Monday, January 4, 2016

Houdini found at Beaver Falls!

My good friend Matthew Bradford, who writes the excellent spy blog Double O Section, gave me a terrific New Year's surprise. He sent a text saying he was spending New Year's Eve in historic Valatie, New York, where Houdini filmed scenes from Haldane of the Secret Service. But I had never heard of such a location!

The new day he provided these pics. This is where Houdini filmed Haldane's climatic water wheel stunt at what is known as Beaver Falls. There's even a sign.







Valatie is located in the center of the town of Kinderhook in northern Columbia County. It is part of the Hudson Valley region of New York State and is 21 miles south of Albany. The official Valatie website does include a mention of their Houdini connection:

Beaver Cotton Mill Overlook. The overlook has a good view of the Kinderhook Creek and Beaver Pond and Falls. It is built on the site of the famed Cotton Mill, which was destroyed by fire during the blizzard of 1888. Harry Houdini filmed scenes of his last movie, “Haldane of the Secret Service” in 1921, at the base of the Falls.

Thank you, Matt! For all things espionage and spy-related in popular culture, be sure and check out Double O Section. Matt says he will be devoting an upcoming post to 'Haldane of the Secret Service' which, after all, is a spy movie.

UPDATE: Having closely examined the film and the photos, I now believe the water wheel was set up on the far left side of the falls in a narrow gully that is today largely filled in with water. Interestingly, in the photo composite below you can see what appears to be a single piece of wood exactly where I think the water wheel once stood. In fact, it almost looks like it could be the same piece of wood you see supporting the wheel in the composite photo from the film (click photos to enlarge). Now that would be wild!



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14 comments:

  1. Where exactly in the recent photos was the wheel situated? I am having trouble visualizing its location. Was the wheel specifically built for the scene? It certainly fell apart as if it was!

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    1. I'm not sure myself. Matt isn't a Houdini guy and wasn't familiar with the scene. He just took lots of shots of the falls for me. The description says it was shot at the "base." Could have been a bit more downstream where we see the rocks narrow. Would take some on the ground recon to figure it out exactly.

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    2. I think I found it! Check out my update.

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  2. What an unexpected surprise. Houdini news never ceases to amaze!

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  3. Nice!
    Notice the date of 1921. As you know, Houdini had wrapped up the film in 1921 but didn’t release it until 1923.

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    1. Exactly. It's not generally known that HH shot TMFB and Haldane back to back in 1921 and released them in subsequent years (22 & 23). Tells use whoever made that sign was using some insider info.

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  4. I'm pretty sure the wheel was built for the film. Notice it isn't next to any building and doesn't appear to have a function. Water wheels were built to mill flour in gristmills, among other industrial uses.

    I'm trying to zero in on the location via the photos in the Christopher books but it's tough. I'd like to see a shot of the other side of the falls in the photo third from the top. If you were standing on that highway bridge, you could see the other side of the falls that we can't see in that photo.

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    1. Check out my update, Leo. I think I found it and maybe more!

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  5. Your update rolled in right after I published my last post. If I understand your update, then the gully where the wheel was attached is on the far left side and out of the frame of photo #3. It should also be on the bottom left of photo #5. The one with the iron safety fence.

    Did the color photo with the red arrow come from Matt? It's not part of the posted images.

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    1. Correct. Far left side of pics. Far right if you were going over the falls. The new color pics did come from Matt. He sent me an assortment. It wasn't until I looked at the film closely that I saw he had captured the area.

      It appears a wall stood where the iron safety fence is now. Probably part of the original mill. You can see it in the film and the top photo of Houdini on the rocks. Matt captured some of the ruins of that wall in the 4th pic.

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  6. The gully where the wheel was attached was dryer back in 1921? Is it possible a mild drought caused the water level in the river to lower?

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    Replies
    1. Oh, there could be any number of reasons that the water level we see in the film is different from what we see today.

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