Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Original Houdini Seance to be held in New York

The Houdini Museum in Scranton will once again hold their "Original Houdini Seance" at Sojourn Restaurant in New York City on October 31. The seance this year will be conducted by Dorothy Dietrich herself. It begins at 11:30 AM and runs until the exact time of Houdini's death at 1:26 PM. The seance is free for magicians and fans of Houdini. Complimentary food will be provided by Sojourn.

Table from last year's Original Houdini Seance at Sojourn.

Sojourn is located at 244 East 79 St., in a building that was once Mrs. Loeffler's Boarding House. It was here that young Ehrich Weiss and his family lived when they first arrived in New York in 1887.

This year's seance will commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Houdini becoming president of the Society of American Magicians. Houdini helped expand the S.A.M. into the national organization that it is today with hundreds of local chapters and thousands of members.

The Original Houdini Seance seance (not to be confused with the Official Houdini Seance which this year is being held in Cleveland) traces back to Walter B. Gibson, who suggested to Dorothy Dietrich that she carry on the annual seance tradition. Last year's seance at Sojourn attracted members of the Hardeen family and garnered national press attention.

For more on Dorothy Dietrich, the Original Houdini Seances and the Houdini Museum of Scranton, visit their official website. The full press release can be viewed here.

Below are some other Halloween events for this 91st anniversary year.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

'Speakeasies and Spiritualists' rediscovers Rose

There seems to be a resurgence of interest in Houdini's favorite "spook spy" Rose Mackenberg in recents years. Here's the latest, Speakeasies and Spiritualists.

Rose Mackenberg is unjustly forgotten. 
She was Harry Houdini's chief investigator. She testified before congress about psychic fraud, and discovered all the tricks of the seance trade. 
We proudly present the first fiction featuring Rose Mackenberg and her spook-busting career by award-winning mystery author M.H. Norris and James Bojaciuk. 
Speakeasies and Spiritualists also presents eight stories inspired by Rose Mackenberg and the spiritualists' Jazz Age milieu. 
Psychic investigators on the trail of the trail of a jazz musician who seems to have crawled from the grave. Amateur, livingroom seances going very wrong when mixed with grief for those who died in the war. Strange men warning out of Florida storms. Dream Demons stalking Chicago, feeding off bar-dwellers, and floors painted with mystic stars. 
FEATURING STORIES BY M.H. Norris, James Bojaciuk, Peter Rawlik, Josh Reynolds, John Linwood Grant, Jon Black, Donald J. Bingle, Aaron Smith, Brendan Foley, and William J. Martin. As well as original articles by Rose Mackenberg herself.

Purchase Speakeasies and Spiritualists from (U.S.) and (UK).


    Monday, October 16, 2017

    Report from Sunday's 278 open house

    Yesterday was Open House at Houdini's former home at 278 West 113th Street in Harlem. This was the third open house since the brownstone went on the market in June. Our friend Janet Davis was there and provides this wonderful report.

    Beverley Draggon invited me in around 12:45 ("Welcome to 278, come on in," words I never imagined really hearing) and gave me a one-on-one tour of the entire building, starting at the 4th floor and ending in the basement. She showed me that there's a ladder leading up to the roof, but we didn't go up there. I can confirm that the second tub, piano, and bookcase are gone, but the wheel is still in the basement. Beverley even took me into the boiler room. Detria Davu arrived late in my visit and both women were extremely welcoming and patient with my questions. 
    At around 1:20, the doorbell started buzzing with new arrivals and I didn't feel like I should take any more of Beverley's time. She gave me a print-out of the floor plans and the real estate hand-out for 278. And then I basically floated home! I feel like I was hardly breathing the whole time I was in the house. Again, I can't thank you enough for the Open House alert, your enthusiasm and encouragement. This was a memory I'll keep forever.

    The sale of 278 is being handled by Douglas Elliman Real Estate. Asking price is $3,999,000.

    Thanks Janet!


    'Houdini's Secret Life' with Joe Mantegna

    Every Now and Then Theatre has produced a Halloween inspired radio drama, "Houdini's Secret Life", hosted by actor Joe Mantegna. It will be broadcast on NewsTalk 1590 KVTA October 28, 29 and 31.

    Co-presented with Conejo Players Theatre, we bring you the radio drama, “Houdini’s Secret Life,” the hidden side of America’s first super hero. Based on recent research, diaries, congressional records, Houdini’s writings, and a bit of speculation. Celebrity Host JOE MANTEGNA reveals insights. PLUS, within the show, Magician Paul Dwork attempts reading listener’s minds. “Tune in early for best seats!” 
    As always, our broadcasts help benefit foster children by providing broadcast copies in trade for donations from cast, crew and public. 
    BROADCAST TIMES for our Halloween radio drama, "Houdini's Secret Life" are: Sat Oct 28 5pm & 9pm; Sun Oct 29 10am, 3pm, 9pm; Tue Oct 31 6pm & 9pm. Show airs on NewsTalk 1590 KVTA, heard along the CA Goldcoast. Not Streamed.

