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Thursday, January 31, 2013

HOUDINI'S ORIGINAL GRAVE BUST REVEALED!

Last week I did a post about the smashing of Houdini's original grave bust in 1975. The destruction of the bust has long been a mystery, but thanks to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton, the real story has come out. Turns out it wasn't the ghost of Houdini who did the deed, just some jerk on PCP.

Today we have another twist in the story. The smashed bust survives! Here are photos of the original marble bust today. The owner, who generously supplied these pics, wishes to remain anonymous. This has not been seen is almost 38 years and I'm thrilled to be able share these images with Houdini buffs everywhere. Pretty haunting, if you ask me.





Thank you "Harry Bust".

UPDATE: S.A.M. breaks (news of) Houdini's bust

48 comments:

  1. As we mentioned on one of our radio shows archived at http://WFTE.org FM and http://DorothyandDick.com this person contacted us about this bust but was afraid to give his identity for whatever reason. It probably should be in the possession of the cemetery, but was acquired by him, it was a he, in some manner that he was reluctant to talk about in detail. He had an unlisted number and never called us back. My guess is the cemetery would have wanted to keep it as they did the broken gravestones of Leopold and Gladys, which we have seen their large storage space.

    Dick Brookz & Dorothy Dietrich
    The Houdini Museum
    The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini.
    Over 22 years.

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  2. Great suff, eh? :)

    By the way, I'm trying to work up a chronology of the busts. I'm tripping up because there was a bust on the grave in 1990 (I saw it). It was gone by 2005. Was it destroyed in the 1993 vandalism? Or removed?

    Here's what I have. Appreciate any help.

    Original bust: Installed 1927. Destroyed by vandals in 1975.
    First SAM replacement: Installed 1976. Stolen in 1983.
    Second SAM replacement: Installed ???. Destroyed/removed ???.
    Scranton Houdini Museum replacement: Installed 2011.

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  3. I wonder what happened to the original bronze sculpture that Houdini had commissioned as the template for the granite bust. You can see a photo of Houdini posing with it in Silverman's Houdini!!!

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    Replies
    1. I believe that's now in Copperfield's collection.

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  4. The second SAM replacement: Oct. 31, 1983. Milbourne Christopher was involved in that ceremony, I believe.

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    1. Ah, cool, thanks Tom. Now we just need to find out what happened to that one and when.

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    2. Sure! I wonder if there was more than one plastic one installed, then destroyed, between 1983 and 2011. Or perhaps one was used on and off each Halloween only for ceremonial purposes but not left there. Thought I remembered reading that on more than one occasion.

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    3. When the pedestal was empty, the SAM would put one up just for the wand breaking ceremony. This went on for many years. But there was what appeared to be permanent bust up there in 1990. I have a pic of it. This wasn't an event, it was just an ordinary day.

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  5. Isn't the original bronze bust in the Museum of the City of New York (donated by Bess)? (The one Houdini had sculptor John Cassidy make for him in 1914?)

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    1. That's the one that toured with Houdini Art and Magic. I thought that was indeed the "original", but now I'm confused as there is a bust, very bronze in color, sitting in front of the USD in Copperfield's museum.

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  6. Good point. One might wonder if Houdini had more than one bronze bust made. Unlikely?

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  7. It looks like all the pieces, or most of the pieces, are there. I would think in this day and age that the bust could be restored.

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    1. Yes, I was thinking that as well. Looks like the nose and eye might be gone. But I'm sure those could be reconstructed.

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  8. It's also interesting to see how weathered the bust was by '75. His name is almost gone. I wonder what it would have looked like today? Ironic to think that we might have less of it if it hadn't been smashed.

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    1. One fix to the story. This bust was made of marble, not granite. Hence the deterioration.

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  9. Amazing as this story is (and it truly is, no question), this bust was not acquired through legitimate channels. Only the legimate heirs of HH (or their assigns), who have been deprived of their rights for the last 40 years, should have possession. Protecting the current "owner" of the bust by allowing them to remain anonymous makes you an accessory John. If they were offering to make amends and hand it back to the family -- or the cemetary... or the NYC SAM at the very least -- that would be one thing. But if they are simply keeping it for themselves with no intention to make whole, then you are a willing shill and an enabler. Caveat: If the current owner proves to be an HH heir then I stand corrected. If not, then this is a farce that needs exposing.

