Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The untold story of Houdini's secret straitjacket escape

Today marks the anniversary of Houdini's death on Halloween 1926. But instead of my usual post about his death, this year I thought I'd offer up a remarkable new story from his LIFE. Enjoy.

This November 5th marks the 100th anniversary of Houdini's suspended straitjacket escape in Times Square. History records this as his first and only suspended straitjacket escape in New York City. However, I recently discovered that is not the case. His first was actually a year earlier in 1916. It's a story that has gone untold and is pretty interesting. So let's tell it!

Despite the general perception, Houdini did not perform many outside stunts in New York City. Unlike other cities, the police would not tolerate the massive crowds and snarled traffic. In fact, when Houdini first arranged to be nailed into a packing crate and "thrown" into the East River in 1912, police arrived to stop the stunt. Thinking quickly, Houdini chartered a tug boat to take himself and members of the press to Governors Island where he performed the escape outside of the city's jurisdiction.

When Houdini played Broadway's famous Palace Theatre in March 1916, he wanted to promote his appearance by performing his latest spectacular outdoor feat, the suspended straitjacket escape. And what better location than Times Square (then called Longacre Square).

The press agent for the Palace Theatre, Walter J. Kingsley, announced the escape for March 28, 1916, saying the stunt would be Vaudeville's special contribution to the Shakespeare Tercentenary celebrations, which marked the 300th anniversary of the death of the great playwright.

The March 29, 1916 New York Sun recorded what happened next:

POLICE STOP HOUDINI FEAT
Prevent Straitjacket Exhibition in Longacre Square.
Police intervention prevented Harry Houdini from trying to escape from a straitjacket while suspended from a derrick over the Longacre Square subway excavation at noon yesterday. The exhibition was ordered stopped and reserves from the West Forty-seventh street station had to be called to disperse the crowd which had gathered in anticipation of the event. No arrests were made.

The article then continues with this remarkable paragraph and promise:

Walter J. Kingsley, who had announced the affair as "part of the Shakespeare tercentenary celebration," said this fact was what brought out the crowd. The exhibition will take place to-day instead and the police will not be told beforehand where it will be. "Somewhere in New York" is the place so far as the censor will allow it to be mentioned and noon is the time.

It seems incredible that Houdini (via Kingsley) would openly defy the New York City Police in this way. But it was not unprecedented. In England, Houdini was frequently denied permission to do bridge jumps, but he would do so anyway, sometimes employing a double to distract the police. If charged, he would argue that not doing an escape after it had been announced was "breaking faith" with his audience and would harm his reputation. Hence, he would follow through with his New York City straitjacket escape, even if it meant very few people would be there to witness it.

The next day the The Sun reported the following:

HOUDINI ESCAPES 40 FEET UP.
Wriggles From Straitjacket When Hanging by Heels.
Suspended by the heels over a Battery subway excavation forty deet deep Houdin freed himself from a straitjacket yesterday at noon in three minutes. No more work was done in the Custom House thereafter. Persons suposed to be laboring indefatigably in other tall buildings near by also crowded to the windows.
The police who stopped the feat at Times Square on Tuesday, did not interfere. As the scene of the performance had not been announced, there was no crowd on hand. Houdini, it is said, wins $500 which had been bet with him by foremen of the subway construction work.

One has to suspect that this "bet" was a way to justify the escape should Houdini be charged by the police. Presumably, he could argue that he hadn't done it as a publicity stunt, but as a private wager. The Sun's account concludes with this paragraph, which suggests the iconic escape sans the massive crowd didn't quite pack the same punch.

As his heels were securely tied, and as the only difficulty arose from hanging head downward, the escape from the straitjacket was singularly devoid of thrills. Nevertheless, Walter Kingsley of the Palace Theatre was enthusiastic. He repeated that the affair was "vaudeville's contribution to the Shakespeare tercentenary."

The New York Tribune also carried an item about the escape, specifically identifying the subway construction as the Bowling Green station.

So how did we overlook this piece of Houdini history for so long? Well, ironically, we've been staring at it for years!

At the top of this post I used a famous photo, one of a series of photos that have been published many times, but without firm identification. In fact, some have been identified as his 1917 Times Square escape. But on the back of the above photo it says "Houdini 3/30/16." That is the date (off by one day) of the Bowling Green escape!

But it gets better. Below is a terrific unpublished photo from the collection of Mark Willoughby which I first shared on Sunday. As I said then, I've always loved this image, but it has always baffled me. Why is Houdini in a park and why no spectators?


