Monday, July 31, 2017

WAH in MUM

Click to enlarge.
WILD ABOUT HARRY gets a nice mention in the new August 2017 issue of MUM, the official magazine of The Society of American Magicians. It appears in Bruce Kalver's "Tech Tricks" column. Thanks for the kind words, Bruce!

For those who've come here looking to read the post mentioned by Bruce, below are all three posts related to my recent visit to New York and Houdini's house.

And as far as Houdini and food is concerned, here's 23 posts. 😛

Thanks to Joe Fox for the photo.

Related:

Sunday, July 30, 2017

'The Great Houdini: His British Tours' released in UK

Today sees the release in the UK of Derek Tait's highly anticipated The Great Houdini: His British Tours. This is a fully updated 304 page hardcover edition of the book Derek first self-published in 2011. This one is published by Pen & Sword and promises to be the must buy Houdini book of the year. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy!

The Daily Mail recently profiled the book and the author. The story includes a collection of preview images from the book, including a photo of Houdini in shackles that I've not seen before.

While today is the official release date, online retailers do not yet appear to have the book in stock. But Derek tells me the publisher assured him copies are on the way, so hopefully any shipping delays will be temporary.

The Great Houdini: His British Tours will not be released in the U.S. until November 2, 2017.

Purchase The Great Houdini: His British Tours at Amazon.co.uk (UK) and pre-order at Amazon.com (U.S.).

Related:

Saturday, July 29, 2017

When I thought Charles Nelson Reilly was Houdini

I typically track my interest in Houdini back to my first viewing of the classic Tony Curtis Houdini biopic on November 16, 1975. But the truth is my first encounter with Houdini came much earlier. So this is my strange confession.

I have no idea what age I was, but when I was very young, we had a turtle that we kept in a shallow fishbowl on a kitchen counter top. Somehow the turtle was able to escape his bowl, get down from the counter, and get inside a closet. The turtle did this three times, at which point my parents named it "Houdini."

It was then my father explained to me who "Houdini" was. I can vividly remember this moment. He told to me Houdini was a man who lived long ago and who could escape from anything and never failed. This information blew my mind, especially as I was raised with no religion whatsoever. This was really the moment that I learned of the miraculous; that a seemingly supernatural man once walked the earth and proved his powers to all who challenged him. Damn!

Flash forward to 1971 when, like so many of my generation, I watched some pretty trippy children's television. One of those shows was Lidsville, produced by Sid & Marty Krofft. What I really liked about the show was the opening song which told the story of Mark (Butch Patrick of Munsters fame) who dared to sneak into a magician's dressing room to discover the secret of his magic hat. This sends Mark into a psychedelic land of "hat people" ruled over by an evil magician named The Great Horatio J. Hoo-Doo, played by Charles Nelson Reilly. Check out the full opening below.



Now, in my 7-year-old mind, I thought Hoo-Doo was Houdini. Not that it was an actor playing the part, I really thought he WAS Houdini. He fit the bill as the all-powerful wizard of lore, the very source of magic, who was somehow both menace and friend to young Mark. And he had the name. In fact, in Episode 15, Houdini gets a name check in one of Hoo-Doo's songs:

Who makes women's hearts go twitter?
Hoo-Doo!
Who makes husbands all turn bitter?
Hoo-Doo!
Who makes magic like Houdini
Only wish he could?
Cuz he does it twice as good
Hoo-Doo! Hoo-Doo!
Hoo-Doo, that's who!

I don't know how long this idea remained in my head, because beyond the credits, I lost interest in Lidsville, which only lasted 17 episodes. But the idea of Houdini was planted deep within me, and I was starting to pick up on pop cultural references, such as the name Hoo-Doo. So, yes, my earliest conception of Houdini was some kind of a cross between Jesus Christ and Charles Nelson Reilly. And when Tony Curtis arrived on the scene, complete with his martyrs death and a promise of resurrection, I finally decided, "Okay, its time to find out the truth about this guy."

I'm still trying to do that.

For the full story of Lidsville, check out this terrific post at Cult Oddities. Below are links to some more, less psychedelic appearances of Houdini on children's TV.

Related:

Friday, July 28, 2017

La disparition d'Harry Houdini

The short story La disparition d'Harry Houdini (The Disappearance of Harry Houdini) is now available as a standalone eBook. The story first appeared the November 2014 issue of French kids magazine, Moijelis.

The story involves the disappearance of Houdini during an overboard box escape. It's up to his young assistant Arthur and pet Python Maharadjah to find the missing magician.

The eBook is avalible from Amazon.fr (France) and Amazon.co.uk (UK). You can buy the 2014 magazine at the Moijelis website.

Related:

Lee Terbosic "Houdini 100" limited prints

Last year magician Lee Terbosic successfully recreated Houdini's suspended straitjacket escape in Pittsburgh on the 100th anniversary of the stunt (November 6, 1916). One of the things that inspired Lee was a famous photograph taken that day by Pittsburgh Sun Staff Photographer N.M. Jeannero of the massive crowd watching Houdini accomplish his escape.

So Lee called upon his friend and acclaimed photographer Jared Wickerham (Getty Images, Nike, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated) with the challenge of capturing the exact same shot from 1916. The result, as Lee puts it, "was pure magic."


Lee is now making 100 prints available of his recreation photo. Each is individually signed and dated by Jared Wickerham in the exact same way N.M. Jeannero signed his own image in 1916. The image is printed on quality Hahnemuhle Rag Satin archival photo paper and includes a certificate of authenticity.

You can purchase Lee Terbosic's "Houdini 100" print while supplies last via his official website.

Related:

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Remember to answer in the form of a question

This appeared on Wednesday's Jeopardy under the category Britannica Bylines. This was worth $400. No one got it. Don't think that will happen here.


Thanks to Christopher Baker of the still going strong HOUDOYLE fansite. To see the full board, check out J! Archive, where you can also see all mentions of Houdini.

