Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The last look at Houdini on earth

I realize this week and next will be dominated by news of HISTORY's Houdini miniseries, but I feel like I need something real today, and this is as real as it gets. This image comes from a 1 second clip of film that shows Houdini's casket being lowered into the ground at Machpelah Cemetery on November 4, 1926. This is the last glimpse of Houdini on earth, and that's pretty wild. Also note that the casket does not have its covering of flowers. Does that look like a glass top? Maybe.


This comes from a collection of archival Houdini stock footage available at Historic Films that was recently discovered by our friend Perry from New Jersey. The collection includes footage at Houdini's graveside funeral service that I have not seen before. In fact, some of it will appear in HISTORY's Houdini miniseries (and there we are back on that).



Thank you Perry!

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27 comments:

  1. The top looks like glass to me. That shirt cuff and hand are clearly reflected on the surface. The flowers might be that pile on the bottom left of the photo.

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    1. It does look like glass, and this would confirm what we were told by our mystery Mason HERE.

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    2. Also, those could indeed be the coffin flowers on the bottom left, but entire plot was FILLED with flowers. You can see that is some of the other stock footage.

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  2. The overall casket also looks really wide, even oversized. This makes sense, since the inner glass casket looks like it fits perfectly inside.
    I've never seen anything like this before. Usually caskets at Jewish cemeteries are simple pine boxes, but if HH originally had his made for a stage act, then I guess it would be a little different.

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    1. I believe you also can't have "graven images" in a Jewish cemetery, but that didn't stop Houdini from placing a bust of himself on his tomb. He made his own rules, especially when it came his cemetery plot. :)

      Indeed, the coffin is oversized. According to Pat Cullition, Houdini is inside his Buried Alive casket which is inside this casket. It's also said that Houdini's casket was made of bronze, but I'm never sure if they are talking about the trick casket or this outer one.

      It's certainly not a conventional casket. Cool that we can see that here. You can't really tell that from the flower covered shots.

      (You know, as dubious as the whole thing was, I kinda wish the exhumation would have gone down back in 2005, if for no other reason that we could see this casket in the light of day.)

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    2. Or maybe Pat said this is the Buried Alive casket and Houdini is inside a special coffin liner. Pat, we need you!

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    3. My guess is that the inner liner, as we can see in your Feb 2010 photo, had bronze edges and support joints. But the sides and bottom were probably wood. The outer casket was probably wood as well. I think too much bronze would've made it too heavy. I don't think the pallbearers in that overhead flower covered shot could have lifted an all bronze casket.

      This is great footage. Shame it's only a second.

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    4. Historic Films has lots of nice footage of the graveside funeral that I've never seen. I suspect this part wasn't supposed to be filmed. Looks like a cop steps into frame to cover the casket.

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  3. The glass top that you see in your photos last May was flat -- this is curved. I believe the one you see here is simply highly polished wood or bronze, not glass.

    An account of Elks Lodge service:

    New York Sun Nov 4 1926, p 14

    LAST HONORS PAID HOUNDINI

    Impressive Obsequies Held at Elks Club.

    STAGE WORLD MOURNS

    Burial of Famous Magician in Machapelahi Cemetery, Queens.

    Fellow magicians of Harry Houdini broke a wand and placed It on his coffin this morning as a symbol of the passing of the master of legerdemain, of escapes and of showmanship.

    In the Elks Club house on West Forty-third street a thousand of his friends and associates in the theater world crowded to join in the last rites of his church and fraternal societies, while hundreds of admirers and the curious milled in the street outside.

    The body was brought early to-day from the West End Funeral Chapel at 200 West Ninety-first street to the lodge room, where It was set in the center of the floor, surrounded by scores of floral pieces. A long line of friends passed the casket before the opening of Its) services at 10:30.

    Following the Jewish rites by Dr. A. B. Titner of the Church of Mt. Zion and Rabbi B. Drachman; the services of the Elks and of the Masons; and the brief ceremony of the Society of American Magicians and the London Club of Magicians, of which Houdini was president, Loney Haskell and Harry Chesterfield eulogized the dead showman.

    "He did more than the cannons of war to eradicate Ku Kluxism and radicalism," declared Haskell, secretary of the Jewish Theatrical Guild. Chesterfield, secretary of the National Vaudeville Artists Club, hailed Houdini as a genius, a remarkable showman. "He respected religion," he sald. "He respected spiritualism, but not the deception of false mediums."

    Mrs. Beatrice Houdini, the widow, attended the services, though collapsing momentarily when she was led Into the room. She was accompanied by her mother and three brothers of Houdini, Leopold Weiss, Nathaniel Weiss, and Theodore Weiss Hardeen.