That's because this too is the Bowling Green escape, taken from a different angle, probably at the start of the escape as Houdini was being swung over the subway construction. And how do I know this is the same escape? The rope tie around Houdini's ankles match the known photos perfectly. And if that wasn't enough, check out the dignified man in the long coat and glasses standing to the right of the photo. That is the Palace press agent, Walter J. Kingsley, who also appears in the known photo. Unmistakable.


With the rediscovery of this escape, Battery Park becomes an even more interesting stop on a tour of Houdini's New York. The Battery is also the location of the arrival of the Weiss family in 1878, and of Houdini's famous 1914 overboard box escape (another somewhat untold story).

Finally, when I visited the Battery during my recent trip to New York, I took the below photo as I exited the Bowling Green subway station. I wasn't thinking about Houdini. I just thought I was taking a photo of Freedom Tower in the distance. Little did I realize I was actually taking a photo of the location of Houdini's very first suspended straitjacket escape in New York City.


Thanks again to Mark Willoughby for allowing me to share his unpublished photo of what we now know to be Houdini's Bowling Green escape.

Remembering
HARRY HOUDINI
on the
91st ANNIVERSARY
OF HIS DEATH
October 31, 1926


UPDATE: Eagle-eyed reader Karl Bartoni points out that the image of Walter J. Kingsley in both photos is remarkably similar -- maybe too much so! I hadn't noticed this, but it is so similar, it almost looks like image from the Mark Willoughby photo has been inserted into the more famous photo. Or maybe it's just a remarkable coincidence? So to alleviate any suspicion, below is another photo of the escape in which Kingsley can be seen in the same place, but clearly in a different pose. This was actually the first photo I spotted him in and was going to use for this post, but then I saw him in the more famous shot and used that instead. But here's my first choice.


Related:

Monday, October 30, 2017

Gene Gamache 'Houdini' doc arrives on DVD

The excellent documentary Houdini: People Came to See Him Die will finally be released on DVD tomorrow, Halloween, at 1:26 PM. The documentary originally aired on the Discovery Channel in 1996, then was released on VHS by Unapix. According to director Gene M. Gamache, this is a slightly recut and remastered version that had a limited theatrical release in 2013.


Watch the official Houdini People Came To See Him Die Facebook page tomorrow for details on how to buy. One sheet posters from the 2013 release will also be available for purchase.

UPDATE: You can now purchase the DVD and poster HERE. Use the special discount code Halloween1926 and receive free domestic standard shipping.

Related:

Hardeen in the House!

George Hardeen, grandson of Theo Hardeen and great-nephew of Houdini, has traveled to his ancestral home of Budapest, Hungary, where he will spend Halloween with David Merlini and gook folks at The House of Houdini museum. Below is the museum's release announcing their honored guest.

Harry Houdini’s Closest Living Relative Comes to the Famed Magician’s Hometown 
George Hardeen to visit Budapest on the 91st anniversary of Houdini’s death 
Budapest, HUNGARY – David Merlini, owner and founder of The House of Houdini Budapest, has invited George Hardeen—Houdini’s great-nephew—to visit Europe’s one and only Houdini Museum on October 31, the 91st anniversary of Houdini’s death on Halloween night, 1926. 
Houdini was born Erik Weisz in Budapest, Hungary. He "borrowed" the name Houdini from French magician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin. Houdini’s younger brother Theodore, who was also born in Budapest (as Ferenc Dezső Weisz) took the name Hardeen because it sounded like Houdini. Their father left Budapest in the late 1870s and settled in Appleton, Wisconsin, where he became the town's first rabbi. Houdini and Hardeen often performed together. Theo was a brilliant magician and escape artist in his own right. Houdini and his wife, Bess, had no children, and when he died on Halloween, 91 years ago, he willed all of his props to Theo. Theo Hardeen even named one of his sons Harry Houdini Hardeen (George Hardeen's father). 
About George Hardeen
George Hardeen, 65, didn't find out he was Houdini's great-nephew until he was a teenager, as his father never talked about the connection—or mentioned his middle name. George Hardeen's grandfather died before he was born. When George Hardeen moved to northern Arizona in the early 1980s to pursue a career in journalism, he fell in love with the people and the landscape and never left. „The Houdini legacy has taken a new branch – Hardeen says - because my wife is Navajo and my children are enrolled members of the Navajo Nation.” George Hardeen travels to Budapest for the first time to pay a visit to The House of Houdini, a privately held museum dedicated to he memory of Harry Houdini.

