Friday, August 23, 2013

Here are the missing headstones for Gladys and Leopold Weiss

Yesterday I posted a 1996 article from the New York Times about the troubled upkeep of Houdini's grave. The article mentioned the headstones belonging to Houdini's siblings Leopold and Gladys which have not been seen since they were damaged by vandalism in 1993. The Times article stated that "some members of the Society [of American Magicians] say they believe that Mr. Jacobson has hidden them, or worse, sold them off to collectors."

Well, that's not true, and here's the proof. Here are the headstones as photographed by our friends Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton. David Jacobson, the manager of Machpelah Cemetery (which went bankrupt in 1987 and is now state owned), has kept them safe in storage until funds can be raised to have them replaced.


The obvious question is why the stones weren't replaced during the 1995 restoration with the $25,000 raised by the S.A.M. with the help of David Copperfield and James Randi? Unfortunately, I don't have the answer to that, and the S.A.M. no longer provides money for the upkeep of Houdini's grave. There has also been some recent friction among the parties who have in the past looked after the plot, so at the moment there are no plans to restore these markers.

Hopefully a way to raise the necessary funds will be found and Gladys and Leopold will get their headstones back in place. It's really a shame that these graves have remained unmarked for 20 years. In fact, we are in danger of a generation not even knowing that Gladys and Leo are buried with their family and big brother Houdini.


Grave timeline:
  • 1916: Houdini erects plot and exedra in memory of his parents.
  • November 4, 1926: Houdini is buried in plot.
  • 1927: S.A.M. holds memorial service and unveils Houdini bust by John Cassidy (and exedra S.A.M. emblem?).
  • April 1975: Original Houdini bust is smashed by vandals.
  • Spring 1976: S.A.M. replaces Houdini bust with replica.
  • August 1983: Second Houdini bust is stolen. Replaced by S.A.M. with replica.
  • 1987: Machpelah Cemetery goes into bankruptcy. State takes ownership.
  • November 1990: Third Houdini bust is stolen. (Replaced?)
  • 1993: Benches smashed and Gladys/Leopold headstones damaged.
  • 1996: Grave is restored with funds raised by the S.A.M. with help from David Copperfield and James Randi. Houdini bust and Gladys/Leopold headstones are not replaced.
  • March 2002: Police recover bust stolen in 1983 (returned to S.A.M. in 2011).
  • 2007: S.A.M. stops paying for the upkeep of the plot.
  • September 2011: Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz replace Houdini bust with replica.
  • January 2013: Anonymous owner shares photos of original smashed bust on WILD ABOUT HARRY.
  • UPDATE: December, 2013: S.A.M. announces it will resume paying for the upkeep of the Houdini gravesite.

Thanks to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton for allowing me to share these photos.

21 comments:

  1. I can clearly see the damage to Gladys's stone. But what is the damage to Leopold's gravestone? I can't quite tell in the photo.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's chipped all around the edges. Dorothy and Dick suspect these stones were used to smash the benches. But, yeah, I don't think Leo looks all that bad, which is a relief.

      Delete
  2. Good detective work! Your blog rocks!

    ReplyDelete
  3. A couple of points...

    We have been in talks with the cemetery to replace these markers, but one of the problems is an exact duplicate is not available anymore. So far we have the families permission, the cemeteries permission, $2,000,000.00 insurance as requested by the cemetery for any work, as well as, if needed proof of workmans compensation as also requested by the cemetery.

    I also think you should add to this time line the date George Schindler, The Houdini Grave Committee and The Society of American Magicians stopped paying for the care and maintenance of the Houdini grave plot as quoted and reported in the New York Times. According to other statements by David Jacobson, they may have never paid anything at all since his tenure when the cemetery went bankrupt in 1987.

    Link to story with George Schindler's statement on his and the Society of American Magician's decision to not pay for upkeep of grave.

