Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Meet the man who sleeps in Houdini's bed

Jon Oliver and Ruth Kavanaugh in 1975.

There are a handful of Houdini mega collectors out there who have some beautiful items to be sure. But only Jon Oliver sleeps in Houdini's bed every night!

That's because Jon, who is a magician and escape artist in his own right, became friendly with the Houdini family in 1975 when he met Houdini's niece, Ruth Kavanaugh (who passed away last year). Over the next three decades not only did Jon acquired a great deal of first hand knowledge about Houdini from the family, but he was also able to acquire incredible personal artifacts, such as Bessie's jewelry, the French Letter Handcuff (from the Kleppini challenge), and, yes, Houdini's bed!

Jon is now sharing his formidable collection (as well as artifacts from his own career) at his website, jonolivermagic.com. Not only can you view the Houdini furniture and the French Letter Cuff, etc., but Jon has also posted an album of photographs that will melt your brain. On these pages are shots of Houdini I have never seen, such as Houdini being bound to a stake by two indian chiefs; Houdini and Bess with Gloria Swanson; and Houdini in his mail room with the two Julies (Karcher and Sawyer) and Bessie's brother, John Rahner. The pics are small and low res, but gold flakes are still gold!

I also can't help but notice what Jon has written in the website's footer: "There is no copyright to this site. Magic and the memory of Houdini's contribution to magic and escapes belong to the world!"

When I myself met Houdini's niece, Marie Blood, this was very much her attitude, and one of the reasons there is no legal "Houdini Estate" today. She believed her Uncle Harry belonged to the world. She might have even used those exact words. It's nice to see Jon carrying forward the generosity and openness of the Houdini family. Maybe that's why they have entrusted him with so many of their family treasures.

Click here to browse Jon Oliver's website.

17 comments:

  1. I'm still discovering photos I have never seen before! There's one of Houdini at a golf course with Martin Beck and two other guys.

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    1. Yes, the golf course shot with Beck! Houdini on a golf course. That's a first.

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    2. Golf course pic...

      http://www.wildabouthoudini.com/2013/02/houdini-golfer.html

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  2. I miss my aunt she had a great deal knowledge she new Dough Henning when he did the magic show on broadway she use to have him over the house and show him all the Houdini stuff.

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    1. I recall Henning talking about that. Also so much of the wonderful material in his book came from your aunt.

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  3. Amazing! Just when I think you cannot discover anything new you come up with another gem. I wish he would release some of these pictures to your web site so they could be a bit clearer.

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  4. Wow! That is an incredible collection. I am so glad for people like you and Jon, that share thier Houdini treasures with the rest of us.

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  5. Can someone tell me .....the second picture that seems to show many people in an inside pool...what's going on here? It does not look like the Shelton pool or is it? Secondly is that actually Houdini leaping from that very tall diving platform? It looks like he is way up there! Some dive! Lastly I see again Houdini within that glass topped box. Has it been resolved whether that's a living or dead Houdini inside that box? What does Oliver think?

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    1. Jon himself commented on that story. Check it out:

      http://www.wildabouthoudini.com/2011/07/uncovering-houdinis-third-air-tight.html

      Not sure if that's the Shelton pool. It might be, just they've moved to the end of the pool for the picture. That high dive picture is featured in Christopher's Pictorial Life and is identified as Houdini.

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  6. Amazing stuff. Is there a picture of the Faberge champagne ladle anywhere?

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    1. Don't know. That's a question for Jon, I think.

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  7. I remember reading somewhere that Houdini played a little recreational golf. Obviously from that photograph, Houdini and Beck stayed on friendly terms until his death. Did Houdini keep a set of golf clubs? Maybe.

    I believe that pool shot is at the Shelton pool. It looks closely like that Shelton pool photo that John published here a few years ago. The area had rows of support columns near the edge of the pool. There's also a photo of Houdini standing with a gentleman on the sidewalk. I think that's Harry Day and they're in London.

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    1. I believe you mean this post:

      http://www.wildabouthoudini.com/2011/02/new-perspective-on-shelton-test.html

      You right, it does look like Jon's pic is also the Shelton pool.

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  8. I've been comparing both of the photos and the architecture does not match exactly. There is a second story balcony in both photos, but the fencing on each one is different. The columns in Jon's photo appear larger, more ornate than the ones in the Houdini photo where he's getting his blood pressure checked. Without a more photos of the Shelton area, I can't be sure.

    In Jon's photo, the bathers have black swimming clothes, while in the Houdini photo, they appear to be grey. If it's the Shelton pool, it might be from a different time altogether.

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    1. Good catch on the bathing suits. Houdini did a few trail tests before that big test in front of press and guests, so it could be from one of those. I would say this could be the Worcester YMCA test -- they had black bathing suits during that -- but there are no columns in the one known photo from that event.

      http://www.wildabouthoudini.com/2010/01/uncovering-houdinis-forgotten-second.html

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