Friday, August 21, 2015

Mrs. Houdini and her handcuffs

Here's another clipping from a collection recently sent to me by John C. Hinson. This is from the November 10, 1936 Dallas Journal and features a terrific shot of Bess holding the famous Mirror Handcuffs. This is 10 days after the Final Houdini Seance.

Dallas Journal, November 10, 1936.

The attractive little white-haired wife of the great magician stopped over in Dallas Tuesday to break her trip from Hollywood to New York.
Stepping over to her trunk she tenderly brought out a pair of heavy silver handcuffs which where locked.
"It has been more than ten years since Harry Houdini locked them." Mrs. Harry Houdini said.
The handcuffs, she explained had been made in England had one lock after another inside a heavy cylinder across the top. Houdini had escaped from them in the Hippodrome in London. They had been made escape proof and were made as a challenge to his ability.

The article goes on to explain how Harry promised Bess that, should he find a pathway back from the great beyond, he would either speak to her in their "secret language code" or: "I will unlock these silver handcuffs which I give you."

The article ends with mention of another test of Bessie's own making:

Mrs. Houdini said that she was going to New York to have Thanksgiving Day with her mother "who is older than I am." She declined to give her mother's name.
"No," she said. "I cannot do that because it is by that means that I have tested mediums and spiritualists. Not until this day have I told my mother's name and only she and I know it. It is a test that none of them can get by. So I don't give her name."

I think it is probably safe to reveal that Bess's mother's name was Balbina Rahner. The Mirror Cuffs are now in the collection of David Copperfield.

Thanks to John Hinson.

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59 comments:

  1. In this photo, she seems relieved that the Final Houdini Séance is behind her.

    I know this is old ground, but if Bess is holding the original Mirror Cuffs as we see in this picture, where is the replica that a young HH is holding that's on the cover of Pat Culliton's The Key?

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    1. They stayed together and are together in DC's collection today. Interestingly, the article refers to her showing a "silver" cuff, which would seem to be the replica, but these are the working cuffs. But the pic could have been taken at a different time.

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  2. She is holding the cuffs that were determined NOT to be the actual cuffs Houdini escaped from in 1904. To my knowledge no one knows where the true original Mirror cuffs are today. The silver replica was a non working presentation model and that copy Bess could have had in her possession but had no reason to show.

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    1. Oh, no, I don't think such a thing was ever "determined." We had a discussion about that possibility based on a mysterious photo in THIS THREAD, but we are still a LONG WAY from saying for sure the cuffs she's holding, and that are now owned by DC, were not the cuffs Houdini escaped from that day in 1904. There would need to more evidence to move that idea beyond pure speculation.

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  3. Haven't we seen a photo of Bess sitting next to a table with the Mirror Cuffs resting next to her with the key inside? I might have seen that photo somewhere here on WAH. Also, I see what looks like a wedding band on her left hand.

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    1. A believe that's the trophy table shot. Not sure I've ever posted it here. I do use it in my talk. Think it's in Kalush.

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  4. Yes, the trophy table shot. You can see it here in the Houdini Museum website. There are two Mirror Cuffs on the table! One with a key inside, and the other without the key:

    https://houdinimuseum.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/bess-houdini-with-mirror-cuffs-and-houdini-bust/#

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  5. There was a definite photo from the days prior to the event that show a cuff that was not the cuff Bess is holding here. Where is that original cuff? It certainly was not the one Copperfield owns today.

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    1. Again, I believe you're talking about the cuffs seen in THIS POST. This appeared after the challenge and we've come to call them the "Tatler cuffs." There was a lengthy discussion about them at Handcuffs.org (link in story) and no conclusions were reached, but a lot of speculation. I personally think they might have been a prototype provided to the newspapers for photos and illustrations. But they are a mystery and have certainly created a stir.

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  6. Anyone interested in the original page from The Tatler, 1904, showing the "Tatler Cuff" can contact me with their offer.
    Paul Davies
    davies63@optusnet.com.au

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    1. Maybe DC should buy it and burn it. :p

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  7. Those are definitely the Mirror Cuffs in Bess's hands. The gap in the center of the bows is the ringer. The cover art of Pat Culliton' s The Key shows HH holding the unlocked Mirror Cuffs, but wasn't he holding the silver replicas in the original photo?

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    1. I believe he is holding the silver replica in that famous pic, but it's hard to know for sure because his fingers are where the break would be. Pat altered the pic for his cover showing the cuffs opened.

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    2. Strike that. It appears he's holding the actual cuffs. You can see the hinge. His fingers are covering the gap. SEE PIC.

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  8. Yes but the key in the famous photo of Houdini being locked in the cuffs is short just like the key shown in the Tatler cuff photo. The long key just like the DC Mirror cuffs is nowhere to be found!

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    1. Hey, that's an interesting observation. (I don't recall anyone making it when we had the original discussion at Handcuffs.org, although it ran so long I can't remember it all). It's hard to determine the length of the key in that pic, but it appears it could be the shorter Tatler key. Interesting.

