Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Hotel Shelton pool in color

This is an image of the Hotel Shelton swimming pool in the 1950s. This is where Houdini famously spent 91 minutes submerged in an air-tight "coffin" containing only a few minutes of air. What I like about this image is that it shows us the pool in color.

Click to enlarge.

In the 1920s, The Shelton was one of New York's great hotels. It had slow decline and was set to be demolished in 1974 to make way for a new office building. That project did not go forward, and in 1990 Marriott took over the hotel and renovated it. Today it is the New York Marriot East Side.

I visited the Shelton/Marriot in 2005 and was told that the pool had been filled in a few years before. However, an article about the hotel in the March 26, 2009 New York Times noted:

Swimming ended years ago, and the space has been split horizontally into three levels. But there is a hint of Houdini in the subbasement: the original tiled pool ladder at the corner where he was submerged is intact.


Related:

31 comments:

  1. When Randi recreated this stunt, was it also at the Shelton? Thank you for this photo, John. It's stunning to see it in color. You can see Dunninger standing near the edge of the pool, Collins in the foreground, and the added benches in the color photo.

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    1. According to Christopher's Pictorial Life, which has a few photos of the Randi test, yes, it was the Shelton.

      Yes, I love that you can see Dunninger in that HH pic. I did a post about that pic itself a few years back. It's a unique shot that gives a great look at the surrounding pool area and crowd.

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  2. The smallish man standing right behind Houdini. Is that Kukol? Certainly is one of Houdinis assistants as I have seen him in photos with Houdini on stage in his later years.

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    1. The great Pat Culliton believes that is indeed Kukol. The official record says Kukol left Houdini during the war years, but Pat believes he assumed the name Frank Williamson and continued to work with HH until the end.

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  3. Unless I am mistaken his name was quoted in a letter written by Houdini in the 1923-1925 time period. So he must have still been with his show. Correct?

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    1. Was it? I don't quite recall that.

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  4. Yes. I believe it was on this web site but not sure. It was related to photographs......possibly the ones with Roosevelt?

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    1. Yeah, I seem to recall a discussion in Comments... Not sure about the TR pics. Those were taken by Kukol, but in 1914.

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  5. I have a color postcard that must be earlier than the 1950s. The ceiling and the upper half of the walls are dark blue. There are no murals on the far end of the pool.

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    1. Oooo...nice. Is it this one by any chance? That's a great card, but it appears to be an illustration (or at least a heavily colorized photo). What I like about the one from the '50s is it's clearly a photo. But, yes, the earlier card is probably a better representation of what the pool looked like in Houdini's day.

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  6. I am very certain there was a letter by Houdini post 1920 that references sending "Frank Kukol" down to visit with some sort of requested information. This was shown as definitive proof he was still with Houdini post ww1.

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  7. The guy who looks like Buster Keaton with a tan is standing where he usually stood -- at Houdini's right shoulder is Franz Kukol. On an official document, Kukol's complexion is described as either "dark" or tan and this photo shows that he had quite a dark complexion -- at least during the summer months.

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  8. Check out your post on 11/21/12. It references a letter written by Houdini in 1924 that mentions Kukol by name. This had something to do with the Roosevelt photos.

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  9. 11/21/12
    Back in December 2009 Houdini expert Patrick Culliton put forth the intriguing theory that Franz Kukol, Houdini's first chief assistant, did not leave Houdini's employment in 1914 as history has recorded and Houdini himself claimed. According to Patrick (who played Kukol in the ABC TV movie The Great Houdinis), Houdini transformed Franz into "Frank" and he continued to work with Houdini right up to the end of the magician's life.

    Part of the evidence Patrick cited was a privately held letter written by Houdini in 1924 to The Roosevelt Memorial Association stating that "Frank Kukol" will come and swear that he took the famous photo(s) of Houdini and the former President aboard the Imperator in 1914.

    Now David Saltman has published that very letter on his website, The Houdini File. It's a remarkable artifact that does indeed prove that Kukol was working with Houdini during the 1920s.