Related:

Talking Houdini with Dash Finley and Dark Times

Recently I was interviewed by Dash Finley for Dark Times: Unsolved Horrors and Mysteries. The interview was held in the Houdini Seance Room of the Magic Castle and aired yesterday on Facebook's Super News Live. Dash had excellent questions and the interview was a lot of fun. Click below to watch. (It takes about 30 seconds to start.) Please give it a Like if you like!



Thanks to Dash Finley and Amanda Urrego. Also thanks to Ben Roman at the Magic Castle.

Related:

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Hear a snippet of unreleased Houdini voice recording

Homer Liwag recently toured David Copperfield's amazing magic collection in Las Vegas for Alumni Spotlight. This video is worth watching no matter what, but what makes it extra special is we get to hear snippets of Houdini's voice NOT heard in the available recording.

As Arthur Moses first revealed in 2012, the Houdini voice recording that is publicly available is actually an edited combination of two different recordings Houdini made introducing his Water Torture Cell in 1914. For those who have the recording burned into your brains, have a listen starting around 4:08 and you'll hear the differences.



For those who don't know the recordings as well, highlighted below are the differences:

"Ladies and gentlemen, I take great pleasure in introducing my latest invention: The Water Torture Cell. Although there is nothing supernatural about it, I claim that it is absolutely impossible..."

I should point out that Tom Interval used the first sentence in his excellent clean-up and restoration of the original recording (which can be heard here), so that may sound familiar. But the last line -- "I claim that it is absolutely impossible" -- has largely gone unheard.

I've had the pleasure of hearing both the full recordings on a few occasions. Click on over to Arthur Moses official website to read transcripts of those two unedited recordings.

Related:

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Real Science Adventures collected edition released

A collected edition of Brian Clevinger's Real Science Adventures: Billion Dollar Plot, a graphic novel that features Houdini in action beside Nikola Tesla, Charles Fort, Annie Oakley and others, is released today by Atomic Robo.

A cabal of industrialists are conspiring to overthrow Washington D.C. in the wake of the Financial Panic of 1893. Only the Centurions of Science stand in their way! But can they stop the Black Coat Army and save New York City from sinking into the Atlantic first? Starring: Nikola Tesla: The Mastermind; George Westinghouse: The Industrialist; Winfield Scott Lovecraft: The Secret Agent; Charles Fort: The Investigator; Ehrie "Houdini" Weiss: The Escapist; Annie Oakley: The Sharpshooter; and Wong Kei-ying: The Martial Artist.

You can buy Real Science Adventures: Billion Dollar Plot on Amazon.com (U.S.) and Amazon.co.uk (UK).

Related:

Monday, July 24, 2017

Museum will search for Nicola's vanishing elephant

Next month The Warren County History Museum in Monmouth, Illinois will us high-tech radar equipment to search for the remains of "Nizzie," the vanishing elephant used by The Great Nicola in the 1930s. The search for Nizzie is part of an early promotion for next year's "The Great Nicola Magic Festival", an event hoping to rekindle interest in the magician and Monmouth resident.

"He was on par with Houdini," says Kellen Henrichsen, executive director of the history museum. "He’s still a big name in the magic community."

During his career, Nicola imitated many of Houdini's signature feats, including the Handcuff Act, Metamorphosis, the Milk Can and, yes, the Vanishing Elephant.

You can read the full article at The Journal Star. It's loaded with annoying pop-ups, but if you can navigate through those, it's a good article with some nice Nicola images.

More information of The Great Nicola Magic Festival can be found HERE.

Related:

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Comic Con: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini

Here's some Houdini news from the San Diego Comic Con. Titan Comics and Hard Case Crime have announced the new graphic novel Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini by Cynthia Von Buhler. The first issue will be released November 8, 2017. Cover and description below.

Created by acclaimed artist, author, director, and playwright Cynthia Von Buhler, Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini has already garnered praise from legendary author Neil Gaiman who said: "I was seduced by Cynthia Von Buhler's artwork. She is a wonder."

Unappreciated at her father's detective agency, the fabulous rabbit-loving Minky Woodcock straps on her gumshoes in order to uncover a magical mystery involving the world-famous escape artist, Harry Houdini!

Featuring covers by artist Robert McGinnis - the famous creator of movie posters for classic films such as James Bond and Breakfast at Tiffany's and acclaimed comics legend David Mack, the first issue arrives in stores November 8, 2017.

Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini #1 will be solicited in the upcoming September PREVIEWS catalog. Creator Cynthia von Buhler gave a preview her artwork for the book in March.

Thanks to Bleeding Cool.

Related:

Friday, July 21, 2017

BUYER BEWARE: USD presentation piece on eBay (UPDATE: Fraud confirmed)

A rare brass presentation piece commemorating the first public performance of Houdini's Water Torture Cell is currently being auctioned on eBay. It's now up to $3,500 with 64 bids. However, something fishy is going on here.

There are three known USD presentation pieces, and Dr. Bruce Averbook owns all three. He believes the one pictured on eBay is his, and the photos used in the auction are the same photos that were used back when he purchased it in 2007. He posted the original photos to Kevin Connolly's CONJURING HISTORY Facebook group, and the similarities are unmistakable. "Natalie Antiques" appears to have been cropped out of all the current auction images.

Current auction photo (left) and 2007 photo (right).

Bruce has reported the issue to eBay, but with only 17 hours remaining on the auction, there may not be time for the website to investigate, so...BUYER BEWARE!

UPDATE: Well, this sold for $6,500.99. Here's hoping it works out.

UPDATE 2: The seller antiques_arts has vanished and the bad feedback is starting. Looks like he took a several people to the cleaners on several high priced items.


Related:

Criss Angel joins Houdini on the Walk of Fame

Magician Criss Angel received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame yesterday. I admit I'm not a follower of Angel's work, but I do like that he's an open admirer of Houdini and repeatedly pays tribute to the escape king, whether it be a Houdini motorcycle in his Las Vegas showroom or naming his show "Believe" after the famous codeword.