    For more information check out the Every Now and Then Theatre website and on Facebook.


    Sunday, October 15, 2017

    Chris Bremner co-writing Lionsgate Houdini movie

    It's been a while since we heard anything about Lionsgate's Houdini movie, but now comes word that screenwriter Chris Bremner is co-writing the movie along with Noah Oppenheim. Oppenheim is president of NBC News and is currently caught up in the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

    Dan Trachtenberg is currently attached to direct.

    Liongate's Houdini movie has been gestating for eight years with multiple writers and directors having come and gone. It's based on The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush and Larry Sloman and is said to play up the (fictional) idea that Houdini worked as a spy.


    Saturday, October 14, 2017

    Astral Theatre Collective presents 'A Houdini Séance'

    The Astral Theatre Collective is bringing "A Houdini Séance" to the West Virginia State University Capitol Center Theater in Charleston for two midnight performances on October 21 and 28.

    With the assistance of Charleston based magician Professor Sinister, audiences will be thrilled by a midnight séance in honor of Harry Houdini. “A Houdini Séance” brings to life one of the key ceremonies used by Spiritualists, bringing theatre, magic, and history together in a unique way. The event will culminate in figures from Houdini’s life sitting around the table in proper style calling on the spirit of the late Master of Magic. Will Houdini return from the beyond?

    For tickets call the theatre at 304-342-6522 or visit the Facebook Event Page for more details.


    Friday, October 13, 2017

    Guest Blog: The Bobby Handcuffs come home

    Today our good friend Fred Pittella shares the story of a special pair of handcuffs that were precious to both Houdini and their long time owner Larry Weeks (who passed away three years ago today). Here's the strange tale of the Bobby Handcuffs.

    There are good people out there...

    It has been three years since Larry Weeks has passed “Houdini’s Biggest Fan”.

    Amongst the many items missing from Larry Weeks apartment was the famed “Bobby Handcuffs” if you weren’t aware the Bobby handcuffs were named after Houdini’s fox terrier dog Bobby the only Handcuff King Dog. Houdini was said to have had trained Bobby to escape from ropes, handcuffs and even a miniature straight jacket. In 1918 Bobby performed for the Society of American Magicians Annual dinner escaping from a specially made pair of an English model Darby handcuffs (see photo above). According to a Houdini quote “He was a Dog-gone Hit”. Those handcuffs today are referred to as the Bobby handcuffs.

    The Bobby handcuffs are featured in the 1996 Houdini Documentary “Houdini: People Came to See Him Die” where Larry had trained his fox terrier “Spanky the Wonder Dog” to Escape from the very same pair of handcuffs used by Houdini’s dog Bobby.

    Larry was very proud to have in his collection these very rare and special handcuffs. Larry had brought the Bobby handcuffs to a few of Sid Radner’s “Official Houdini Séances” and to the many interviews he had done.

    Larry was distraught when the Bobby Handcuffs one day turned up missing from his apartment.

    Larry didn’t know who to blame, he was beside himself, he confronted a magician and a juggler who were his so called friends with no results. At the time Larry didn’t really trust them in and out of his apartment but had no choice his health was failing and he needed some help I had been traveling a lot. So I had worked hard fighting with an agency to hire someone to take care of Larry when I was out of town. Who knew this decision I would later come to regret.

    After Larry had passed and it became public knowledge that I was to inherit his estate I received a strange call from a blocked phone number the gravel voice on the other end saying that if this was really true and if I was the true owner of these special handcuffs they will be returned to me. It took a very long time for the court to grant Larry’s last wishes. I had forgotten all about the anonymous phone call but one day to my surprise in my mailbox was the only stolen thing returned and that was the Bobby handcuffs.

    So in this small collecting world of ours there are some decent people. Who know how to do the right thing!

    Not knowing who this person is I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank them publicly being that I never had the chance to extend my gratitude!! So Thank You!! And of course Larry Weeks for always being there for me thank you!

    -Fred Pittella


    Amazon uses Houdini clip to promote 'Lore'

    Aaron Mahnke's popular podcast Lore is now a series on Amazon. Episode 4, "Passing Notes", deals with spiritualism and features Houdini. Below is a promotional clip for the series featuring part of the Houdini segment.

    One interesting mistake this clip makes is saying that Bess held her annual seances "every Halloween." At some point I'll get into this in more depth, but not only am I skeptical that Bess ever did "annual" seances in the 10 years after Houdini died, but the few I'm aware of were not done on Halloween. In fact, it's possible the first Halloween seance was actually the Final Houdini Seance of 1936. But, as I said, we'll save that for another time.