    Also on the Franz front, recently a gentleman named Rolf R. Safferthal, a retired German electronics engineer, has come forward with the claim that Franz Kukol was his maternal grandfather. Rolf has joined the discussion on this very topic at the Genii Forums and has even posted rare unseen photos of Kukol.

    Click here to read the Houdini/Frank Kukol letter at The Houdini File.

    Click here to read the posts by Rolf R. Safferthal at the Genii Forums.

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    1. Ah, thank you. Funny, I wrote that I couldn't remember a word of it. :) Here's a link to that post.

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  10. Back in 2012 after I read these various bits of info concerning Kukol I looked through the NY death records and found a Frank Williamson who died in 1932 (from memory). There was a fee to actually obtain the record which would have had more info I am sure but I never took that step.

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  11. Actually here is my post from 2012......

    AnonymousNovember 23, 2012 at 4:45 PM
    I searched death records in NY. Its an online data base and found the following:

    Williamson Frank 56 y Sep 12 1930 18182 Kings W452

    A Frank Williamson died in Kings County NY on Sept 30th 1930 at the age of 56. Is that the age he would have been as of that date? 18182 is the certificate number so assume death certificate. W452 is the "soundex" number..dont know what that is. Could be Kukol or another Frank Williamson but the question now is can we look up the death certificate?

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    1. That would be the right age for him -- close to Houdini.

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  12. Not to change subjects but I have no place to post this observation. I was just studying the photo of Houdini in his glass topped coffin liner. The speculation was that this photo was of Houdini performing his final "buried alive" stunt in front of a furniture store in New England. However if you zoom up close to Houdinis clasped hands it looks like there is some sort of elastic material that has been wound around the fingers of both hands obstensibly to keep them in that position. This photo must be of the dead Houdini but where would his body be on display such as this? Looks like he is wearing some sort of shroud as a belt line or pants are not visible.

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    1. In case people are wondering, you're talking about the photo in THIS POST.

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    2. I've created a new post for discussion of the photo: Houdini death photo keeps us guessing.

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  13. Photo possibly taken in Detroit as HH's body was being transported to N.Y.C. Culliton mentions this on his website. I didn't notice that the fingers were tied to hold the hands together. Definitely a stiff in that box.

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  14. I thought that also but Houdini arrived in NY in a wooden box. So this photo must have been taken somehow before this box was placed inside the wooden box. Where and how? And what's with the box propped up at an angle like that? If Houdini were dead wouldn't his body be sliding to the boxes bottom in a heap at that steep angle?

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  15. Whatever the circumstances Houdinis fingers are tied together so this is Houdini dead. Maybe this photo shows Houdini prior to being shipped to NY or being unloaded after arriving in NY. Wonder who took the photo?

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  16. This fingers tied observation is really interesting. Hold off on commenting any more in this thread. I think it's time to repost this pic so we have a proper place for discussion.

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  17. Houdini's body arrived in N.Y.C. by a special Pullman rail car in the bronze casket that he had ordered for his buried alive stunt. He was planning to present, or had already been presenting the buried alive onstage. You can see the photo of the casket arriving at Grand Central Terminal near page 309 in Silverman's book.

    So the glass topped coffin we see in that photo must have been lowered into that large bronze casket and then shipped by train from Detroit.

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    1. Hold up, Leo! I just did a new post so we can have a proper place to discuss this: Houdini death photo keeps us guessing.

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  18. BTW, according to James Randi in Houdini His Life and Art, the Shelton casket, after being hacked open, remained poolside for 20 years advertised as “the casket Houdini was buried alive in.” Would love to see a pic of that!

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  19. John, we need to see a photo of this! Do you think Randi could share one with us? He must be aware of WAH.

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    1. Not sure if Randi has a photo, he just mentions this in his book. But someone must have taken a pic at some point. There might even be a lot of personal pics out there as it must have been a touristy thing to take your pic with the box. I can't believe we've never seen any.

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  20. Everyone know the Shelton was one of New York's great and awesome hotels. I love that you can see Dunninger in that HH pic. I am mistaken his name was quoted in a letter written by Houdini in the 1923-1925 time period. I have a color postcard that must be earlier than the 1950s. Read more details about this hotel at on condorny. thanks

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