Monday, September 5, 2016

Houdini in his workshop

For Labor Day, I couldn't resist sharing this amazing image of Houdini in his New Jersey workshop preparing magic apparatus for his 1925-26 3 Shows in One. This photo comes from the formidable collection of the great Kevin Connolly. Kevin recently shared this at his Facebook group, CONJURING HISTORY - BUY, SELL AND TALK.

Click to enlarge.

The folks over at Kevin's group have been doing a great job dissecting what we can see here. Houdini is holding what appears to be a Vanishing Birdcage. This was actually a Harry Blackstone specialty at this time. Behind him we can see a pair of Conradi Vanishing and Appearing Lamps. These once went wrong during a show and Houdini denounced the manufacturer from the stage. Another thing spotted by the eagle-eyed David Charvet are what appear to be two 35mm film canisters on the work bench.

It's been suggested that Houdini's New Jersey workshop may have been located in the same building that once housed his Film Developing Corporation (FDC). That building still stands today.

Thanks to Kevin Connolly for generously allowing to share this shot. Hope you are all having a relaxing Labor Day weekend and are ready for the Fall "seance season."

UPDATE: To help our discussion in the comments below, here's the other more well-known image of Houdini in his workshop. This comes from Gresham's Houdini The Man Who Walked Through Walls and is credited there to "Brown Brothers."

Click to enlarge.

Related:

24 comments:

  1. The photographer took a number of pictures that day, including the well known photo of HH working at a drill press machine in Gresham's book. I always wondered what that skull and skeleton sitting on that chair were for.

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    1. True, there are a few different shots from that day, but this one gives the best look at the workshop and isn't one you commonly see (I think it has only appeared in Pat's book cropped). And I've never see it with this clarity.

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  2. Agreed about the clarity. You get a feeling of almost being able to step into the workshop. The drill press photo is usually cropped where I've seen it, but it gives a view of the right side of the shop we don't see in this photo.

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    1. In the drill press photo you can also look through the window. The view you see led me to think this on the second floor. But Kevin made the good point that the floor here looks concrete.

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  3. In the drill press photo you can see the top floor of the neighboring building through the window. It does seem to be on the second floor. Hauling all that heavy machinery to the second floor doesn't make really make sense.

    Could the workshop have been on a sloping hill a bit elevated above the next door building?

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  4. in the old days, they would have stages and work
    shops up stairs.
    First during the day the heat would rise and collect
    making it cheaper to heat the venue in the winter
    Second, it would help keep secrets, without closing the windows prior to air-conditioning

    Jon Oliver

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  5. As a machinist I always laughed at the photo of Houdini at the drill press. It's either Houdini is a fool or It's 100% staged photo. You can't actually drill into a piece of steel the way he is holding it, there's no support underneath. It's also a wood drill. They should have destroyed the photo and used the others. It's like Houdini taking a photo of brushing his teeth with an egg beater.

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    1. Makes me wonder who took these shots and what they might have been used for. Maybe an article about how Houdini was preparing for his full evening show?

      Which reminds me of one of my favorite Houdini quotes:

      "Some of the magicians thought I was going to use a lot of women in my forthcoming show and they are trying to beat me to it. They have been misinformed. I am going to specialize in Houdini stuff."

      Delete
  6. I wonder if that birdcage photo was also staged. We know that Harry never did the Vanishing Birdcage. Why would he work on it unless he was planning to add it at some point? It's a difficult effect to pull off well.

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    1. I think it's safe to assume all the photos were staged for this same photographer. And as far a HH never doing the birdcage... Who knows? Maybe he did! Or maybe he just had a few of these hanging around.

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  7. I live about 40 minutes from this building and I visited several years ago. I had examined the more well known photo of Houdini in his workshop and noticed the buildings that can be seen through the windows in that photo. Walking around the building I found that the row of buildings directly behind Houdinis building matched quite well with those in that photo. My conclusion was that Houdinis workshop was located in the top floor rear of his building. Perry from NJ.

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  8. I have to now conclude that photo is on a ground floor. The reason? If you look at a very clear example of the other photo of Houdini holding a birdcage in his workshop there is ANOTHER window where you seem to be able to see trees and what looks like the grass/ground beneath them. So as convinced as I was this was a second story workshop it must be on the ground level. I will suggest that the angle the photo was taken plus the height of the windows and the distance of the buildings makes it appear to be on the second floor. I am still convinced the workshop was within that building in Union City NJ but to the rear lower floor. I was able to see the same outline of the buildings behind Houdinis As you can see in the photo. Perry from NJ.

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  9. Perry, is there a link to that other photo of HH holding that Vanishing Birdcage?

    I'm fairly certain HH wasn't going to put this effect in his 3 in 1 show. He would yank off his removable sleeves after making his grand entrance. The jacket sleeves are an integral part of this effect.

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    1. I only recall two photos; the birdcage shot here and the drill press pic in Gresham.

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  10. I've posed the pic from the Gresham book to help the discussion.

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  11. There is no OTHER photo of Houdini holding the birdcage. My point is that if you look at a super clear version of that photo you can make out better what is visible outside that window. Looks like a large tree and the ground around that tree is visible.

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  12. Understood, when I read your last post I thought you were referring to a third picture of the workshop. I can definitely see tree leaves out that rear window behind HH. That could also be ground right above his right shoulder.

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  13. EXTRA! EXTRA! EXTRA!!!
    I not only know where the cage is, but
    who has it in their collections.
    Hint , it is not me.

    Jon Oliver

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  14. What was the end story for HH and the building? Did he sell it before his death? Was the FDC liquidated before his untimely end? Was this left for Hardeen to tie the loose ends?

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    1. Don;'t know for sure, but I believe the FDC was liquidated. I did a post a while about about Hardeen receiving a final check from HH for some reason. I believed it could have been the last gasp of the FDC.

      If the pics above are in the FDC building, then it's likely HH still owned or at least occupied it at the time of his death. Bernard Ernst would have been the one who had to deal with it all after HH's death. In fact, Ernst and HH had just consolidated all his various companies into one, Houdini Attractions, Inc. Houdini's Weehawken Street Co., which owned the building, presumably would have been part of that consolidation, if it still existed.

      As the building still stands, I'm sure there are records that could tell us all.

      Delete
  15. It was left to Hardeen in Houdinis will.
    Hardeen keep the big props there till sometime in
    thirties, then started selling stuff off.
    It was to become some type of manufacturing company, and Victery, Houdinis long time assistant, left Hardeen and worked there either till retirement or death.
    Jon Oliver.

    ReplyDelete

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