In fact, Criss kicked off his speech at yesterday's dedication ceremony by telling the story of how inspired he was when he first came to Hollywood in the 1990s and saw Houdini's star. "It's unbelievable," said Angel. "Houdini died in 1926 and this star will remain here for as long as this planet is here."

Other magicians in attendance yesterday were Lance Burton (who spoke) and The Amazing Jonathan. Actor Gary Oldman and UFC fighter Randy Couture also spoke.

Angel's star sits across the street from Houdini's star at Hollywood and Orange. Also in the vicinity are Penn & Teller, David Copperfield, and Bill and Milt Larsen.

Other Houdini-related stars to seek out on the boulevard are actresses Mae Busch (The Grim Game), Lila Lee (Terror Island), and Nita Naldi (The Man From Beyond). Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh are also honored.

You can see photos from the event at the Daily Mail.

Related:

Houdini at Comic Con (in 2005)

This weekend is the annual pop culture juggernaut San Diego Comic Con. I used to attend the convention each year, and in 2005 I was thrilled to stumble on this large advertisement for what turned out to be the 2007 book Houdini The Handcuff King by Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi.


I've often wondered what ever became of this poster. Be a nice collectible to have today.

For those of you attending Comic Con, enjoy! And if you spot anything Houdini related, let us know in the comments below.

Related:

Thursday, July 20, 2017

LINK: Houdini's circus wagons in Budapest

Philip Treece at CollectingMagic.co.uk recently ran across two Houdini circus wagons in Budapest, one sporting the Welsh Bros name. Where did these come from? Click the headline to find out.

Related:

'The Queen of Budapest' reigns in October

The third book in Vivianne Perret's French language "Houdini Magicien & Détective" series, La Reine de Budapest ("The Queen of Budapest"), is due for release on October 4, 2017. It can be pre-ordered now at the French Amazon.fr. Amazon does not yet have cover art, but I do!


While these adventures are fiction, author Vivianne Perret sets each book in a historically accurate time and place. Her first book, Metamorphosis, was set in San Fransisco in 1899. The second, Le Kaiser Et Le Roi Des Menottes ("The Kaiser and the King of Handcuffs"), found Houdini in Berlin in 1900. As you can tell by the title, this latest adventure has him in Budapest, which Houdini visited during his first tour of Europe.

Vivianne has shared with me the location for book 4 (hint: we've spent time there lately), but I will save that news for another time.

Related:

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Alan Davies Houdini doc airs July 28 in the UK


The well-made 2014 documentary The Magic of Houdini with Alan Davies will air on PBS America and SKY 534 in the UK on Friday, July 28 at 9PM. It then repeats at 12:00 AM and 4:00 AM on July 29.

In The Magic of Houdini, comedian Alan Davies travels to various Houdini locations in the UK and U.S. Along the way he talks with: Roger Dreyer, David Copperfield, Ruth Brandon, Ken Silverman, Kevin Connolly, Richard Sherry & Dayle Krall, and 93-year-old Larry Weeks (his last interview). As I wrote in my original review, it offers up a nice time capsule of the Houdini world in 2014.

For those in the U.S., know that you can stream the documentary on Netflix. It has not been released to DVD.

Related:

Monday, July 17, 2017

Is there a Houdini pet buried in West Hollywood?


An article in last weekend's Los Angeles Times about a television newswoman's need to downsize from her large home in Beechwood Canyon to a rental in West Hollywood (this is news?) contained the following curiosity:

Murphy was also tasked with figuring out how to change the configuration of the living and dining spaces that Henderson described as “awkward.” They wanted to make use of every inch of space while avoiding clutter and finding a way to reflect the Spanish-inspired exterior of the historic development. (Legend has it that one of famed illusionist Harry Houdini’s beloved dogs is buried in the courtyard.)

Wait, what's this now? Houdini's dog buried in West Hollywood? Let's pick at this bone.

When one mentions Houdini's dogs, one thinks of Charlie and Bobby. Charlie died around 1911. Bobby died on December 15, 1918. Houdini was not in California during either of these times. There were other dogs -- Silverman speaks of a dog named "Ehrich" -- but those might have belonged to other family members (a family photo in Henning shows an assortment of dogs and cats). So I'm skeptical that any Houdini dog is buried here. However, there is another possibility.


Following Houdini's death, Bess and Ed Saint moved to Los Angeles and lived at several different addresses between 1933 and 1943. Among their residences was one at 8565 West Knoll Drive in, yes, West Hollywood (as can be seen on the letterhead above). The Times article does not give the address of the newswoman's rental, but but if it's anywhere near West Knoll, this could be the bungalow where Bess and Ed lived.


Bess had many pets. She was especially fond of birds. As far as I know, she did not have a dog at this time, but she did have a pet marmoset named "Satan" (so named because it was vicious to all expect Bess). I don't know when Satan died (he was 10 in 1936), but I could see Bess giving Satan a burial in the garden.

Among the (27) photos accompanying this article is one that shows a slab with a cross (above). It doesn't specifically say this is the rumored gravesite, but it certainly appears to be. So is this the grave of Satan?

Do I dare suggest...exhumation? Or do we have to argue that Satan might have been poisoned first?

Bess letterhead from the collection of Jim Rawlins.

Related:

Friday, July 14, 2017

The owners and occupants of Houdini's 278


The big news of the last month is that Houdini's famous New York brownstone at 278 W 113th Street in New York City is on the market for the first time in 26 years. Having looked at the house inside and out, top to bottom, today I take a look at the history of the house and its various owners and occupants. Including a few ghosts!

At the time of its construction, "278" (as Houdini called it) was located in what the New York Times described as a "genteel enclave" of Harlem. Indeed, both Central Park and Morningside Park are within a few blocks, and it's said the area was populated with affluent German speakers. But exactly when 278 was built isn't entirely clear. Real estate websites such as Zillow show the date as 1890. But the earliest real estate listing for the house (and several others on the block) appears in the New York Herald on April 5, 1896. Interestingly, it reads "restricted."