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  9. John Hinson great nephew. of Bess and Harry HoudiniAugust 23, 2015 at 7:21 AM

    I do not remember ever seeing a key. When my grandparents own them..

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    1. Your grandparents must has kept them somewhere safe. Recall that there were actually TWO KEYS.

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  10. It's something I guess we will never know for sure unfortunately. I am sure Radner had info he never shared regarding the Mirror challenge. He is gone and I cannot think of another who would even remotely have that knowledge.

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    1. Sid was a great collector and promoter, but my sense was he wasn't one of the great Houdini historians. Of that generation, that would be Christopher, Gibson and Weltman. Gibson might have had some Mirror info. that never found its way into print.

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  11. A thought just came to me........could the long key have been made for or by Houdini to use to better help him reach and open the cuffs while they were on his wrists? If you think about it......if the short key was the original key the idea that the locking mechanism is DEEP inside the lock casing is incorrect. The short key indicates the locking mechanism is not deep inside the cuffs barrel so no need for a super long key. A long key however would help Houdini maneuver it to the keyhole via his mouth as one example. All of this only is correct if we assume both the Tatler cuff and the DC cuff contain the same locking mechanism.

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  12. From experience when trying to open a cuff similar to the Mirror cuff configuration such as a plug 8 a long key allows one to see the keyhole while maneuvering to release oneself.

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  13. I would think Hardeen going into the 1940s would have been more open in private talking to close friends such as Radner regarding the Mirror escape. Is there anyone who was very close to Sid or Gibson still living that may have been given info down through the years?

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    1. I'd really love to read the letters between Hardeen and Sid, now in the DC collection, to better understand their relationship. One has to remember that Sid was trying to build an escape career of his own at the time, The Great Rendar, and I have a feeling Sid was more interested in acquiring Houdini props to use in his act and learning tricks of the trade from Hardeen. So Sid wasn't really there to learn as much as he could about Houdini and he probably didn't pump Hardeen for info. What he learned just came out of Theo naturally.

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    2. The question here is what did Hardeen know about the Mirror Challenge? Interesting that HH taught him the handcuff act early on, but we never see Hardeen perform a Mirror cuff type of challenge escape. Presumably, HH wanted that for himself and as his swansong to eventually get out of the handcuff business.

      Some escapes seem to have been off limits for Dash, like his own USD.

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  14. So the Tatler cuffs are still out there? Someone posed an interesting theory on that old Handcuffs.org thread that HH did not need a key to open the Tatler cuffs. After rapping it open, he hid the Tatler, presumably inside the pillow he kneeled on, and emerged with the genuine Mirror Cuffs.

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  15. Hardeen never had the Mirror Cuffs and the silver replica in his possession. Bess hung on to a small core collection of HH's memorabilia, which eventually went to the Hinson family. We probably have a case of out of sight, out of mind. If Hardeen did share any underground information about the Mirror Challenge, he didn't have those cuffs with him to illustrate his points. It's also possible HH never discussed the MC with his brother.

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  16. I fully understand that Hardeen did not have the Mirror cuffs. That does not mean in any way he did not know the background as to the details of the stunt/escape. I would expect the many hours the two brothers spent off hours for the 22 years from the date of the escape to his death in 1926 that one of his most famous escapes would not be discussed in some level of detail.

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  17. There is a video on YouTube somewhere where Sid shows the Hungarian cuff now known as the Houdini seance cuff. The lock mechanism on this cuff looks similar to the Mirror cuff. Sid says in the video he could escape from these handcuffs quickly because "he knows the secret". (He says this several times). Possible connection between the Tatler cuff and the Hungarian cuff in terms of being able to rap them open/open in some other fashion via a gaff?

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  18. Who currently owns the Hungarian Cuffs? Radner's son? That's an interesting connection between the Hc and the Tc. The Mirror Cuffs seem to be a direct evolution of the Hc. It wouldn't be a stretch to think that the Tc would be gimmicked to open without a key if the Hc works the same way.

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    1. Bill Radner owns the Hungarian/seance cuffs. He still brings them to each official seance. I had the pleasure of holding them in 2012.

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  19. Or possibly the TC and the DC cuff are both gaffed in some way.

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  20. It does make sense that the original cuff, the Tatler cuff, was gaffed to facilitate the escape by Houdini in 1904. Then (afterward) the DC cuff (Ungimmicked) was presented as THE Mirror cuff offered up as a challenge to anyone who could open it as quickly as Houdini did. Makes plenty of sense. The question then is where is the Tatler cuff today? Destroyed after the event in 1904?

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    1. That is an intriguing theory and it does make a certain amount of sense. However, if there are tricked cuffs, why would Houdini give them out to the press? That seems risky in many ways. You'd think these would be hidden away.

      I still think it's possible the Tatler cuffs are exactly what we see them being used as here -- a model of the cuffs that will be used in the challenge used for publicity. They could even be made of wood.