    James Collins, James Vickery, John Arden, Joseph Viccorelli, Elliot Sanford, and Jack Hardeen, active pallbearers, and an impressive group of producers and theatrical stars attended the body to the hearse for the trip to the N. V. A. club house and across Queensborough Bridge to Machapelah Cemetery in Cypress Hills.

    A memorial service will be held Sunday by the Jewish Theatrical Guild at the Bijou Theater, with Eddie Cantor and Sir Harry Lauder among the speakers.

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  4. It looks like some sort of cover is on the coffin. Note the flap to the left and its edge toward the front. Something else is going on here besides the coffin lid. Perhaps a cover for the glass top???? Perry from NJ.

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    1. Is that a flap? It just looks like the coffin rim to me with a reflection.

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  5. I can't tell. The funeral parlors used to use that curved glass, but, it would be inside the bronze casket.

    The coffin liner in the Worcester photo should be all metal and glass since it was meant to be submerged.

    If Houdini isn't in it in his burial coffin, where did it go?

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  6. The lid looks funny to me. Whats the openings that are seen on the left side of the top all about? To me there is a thin cover that is on top of the coffin. What it is and why its there I dont know. Perry from NJ.

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  7. I see at least five guys struggling to lower that casket into the grave. You know it can't be light. The fellow on the very far left might be Jack? Hardeen. His haircut looks familiar.

    I can't help either. If the top of that casket is wood, it's been polished to a spit shine.

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  8. John it is certainly a glass covering on the casket. In 1926 it was common for caskets to have glass, burial vaults were not affordable till around WWII so the casket was put in the ground and the glass afforded the family to see the loved one up to the very last second. I have studied funeral history and have been a embalmer and funeral director for 17 years.

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  9. Sorry forgot to post my name on above. Chuck lyons

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  10. Thank you, Chuck.

    So here's my thinking. If this is Houdini in his Buried Alive casket (dead or alive), then this is inside the casket we see here which is the "bronze" casket (which probably just means it's bronze in color). It certainly looks oversized. This takes care of everything. He was buried in his trick casket and he was buried in a bronze casket as reported. Both had glass tops. Of course, I believe that is what Pat Culliton has been saying all along.

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  11. I think you've got it. Bronze in color or bronze accented. And yes, it does look like two glass tops.

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  12. Sounds reasonable. The outside casket is a bronze casket with a glass top. So is the inside casket the Outdoor Stunt Coffin Liner or the Buried Alive Stage Stunt Coffin where he was buried in sand or are they one in the same?

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    1. BTW, Pat Culliton and I discussed this and we believe the two coffins (onstage escape vs outdoor) are not one in the same, although they both have glass tops or fronts. He first did the stage escape in Boston before doing it in Worchester. He also did the Worchester YMCA stunt in the same kind of coffin he used at the Shelton Hotel because the airtight glass top coffin liner wasn’t ready; Since that was the case, the stage escape which was extremely fast couldn’t have been the airtight, glass-topped coffin liner. So a trick coffin? That’s a whole other conversation that I can’t discuss here, but the 1926 method is different than the Buried Alive Stunt method discussed in Culliton’s book “The Key”.

      Could the outside casket, be the Buried Alive Stage Stunt Coffin and the inside casket be the Outdoor Stunt Coffin liner?

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    2. That crossed my mind also. However it would only have a glass top whereas the poster for the effect shows glass all around. This begs the question though.....if he was not buried in that coffin where is it today?

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    3. The Buried Alive Poster with the glass all the way around is from 1914 and the method of escape was most likely different than his 1926 version. The Poster for 1926 was different also. In 1926, the on stage coffin was described in a letter as having a glass front.

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    4. If this is indeed the case then it is quite possible Houdini bought both a coffin and a coffin liner and he is now buried in both. The coffin would have needed to be gimmicked

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  13. The width of the coffin I think answers the question as to wether he was buried within his glass covered coffin liner.....the answer is yes.

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  14. I do not believe we are looking at a glass topped coffin. What we are seeing is an extra wide casket which probably means Houdini is within his glass covered liner hermetically sealed. This being the case there is no reason to have a glass covered outer coffin and in fact coffins designed to be buried underground would have a solid lid that would close over the glass to prevent the fragile glass from shattering during the burial. Glass covered coffins without a solid lid were used in interments that were not underground.

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  15. I also wondered about the effects of gravity on the outer glass top, if it was indeed made out of glass. The weight of the dirt might crack or just break through it. There are so many flowers on top of the outer casket in the street shot that you can't see any part of the surface, or even the sides.

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  16. Everyone should check out historicfilms.com. the Houdini clips are of such high quality and some I have never seen before. Spectacular and breathtaking.

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