Friday, June 12, 2015

The photo Houdini didn't want you to see

While I was at the American Museum of Magic in Marshall, Michigan last month, I was able to look through some archival Houdini material in their excellent Research Center. While going through a folder on his Aviation career, I came across a remarkable photo and knew I had found something special. Here's the story.

When Houdini became fascinated with aviation in 1909, he bought a French Voisin biplane in Germany. But he needed a place to fly it. So Houdini made a deal with the commander of German army troops stationed at Wandsbek near Hamburg. In exchange for using the Hufaren parade grounds as his airfield, Houdini would give aviation lessons to the German soldiers. Proudly, Houdini had photos taken of himself and his "students" on the day of his first flight, November 26, 1909.

When World War I broke out several years later, Houdini became swept up in the patriotic fervor of the day, selling war bonds and even enlisting for service himself. But, privately, he fretted about the flying lessons he had given to the German soldiers at Wandsbek, fearing that he was responsible for teaching them skills now being used against U.S. and allied troops. So he destroyed all photos of himself with the German soldiers, and relocated the stories of his early aviation triumphs to Australia.

But this photo reprint seems to have slipped through and found its way to Marshall – which is where I found it and bring it to you today. It's the photo Houdini didn't want you to see. (If you need help finding Harry, click here.)

Click to enlarge.

Thanks to Alex and Keli Hindenach of the American Museum of Magic for making me a copy of this photo and allowing me to share it here. The American Museum of Magic's Research Center is available to researchers by appointment.

Information on the Wandsbek parade grounds deal is found in The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush and Larry Slomon, which contains the best chapters on Houdini's aviation exploits.

Stay tuned for more from the archives of the American Museum of Magic.

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17 comments:

  1. Oh NO!! Houdini trained The Red Baron!!!!!!!!!!

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  2. John Hinson great nephew of Bess and Harry HoudiniJune 12, 2015 at 4:24 PM

    Very interesting

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    1. Hey, John, Thomas Churchwell tell me he saw this photo in your collection. It wasn't among your slides. Do you have the original? Pretty cool if you do. Makes sense this one stayed in the family.

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  3. Is he in that picture? Couldn't find him.

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  4. The Voisin is in the back behind the German soldiers. Isn't that Harry in the center of the plane wearing a black coat and cap?

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    1. If he's in there that's him, I think. Paul Reardon

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    2. Oh, yes, that's Houdini in the back in the black coat and hat. Sorry, I should have pointed that out. He jumped right out at me, but I realize it's not all that clear.

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  5. We still don't want to see it, sorry.

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  6. Evidently, HH is still getting his wish! You still can't see him in that photo. Maybe that's why this particular picture escaped detection. Harry would say it was a double exposure to put his image back there.

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    1. You guys are really having trouble seeing him? He's obvious to me, especially since he's in the pilot's seat (or at least standing in the pilot's seat). BTW, seeing what he's wearing here helps me identify another uncommon pic as being Germany -- but no soldiers in that one.

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  7. Front row, fifth from the left, looks a lot like von Richthofen...

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    1. Wouldn't that be wild? Be he didn't join the service until 1911.

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  8. Yes, he does look like the Red Baron.

    We don't normally see HH way in the back in photographs, unless it's a family gathering. He's usually out in front getting most of the attention. It's what makes this photo look strange to me.

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