For more on The House of Houdini visit the official website. For more on George Hardeen, check out this excellent NPR profile from Halloween 2011.

Related:

Sunday, October 29, 2017

This photo changes Houdini history

Here's a terrific unpublished photo of Houdini doing a suspended straitjacket escape. This comes from the collection of our great friend and frequent contributor Mark Willoughby. Just sharing this fantastic image is worth a post, but there's more...


This photo instantly raises some questions. First and foremost, what the heck is going on here!? Why is Houdini doing a suspended straitjacket escape in what appears to be a park for what appear to be general passersby (the woman directly below him looks especially surprised to see him). A practice session maybe? For years, this was my best guess.

But now I've finally discovered the answer, and it actually rewrites some Houdini history. So check out WILD ABOUT HARRY on Tuesday (Halloween!) when I will pull back the veil on this curious tale.

Until then, enjoy a few more "Willoughby rarities" below.


Related:

Houdini and Doyle lecture at Temple University

Heads up for one more Halloween event. Temple University in Philadelphia will host a lecture by author Laurence Roy Stains on "A Death Foretold: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini, and their Epic Battle over Spiritualism" at the Paley Library at 3:30 PM. Below are details:

Join us this Halloween afternoon as Professor Laurence Roy Stains takes us into the world of 20th century paranormal communities. 
When you die, will you continue to exist in spirit form? Can you make contact with the souls of the departed—with ghosts? The conviction that both things are true was the cornerstone of Spiritualism, a worldwide movement that reached its peak a hundred years ago. Its foremost spokesman was Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the hyper-rational detective Sherlock Holmes. He was friends with the great escape artist Harry Houdini—until Houdini tried to expose the Boston medium Mina Crandon, whose séances with her dead brother, Walter, had attracted the attention of Scientific American magazine. The detailed records of these séances provide a fascinating look at a forgotten practice, and the ominous predictions of Houdini’s death will send chills down your spine. 
Laurence Roy Stains is an associate professor of journalism at Temple. He is the author, with Stefan Bechtel, of the newly published book Through a Glass, Darkly: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & the Quest to Solve the Greatest Mystery of All (St. Martin’s). He has written for many national magazines and won a National Magazine Award in 2011.

For more details visit the event page at Temple University.

I admit the book Through a Glass, Darkly slipped past me when it was released in June. You can purchase at Amazon.com (U.S.) and Amazon.co.uk (UK).

Related:

Houdini in LOC pop-up Halloween exhibition

Houdini will be featured among more than 200 collection items on display at The Library of Congress' pop-up exhibition, "LOC Halloween: Chambers of Mystery." Below is a description and terrific artwork tweeted out today by Events at the LOC.

At "LOC Halloween: Chambers of Mystery," visitors will learn about the ancient and mysterious traditions behind these autumn holidays through a rich selection of books and archival special materials. The display will feature items of various themes including Halloween origins and traditions, curated ghost stories, a commemoration of Día de Muertos , Houdini's pursuit of the supernatural and the films that brought them all to life.

The display will be on view Friday, Oct. 27 through Tuesday, Oct. 31, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., and Wednesday, Nov. 1, 11 a.m.–2 p.m. in the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First Street S.E., Washington, D.C.

For more information vist the official LOC webite.

Thanks to Dean Carnegie.

Related:

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Open House at Houdini's 278 Sunday, Oct. 29

There will an Open House at Houdini's former home at 278 West 113th Street in Harlem tomorrow, October 29, from 1:00-2:30 PM.

This will be the fourth 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.

Inside Houdini's house 2 days before Halloween...who can resist?

Houdini muscles in on Blackstone auction

Potter & Potter's latest auction may have been devoted to Harry Blackstone, but just as in life, his chief rival Harry Houdini was there to try and steal his thunder!

The Blackstone auction include several nice Houdini lots, including the remarkable signed cabinet photo seen on the right ($11,685), Houdini's "Handcuff King Breaker" Lilly Irons ($22,140), and a file of papers related to Houdini's formal complaint against Blackstone for performing his Overboard Box escape ($4,920). The complaint resulted in Blackstone's expulsion from the S.A.M, and the file includes what's described as his "biting and anti-Semitic-laced four-page response", including this choice quote:

"...this chosen son of the great Patriarch, seems to be hankering for the limelight constantly, and not satisfied with being the ‘Handcuff King’, a motion picture idol, and a sometime headliner, will still stoop to the old time worn stunt of his kind to cry ‘Thief’, when he never had an original trick in his whole career…"

But Blackstone did pretty well himself today. Many of his lots reached Houdini-like prices, including $46,740 for a performance-worn tuxedo.

