Friday, March 4, 2016

"A story that never has been told."


While I was at the Official Houdini Seance in San Francisco last Halloween, fellow speaker and inner circle member Jamy Ian Swiss shared with me a remarkable document from his collection. The story of how the document came to be is almost as interesting as the story it tells. Here's Jamy:

"Many years ago I bought my copy of the Kellock book [Houdini His Life Story] from Jackie Flosso, Al Flosso's son, when Jackie was still running the shop [Martinka]. This copy was owned by Sam Horowitz, aka Mohammed Bey, and is signed boldly on the frontispiece by him, "S. Leo Horowitz."

Jackie deliberately drew my attention to the volume because of the fact that the two pages of lined, hand-written notes telling the story were folded in half and pressed within the book. He knew the contents and delightedly told me the story contained therein, and the fact that we did not know who wrote them. It is not Horowitz's handwriting, so likely a friend of either Horowitz's or, for that matter, of Al's."

The two hand-written pages tipped into the book were headlined: "A story that never has been told." They referred to page 259, which covers Houdini's vanishing elephant illusion at the New York Hippodrome in 1918. Here is the full text:

A story that never has been told.

No mention here of the trouble Houdini had to get the elephant into the theatre. The Hippodrome stage level was about 4 / 4 1/2 ft above the street level. All stage scenery was brought through large doors on the 40th ? St. entrance. Planks were inclined from the sidewalk to the large entrance to the stage.

The elephant was led to the inclined planks. He took about 3 steps up when the plank broke. New planks were secured, but the elephant refused to walk up. They tried everything but he would not go up. (An elephant never forgets.) Houdini called Ducrot to ask him to get Si Perkins who was an "elephant man" (an elephant handler) - he also could do magic. He asked Ducrot to get him and send him to the Hippo. It happened that Si Perkins was there in Ducrot's shop as was I. Ducrot closed the shop and he and Si Perkins went to the Hippo. I could not make it.

The next day I learned from Ducrot how Si Perkins got the elephant into the theatre. There was no use trying to get the elephant through the regular stage entrance. 
On the other end of the same side of the building a large hole was knocked out. The planks were ran up here and the elephant walked up. One of Houdini's tricks was to walk through a brick wall.

Now if he could only have done that with an elephant that really would have been something.

"Ducrot" refers to magician Frank Ducrot, who at this time was the owner and operator of the famous Martinka & Co. magic shop in New York City (Houdini bought a partial interest in Martinka's in 1919). As to Si Perkins, the "elephant man", I could not find anything conclusive, but I'm wondering if he could be the same Si Perkins who in the 1930s worked as the reptile curator at the San Diego Zoo in California (pictured below).

Frank Ducrot and Si Perkins.

But the real mystery remains, who wrote these pages? Below is the first page. Perhaps a magic collector out there will recognize this handwriting and help identify our mystery author.

Click to enlarge.

A very big thanks to Jamy Ian Swiss for allowing me to share his document here. It's a fun story and indeed a story that never has been told...until now.

UPDATE: In the comments below, you'll see that David Charvet and Leonard Hevia have put forward the idea, with some compelling evidence, that the storyteller here might be confusing Houdini's 1918 elephant vanish at the Hippodrome with his later elephant vanish at the Times Square Theater in 1921.

The Time Sq. Theater at the time of Houdini's elephant vanish.

Related:

16 comments:

  1. Interesting story John and thanks for sharing this Jamy. I wasn't aware that Al Flosso's son continued to run Matinka's.

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  2. What a great story, and a fun mystery!

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  3. Thanks for the share.Great additional story.

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  4. Wow! A big thank you to the two J's: John and Jamy! What a story! Could it have been Dunninger? Just a wild guess I threw out there. He was around N.Y.C. at the time and articulate enough to have written this.

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  5. Could this have been written by Daisy White? She worked alongside Ducrot at Martinka's during these years.

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    1. Yeah, my vote is for Daisy White because of the connection to Ducrot. I think Ducrot's shop was called Hornmann's Magic Company. When Houdini bought Martinkas, he also bought Hornmanns and merged the two.
      Later when Al Flosso bought it, it was Flosso-Hornmann's. Why the Martinka named was dropped I don't know. But it must have remained in the documentation because today it is Martinka's again.

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  6. How about John Mulholland? But it just might be Sam Horowitz himself who wrote this. He worked for Martinka in the earlier days and the book was his. After he read that part, he may have grabbed a sheet of paper and jotted this down. I'd like to see Horowitz's handwriting.

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    Replies
    1. But according to Jamy, it's not his handwriting, something I'm sure Jackie Flosso concurred with.

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  7. Considering Daisy White's nubile appeal in the shop, I'm surprised it wasn't called Horndog's Magic Company.

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  8. Wasn't "Jenny" (the elephant used by Houdini) one of "Powers' Elephants" an act that as I believe worked in the same show ("Cheer Up") at the Hippodrome? One would think that Powers would have figured out how to get his several elephants into the theater and they would have already been there backstage when Houdini performed. So, could the whole story be apocryphal? Or could the writer be referring to Houdini's later solo appearance with Vanishing Elephant at the Times Square Theater?

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  9. Ducrot didn't purchase Hornmann's Magic Co. until the summer of 1920. That would mean he did not have a shop in 1918, the year of Harry's Elephant Vanish. The writer of the two page note mentions "Ducrot's shop."

    Ducrot had the shop during HH's performance at the Times Square Theater, so David's speculation that the writer confused the Hippodrome with the Times Square Theater seems plausible.

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  10. Excellent detective work, guys! I think you may be right. This story could relate to the Time Sq. Theater elephant vanish and not the Hippodrome.

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  11. It was really David Charvet's astute observation that Houdini's elephant should not have had a problem getting into the Hippodrome. It made me wonder when exactly did Ducrot purchase his Hornmann's Magic Company. I found the info here:

    http://itricks.com/news/2014/08/the-boy-magician-frank-ducrot/

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  12. I have a possible candidate: John Scarne. He hung around Hornmann's Magic Shop quite a bit and was good friends with Ducrot. You can read some of Scarne's reminiscences about Houdini playing at the Hippodrome, calling Sam Horowitz a good friend and Hornmann's Magic Shop his favorite hangout:

    http://scarne.freeservers.com/magician.html

    It would not be a stretch to think that Scarne might have remembered HH's Times Square Theater performances as being at the Hippodrome. Is it possible Scarne gave his copy of the Kellock book to Horowitz with his two page annotation still inside?

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    Replies
    1. Not bad. Could be!

      The story on that site is incredible.

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  13. It is an incredible story! Bear in mind that if it was Scarne, he read the Kellock book in 1928 or so and was looking back roughly six years to write down that anecdote. A mix up between the Hippodrome and the Times Square Theater is possible.

    To confirm or rule him out, we need a sample of his handwriting.

    ReplyDelete

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