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  21. The Tatler cuffs are a mystery, but could one day turn up in someone's attic.

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  22. Also remember there are some who look at the Tatler cuff photo and see a drawing, not a photograph.

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  23. This is true. Houdini would not hand over a gaffed cuff to the press. However there is no reason to believe he did. All we see is a photo of the cuff. No mention that it was handed over to anyone at least not for any extended period. There are certainly ways to gaff a cuff that would not be readily observed or noticed. As an example a cuff designed to rap open would function normally but need a sharp hit against a hard surface to make them pop open. Normal examination would not reveal this secret.

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  24. It looks like a touched up photo to me. The small key next to those cuffs and the presumably small key the gentleman locking HH is holding--nags at me.

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  25. That small key could have been passed to Houdini in a glass of water. Reason for making large keys to eliminate the idea from the thought process???

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    1. I feel like the key in the glass of water thing is a red herring. If Houdini set-up the challenge and was in control, he wouldn't have needed a key passed to him. He could have had it in his pocket (or concealed in the ghost house).

      The key in the glass or water only really supports Will Goldston's "Bess cried the key out of the Mirror rep" story. But could we be coming back to that as a viable option?

      Never ends. :p

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  26. But if the (small) key fits? Anyway more than likely the key used that day was the small one so this eliminates the idea that the key was 6 inches long and could not be passed to Houdini in a glass of water. This WAS the point made to destroy Goldsteins version of this escape.

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    1. But the Goldston story was first told in 1929. The long key was around well before that.

      I think someone mentioned this, but was the long key never meant to be seen? Was an extra long key part of what helped him escape? Then it makes sense that we see the Mirror Rep on stage with the short key and why we see the short key in the Tatler pic. It was the public key. Over time, the short key might have been lost. By the time Bessie was carting around the cuffs, the secert significance of the long key(s) was lost.

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  27. Interesting that HH still has us guessing 111 years later. Rigged Tatler cuffs that he quickly slipped out of? Or maybe a duplicate key with the real Mirror Cuffs? How significant that Bess hung on to this set of cuffs and not others. This set was special and was kept in a glass showcase at 278. They contain some kind of mojo, a power that sums up the story of HH.

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    1. The Mirror challenge especially keeps us guessing. Seems like every few decades a new twist or a new theory emerges.

      Yeah, Houdini and Bess both cherished the Mirror cuffs. They represented either Houdini's greatest victory, or his greatest creation.

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  28. The point is.......assuming the key was smuggled to Houdini as per Goldstein Houdini would want to cover it up. Best way? Make duplicates of the original small key but make them so large no one would ever believe it could have been smuggled to Houdini as it was. In other words making the keys large completely covers up Houdini was smuggled the key during an escape he was going to fail.

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  29. Wish there was a way (I am sure there is a way) to digitally enhance the photo of Houdini being locked into the cuffs so we could better see if these were the Tatler of DC versions. This would be the only real way anyone will ever know for sure.

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    1. I wonder if some collector has the original negative or at least a first generation print? That would probably be the only way we could get in there and really see detail. It's a wildly reproduced photo, but I've never seen one of pristine quality. Might not exist.

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  30. The clearest photo I have seen is the one right below the photo of the Tatler cuff. You can easily make out some details and the best view of the ghost house.

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  31. HH wore evening clothes and had access to his ghost house. If he used a duplicate key for this escape, he wouldn't have needed anyone to smuggle it to him. That whole charade with the penknife to cut off his coat was not only great showmanship, it may have also been a subliminal way to convey that the coat was empty before the challenge. Brilliant.

    We definitely need a clearer photo of HH getting locked into the cuffs.

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  32. Houdini cut his coat off during the challenge not before it.

    The hypothesis would be that Houdinis key made from say a wax impression did not work thus requiring the actual key to make his escape.

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  33. Yes, the coat came off, but I believe early on. The cuffs were still on him so the tattered coat no longer figured in the escape.

    I understand that round keys, like the ones from the Mirror Cuffs are much more difficult to duplicate via a wax impression.

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  34. Yes they are. One would need multiple wax impressions.

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  35. The coat came off 55 minutes into the escape. Ten minutes before he walked from his cabinet free from the cuffs.

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  36. That is correct. Harry emerged from the cabinet after the first 22 minutes to better examine the cuffs under the stage lights. I misremembered that as the coat tearing moment. He emerged 13 minutes later to ask for a pillow for his knees. The coat tearing came 20 minutes after that.

    On page 210 of The Untold Story, you can see the Mirror Cuffs on a table at the Knickerbocker Hotel along with another pair of cuffs, a bell, and trumpet. They're displayed in the upright position. Presumably for Harry to open at the Final Séance on the roof.

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    1. In THIS POST you can see exactly how the cuffs sat on the table during the rooftop seance itself. It's interesting that they were interlocked with another pair of cuffs.

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