    Lore starts steaming today at Amazon Video. The series is free for Prime members.


    Thursday, October 12, 2017

    New Houdini Pin from Castle Thunder Graphics

    Dan Cleri's Castle Thunder Graphics has produced a new Houdini Pin. They are calling it "The Handcuff King" and it looks pretty darn nice if you ask me! Price is $10.00.

    Illusionist, escapologist, stunt performer, actor, historian, film producer, pilot, debunker and now a pin! 1.5" soft enamel.

    Purchase at Castle Thunder Graphics.


    Wednesday, October 11, 2017

    What would Houdini's resume look like?

    The 1996 book Historic Resumes of Famous Americans by Timothy Doe imagines what the resumes of some famous Americans would look like, including Houdini. (Yes, Houdini was actually Hungarian, but I won't tell if you don't.) As you can see, our boy makes the cover.

    If the most famous and admired people in American history submitted their resumes, this is what they would look like. Thoroughly researched and colorfully written by Tim Doe, the owner of a L.A.-based resume company, each entry is written as if it were actually composed by its subject. Among those featured are P.T. Barnum, Edgar Allan Poe, Huey Long, Amelia Earhart, Jackie Robinson, and Harry Houdini. 60 photos.

    You can purchse Historic Resumes of Famous Americans at (U.S.) and (UK).


    Tuesday, October 10, 2017

    HISTORY brings back 'Houdini' for October

    HISTORY will repeat their two-part Houdini miniseries starring Adrien Brody and Kristen Connolly on Wednesday, October 18 at 8:30am (Part 1) and 10:30am (Part 2). Proceeding the miniseries will be repeat of Brad Meltzer's Decoded (7:00am) and the "Houdini Handcuffs" episode of Pawn Stars (7:30am).

    Houdini originally aired in September 2014. The version HISTORY shows is edited. The unedited International version is available on DVD and Blu-ray. Houdini can also be streamed on Amazon and Netflix.

    But if you are going to watch just one Houdini biopic this month, I'd recommend the Tony Curtis classic Houdini (1953) which airs several times on MOVIES. While both dabble in fictionalizations, the Curtis film is a better movie about magic and a much more affectionate portrait of Harry and Bess.


    Monday, October 9, 2017

    Open House at 278 this Sunday, October 15, 1-3pm

    There will another Open House at Houdini's former home at 278 West 113th Street in Harlem this Sunday, October 15 from 1-3pm.

    This will be the third open house since the brownstone went on the market in June. The sale of the house is being handled by Douglas Elliman Real Estate. Asking price is $3,999,000.

    Thanks to Adam Steinfeld for the heads up.

    Paul Zenon's Linking Rings at the Secret Cellar in London

    Magician Paul Zenon's one-man show Linking Rings will play at the Secret Cellar, "London's hidden theatre of close-up magic", October 18-22. According to Paul, this will likely be the last season for the show in London.

    Houdini's right-hand man deals with the death of his boss. A half century later, a Blackpool joke shop proprietor takes on a wide-eyed young protégé. An affectionate look at a misspent youth and unsung heroes; a touching true story of interlocking lives. 
    This acclaimed self-penned work is an exciting change of direction for Paul Zenon, who has made regular appearances everywhere from Countdown to La Clique and is known as the UK pioneer of Street Magic.

    Not a magic show, but magical nonetheless.

    For more information and to buy tickets visit the Secret Cellar.


    Sunday, October 8, 2017

    Grim Game lantern slide sells on eBay

    An original glass lantern slide for Houdini's The Grim Game sold on eBay today for $846.99. The seller didn't appear to know what this was and listed it for $6.00, describing it as "kind of cute." I'm sure they were happy with the auction results!

    Joe Notaro at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence has a nice look at this and other Grim Game slides HERE. For more on the history of lantern slides, check out Silent Cinema Society.

    Below are links to a few more recent lantern slide sales.


    LINK: The Adrienne Barbeau Blogathon: The Great Houdini (1976)

    Debbie Vega's Moon in Gemini has an "Adrienne Barbeau Blogathon" post about the 1976 biopic The Great Houdinis. It's a review of the movie and an appreciation of Adrienne's performance as Daisy White. You all know how nostalgic I am about The Great Houdinis, and Adrienne Barbeau is always worth our attention, so head on over to Debbie's site and show her some love. Daisy would!

    "I saw it during its original broadcast, but didn’t recall that it’s actually a very good movie..."

    Last year Debbie also did a "Star-Studded Couple Blogathon" that included Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. You can keep up with Adrienne Barbeau at

    By coincidence, today marks the 41st anniversary of The Great Houdinis first airing on October 8, 1976.