New York Herald, April 5, 1896

The first occupants of 278 appear to have been Thomas K. Moore and his wife M.E. Moore. They are the ones selling in 1896 and may have been the original builders. The house is still on the market in May 1897. (You can see that listing here.) On May 2, 1899, the house was purchased my Moses Kahn, his wife Henrietta Kahn, and Theresa Goldsmith with a $10,000 mortgage from Seamens Bank.

The 1900 census shows David Lubin, a Polish inventor and agriculturalist, living at 278 with his wife, Flora, and their four children. It's likely the Lubins were renters. On January 28, 1902, a fire broke out on the second floor, resulting in $75 worth of damage to the building and $135 damage to the contents. The Lubins are still in the house as late as 1903.

278 in Houdini's day.
In 1904, Houdini bought the house for $25,000 cash (purchase price $20,000 plus $5000 still due on the mortgage). Houdini boasted it was "the finest private house that any magician has ever had the great fortune to possess." But he was really purchasing 278 as a new Weiss family home, and especially as a luxurious new home for his mother. It was a big step up from their previous dwelling at 305 East 69th Street. During these years, Harry and Bess were continually on tour, so 278 was open to any Weiss or Rahner in need of a room. Houdini even once referred to it as "my apartments."

278 also became the home and workplace of Houdini's brother Dr. Leopold Weiss (well before the brothers had their famous falling out). Leopold was New York's first radiologist, and he set up his practice in the house. In 1907, Leo survived an attack by an intruder wielding a razor. The papers reported on the incident and later the capture of the assailant, Frank Thomas. But none of the newspapers mentioned Harry Houdini as the owner of the house.

In July 1913 Houdini's mother died. Her death devastated him. Several months later, Harry and Bess moved in with the Hardeens in Flatbush and put 278 up for sale at a "sacrifice" price of $18,000. Below is the listing in the August 23, 1914 New York World.

New York World, Aug 23, 1914.

Why did Houdini want to sell? Most biographies say the house just contained too many memories of his mother. This sounds perfectly valid. But Houdini collector Jon Oliver (who owns furniture from 278, including Houdini's bed) says Harry Hardeen Jr. told him the real reason was that mama's body had remained in the parlor for a full week that it took Houdini to return from Europe, and the smell made the house uninhabitable. This might explain why the house never sold. Instead, he rented it out to student members of Sigma Alpha Mu, a Jewish fraternity at nearby Columbia University.

Houdini in 278.
Either the house had a good airing out or Harry was finally able to shake his grief, because after four years with the Hardeens [read: The Flatbush years], Harry and Bess moved back into 278 in February of 1918. In July, Houdini transferred ownership of the house to Bess. Because of this, some newspapers mistakenly reported that Houdini "has just purchased a new home in Harlem."

Houdini then made 278 the home and "Houdini Central" that it had never really been before. At one point, Bess's mother Balbina Radner moved in permanently. The house also saw a succession of live-in maids and no shortage of animals. Visitors spoke of the trick front door that opened from the hinges, and also the fact that Houdini had wired the house for sound so he could amaze visitors with his "mind reading" prowess. Stacks of books and files filled every available space. Houdini once said, "I actually live in a library."

In fall of 1926, as Houdini was embarking on his tour, he reportedly stood outside 278 in tears. When Joseph Dunninger, who was driving him to the train station, asked him what was wrong, Houdini replied that he had seen his house for the last time. He was right. Houdini died that Halloween.

Six months after Houdini's death, Bess sold 278 to her neighbors, John and Filippina Bonanno for just $3000. A mortgage was arranged that had the Bonannos making twice yearly payments to Bess with 6% interest. While Bess had (amazingly) cleared the house of Houdini's collections, donating them to the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library, she left furniture and Houdini ephemera (including a Milk Can) in the basement. This appears to have been fine with the Bonannos, and everything remained there well after Bess's death in 1942.

Rose Bonanno, who knew Houdini when she was a child, was a good custodian of Houdini history. She did not make radical changes to the house, keeping as much of the original woodwork and period fixtures as possible. The house even remained on D.C. current well into the 1980s. In 1953, she welcomed Houdini producer George Pal to the house, whom she felt bore a resemblance to Houdini. Dunninger and Blackstone were also visitors.

Rose also allowed Houdini séances to be held in the house. During one séance in 1949, Rose claimed to receive a phonecall from Houdini who instructed the sitters to look at "Paper Magic, page 118, Fig. 12." (There is no Fig. 12 on page 118.) A photo of the last séance, done as a live Halloween broadcast in the early 1970s, appeared in Walter Gibson's The Original Houdini Scrapbook.


Rose kept up her twice yearly payments (in June and December) to Bess's sister, Marie Hinson, who had inherited the mortgage. With each payment, she included a friendly note. In one she wrote that she recently read Houdini The Untold Story by Milborune Christopher. "It is not a bad misinformed book," she told Marie. "He wrote nice things about him."

But her letters also sadly track the downfall of the area. In 1972 she wrote:

"We are all fine and always working hard to keep the house up but the neighborhood is in a deplorable condition. It's more like a slum, everyone back and front of houses, houses boarded up and windows broken and plenty of fires."

When Rose died on September 19, 1979, her brother, Rev. Charles Bonanno, inherited the property, but was unclear where the mortgage stood. "You see my sister died so sudden that I am not familiar with her debts and income," he wrote to Marie, now 92.

With the help of Marie's son, Vincent, Charles paid off the remainder of the mortgage ($750) on July 10, 1979. Now in a nursing home himself, he was eager to sell, but found it difficult. "On fifth avenue it would be worth a good deal but not in Harlem," he complained to Marie. "The section is very poor full of drug addicts and muggers."

However, at one point he reported that he might have a possible buyer from the world of magic.