Potter & Potter's next "Winter Magic Auction" will be December 16 and will include "a selection of escape artist-related items, including handcuffs, locks, keys, and memorabilia."

Related:

The Daily Mail's (not so new) Houdini photos

So many people have alerted me to this (and I see it's now been picked up by Genii Online) that I feel compelled to comment on this splashy but bogus Daily Mail article about "lost" Houdini images which have recently "emerged". Of course, none of these are new images. They are all common photos, and some of these digital images come from the 2010 Houdini Art and Magic press-kit. So a bit of fake news here.

However, the article nicely promotes Derek Tait's superb new book The Great Houdini: His British Tours, which deserves attention, so...

For those who are interested in seeing a genuine new image of Houdini performing an escape -- one that has never been published before (to my knowledge) -- come back tomorrow when I will share the first of what will be a two part Halloween post.

Related:

Friday, October 27, 2017

Through The Decades explores Houdini

The documentary series Through The Decades will look at "the magical life of Harry Houdini" as part of a Halloween episode airing on...Halloween!


The episode features magician and Houdini lecturer William Pack. In 2015, Through the Decades explored Houdini's Shelton Pool Test. I'm not sure whether this episode will contain that same content.

For showtimes, check out the official Decades website.

Related:

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Houdini seance and magic show in Colon


Magician Ron Carnell will once again host a special Houdini Séance and Magic Show at the River Lake Inn in Colon, Michigan, this Saturday, October 28 at 5:30 pm.

Get ready! I’ll be conducting a séance the Saturday leading into All Hallows’ Eve in an attempt to contact the long passed spirit of Houdini, the most famous magician of the Twentieth Century. The sitting, as these séances are sometimes called, will take place in the dimly lit main dining room at River Lake Inn restaurant in Colon, MI, a small village long recognized as the Magic Capital of the World. 
We’ll have a seventy-five minute magic show first. “A Tribute to Harry Houdini” is a show specifically designed to celebrate the life and magic of Houdini. Guests will then be invited to help themselves to River Lake Inn’s bountiful salad bar, and dinner will be served shortly afterwards, followed by desserts. 
Finally, as everyone relaxes with coffee or wine, the lights will be dimmed, candles will be lit at each table, and the séance will begin. How long it lasts will ultimately be up to Harry.

For more information and to make reservations visit the event page at River Lake Magic. Seating is limited.

This Saturday will see quite a collection of Houdini happenings (see calendar to right).

Related:

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Harry Houdini Down Under (video)

Here's a well-done video about Houdini in Australia in 1910. There's even a photo here I don't believe I've ever seen; Houdini standing and pointing in row boat at 1:58. This is from "Doctor Colin's World of History" YouTube Channel.


I'm not sure where the good Doctor got the idea that Houdini flew 85km from Geelong to Diggers Rest on March 18. History records Houdini's plane was assembled at Diggers Rest where he flew short exhibition flights on that historic day. He later made several flights at Rosehill Racetrack in Sydney.

You can read more about Houdini's aviation exploits below.

Related:

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Why Houdini's last show was a killer

Today marks the 91st anniversary of Houdini's final performance at the Garrick Theater in Detroit.

Much has been written about Houdini's refusal to go to the hospital and instead take to the stage with a 104 degree temperature and what turned out to be a ruptured appendix. Some chalk it up to a stalwart "the show must go on" attitude. Other condemn him for sheer stubbornness.

But there might have been something else effecting Houdini's decision making that night, something uncovered in 2015, but that has yet to appear in any biography. So on today's anniversary, I'll direct you back to what I think is an important piece of the final days puzzle.


Related:

32nd Annual Las Vegas Houdini Seance

Mystifier and Houdini authority Dixie Dooley will hold his 32nd Annual Las Vegas Houdini Seance at his Theatre of Magic at the Boulevard Mall on Halloween. Dixie will have on display some of his original Houdini artifacts.

Experience the only official Houdini Seance in Las Vegas, sanctioned and attended by the Houdini family. Conducted by Las Vegas Mystifier Dixie Dooley, one of the world's leading authorities on the Legendary Escape Artist - Harry Houdini!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017 - Halloween
Admission is Free - Seating at 10:30am - Seance begins at 11am.
Theatre of Magic @ Bouldevard Mall (adjacent to Seaquest)

Historical Houdini & Seance items on display

For more information vist the event page on Facebook and Eventbright.

