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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Homeless Houdini

Once again Houdini has appeared on a Top 10 list, but this time this list is somewhat unusual. Houdini comes in at #7 on Prafulla.net's list of 10 Celebrities Who Were Once Homeless. Others on the list include Daniel Craig, Halle Berry, Sylvester Stallone and Jim Carrey (who once named Houdini as one of the historical figures he'd most like to meet).

Of course, the website is talking about Houdini's days as a runaway. At age 12 Houdini ran away from his Milwaukee home and is said to have lived by his wits for an amazing two years. The website states that, "during his two year journey, he had to live in streets, had to camp outside in the open or sometimes stay in shelters."

The truth is, precious little is known about Houdini's years as a runaway, in which he apparently went by the name of Harry White. You would think Houdini would have later spun some fanciful mythology around his exploits on the road, much as Disney did in their film, Young Harry Houdini. But Houdini remained conspicuously quite about this period of his life. It's hard to fathom why a boy so devoted to his mother and family would run away in the first place.

The only incident Houdini would later relate was how he was discovered sleeping on the streets by a kindly couple, the Flitcrofts, who took him into their their Delavan, Wisconsin home. Years later the adult and now famous Houdini would return to the Flitcrofts with a mink coat as thanks. (You can see a photo of Houdini and Mrs. Flitcroft wearing her mink in Kellock, page 37).

There is also the postcard that young Ehrich Weiss sent home to his mother and later annotated on the back (below). This famous memento of his runaway days recently toured with the Houdini Art and Magic exhibition. It is now back in the collection of the Library of Congress.


I've always thought the reason we know so little about this time might be because Houdini was somewhat ashamed of these days, especially as he appears to have failed in his purpose to "earn some money." It also might have proven to be a harrowing and humbling experience for him that was best forgotten. But as with others on this list, it probably helped give him the drive to never experience such hardship again.

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