"Got a call from Rochester from a Mr. Peter Ruff (Houdinii) uses Harry's name with a extra "i" to his name, wants to buy the house if the price is right. I don't know what to say as I have no idea what to charge for it, have you ?? Hope I get a buyer soon as I can't hold out too long with the tenants in it taking advantage of my absence from the house and doing what they want."

Charles eventually sold the house in April 1980 to Louis Moise. At this time the basement was finally cleared and its contents and auctioned off in a general estate sale in New Jersey. Houdini buffs in the know walked away with countless treasures, including posters and portraits of Houdini's mother and father. (Read: The greatest Houdini auction ever.)

But treasures remained. In 1985, magician and Houdini buff Dixie Dooley paid a remarkable visit to the house (covered in his book, Houdini Question Reality). At this time, the house had a tenant named Mr. Wilkes. Wilkes did not allow Houdini fans into the house, but on this stormy night he made an exception for Dooley. In fact, not only did he allow the magician to see the entire house, but in a story that makes all Houdini fans green with envy, he gave Dixie posters, a printing block, an overboard box and a spirit table, all of which had somehow been lingering in the house all these years. Wilkes refused money for the items. The fact that Dixie promised to "treasure them" was good enough for him. He then told Dixie that the spirit of Houdini was a regular visitor. "One night he turned the lights on and woke me up from a sound sleep," said Mr. Wilkes.

In 1991, Fred Thomas purchased the house from Louis Moise. Thomas claims he had no idea it was Houdini's former home until his neighbors told him so. But Thomas shut out Houdini fans and historians, saying, "People are always outside taking pictures of the house. I've developed a callousness." A profile of him in the Daily News was headlined: "Hey, Houdini fans, leave this poor man alone."

Thomas lived on the first two floors (Garden and Parlor) and turned the top two floors into rental apartments. It's said during the renovations a stash of valuable Houdini silent movie posters were discovered in the walls. He also added a call box to the front of the house, which robbed it of any potential status as a historical landmark. (A historic plaque was eventually installed as part of the Cultural Medallion Program). In 2000, Thomas took out a $100,000 mortgage on the house, which was paid off in 2010.

During Fred Thomas's ownership, the only glimpse of the inside of 278 came when one of the apartment units came up for rent or a resident threw a party. The all-important parlor level, where Houdini had his trophy room and library, remained closed off to all. But Thomas's investment paid off as the area dramatically improved.

278 today.
Today 278 is on the market for $4.6 million, ironically returning to its relative value in 1904. On June 18, 2017, there was a one time only open house that finally gave Houdini fans a chance to see inside [covered in detail here]. Happily, much of the house has remained intact, especially the parlor. It's still very much the house Houdini inhabited.

The sale of 278 is being handled by Douglas Elliman Real Estate. As of this posting, I've not heard of a buyer. But let's hope whomever becomes the next owner of 278 honors its historic connection to the world's greatest magician, and will continue to preserve those parts of the house that have remained unchanged and still hold that Houdini magic.

A very big thanks to Tom Interval and Bill Mullins for uncovering the pre-Houdini history of 278 and sharing their research. Thanks to Fred Pittella for allowing me to share his 1914 real estate listing. And a very big thank you to John Hinson for providing me with the original mortgage and correspondence between Marie Hinson, Rose and Charles Bonanno.

Related:

Thursday, July 13, 2017

I'm not done haunting Houdini's house

Having examined "278" inside and out, top to bottom, it's now time to delve into the history of the house and those who have inhabited the home of Houdini. Stay tuned for "the owners and occupants of 278."

Houdini fiction from John Pirillo

There is certainly no shortage of Houdini fiction out there these days, both in print editions and eBooks. Now the prolific John Pirillo has released a series of self-published eBooks mashing-up Houdini with Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, and even Merlin.

Below are a list of Pirillo's Houdini works on Amazon:


You can lean more about John Pirillo and his work at his official website.

Related:

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Penn Jillette on the importance of magicians

AM New York has a brief Q&A interview with Penn Jillette promoting the season 4 return of his TV show Penn & Teller Fool Us. The interview concludes with the following, which I think is pretty insightful and important:

What’s the importance of magic as a creative medium these days?

Magic, the way you’re using that word . . . starts with Houdini. He said, "I’m doing tricks. There is nothing supernatural here." In that sense, magic is a very modern art form. There are some idiots who go on TV and say, "I have real, magical powers," and then do a card trick. Let’s throw those people out. In this day and age, where everybody yells "fake news," the most important skill is the skill to determine what is true. Magicians deal with that, playfully. They say, "what appears to be real may not be." That simple sentence, "some people can do tricks," is one of the most important sentences you will encounter though the 21st century. "Some people can do tricks," and some will do it playfully, some will do it maliciously, and the most dangerous people will not know they are doing it.

I know some may balk at the idea of modern magic "starting" with Houdini. Most would say it started with Robert-Houdin or even Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft. But it could be argued that Houdini's standard and repeated statement that what he was doing was accomplished purely by natural means -- "there is nothing supernatural about it" -- was a very untypical and modern thing to hear from a magician during the Golden Age of Magic. Of course, the more Houdini said this the more people insisted he was supernatural, so...

Click below for more Houdini talk from Penn. I also highly recommend his podcast Penn's Sunday School where Houdini is frequently mentioned.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A mini Mirror Handcuff mystery

A reader named Ian sends in these images of a mini (5.5cm) brass replica of Houdini's Mirror Handcuffs with a request for help in identifying them. These belonged to his late brother-in-law, Matthew Brown, who was a handcuff and Houdini collector. Ian points out they are the size of thumbcuffs, if one had very large thumbs. He has no idea how old they are or whether they are one-of-a-kind and he does not have the key. Ian sold his brother-in-law's collection, but says, "This is the last and most intriguing cuff which is why I kept it too last."


At first I was excited to think we may have found the mysterious Tatler cuffs, but these do not appear to be the same design.

If anyone has any idea what these are, please leave a comment below or contact me. I can also put you in direct touch with Ian.

