield). It seems many writers do that: give a general vicinity, such as saying such-and-such lives in "Dallas" or "the Dallas area" instead of McKinney, Texas. Of course, records of real-estate transactions, if they exist, would shed some light on the matter.

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