Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Unfolding the Double Fold mysteries

Last week I did a post about Houdini's Double Fold Death Defying Mystery apparatus that is currently up for auction in Potter & Potter's amazing sale of Houdiniana set for August 23. In the comments we started discussing a curious photo of the Double Fold box that appears briefly in the Gene Gamache documentary, Houdini (People Came to See Him Die).

Now our friend Joe Notaro of HHCE has uncovered a better quality image in the Harry Ransom Center (right). A point of discussion has been the wooden slats that make up the lower portion of the box. The number of slats appear to be different from what we see on the box in auction and in the famous photo of Hardeen performing the escape. (Check out those pics here.)

It's possible Jim Collins enlarged the lower portion of the box so Hardeen could better fit in the escape. Or the wood could have been swapped out during repairs. Consider how wet this device would get. Or it's possible the photo is playing tricks with the light and the box is exactly the same.

What I'm more excited about is how this photo appears to confirm something that I've suspected for some time. In the 1971 BBC documentary, The Truth About Houdini, there is a shot of two Milk Cans sitting side by side, most likely on display at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Canada (which originally displayed two cans). The can on the left is clearly recognizable as the can owned by Sid Radner and now in the David Copperfield collection. But the can on the right, which remained in the museum for many years, is a bit of a mystery.


I've always wondered if this other can was the one used in the Double Fold escape. It would explain why the two cans stayed together -- one for a standalone escape and one for the boxed version. Now, looking at the Ransom Center photo, I can see an unusual rectangular lock or hasp on the rim of the can in both pics. So this does appear to be the Double Fold can, or at least the one that was in the box the day that photo was taken. But there's more.

Below is a photo of this Can in the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame that I took in 1990. At this point, a mannequin was housed inside, and Sid Radner told me Henry Mueller had "lost" the lid (Jesus). But take a good look at the base of the can. There appears to be a secondary rim and a large wing nut that drives downward. Maybe to secure the can to the bottom of the Double Fold box? Further evidence that we have our can.

Click to enlarge.


Final mystery; where is this can today? It was not among the lots in the 1999 and 2004 auctions that cleared out the museum and the Radner collection. Wouldn't it be nice to reunite this Milk Can with its Double Fold Death Defying Mystery box?

Thanks to Joe Notaro.

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21 comments:

  1. Wow. Am blown away by that second milk can with what looks like a USD type locking hasp system. However I dont understand its function....what am I seeing?

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    1. That's a good question. I'd like to know myself. Unfortunately, the later photos I've found of the can in the museum has the mannequin's arm covering this part.

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  2. I would tend to believe the one up for auction is Hardeens. Pure speculation with Collins making modifications to the original box which would require all the boards to be torn off because they are clearly a different style lumber than the one up for auction. The one in the black and white photo ( Houdini's) may still be out there!

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  3. The can on the right from the 1971 BBC documentary looks like it has graffiti on it. Mr. Mueller seems to have been the wrong man to trust with caring for Houdini apparatus. He lost the lid to a Milk Can? The Magical Hall of Fame, in hindsight, turned out to be a mishandled mess from a group of incompetents.

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    1. The Houdini Magical Hall of Fame was a mixed bag in my book. On one hand, anyone and everyone could go and see (and touch) all these amazing Houdini artifacts. That certainly isn't the case today. But on the other hand, it was horribly run and many items were stolen or decayed from neglect. And who knows what the real story is with that fire.

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  4. I've added another photo from Joe Notaro showing the can around 1980. In this shot you can see that rectangular hasp on the rim.

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  5. Incredible. Are we thinking that this milk can had a USD type "gaff". I am at a loss to envision this. So there must have been a hasp that folded over from the lid that then fitted into that slot which was then locked with a key. Perry from NJ.

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    1. I really don't know what that thing is.

      Isn't is a shame how little we know about all the apparatus that just sat there in the Houdini Hall of Fame for so many years? Did Sid ever take notes on any of the things he owned or try to place them in Houdini's career? Sid owned the Challenge scrapbook that had the pic of the can in the box. Did he never see this hasp and make the connection we're making here? Or maybe this can never belonged to him.

      We really shouldn't be as in the dark as we are. I somethings think some of these men who owned these these items never really had much curiosity about them. They were just trophies.

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  6. The top is the vital part and it is original. The lower box was obviously rebuilt to allow it to fit the Hardeen Can. Anonymous, whoever you are, Hardeen inherited the Double Fold box from Houdini. He also inherited Houdini's assistants, all of whom were cabinet makers, machinists, or both. I have finally seen photos of the Nest of Boxes that Jimmy Collins made for Houdini as a gift. Beautiful.

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  7. Alright, top of box was Houdini's entire bottom Hardeens. Got it.

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  8. It's fun to try and puzzle all this out, but I don't think we can draw any firm conclusions from anything here. Heck, we don't even know when that Ransom Center pic was taken. We're just playing with morsels of info and a set of assumptions. Nothing is fact.

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  9. So the lid of the Double Fold box appears to be original and the box was altered by Collins to fit Hardeen. That makes sense but as John stated, nothing concrete. The individuals who were the caretakers of Houdini's apparatus did not appear to take an interest in the history of the props. Like John stated, these items were just trophies to them. The trail has now grown cold over the years.

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  10. In the auction are all the letters between Hardeen and Sid Radner. That's one of the lots I'm most excited about. I feel like there could be some answers in those about exactly what Sid got from Dash and when. Also, I feel like Sid and Hardeen's friendship is an untold story of magic. I would love to read those letters and write that story,

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  11. Seven of those letters are posted on the Potter & Potter auction website and six of them are readable. One letter unfortunately has the mailing envelope lying on top of it. In one letter Hardeen follows up on the Bean Giant handcuffs that he had sold to Sid. He gives a few suggestions on the correct handling of the key. In another memo, he offers to sell Sid a letter that he was interested in for a $100.00. Using the Consumer Price Index, that's $1,430.00 in 1942 money. Ouch! Hardeen planned on burning it if Sid changed his mind. He didn't want it lying around. Okay. What was that letter? Probably from Houdini to somebody that explained the secret to a specific effect.

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  12. Gabe Fajuri shares some interesting information to the whereabouts of the Double Fold Death Defying Mystery in the “Magic Word Podcast, by Scott Wells”
    Apparently the box has been in use for a number of years by a gospel magician, who used it to close his show. He did not have a milk can, so the escape was from the box only. He bought it from Jack Lawain 30+ years ago.
    You can listen to the podcast here.
    http://themagicwordpodcast.com/scottwellsmagic/day-1-abbotts-get-together-2014

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    1. Thanks. I've actually been exchanging some emails with Gary Collins, the gospel magician who owned and used the trunk for maybe even longer that Houdini and Hardeen. He's sent me some wonderful material and clippings, but I just haven't had time to work them up into a post. I will soon. Neat to know the story.

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  13. Funny, never did find any articles of Houdini performing this, just the replica color litho that keeps popping up. It was Hardeen that was known for this effect and his trunk that is being sold now.

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    1. Houdini performed this at Hammerstein's Victoria in July 1914 when he did the Walking Through A Brick Wall. Lots of reviews describe it.

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  14. UPDATE on where the auction box came from HERE.

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  15. UPDATE: I now know where this can is and I have pics. I will be posting about it in the new year.

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  16. HH is going to hit the ground running in 2016.

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