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    1. Well, the owner (and he's anonymous even to me) told me the story of how he acquired it, and what he told me was on the level. But I don't want to speak for him. Just know people care a lot more about this gave site today than they did in 1975.

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    2. I also appreciate that there has been A LOT of controversy and politics swirling around this gravesite between the cemetery, the SAM, the family, and people who have stepped up and paid for the repairs over the years. It's all very sensitive and complicated stuff that I admit I've only partially followed. But as far as this bust goes, I'm just thrilled that it still exists and happy to show it. To me it's history.

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    3. The bust (which is private HH family property) was removed from private cemetary property. The rightful heirs deserve to be notified that their formerly lost property has been located. This is basically a lost/stolen art case, and you are now in the center of it. If nothign else this case should be reported to the NYC art crimes squad.

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    4. Yeah, good point. I'm pretty sure the family visits this blog so, there it is! I don't mind being in the center of this. But I really don't know who has it.

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    5. Were the pics shown here emailed to you? If so, then there is an electronic record the police can trace starting at your computer and working backwards. Plus, the digital photo files have special electronic tags that can be traced (every digital photo has them). As long as you are willing to cooperate with authorities, there are legal steps that can be taken if they conclude a crime has been commited worth following up on. The family may be a part of that process, but it's not a requirement. This bust is lost/stolen art that has wide historical appeal -- not to mention being an extremely valuable object in it's own right. If a tattered HH SJ auctions for $47,000, then how much is this thing worth? It deserves to be repatriated. And frankly, I can't believe I have to school you in ths way over this; you should definitely know better. I'm truly baffled over your apathetic behavior. I'm at a genuine loss. I can't for the life of me believe that this is how you would want to be treated if this was part of your own family legacy.

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    6. Well, there was no crime involved in the story he told me of how he acquired it. (I wanted to tell his story, be he asked that I not.) And if the family/police/whomever want to investigate this, I'll give them everything I have and tell them everything I know, which isn't much more than what I've put right here.

      The only crime I see was the smashing of the bust in the first place. I thought the bust was gone forever. So I'm THRILLED the bust wasn't destroyed and I'm happy to reveal that to Houdini buffs everywhere. Frankly, I'd think the family would be happy to know this as well. Now, should they or the SAM have it? Probably. But you need to go back to decisions made in 1975 to work that out.

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  10. Hi

    Our understanding is all the ones placed at the grave site after this one were light weight hollow plastic, until the one we placed there with full permission of the relatives of Houdini as well as the management of the cemetery. We did not ask the Parent Assembly, because when we were in NYC, many years prior, and suggested they replace the bust we were told they 'felt it was a bad idea". We are sure for various reasons there were more than one "plastic" ones made, which we believe were cast from the bronze one that was borrowed from the Museum of the City of New York by the Parent Assembly of the SAM.

    The one DC has, according to what we have been told, DC got when he was pressured to put up the money he had promised to restore parts of the grave that were in disrepair in many ways because of neglect by the Parent Assembly of the SAM. Sadly, both the Parent Assembly and the National have made lots of money over the years in many ways thanks to Mr. Houdini's promotion and hard work. Both have lots in the bank that could have been used to help this neglected important magic landmark. After being insulted by the SAM in the New York Times the management even put up a metal engraved sign attesting to the neglect by the Parent Assembly, two of which "magically" disappeared.

    We have been told (?) the one Copperfield got was given to him the Parent Assembly as part of the deal, but with the understanding no one else would get one.

    It was after all this that we decided to act.

    More of this can be heard in our WFTE FM radio show series which is being archived over time at http://DorothyAndDick.com

    Some pictures of the restoration can be seen at http://HoudiniCommandos.com and on youtube.

    Dorothy Dietrich & Dick Brookz
    The Houdini Museum
    The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini
    Over 22 years, plus many years on the third floor of New York's Magic Towne House

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    1. Interesting info on the Copperfield bust. Thank you.

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  11. Hi;

    We would be more than happy to provide a place to display this long missing historic art piece in our The Houdini Museum along side our reproductions to the general public until these matters are cleared up.

    Dorothy Dietrich & Dick Brookz
    The Houdini Museum
    The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini
    Over 22 years, plus many years on the third floor of New York's Magic Towne House

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    1. It would be great to have it displayed somewhere.