So we currently have seances set for Cleveland, New York, Los Angeles, and now Las Vegas. Which one will Harry attend? Stay tuned! And if you know of any other Houdini Seance or Halloween events, let me know.

Related:

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Linking Ring goes "Inside Houdini's 278"

Today I'm excited to share the news that the October issue of The Linking Ring includes my article about going "Inside Houdini's 278."

This is a somewhat modified version of the post I originally shared here about attending the first 278 open house in New York in June. Magazine Editor Sammy Smith has done a great job integrating my photos and floor plans into a 14 page spread. It's like visiting all over again!

The Linking Ring is the official magazine of the International Brotherhood of Magicians (IBM). For information on joining the IBM and getting The Linking Ring (in print and PDF), visit the official website.

The sale of Houdini's 278 is being handled by Douglas Elliman Real Estate. There have been two more open houses and a few developments, which you can read about via the links below.


Related:

    Saturday, October 21, 2017

    Houdini here!

    Here's a terrific photo of a theater adorned with three mammoth Houdini posters. I love shots like this because I always learn something. Here we learn that there existed giant sized "Slander in Germany" posters. The only surviving examples of this poster (one of which sold in 2011 for $25,000) are half sheet size. And if you're curious about that poster on the far left, you can get a better look at it here.

    Because there's a Milk Can poster present, I'd date this photo between 1908-11. And I believe that is Harry and Bess themselves on the balcony.


    By the way, I have no idea where I got this image. So if you sent it to me and would like credit, just give me a shout.

    Below are links to photos of some other Houdini theater fronts.

    UPDATE: An eagle-eyed reader points out a sign in French over the doorway, so I'm guessing this is Barrasford's Alhambra Theater in Paris in 1909.

    Related:

    Thursday, October 19, 2017

    Official Séance looks to lock up Houdini in Cleveland

    Today I have details on the 2017 Official Houdini Séance in Cleveland. This year attendees will gather for a 3-course meal, entertainment, and the official seance inside a former bank vault! The vault is today part of the Crop Bistro & Bar in downtown Cleveland.

    Here is your chance to experience the 90th consecutive Official Houdini Séance on the anniversary of Houdini's Halloween death in the intimate, candle-lit Vault under the old United Bank and Trust Building in Ohio City, now home of Crop Bistro & Bar. 
    Enjoy cocktails and an exceptional three-course dinner while enjoying Houdini talks and up-close magic performed by Paul Gallagher
    Then the séance will begin with medium Marianne Goldweber, who'll also perform individual audience readings throughout the session. 
    Houdini often performed in Cleveland, so maybe this year he will come through! 
    Ticket price includes one drink ticket, dinner and entertainment. Valet parking is available for $9. 
    SCHEDULE OF EVENTS:
    7 p.m. - Cocktails & Light Hor D'Ourves
    7:30 p.m. - Dinner, Houdini Talks and Close-Up Magic by Paul Gallagher
    8:30 p.m. - Formal Parlor Show
    9 p.m. - The Official Houdini Séance with medium Marianne Goldweber, owner of The Village Personal and Spirtual Development Center
    Magician Paul Gallagher and Medium Marianne Goldweber.

    The Official Houdini Séance traces its linage back to Houdini's brother Hardeen who passed the tradition to collector Sidney Radner. Sid held seances until his death in 2011. Today his son Bill Radner and Tom Boldt carry on the tradition. In 2012 the Official Seance was opened to the public.

    You can purchse tickets to the 2017 Official Houdini Seance for $80 via Eventbright.

    Related:

    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.

    Related:

    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 Amazon.com (U.S.) and Amazon.co.uk (UK).

    Related:

      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!

      Related:

      '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.

      Related:

      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.

      Related:

      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.

      Related:

      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

      Related:

      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.

      Related:

      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.

      Related:

      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 Amazon.com (U.S.) and Amazon.co.uk. (UK).

      Related:

      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.

      Related:

      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.

      Related:

      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.

      Related:

      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 abarbeau.com.

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

      Related:

      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! 
      THE CONTEST IN 5 STEPS: 
      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 communications@mccord-stewart.ca 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.

      SELECTION CRITERIA
      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!

      UPDATEWinner of the McCord's Houdini poster contest.

      Related:

      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.

      Related:

      '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 Amzon.co.uk (UK) and Amazon.com (U.S.).

      Related:

      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 Amazon.fr and Amazon.co.uk. A Kindle edition will be released in the U.S. on November 8 and can be pre-ordered at Amazon.com.

      Related:

      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.

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