    Houdini’s Final Trick, a Tidy Grave
    By COREY KILGANNON

    http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/10/31/houdinis-final-trick-a-tidy-grave/?_r=0
    October 31, 2008, 11:39 am

    We feel the replacement of the grave stones is not the key issue but the upkeep of the grave for the man responsible for for the growth of the SAM from one club to 300 branches with 5,000 to 6,000 dues paying members that brings in an income each year to the Society of American Magicians of about a half million dollars. Plus all the property they have accumlated.

    He even left them money in his will and put their symbol on his monument.

    It is a scandal.

    If the general membership were aware of this situation we believe they would approve for the perpetual care of the Houdini Grave Plot.

    Dick Brookz & Dorothy Dietrich
    Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA
    "The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini"

    First founded in the 1970's at NYC's Magic Towne House.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the additional info. Yeah, I was very sad to confirm that the S.A.M. no longer pays for any upkeep of Houdini's grave.

      I would have added when the S.A.M. stopped paying for the perpetual care, but it's not clear exactly when that happened.

      Delete
  4. Great stuff! It would be nice to know if the bust was replaced in November 1990?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe someone who visited the grave between 1991 and 1993 will let us know?

      Delete
  5. Who is the President of the SAM right now? I suggest sending a letter to him asking why the society has completely forsaken Houdini in terms of not caring for his gravesite. This is a huge travesty which if exposed to the public I am sure would be corrected.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dal Sanders is the current President. The SAM has an official website, but their Facebook page is where you would be best heard:

      Delete
  6. Also Leopolds headstone looks pretty good considering it's age. A few chips here and there is no reason to remove it from the gravesite. Gladys headstone is broken in two so not much can be done aside from using a strong cement to bond both pieces together. If done correctly the bond would last forever. This way no need to buy new headstones that would not match the originals.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You would certainly want stones that match the originals, if not the actual originals repaired.

      Delete
    2. The problem with that small size, according to David Jacobson's son as I recall, is that they are easily picked up. It seems that is how the benches were destroyed by tossing the head stones on the benches.

      Dick Brookz and Dorothy Dietrich
      Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA
      "The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini"

      First founded in the 1970's at NYC's Magic Towne House.

      Delete
  7. We are in constant communication with the cemetery. We suggested, as well, that we thought the Leopold headstone did not look too bad. Mr. David Jacobson was VERY firm. He said it would be a sacrilege to use either one in the condition they are in. END of story!

    Last year we donated $500.00 to the cemetery, possibly the only money given to them for the Houdini grave plot in decades. It is money, that we frankly, could ill afford, due to the massive damage we had from hurricane Sandy. Without exaggeration, it is costing us between $20,000.00 to $30,000.00. It blew our entire parking lot and retaining wall down!

    Dick Brookz and Dorothy Dietrich
    Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA
    "The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini"

    First founded in the 1970's at NYC's Magic Towne House.

    ReplyDelete
  8. There would be enough interest from the magic community and the community at large to fix this up and maintain it. Surely once it's restored, the maintenance can't be too much of a stretch?


    ReplyDelete
  9. I believe the maintenance for the huge Houdini site is $2,400 a year, or a single payment of $24,000 to care for it forever. It is the standard price the cemetery charges, and I believe it has not gone up in decades. Certainly affordable for the Society of American Magicians.

    Most of the damage over the years, as far as we can tell, was the result of highly publicized events revolving around the performance of the "Broken Wand Ceremony" by The Society of American Magicians Houdini Grave Committee, headed up, it seems, since the 1960's, according to George, by radio announcer John Bohannon, and himself as SAM head of publicity throughout those years. Ironically the very person or persons who later on, as far as we can tell, decided not to pay for the upkeep of the grave.


    Dick Brookz and Dorothy Dietrich
    Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA
    "The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini"

    First founded in the 1970's at NYC's Magic Towne House.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I posted a comment regarding the SAM not taking care of the Houdini gravesite...it was deleted without comment.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You mean on their Facebook page? Hmmm...

      Delete

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