Thursday, August 6, 2015

LINK: Glenn Herdling on William Weiss

Glenn Herdling, author of the new eBook Piper Houdini: Apprentice of Coney Island, has posted a nice profile of Houdini's brother William Weiss on the official Piper Houdini website. You never read much about "Lobster Bill," so this is a welcome piece. There's even some info here I didn't know.

In the book, Bill is a vampire, the reasons for which Glenn explains. So click the headline and have a read at the home of Piper Houdini.

Related:

26 comments:

  1. Thanks for the post, John! I'm glad I was able to shed a little light on the enigmatic Lobster Bill. --Glenn

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  2. Bill looks pretty old in this photo. The TB must have caught up with him by then. That photo of the Weiss brothers in Glenn's website posing together was taken in 1911, and not 1914. Bill looked younger, and stouter in that picture.

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  3. My oh my that does not look like the same person. The one photo was taken in 1911 and the other must have been years later possibly early 20s. Poor guy looks like he is 70 years old.

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  4. I thought that too about Bill, but HH doesn't look that old. He's wearing a hat so I can't tell his age from this photo. According to Glenn's website, it was taken in 1914.

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    1. Glenn says "circa 1914", so he's just estimating. The photo has to be after 1916 because they appear to sitting on a bench that was part of the family plot/exedra.

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  5. So bill went downhill that quickly??? He aged 40 years in 3 years! Shocking.

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  6. One of those things I didn't know what that he was sick for some long -- nearly 17 years. Horrible thing TB.

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  7. There appear to be two benches at the entrance to the family plot: One on the left and one on the right side. They don't look exactly like the one Bill and HH are sitting on.

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    1. Ah, you're right. I don't know why I thought this was Machpelah.

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  8. The benches were replaced. If you check out the entire photo on Amazon it certainly looks like they are at a cemetery. I would guess it is Macpaleh.

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  9. Can you give the link for to that Amazon photo? If the benches were replaced, then most likely we're looking at them sitting at the entrance to the Weiss plot in Machpelah. There could be headstones behind them but the photo is too small to be certain.

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  10. Found the link. Definitely looks like a cemetery they're in:

    http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/loc.rbc.varshoud.3b26680/default.html

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    1. Ah, that's why I recalled this as being Macpaleh, because I remember the full photo. Definitely looks like the Weiss plot. That decorative iron bar forms the corners even today. Yeah, the benches were smashed and replaced as part of the big restoration. I assumed they were exact duplicates, but I guess not.

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  11. If I am not mistaken their plot is surrounded by a marble surround not metallic. However metallic surrounds like what are seen in this photo are part of adjacent plots. OR perhaps the metal surrounds were part of the Weiss plot poor to the Exedra being in place?

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    1. Quite right. Those bars are actually part of the adjacent plots. But they are an identifiable part of Machpelah. Those plus a bench that looks new and looks like it could be marble makes me think this is the new plot. Here's a pic pre-plot: Machpelah before the exedra.

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  12. That's a great blog John! Thanks for the link. That photo of HH posing next to the dark obelisk with Bess and Hardeen isn't the only one. There's also one of HH, Mama, Leo posing next to the dark obelisk on July 1, 1910. I assume HH had the dark obelisk removed in order to make room for the Exedra? What happened to it?

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    1. Yep, that's in Silverman, I believe. I'm not sure if the original graves where in the same spot as the current plot. They might have been elsewhere in Machpelah and then HH bought the new plot and had them moved. In fact, we know he moved them because we know he opened the caskets of his Herman and his father while that was being done.

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  13. Wasn't the original tombstone incorporated into the Exedra to the left and right?

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    1. They certainly appear to be the originals (the face plates at least). But I don't know that for a fact.

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  14. Yes, the photo of HH, Ma, and Leo at Machpelah is in Silverman.

    The coffins of Rabbi Weiss and Herman were buried at Machpelah...from where? Were their bodies already at Machpelah at some other spot, or in a different cemetery in N.Y.C.?

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    1. Silverman credits the 1910 pic as being Machpelah and there we see the graves of Herman and Rabbi Weiss. It makes sense. I don't how many other Jewish cemeteries were around back then. Machpelah appears to be the family cemetery. Now, where exactly in Machpelah were they? That I don't know. But I have a feeling they were in a different spot and Houdini moved them to the new, family plot, which, because it required a lot more land, was probably in a newer section.

      The larger question for me when I look at the plot is where did "Grandma" come from and who the heck was she? Probably Cecilia's mother. But did she live with the family in NYC? If so, she's never been part of the story. Or did Houdini ship her body from Hungary when he designed his grand family plot? That's a question to tackle.

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    2. Never mind. That's answered in Silverman (page 215-216). Grandma is Cecilia's mom and HH had her moved to the plot as "birthday present" for his dead mom. So he was doing a lot of body shuffling.

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  15. Here's what I'm thinking: When Rabbi Weiss passed away, everyone in the immediate family was broke. Who could afford to purchase the coffin and a plot of land in Machpelah in 1892? Notice that in all the HH bios, we never see the passage that says HH purchased a plot in Machpelah to bury his father right after his death.

    I suspect Rabbi Weiss went to a cemetery where the poor were buried. When HH hit the big time, he had Rabbi Weiss' body removed from the pauper's grave and reburied in Machpelah, a place more befitting. He obviously did the same for Herman, although we don't know if Herman also went to a cemetery for the poor or if Herman and his wife were able to afford their funeral/burial arrangements beforehand.

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    1. So you think they were not buried in Machpelah originally? I don't know. Machpelah is a Jewish cemetery and I don't think a Rabbi would ever be turned away for not having enough money. The Weiss family was poor, but they were a part of the Jewish community and by all accounts Rabbi Weiss was a respected man. Remember that Rabbi Drachman (of NY?) was a close family friend. Herman was living apart from the family in NYC when he died and probably wasn't as impoverished.

      Now, they might have not been in a prime spot with room for more. That came with Houdini's later purchase of the plot.

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  16. Thanks John! You're right about his standing in the Jewish community and Rabbi Weiss was likely given a small bit of space at Machpelah.

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    1. My guess is Herman was the first occupant of Machpelah, and the Rabbi was buried beside his son.

      I also think the poverty of the Weiss family is sometimes overstated. I don't think they were poor in Budapest nor Appleton. They might have even been fairly well off in Budapest. But when the Rabbi lost his job and the family moved to Milwaukee, THEN they got into big trouble. The Rabbi couldn't get work and the boys were all still young. But by New York, all the boys were of age and working. The family had a flat and I think they were on their feet. Not rich, but not poor, and well connected in the community. So, really, the hard poverty Houdini and the family experienced could have been limited to the years in Milwaukee.

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