    Saturday, October 7, 2017

    Houdini The Last Show poster contest

    Calling all artists! The McCord Museum in Montreal is holding a "Houdini Last Show poster contest" as part of their ongoing ILLUSIONS: The Art of Magic exhibition. Here are the details.

    On October 22, 1926, master magician Harry Houdini gave the last of a week of performances at Montreal’s legendary Princess Theatre. Nine days later, he died of a ruptured appendix in Detroit. Mysteriously, there were no promotional posters created for this 1926-1927 tour.*
    We’re inviting all graphic designers, illustrators, digital artists and anyone interested in poster art to take part in a competition. Prepare your digital pencils and graphic tablets, and let your imaginations run wild. Take inspiration from the exhibition Illusions: The Art of Magic. Create a poster for Houdini’s last show! 
    1. Find inspiration by visiting the exhibition Illusions: The Art of Magic for inspiration and check out the portfolio. 
    2. Create your masterpiece! 
    3. Send your poster (low-resolution – 5 MB) in portrait format 24 x 36 inches format to before midnight November 12. Only finalists will be required to submit their posters in a high-resolution PDF file with crop mark, CMYK, ready for printing.
    4. Selection of finalists and the Grand Prize Winner: A jury of experts from the arts and graphic design community will select four finalists, including a Grand Prize Winner. The selection will be announced on our Facebook page at noon on November 23. 
    5. Will you be the Public’s Favourite? If your poster was preselected on November 23, invite your friends to vote for your picture on our Facebook page. 
    Finalists and their friends and families will be invited to the McCord Museum to attend the unveiling of the Grand Prize Winner on Friday, December 8, 2017.

    Your poster must include:
    • Title of the show: Coast to Coast
    • Date: October 18 to 22, 1926
    • Location: Princess Theater
    • Address: 290 St. Catherine West, Montreal
    • The official logo of the McCord Museum
    • Dimension: 24 x 36 inches

    For more information, including list of prizes, download the contest PDF from the McCord Museum website.

    ILLUSIONS: The Art of Magic runs through January 7, 2018. For a list of Halloween events, including screenings of Houdini (1953) and the animated Houdini, visit the events page.

    *Not to be a pain, but the famous Buried Alive poster was created for his 1926-27 tour. Ironically, Buried Alive is one of the posters in the McCord exhibition!


    Friday, October 6, 2017

    Official Houdini Séance will be held in Cleveland

    This year's Official Houdini Séance will be held in Cleveland, Ohio. Details are still being finalized, but the location will be unlike anything that has been done before. Because of the uniqueness of the location, public tickets will be limited. So if you live in Cleveland or nearby, you might want to mark October 31st in your calendars. I'll have all the details and a link to buy tickets soon.

    This is the first official séance to be held in Cleveland, which is an excellent spot for this 91st anniversary of Houdini's death. Houdini performed in Cleveland in 1905, 1908, 1916, 1922, and twice in 1925. On December 20, 1916, he performed a suspended straitjacket escape from the John Hartness Brown building at 1019 Euclid Ave. and 9th Street.

    The Official Houdini Séance's are organized each year by Bill Radner and Tom Boldt.

    UPDATE: Event details and tickets can now be found HERE.


    'The Great Houdini's Puzzle Vault' released

    The Great Houdini's Puzzle Vault by Tim Dedopulos has been released in the UK. I'm not sure how much this has to do Houdini outside of using his name and image to brand the book, but that's enough for me!

    At the turn of the twentieth century, Harry Houdini was regularly leaving audiences of thousands amazed at his repertoire of stunts. Escaping locks and chains; digging himself out after being buried alive; freeing himself from a straitjacket while suspended from a crane; each escapade was a little more dangerous than the last and left his growing legion of fans wanting more. The Great Houdini's Puzzle Vault contains 100 puzzles inspired by the greatest escapologist to have ever lived. With puzzle chains where one wrong answer can leave you locked in a never-ending circle of puzzles, and logic problems designed to confound the minds of the unworthy, this puzzle book is an enjoyable test for all. Unlock your brain and see if you can escape the challenging puzzles inside.

    The Great Houdini's Puzzle Vault can be purchased at (UK) and (U.S.).


    Wednesday, October 4, 2017

    Houdini is back on the case in 'La Reine de Budapest'

    The third book in Vivianne Perret's French language "Houdini Magicien & Détective" series, La Reine de Budapest ("The Queen of Budapest") is released today.

    This time the action is set in, you guessed it, Budapest! There Houdini become involved with a women suffering from amnesia while also investigating the death of young bookseller. The local police believe it was accidental, but Houdini believes it was murder...