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  12. I'm still confused about the original bronze bust. The SAM gave Copperfield a bronze bust, and there is another one in the Museum of New York?

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  13. The one at the Museum of the City of New York is the original bronze one given to them by Bess. The one Copperfield has is a replica.

    Dorothy Dietrich & Dick Brookz
    The Houdini Museum
    The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini
    Over 22 years, plus many years on the third floor of New York's Magic Towne House

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  14. Thank you Dick and Dorothy for clearing that up!

    Bada Bing!

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  15. Yes, thank you Dick and Dorothy. The New York bust toured with Art and Magic, so I'm happy to have seen the original.

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  16. Just to throw a monkey wrench into everything....

    There is also a Houdini bust that is passed on to the current Parent Assembly president of the SAM. This and a Houdini scrapbook from Bess. Where they are and how intact they, I don't know.

    The Parent Assembly holds the deed to the Houdini plot, not any now distant family member.

    And if the broken bust was tossed out in the trash, it would be up for grabs would be my guess. If it was stolen, which I don't think it was, a statute of limitations would come into play.

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    1. Kevin, do you know when the SAM acquired the deed to the plot? I've always wondered about that SAM symbol on the exedra. Was that really Houdini's idea? It was added in '27, I believe, along with the bust.

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  17. I don't when they acquired the deed, but they had it back in the 1970's when I was a member. The bust and symbol were probably added at the one year anniversary of his death. I'm pretty sure it's a Jewish custom to wait that time period for the stone work for Harry. Being only "Honorary Jewish", I leave that for others to better explain it.

    Look in the Brandon book to see Houdini sitting on the marble at the mason's shop. Below it is a picture of Houdini with the bust. On the next page is a picture of the bust at the grave. Maybe it's the angle of the photo, but the bust looks different than the one Houdini is posing with.

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    1. The bust Houdini is posing with is the original bronze. The grave bust is a marble copy. The caption is wrong, it's not "the bust destined for his tomb". I know, hard to believe there could be a mistake in Brandon. ;p

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  18. I don't know about copy though. I just think they are different looking versus being a copy of the other.

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    1. Oh, I've always been under the impression that the grave bust was cast from a mold made from the bronze, but maybe not?

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    2. My guess would be the one put on in 1927 either came from England or the company that built the Exedra.

      I believe the one the Parent Assembly has is one of the hollow "plastic" recovered ones. My understanding is that the rare, historic Presidents Book is from Bess (I may be wrong on this). My understanding is also that a lot of rare documents, etc. from the Presidents book is missing, ie stolen.

      As to the remaining broken bust, there may be no statute of limitations on stolen art work, if that is the case.

      Dorothy Dietrich & Dick Brookz
      The Houdini Museum
      The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini
      Over 22 years, plus many years on the third floor of New York's Magic Towne House

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  19. OK, so we are all so THRILLED to see the long lost artifact that we don't care who has it, how they got it, or what they plan to do with it. We are content to let them remain anonymous so long as they tell us a story (that it impossible to verify). What ever happend to skepticism? What ever happened to making someone prove their claims? Do we really sell out all semblance of principle now for a set of digital photos? HH must be spinning in his grave...

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    1. Well, that's why you are here. It's good to have someone ready and able to throw in a splash of skepticism and reminded us all of the larger issues -- legal and moral -- with something like this. And you're even allowed to do so anonymously. :)

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  20. I think I'm done here. Once we start replying to Assnonymous postings, it goes down hill to internet troll town.


    I enjoyed your site.

    Good Luck,

    Kevin

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  21. i read on Wikipedia that it was a graven image and that its a shock a Jewish cemitary would allow it to be setup. wouldn't a graven image consist of being worshiped not just a token of rememberence?

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    1. Yeah, that has been pointed out. It is a little odd that the bust was allowed.

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  22. If the SAM has the deed to the grave site it is their responsibility to pay for the upkeep of the cemetery. They have not done so for decades.

    Dorothy Dietrich & Dick Brookz
    The Houdini Museum
    The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini
    Over 22 years, plus many years on the third floor of New York's Magic Towne House

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  23. A little update. The email I used to communicate with "Harry Bust" no longer works. Looks like he and his bust have gone back underground. All very curious indeed.

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