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Monday, April 28, 2014

"Slicing A Girl" in Worcester

Following up on my post last week about Houdini's performance of Buried Alive at the Worcester Opera House in Sept. 1926, John Hinson, the great-nephew of Harry and Bess Houdini, has done some leg-work at the Worcester library and has uncovered this terrified newspaper ad for that very week of performances.


I love the illustration of Houdini here, and the fact that it notes this as his "Second Annual Tour." But what's especially interesting is this ad references "Houdini's Newest Sensation." No, it's not Buried Alive, but something called "Slicing A Girl." I've also seen this advertised as "Slicing a Woman in Seven Parts." But exactly what this effect was (apart from the obvious description) appears to be another Houdini mystery.

Thank you, John.

UPDATE: So it appears this wasn't such a mystery after all (just a mystery to me). Thanks to Joe Notaro and Tom Interval's Houdini Magical Hall of Fame Facebook page, here is a photo of the effect, along with a description from the great Patrick Culliton:

"The Cutting a girl into eight pieces apparatus was in the Niagara Museum from its opening until the fire. I put it together (not to perform, but, to display) for the Butterfield auction. I was not impressed with the illusion which Dunninger made, and Kevin Connolly has a letter from Houdini to Dunninger in which Houdini really complains about the shoddy workmanship. He says his men had to completely tear it down and rebuild it. It was really to take advantage of the Sawing a Lady in Half fad of a few years before. Hardeen performed it, and in a very rare professional appearance as a magician, Jimmy Collins performed it (and handcuff escapes and a straight jacket escape) around 1928."

- Patrick Culliton

It's said Dunninger's original design for the effect had the assistant fully concealed inside the box. But Houdini felt this would arouse audience suspicion, so he redesigned it to display the girl's head and feet.

The original "Slicing A Girl in Eight" apparatus sold for $3,450 at Butterfied & Butterfiled's auction of memorabilia from the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame held in Los Angeles on November 15, 1999. The restored effect was resold at a Bonhams auction of Entertainment Memorabilia on June 16, 2008 for only $2,700.

Related:

24 comments:

  1. Could this be Dr. Lynn's effect but with a female assistant instead of Collins? We know that Houdini performed this on his last tours.

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    1. Hey, you might be onto something there, Leo. HH did the traditional Paligenesia in his first season, but the Season 2 program does not list it. But it does list Slicing A Girl. Good thinking!

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  2. Great find and nice detective work by all. BTW: In 1896 when the Houdini’s were performing with the Marco Magic Company, Professor Dooley used to decapitate a female volunteer (Bessie).

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  3. You're welcome John. When I saw the word "slicing" Dr. Lynn's Paligenesia came to mind. What else could it be? We know that Houdini stayed away from the Sawing A Lady In Half effect.

    There's a nice photo in the Kellock bio of Houdini performing Paligenesia and about to give Collins the knife treatment.

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  4. John Hinson great nephew of Bess and Harry HoudiniApril 29, 2014 at 3:19 AM

    This sept 28 1926 a month before he died.

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  5. John Hinson great nephew of Bess and Harry HoudiniApril 29, 2014 at 4:21 AM

    After 87 years we are still learning stuff about Houdini

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  6. The Cutting a girl into eight pieces apparatus was in the Niagara Museum from its opening until the fire. I put it together (not to perform, but, to display) for the Butterfield auction. I was not impressed with the illusion which Dunninger made, and Kevin Connolly has a letter from Houdini to Dunninger in which Houdini really complains about the shoddy workmanship. He says his men had to completely tear it down and rebuild it. It was really to take advantage of the Sawing a Lady in Half fad of a few years before. Hardeen performed it, and in a very rare professional appearance as a magician, Jimmy Collins performed it (and handcuff escapes and a straight jacket escape) around 1928.

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    1. Dynamite info, Patrick. Thanks. I should have asked you about this before I posted, dang-it.

      Stand-by for an update, all.

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    2. John Hinson Great nephew of Bess and Harry HoudiniApril 29, 2014 at 2:31 PM

      Thank you for the on more pice of the puzzle.

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  7. UPDATED with Patrick's post above and a photo of the effect via Joe Notaro and Tom Interval's Houdini Hall of Fame Facebook page. Thanks everyone!

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  8. John Hinson great nephew of Bess and Harry HoudiniApril 29, 2014 at 2:28 PM

    Is there any picture of Houdini petorming it ?

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    1. Not that I know of. But, heck, I didn't even know the apparatus was in the Houdini Museum. And I went there!

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    2. Although there are no pictures, Cutting the Girl in Eight is also described in all of the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame booklets.

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    3. I tried finding any reference to this effect in all the usual places (even tried Ask Alexander), but I didn't think to look at my Houdini Magical Hall of Fame material. But that is a great idea when researching the full evening show. So much of the show was there! I wonder who has this now?

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  9. Houdini thought it was a real POS when he bought from Joey D. One of the few times he curses in correspondence.

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    1. That would be a great letter to share on your site, Kevin. :)

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  10. Well, thanks to Patrick, John has solved another mystery. I had no idea that Dunninger built illusions, much less badly.

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  11. Maybe one day John. I'm trying to figure out how to publish a piece from Houdini's porno collection. And they're way behind the Cologne papers to work on.

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  12. So it appears the "Cutting A Girl in Eight" apparatus sold at the 1999 Butterfield auction in LA for $3,450. The photo of it in the Butterfield catalog shows it looking a lot worse for wear than the photo above, which Tom Interval credits to Bonhams. Was it restored and later resold?

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    1. It was indeed. Sold for only $2,700 at Bonhams in 2008. Why the heck wasn't I awake in 2008? I could have bought this!

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  13. Do we know who bought it?

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    1. Good question. I don't know.

      Does anyone know who bought this?

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  14. There is a youtube video of a visit to the museum in 1994. It shows some footage I haven't seen and the above illusion etc.

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