    Also released today is Vivianne Perret's first book, Metamorphosis, in a new mass market paperback edition, part of the prestigious "Grands Détectives" series. That adventure is set in San Fransisco in 1899. While Vivianne's plots are fiction, all the books are set in a time and place accurate to Houdini's career.

    La Reine de Budapest can be purchased from and A Kindle edition will be released in the U.S. on November 8 and can be pre-ordered at


    Tuesday, October 3, 2017

    Terror at the Hot Springs

    One of the highlights of Houdini's Terror Island is the underwater photography, especially the scene in which Houdini opens a safe, freeing a trapped Lila Lee. While scenes on the surface were all shot on scenic Catalina Island, the underwater action was filmed 60 miles east of Los Angeles in Riverside, CA.

    For a time, it was thought that Houdini and director James Cruze filmed their underwater action in the swimming pool of the famous Riverside Mission Inn, where Houdini and the crew stayed during the location shoot. But the Mission Inn pool did not exist until the 1940s (installed to compete with the resorts of nearby Palm Springs). So where were the scenes shot?

    Mission Inn historian Joan H. Hall published the answer in her 1996 book, Through The Doors of the Mission Inn. The scenes were shot a mile from the hotel at the La Elliotta Springs Plunge.

    La Elliotta Springs was the brainchild of developer W.E. Elliott, who in 1896 opened a public "plunge" (swimming pool) at the sight of a natural sulfuric spring. The flow of water was so great that a complete change of water was made each night. The "anti-germ water" became popular for its supposed health benefits, and the size of the pool made it a popular location for silent film production, including Buster Keaton's The Navigator.

    Houdini and the Terror Island crew arrived in early November 1919 to film their underwater action in the Elliotta Plunge. Scenes included the aforementioned safe sequence, as well as Houdini fighting a diver and his transitions in and out of his submarine. While staying at the Mission Inn, the crew experienced a sharp earthquake on November 4. Near the end of their stay, Mary Pickford and her brother Jack arrived at the Inn following a lengthy shoot in the San Jacinto Mountains.

    The local Riverside Press reported that the Houdini movie was being filmed "in secret" and would be called "Deep Sea Loot." This led Joan Hall to say in her book that the movie was never completed. Of course, it was completed as Terror Island. (Curiously, the title "Deep Sea Loot" sometimes still shows up as a separate Houdini movie.)

    In 1936, La Elliotta Springs changed hands and became known as "Heron's White Sulphur Springs" until it closed in 1952. It re-opened briefly in 1960 as "White Sulphur Springs," before closing permanently. But the empty pools and abandoned buildings remained on the site as late as 2015, as can be see the photo below from The Press-Enterprise.

    Last month I decided to drive out to Riverside to see for myself what remains of the Spring today. Unfortunately, not much. The pools have been filled in and all the trees removed, clearing a large empty lot. However, some of the foundations remain, as you can see in the photos I took below. The last tangible remains of Terror Island in Riverside.

    During my visit to Riverside I also made the short hop to the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, which is still going strong as a tourist destination. I visited the Hotel Museum where the helpful staff directed me to the Hall book (I got a copy), and also showed me that Houdini is very much remembered as part of the hotel's history. Houdini's name appears in the self guided tour brochure, and the hotel bar has a drink named for him, the "Hand-Cuff Martini", which I had to sample...for research purposes!

    Now, not to get all Margery on you, but I could really feel Houdini in the hotel lobby and especially the old restaurant. I could see him holding court with James Cruze and the crew, feeling himself to be every bit a movie star and the conqueror of a new medium. The hotel also holds a certain fairy tale magic, and in 1919 it must have felt like a palace oasis in the middle of a nowhere. I couldn't help but think that if Houdini and Lila Lee ever got up to any romantic shenanigans (as rumored), it was in this place. But maybe that's the martini talking.

    Speaking of Terror Island, I'm happy to be playing a part in what will be a major Terror Island event next year. No, we've not discovered a complete print (dang it), but it's still going to be pretty special. So stay tuned for more details and get ready for 2018 to be a year of Terror!

    Thanks to Joe Notaro at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence who first uncovered the Hall book and the information on Elliotta Springs.


    Monday, October 2, 2017

    It's "Houdini Month" at The Magic Detective

    Our great friend Dean Carnegie is having a month long celebration of Houdini on his blog The Magic Detective. Dean kicks off "Houdini Month" today with a post revealing a hitherto unknown method Houdini is said to have used for his jail escapes. This was sometime Hattie Mooser passed onto Steve Baker, who passed it on to Dean under the condition that it not be revealed until after Steve's death. Baker passed away last month, and today Dean spills the beans!

    So click to learn Houdini - An Escape Revelation, and stay tuned for much more from The Magic Detective.