UPDATE: So it appears these are one of several different working mini Houdini handcuffs made for fun by John Bushey of Minnesota and Ian McColl of Australia. These particular cuffs are said to have been made by McColl.

Thanks to Terry Roses.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

Andrey Fedorov takes on Houdini in Russia (update)

David Saltman at The Houdini File reports that Andrey Fedorov, chief historian of the Russian Association of Magicians, recently presented a lecture at the Fifth Magic History Gathering at The Magic Circle in London that challenged many of the accepted stories about Houdini's one and only tour of Russia in 1903. Chief among these is whether or not Houdini really escaped from the Siberian Transport Prison Van. (Oh my!)

David is himself an expert on Houdini in Russia and says he's in "lively correspondence" with Andrey, so I look forward to reading what David might have this. I'll share his links here.

UPDATE: David's first post is up. Happily, Fedorov not only confirmed the Prison Van escape, but discovered that Houdini might have done it twice! Read:


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Sunday, July 9, 2017

Houdini model plane lands in Diggers Rest cafe

A scale model of Houdini's Voisin biplane now hangs at Houdini's Café e Cucina in Digger's Rest, Australia, site of Houdini's historic 1910 flight. The model was built by Gary Sunderland for the 100th anniversary celebrations in 2010.


Houdini's Café e Cucina is located at 52-56 Old Calder Hwy, Diggers Rest, Vic, 3427. You can check out the menu and more at their official website and Facebook.

Thanks to David O'Connor and DiggersRest.com.

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Friday, July 7, 2017

Kenneth Silverman, 1936 - 2017

Friends Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz have just delivered some sad news. Kenneth Silverman, author of the seminal Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss, passed away tonight at age 81. He had been ill for some time.

© Nancy Crampton

Kenneth Silverman was born on February 5, 1936 in Manhattan. He grew up on East Seventy-Fifth Street, directly across from the tenement building where Houdini lived as a boy. As a teen in the early 1950s he performed magic as Ken Silvers. He even once appeared in a TV commercial for M&Ms. He was later educated at Columbia University, and became a professor emeritus of English at New York University.

As a biographer, Silverman won a Pulitzer Prize, an Edgar Award, and the Bancroft Prize for American History. He was also a "card-carrying" member of the Society of American Magicians.

In 1996 Harper Collins published Silverman’s Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss, which remains the finest biography of Houdini yet written. I had the honor of meeting Professor Silverman in 2011 when he gave a talk on Houdini at the Jewish Museum in San Francisco.

Ken is survived by his partner Jane Mallison, by his two children, Willa and Ethan, daughter-in-law Ronit, and three grandchildren: Benjamin, Eve and Isaac.

UPDATE: Ken Silverman's New York Times obituary contains the following, which is wonderful tribute to his work on Houdini and devotion to his subject:

In the frantically titled “Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss, American Self-Liberator, Europe’s Eclipsing Sensation, World’s Handcuff King and Prison Breaker — Nothing on Earth Can Hold Houdini a Prisoner!!!,” published in 1997 [sic], he outdid himself in wringing every last fact and facticule from the historical record. 
“He has sifted through scrapbooks, diaries, letters, playbills, census reports, court transcripts, thousands of press clippings in half a dozen languages and even the minutes of the Hebrew Relief Society,” the magician Teller wrote in The New York Times. The research was so exhaustive that Professor Silverman published his sources in a separate volume, “Notes to Houdini.” 
“As part of the research,” Ms. Mallison said, “he had me strap him into a straitjacket, and one New Year’s Eve he asked me to lock him into a canvas mailbag to see if he could get out.” 
On certain matters, Professor Silverman nevertheless maintained strict silence. Adhering to the magician’s unwritten code, he refused to reveal the secrets behind Houdini’s most famous tricks. Historian and magician struggled. In the end, Pulitzer or no Pulitzer, the magician won.

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

China discovers Houdini's Secret Life

Bai Hua Zhou literature and Art Publishing House has released The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush and Larry Sloman in China. The hardcover came out on May 1, 2017.

The Secret Life of Houdini was published in 2006 and was the first major Houdini biography since Ken Silverman's Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss. While Secret Life contains a rich amount of new material and some amazing never-before-published photos, it also contains a fair amount of Houdini mythology and puts forward the sensationalistic notion that Houdini worked as a spy (a theory I don't buy at all). So it's a mixed bag.

The Chinese edition of The Secret Life of Houdini can be purchased at Amazon.com (U.S.) and Amazon.cn (China).

Thanks to Arthur Moses for the alert.

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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Houdini storyline collected in The Shadow: The Last Illusion

This one slipped past me, but last year Dynamite Comics released a 144 page collected edition of their Shadow storyline featuring Houdini called The Shadow: The Last Illusion.

The Shadow infiltrates the sanctum of The Society of United Magicians, an esoteric enclave of illusionists who are hell-bent on escaping the ultimate trap: death itself! Learning the secret of the so-called "Last Illusion" from the spirit of escape artist Harry Houdini himself, The Shadow becomes the next target of their murderous scheme. To thwart their plans, he must evade twisted traps and solve spellbinding puzzles, while simultaneously evading the deadly skills of Sandman, the magician assassin. A good (or evil) magician never reveals his secrets... but the Shadow knows!

Of course, The Shadow was created by Walter B. Gibson, whom Houdini nicknamed, "Shadow."

You can buy The Shadow: The Last Illusion on Amazon.com (U.S.) and Amazon.co.uk (UK).

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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Hugh Jackman inhabits another Showman

When the Broadway Houdini musical starring Hugh Jackman fell apart in 2015, Jackman went off to do a musical biopic of P.T. Barnum instead. Now here's the trailer for that movie. Hard to watch and not think about what could have been.



P.T. Barnum died the year Houdini entered show business (1891), so the two men never met. But the world of Dime Museums and Circus, Houdini's bread and butter in his early years, was very much the world of P.T. Barnum.