    UPDATE: Below are the ongoing "Houdini Month" posts from Dean:


    The Master Mystery novelization for Kindle

    Book Revivals is offering a new Kindle edition of The Master Mystery by Arthur B. Reeve and John W. Grey. Here's the description on Amazon.

    The Master Mystery is the novelization of a 1919 silent serial film told in 15 episodes from scenarios written by Arthur B. Reeve in collaboration with Charles A. Logue. The film stars Harry Houdini and is also known as "Houdini Super-serial." It tells the story of Justice Department agent Quentin Locke as he investigates a powerful cartel protected by The Automaton, a robot. 
    This eBook is illustrated with all the photographic reproduction that appeared in the original book edition by GROSSET & DUNLAP, NEW YORK, 1919.

    I would love it if the publisher offered a printed edition, especially as they are the first reprinter (is that a word?) to use a Houdini cover on the photoplay.

    Purchase The Master Mystery Kindle at


    Sunday, October 1, 2017

    Houdini (1953) on MOVIES! throughout October

    October is here, and Harry looks a touch concerned about that, doesn't he? But you have nothing to fear. Because Paramount's classic 1953 Houdini starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh will air throughout the month on MOVIES! A full list of showtimes below.

    Sunday, October 8 at 9:30 AM 
    Sunday, October 15 at 9:00 PM
    Saturday, October 21 at 5:00 PM
    Monday, October 23 at 7:30 AM
    Friday, October 27 at 12:00 AM
    (All times Pacific)

    Yes, I know Houdini is available on a whole host of other formats, but there's still something bewitching about seeing it on TV, especially in October.

    Related posts:

    Saturday, September 30, 2017

    Derek Tait's new book is a Houdini ESSENTIAL

    Derek Tait's The Great Houdini: His British Tours is now available in the U.S. (a month early). Here's my review.

    To date there have been approximately 152 non-fiction works on the life and career of Harry Houdini (double that if we include fictional works). But only a small number of these would I consider essential -- a work that so contributes to Houdini history that is a must read. Essential works do not come along all that often, and that's why the arrival of Derek Tait's The Great Houdini: His British Tours is cause for celebration, because this is a new essential Houdini work of the highest commitment and caliber.

    Derek takes a specialized approach, focusing only on Houdini's performances in the UK. The author spent 11 years unearthing the exact dates and details of just about every Houdini appearance. The book is packed with new, fascinating facts. Among the many revelations is Houdini's original iron bar escape (page 91); a detailed account of a bridge jump in rough seas (page 145); a mysterious operation Bess underwent in 1913 (page 194); fresh details on his Prison Cell & Barrel Mystery (which I mined for this post); and much, much more. The book is laid out chronologically, so using this book in conjunction with Frank Koval's Houdini Research Diaries allows one to place Houdini in time and place like never before. As I said, essential.

    But before plunging in, one should understand this is very much an academic work. Derek does not compress, finesse, or fictionalize information for the sake of narrative. He sticks to the chronology and reproduces accounts of Houdini's act in full, even if that means repetition (my God he escaped from a lot of packing crates!). When available, Derek also includes reviews of the other performers on the bill, creating context for the world of show business that Houdini inhabited. While an academic approach may alienate a casual reader, the serious reader will be exhilarated. With this approach, you can truly see how Houdini evolved his act and grew as a performer.

    But even the most general Houdini fan will thrill to the many beautiful photos in the book, some never before published. So on that level alone, this book is a must buy for all.

    The only area where I might fault the author is his inclusion of excerpts from Will Goldston's Sensational Tales of Mystery Men (1929). I don't entirely trust these colorful accounts of Houdini as Goldston was a bit of a myth-maker. His story about Bess crying the key away from the Mirror representative is infamous. But these tales are still interesting to read, especially for those who have not encountered the Goldston book or his stories before.

    Finally, Derek does not interject himself or his own theories into this work. He reports. This is refreshing in an era when biographies sometimes irresponsibly mix fact and speculation. Instead, Derek takes one of the most hands off approaches I've seen in any Houdini book, presenting his findings in full without comment or conclusion. It's a selfless approach and an ethical one. He does the hard work of knocking down the door so all can enter and freely explore the fascinating world of Houdini in the UK. Bravo!

    Purchase The Great Houdini: His British Tours by Derek Tait at (U.S.) and (UK).


      Friday, September 29, 2017

      David Haversat lands Houdini's spirit slates & chair

      David Haversat has once again tracked down and added to his collection a major piece of Houdini history. Below is the email sent out yesterday from David Haversat Magic with the exciting news.

      A tantalizing listing on eBay for Houdini's Chair and Spirit Slates topped the Houdini search for years, but one day just like disappeared never to reappear again! That was back in 2006 and some wondered what became of this historic relic? 
      Several years ago I visited the owner who listed the chair and slates, it indeed was still there after all that time. In fact it had been in the same location for 80 years! Everything about the offering was terrific. The original crate with "Houdini" stenciled in multiple places, the letter from Hardeen, the slates and of course the special chair where Houdini sat and demonstrated in his big show how unscrupulous mediums could make the secret switch.

      I made an offer, left and wondered if one day I would receive the call? 
      Well that day came and I'm now the proud owner of these historic items that have only been owned by several. 
      The chair passed from Houdini to Hardeen and then to Herman L. Weber (1900-1953) a.k.a "Nemreh". It sat on the same property until I recently purchased the chair along with the magic collection of Herman Weber.
      Herman L. Weber with his old friend Hardeen.

      Check out the links below to see the original 2006 eBay listing and other recent finds by David.


      Thursday, September 28, 2017

      Is there a Houdini prop in the basement of 278?

      If you were lucky enough to attended last weekend's open house at Houdini's 278 in Harlem, you got to experience something not afforded to those who attended the first open house in June. This time the basement was open to visitors. This is where Houdini is said to have worked on and kept some of his famous feats, some of which were still being stored there right up into the 1980s.

      In fact, the basement may still contain one last iconic Houdini prop! Check out the photos below, taken by one of last weekend's lucky attendees.

      Now, I know we discussed this back in July when David Saltman posted a photo of this "giant wheel" on his blog The Houdini File. But that photo didn't show the same detail. It looked like it might have been part of the house, possibly a gear from the disassembled dumbwaiter. But now getting a closer look, as well as learning the diameter (approx. 40"), one can see that this is actually a wagon wheel. All the elements are there, the most notable being the "Flat Steel Tire" as seen below.

      So what's this have to do with Houdini? Well...

      Before we get too excited, the wheel we see Houdini tied to above is not the exact same wheel (different number of spokes). But that doesn't mean the wheel in the basement wasn't used by Houdini in exactly this same way. This was one of Houdini's escapes. In his 1920 book, Magical Rope Ties & Escapes, Houdini devotes a section to what he calls "The Big Wheel Release." He even expresses a preference for the type of wheel to use, allowing for dramatic "scenery":

      An audience which would go to sleep while and artist was making a really difficult escape from the wheel of a farm wagon will break into tumultuous applause over a comparatively easy one from a cannon wheel.

      So how has this wheel remained in the basement all these years? Maybe it was just too impractical to take away. Or maybe those who say it didn't recall that the "Big Wheel Release" was part of Houdini repertoire. But after seeing these photos, I'm thinking the basement of 278 holds one last Houdini treasure, and that's pretty cool!

      Here's a look at the full basement (which had a dirt floor in Houdini's day). I especially love those arches. Also notice the horseshoe on the far left. In his book Houdini Question Reality, Dixie Dooley reports seeing a horseshoe over the front door in 1985 that dated back to Houdini. Same one?

      So what do we think? Is this wheel for real? Or are we going in circles? Sound off in the comments below.

      Thanks to our open house attendee for sharing these terrific pics.


      Wednesday, September 27, 2017

      Photos from The Last Séance

      Here are some terrific photos from Jennifer Berman's new play The Last Séance at the Hudson Guild Theater in New York. The play will run for two more performances this Friday, September 29 and Sunday October 1st. Thanks to David Goodman of David Goodman Photographs for sharing these great shots.

      Lady Doyle (Isabel Schnall) channels "Mama."
      Houdini (Justin Chevalier) and Conan Doyle (Jim Haines).
      Megan Ghorashy as Eusapia Palladinio.
      Justin Chevalier as Houdini.
      Harry and Bess (Megan Ghorashy) in performance.

      CLICK HERE for tickets to The Last Séance. For more information visit the website for The New York Theater Festival.


      Tuesday, September 26, 2017

      Monsterama hopes to scare up Harry

      The 4th annual "Monsterama" horror and sci-fi convention in Atlanta, Georgia, will hold a Houdini seance as part of their opening night events this Friday, September 29 from 11:00 PM to Midnight. Seance summoners wil be Shane Morton, Dan Roebuck, and Marcus Koch.

      Friday night will see what we hope to be our first annual Monsterama Seance! This year we’re hoping to conjure up the spirit of Harry Houdini, famed escape artist, magician and debunker of fake mediums. Before he passed on to the other side, he asked his wife to try to contact him in the hereafter, and we’re taking up the mantle. We’ll be using some of Harry’s own techniques to try and get him to sign in.

      For more check out the Monsterama website, Facebook and Twitter.


      Important correction to Houdini bookcase story

      On Sunday I reported that Houdini's famous bookcase is longer inside his former home at 278 West 113th St in Harlem. This was something noticed by open house attendees on Sunday.