There is, however, a more tangible connection between the two showmen. Houdini claimed that his vanishing elephant, Jennie, was a descendant of Barnum's own Jumbo. She wasn't, of course. Jennie was part of Powers Elephants who belonged to the New York Hippodrome. That was just Houdini engaging in a bit of old school Barnum "humbug."

HAPPY 4th OF JULY

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Sunday, July 2, 2017

Wild in Houdini's New York, 2017


Unless you've been living in a Milk Can, you'll know the big news of the last month is that Houdini's New York home ("278") is on the market for the first time in 26 years. When I learned there would be a one time only open house on June 18, I jumped on a plane to New York. I covered my remarkable experience in the house HERE; but there was more to my trip than just the house. Here today is my full report.

Saturday, June 17

The last time I visited New York was in 2005. In fact, some of the Houdini sites I visited on that trip -- the Shelton, Houdini's boyhood home -- made up my very first blog posts. This was a long overdue return.

While not technically a Houdini site, while dashing to my connecting flight (which I missed), I had to stop and snap of photo of this biplane hanging in the Denver International Airport. I believe it's a "Jenny" as seen in Houdini's The Grim Game.


I touched down in New York City in the early evening. After a little dinner, I rested up for what I knew would be a big day to come. How right I was.

Sunday, June 18

It was around 11:30am that I hit the subway and zipped into Harlem, landing on Houdini's front door a half hour before the official open house. The entire area had dramatically improved since my 2005 visit, and it was improved even then. I expect that's why a house that could barely be given away in the 1970s is now on the market for a cool $4.6 million.

Again, I covered my adventure inside 278 at length HERE. But in that post I didn't mention all the friends and Houdini luminaries who attended the open house. First and foremost was the great Fred Pittella and his girlfriend Linda, whom I would spend the rest of the day with. Barry Spector shared my early tour of the upper floors. Houdini graphic novelist C.E.L. Welsh arrived for a look. Our own Perry from New Jersey stopped by. Actor Alec Mathieson helped solve a bookcase mystery. It was a thrill to meet the great magician Steve Cohen. Also there for the duration was The Witch of Lime Street author David Jaher. And the very nice Tímea Sánta was there on behalf of her husband who penned a Houdini play. Needless to say, we all took turns posing by the Houdini bookcase! I again have to give a monumental thanks to Beverley Draggon and Detria Davu of Douglas Elliman Real Estate who are handling the sale of the house and allowed us all to run wild!

I lingered until the last possible moment while Fred Pittella waited patiently in his car. I then joined Fred, Linda, and David Jaher as we traveled to the next great place of Houdini pilgrimage, his grave in Queens. Along the way we talked non-stop about our experience in the house and Houdini in general. David was also able to fill us in on the progress with the movie version of The Witch of Lime Street, for which he has just delivered the screenplay.

Despite rain in the forecast, the day turned out to be beautiful, and we arrived at the cemetery around 4:00 pm. There waiting for us was the wonderful Colleen Bak, "our girl in Queens." Finally meeting Colleen in person was a tremendous pleasure; always nice to meet someone as genuinely wild about Harry as I. Colleen knows Machpelah well, and she had warned us that the cemetery might be closed at this hour. When we arrived, the gates were indeed closed, but the lock was hanging mysteriously open. Colleen said this was very strange; she had never seen anything like this before. Thanks Harry!

When I last visited the grave in 2005 it was missing the famous bust. But now the bust has been replaced by our friends Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton. On this day there were more than a few lipstick marks on the bust's cheek. Yeah, Harry's still got it.

The exedra was recently power washed by the Society of American Magicians who also did some restoration on the mosaic. Houdini's actual headstone was, as always, covered with rocks and trinkets left behind by visitors. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I love that there is such clear evidence that Houdini is remembered and so many people feel compelled to leave behind a tribute. But I fear some of the items, such as coins and metal objects (there was a Hot Wheels on it today) leave behind rust stains and are doing damage. And playing cards, a favorite, quickly fade and just become garbage.

But even covered with rocks, it's powerful to take a moment at the headstone and think that a mere six feet away lies the mortal remains of Harry Houdini himself. Blows my mind, in fact.

During my last visit, the cemetery's abandoned administration building was still in place. This was finally torn down in 2013. This has created a much different, much more tranquil atmosphere. It's a big improvement. It also hit me how dramatically Houdini's plot stands out from the sea of graves. It's not just the bright white bust, but also the design of the exedra (by Houdini himself) that makes it strikingly unique. If Houdini wanted to be noticed, mission accomplished.


The four of us then walked a short ways into the cemetery and paid our respects to Larry Weeks, whose headstone reads "Houdini's Biggest Fan." It struck me that no visit to Machpelah will be complete without also stopping by Larry's grave, if for no other reason than to see this inscription. Just as he wished, Larry Weeks has joined Houdini in eternity.

Saying our goodbyes to Harry and the family (hey, who is "Grandma" and how is it that she's buried in America?), it was time to eat. We convinced Colleen to join us (okay, we kinda kidnapped her) and off we went to Houdini's Kitchen Laboratory located not far from the cemetery in Ridgewood. The pizza was delicious and we treated ourselves to some cold beers on a nice open patio. The decor wasn't as Houdini-centric as I would have liked. Fred said Houdini used to adorn the menu, but that has changed. But there was a King of Cards poster at the entrance, so that satisfied me. (My new pet peeve are businesses that use Houdini's name without providing any kind of a link back to the man himself. I'm looking at you Houdini Kitchenware.)

We then climbed back into the car and traveled a short distance to Fred's house to have a look at his collection. Fred has the definitive collection of material related to Houdini imitators. His house is filled with colorful posters of escapists like Brindamour, Steens, and Nicola. Fred said he had sold a large part of his Houdini collection a few years ago, but he has since added back a few items. A few?