      I then reported that it had been sold to an anonymous collector, which certainly got everyone's attention!

      Well, I've just gotten off the phone with Beverley Draggon, the always helpful realtor from Douglas Elliman Real Estate who is handling the sale of the house. She tells me that information is wrong. There was no sale.

      I've now rewritten and reposted the story with the confirmed information, and apologize to everyone. Didn't mean to spread "fake news."


      Monday, September 25, 2017

      REVIEW: The Last Séance by Jennifer Berman

      Dorothy Dietrich, Dick Brookz and Jane Mallison of Houdini Museum in Scranton attended the opening performance of Jennifer Berman's new play The Last Séance at the Hudson Guild Theater in New York on Monday. The play will run for two more performances on September 29 and October 1st. As you'll read in their guest review below, this is one not to be missed!

      Justin Chevalier as Houdini. Photo by David Goodman.
      If you are within range of New York City, run don’t walk to see Jennifer Berman’s new play The Last Séance at The Hudson Guild Theater as part of their New York Theater Festival. It is set against the backdrop of the early twentieth century. Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle confront each other over the emerging, widespread and growing phenomenon of Spiritualism. While devoted follower Doyle embraces the ability to contact and talk to the dead, Houdini is an anti-Spiritualist crusader. 
      Almost everything about this production goes beyond expectation. At the very top of the list is the lead Justin Chevalier, who plays Houdini, and is as good as it gets. Good looking and reminiscent of Houdini, short of statue, but tall in presence he exudes the kind of confidence one would imagine of the legendary superstar. 
      There are four other actors in the presentation, Jim Haines, who plays Doyle, has a large build that is physically larger than Houdini, but clearly not of the intellect of Houdini, though the part is written in a positive and intelligent manner, not cartoon like which would be the easy way to go. 
      The other three actors play multiple parts in the show. Isabel Schnall plays Lady Doyle and Margery (in a blond wig). As Lady Doyle, she sometimes is a little laid back and not always up front enough, but still very good and winsome. She totally changes as Margery being very sexy, brash and up front. Megan Ghorashy plays Bessie Houdini and spiritualist Eusapia Palladinio. Two widely different characters that she plays well, once you can in your mind make the transition. 
      Last but not least is Michael Fidalgo who plays 5 or 6 characters that by the end blend into one. Doyle’s son, Sir Oliver Cabot Lodge, Pheneas, Hereward Carrington, and and Margery’s husband, the enigmatic Dr. Crandon. 
      This show richly deserves a much wider showing, which in our minds could even extend to Broadway. 
      -Dick Brookz, Dorothy Dietrich, and Jane Mallison. 

      CLICK HERE for tickets to The Last Séance. For more information visit the website for The New York Theater Festival.


      Rose & Co. remembers their favorite pitch man

      English bath and beauty product maker Rose & Co. has posted the following to their Twitter. This appears to be an original. Nice.

      You can still buy Zam-Buk from the Rose & Co website. Tell them Houdini sent you.


      Sunday, September 24, 2017

      Houdini's bookcase and piano are no longer inside 278

      Breaking news from today's open house at 278 in New York. An attendee tells me that the original piano and Houdini's famous parlor bookcase are GONE!

      Initially the rumor was that an unknown collector contacted the owner after the first open house in June and a deal was made to sell the items. (This after I was told that the bookcase and piano were to stay with the house.) But the realtor tells me this isn't accurate. She says the owner simply moved them out of the house. Whether or not the owner did this because he plans to sell them at a later date is not clear.

      Two bathtubs that dated back to Houdini's time were also on the property in June. One was in the backyard being used as a planter. The other was in the front of the house at the sunken garden floor entrance. Reports are the one in the front of the house is also gone. Despite the legend, I've never heard anything about either bathtub having the initials HH.

      (Speaking of initials my tipster confirmed for me that Bess's top floor bathroom does not have the BH tiles.)

      The piano, which was located on the garden level, is also said to be original to the house. I didn't look too closely at it when I was there in June, but I do own a copy of a listing of property inside 278 from 1919 (made for insurance purposes), and on that list is a "player piano."

      It does break my heart to see these leave the house. I loved that they had survived all these years. But who knows what would have become of them with new owners who might not care about the history. So if they wind up in private collection where they will preserved and cherished as a piece of Houdini history, then I guess that's a good outcome. But it appears the great dissolution of Houdini's historic 278 has begun.

      The sale of 278 is being handled by Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

      UPDATE: The above story was rewritten when the realtor confirmed that the bookcase and piano had not been sold, so the comments below may not accurately reflect the information here. Attendees to the most recent open house (10/15) report that they are still absent. I have also now confirmed that the bathtub has indeed been sold.



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