Fred opened a door to a entire room jam-packed with Houdini treasures; photos, posters, handcuffs and books. Many images of Houdini (and Bessie) I had never seen. Fred then pulled out several huge portfolios packed with Houdini material. There was so much we couldn't even get through it all. One page after another blew my mind. There was one very intriguing photo of Houdini dancing in the street with Gladys Leslie before floodlights and a large crowd. Possibly while filming Haldane of the Secret Service? Or at the premiere maybe? On another page was a letter written by Houdini at the Princess Theater in Montreal on October 22, 1926. Yes, the very day he was punched by Whitehead. Holy smokes.

Fred also owns some truly important pieces of original Houdini apparatus. He showed us Houdini's own pair of Bean Giant Handcuffs, cleverly modified to be "Handcuff King Beaters." He also has the famous pair of mini handcuffs that Houdini made for his dog Bobby (how did I not take a pic of those?). And just when I felt like it couldn't get any more spectacular, Fred pulled out what must be one of the most unusual Houdini props in existence. It's a gigantic spirit trumpet, complete with the custom made box that it traveled in. What could this giant trumpet have been used for? Was it oversized for demonstration purposes? Or maybe it was used for a moment of humor during the 3rd act of the 3 Shows in One. I can recall no mention of a giant spirit trumpet, but there's no doubt that it was part of Houdini's show. Let the search commence!


Just when I thought we has seen it all (what could trump that trumpet?), Fred pulled out the original table and bowl Houdini used in his famous Whirlwind of Colors routine. Yes, this was the effect that Houdini famously couldn't complete during his final show and Jim Collins had to finish it for him. Now here I was with that very bowl in my very own hands! Unfortunately, all the photos I took revealed the secret, so I can't share them here. Magician's Code!

With my head still swimming, Fred returned us all to our respective homes. There have only been a few days in my life that I felt I actually hit Houdini overload. This was one of those rare, and glorious, days.

Monday, June 19

It was another beautiful day in New York, yet I spent the entire morning inside, hunched over the floor plans and photos of 278, trying to puzzle out all I had seen the day before. By 1:00 pm, I felt satisfied with my work, so I fired back out into the city to another exciting Houdini destination that I for many years I've longed to visit, the Houdini Museum of New York at Fantasma Magic.


I thought I was already pretty familiar with the museum's content from Neil McNally's terrific two-part interview with owner Roger Dreyer that he guest blogged for us HERE. But I still found myself blown away. Not only have there been notable additions, but here again were some amazing images of Houdini that I had never seen before. One remarkable shot shows him standing on a platform behind an early film camera. I believe this was taken in 1915 during his visit to Hollywood when he appears to have caught the movie bug. What a image!


Unfortunately, Roger Dreyer was not in town. When I talked to him later, he told me he wished he could have been there because he would have shown me his private office "where all the best stuff is." Well, I can't imagine anything better than what I saw in the display cases out front. In fact, you can expect some deep dives into some of the things I saw at the museum (future headline: "Houdini's secret secret").

The Houdini Museum is not far from Times Square, so I decided to go check out the Times Square Theater where, in April 1922, Houdini played The Man From Beyond and revived his vanishing elephant. It was reported a few years back that the surviving theater would be restored, but I've not heard anything since. Much to my surprise, the theater is still shuttered. But in one way this is good as you can still clearly see the theater as it was in Houdini's day.


I stood and drank in the sight, trying to teleport myself back to 1922. But it suddenly struck me that I wasn't quite as excited about this Houdini landmark as I once would have been. Yesterday I was in his bathroom for crying out loud! Did my 278 experience ruin me to this kind of thing?

Pushing on, I entered Times Square itself, where on November 5, 1917 Houdini performed his one and only suspended straitjacket escape in the city. Today Times Square is a sea of electronic billboards that cover the facade of every building, so there's really nothing recognizable from Houdini's time. Still, Houdini hung here.


I also went and checked out the Palace Theater, built by Martin Beck and where Houdini played on several occasions. The building is now so completely concealed behind towering advertisements for Sunset Blvd. that a photo seemed pointless. I then took shelter in a bar behind the theater as the city was swept by a sudden cloudburst. Harry crying for his lost New York maybe? Probably not.

Tuesday, June 20

It was time to head home, but I still had the morning free to hit one last Houdini site. It was such a beautiful day, that I decided to head to Battery Park, site of Houdini's 1914 overboard box escape  (also the Houdini-Boudini challenge, which may have been his first open air stunt in New York City).

The only real clue I had to the location of the escape -- or at least the spot where the tugboat launched as the escape was actually performed off the Battery -- was the newspaper advertisement that alerted the public to gather "near the aquarium." Well, there's no longer an aquarium, nor was there a good match for the building seen in the photos. But there was an old fort, Castle Clinton, that seemed to be in the right spot. I did some looking around and I discovered that, in 1914, this was the aquarium, but it had been restored back into the original fortress in modern times.


But what was even more revelatory is that this building was used to process newly arriving immigrants form 1855 to 1890. This means it's very likely that the Weiss family was processed here in 1878 instead of Ellis Island as might be assumed. So I went in search of a Houdini historical site and found two!

One wonders if the memory (or awareness) of this spot as his entry point into the U.S. ran through Houdini's mind as he did his escape here in front of 15,000 cheering New Yorkers. Talk about a journey. Walking along the seafront, I noticed the Battery has a nice view of the Statue of Liberty. Too bad that none of the existing photos of the escape capture the monument in the background.

I had some fun showing park rangers at Castle Clinton the photos of Houdini's escape and the mobbed Battery. For whatever reason, this is not one of Houdini's better documented escapes, and no one I spoke to knew about the Houdini connection. But they do now, and my hope is that they might share this tidbit with tourists. If so, my work is done.


Thus ended my New York Houdini adventure for 2017. There was still much I didn't see; Bess's grave in Hawthorne, the site of Tony Pastors Theater, Payson Ave., Leo Weiss's apartment, and Houdini's New Jersey Film Lab. But those adventures I'll save for my next visit.

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