Thursday, February 22, 2018

Into The Copperfield Zone, Part I

Last week I had the extreme honor of visiting David Copperfield's International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas. David's collection is staggering. Imagine the world's largest magic collection, and then triple it. And when it comes to Houdini, two hours I saw more authentic Houdini props and memorabilia than I've seen in my lifetime. But to share this experience right, I need to share it from the beginning.

A few weeks ago I had a telephone conversation with David and his Executive Producer Chris Kenner about Houdini's bookcase from 278. [I shared details here.] During the conversation, David invited me to Las Vegas to see his collection. He warned me "it was a mess" because he's currently working on a major expansion. But he was eager for me to see it now, and then come back when it is finished. Well, you don't say no to an invitation like that!

So on Tuesday, Feb. 13, I hit the road to Las Vegas where a room had been arranged for me at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino. The view from my window was my first clue that I had entered The Copperfield Zone.

The plan was for me to attend David's 7:00 pm show. As I had a few hours to kill, I hopped over to the New York New York Hotel & Casino and paid a visit to Houdini's Magic Shop. This was the first store to carry the "Houdini's" name, and it's still my favorite. Not only do they have a life-size mannequin hanging from the ceiling in a straitjacket, but they also have Houdini (1953) playing on a loop out front. Houdini posters and photos cover the walls, and several display cases contain authentic memorabilia from owner Geno Munari's collection. Unfortunately, there's far less on display than in the past.

I was told by the helpful magician working the counter that the larger Houdini stuff was now at their main headquarters store on Dean Martin Drive. This was a location I wasn't aware of, so I resolved to see it before I left town. That's when I noticed high atop a shelf a slim wooden case stamped with Houdini's name. I was told this was the case that held the glass for the Water Torture Cell. It wouldn't be the only one of these I would see this day.

Show time came and I took my excellent seat inside the MGM's David Copperfield Theater. Now, David's Las Vegas show requires a full blog in itself, so I'm not going to be able to do it justice here. Suffice to say, it was awesome! The last time I saw David perform live was in 1997, so I was struck by the evolution of his show. It was surprisingly informal and very interactive--almost every trick involved the audience in part or whole--and even downright raucous at times! The pace of the show was breathtakingly fast and David's team of assistants were a marvel to watch. His climatic BLU production was quintessential David Copperfield in its mix of storytelling, magic, music and emotion. This is the stuff I really love. And, of course, there were several jaw dropping moments that have to be seen to be believed. A full alien spaceship appearing in the center of the showroom? Yep, that happened.

After the show, I went backstage with a small group of VIPs (you can get a ticket that allows you to meet David and take a photo). David's very nice assistant, Mikayla, told me to hang back, and after everyone left, I met David and Chris Kenner. Everyone seemed excited for me to see the collection, and the plan was for me to return to the theater after David's second show (meet at the lobby statue at 11:10 pm).

After dinner, I was in place at the statue, and with the same clockwork precision I enjoyed watching during the show, one of David's assistants whisked me back through the now empty theater and out through a stage door. There I joined David and Mikayla for the short drive to the museum. Along the way, David and I talked Houdini (what else!?). He asked how I became interested in Houdini, and we chatted about various collectors and collections (anyone's ears burn?). We discussed the merits of various biographies, and even some of the questions of the day, such as the notion that Houdini may have worked as a spy. I gotta say, I was instantly comfortable with him. He's a Houdini guy!

We arrived at the museum around 11:30 and entered via a false front made up to look like the tailor shop of his father. After seeing his show -- BLU is a moving tribute to his father -- I understood how much David loved his dad and understood the symbolism of how the entrance to his dreams would be via his father's work. That's when I realized how the museum itself was a massive David Copperfield production, combining magic with personal biography, meant to awe and inspire. Even more so than his show, I was entering a special world of his creation, and I understood why he's so proud of it and excited for someone to experience it for the first time. [The museum is not open to the public, but David gives private tours.]

Now, I should say up front that I took no photos inside (okay, one, but we'll get to that). This was not because I couldn't. I quickly discovered David would deny me nothing. I was able to handle and open anything I wanted (make sure you come back for Part 2 for more about that!). So I'm certain I could have taken photos had I asked. But I didn't want to. This was about experiencing the museum, not photographing it, and I wanted to give everything my full attention. But that means I have nothing to illustrate this blog going forward, so I've plucked down a few online photos to help, starting with one that shows the "shop" entrance.

To explain all that I saw inside is just not possible, even in a two-part post like this. It was truly overwhelming! The entire museum is structured as a journey. It starts at the small magic counter from Macy's department store where David bought his first magic trick (which he performed for me). It then opens up and one travels deeper and deeper into the special world of magic. Room after room is filled with amazing artifacts. There's a room devoted to magic kits and apparatus in general, with ceiling high racks holding every version of every magic trick ever created by legendary magic manufacturers like Owens, Abbotts, and Thayer. I even spotted the magic table I had as a kid. There's a full size reproduction of the back room theater of Martinka's Magic Shop in New York with the original store cases filled as they were in the days when Houdini owned the store.

Every major magician is represented with displays made up of posters, props and personal memorabilia. David guided me through the worlds of Herrmann, Kellar, Thurston, Carter, Alexander, Blackstone, and even Doug Henning. Orson Welles has his own area, complete with the sub trunk he used with wife Rita Hayworth. The Chung Ling Soo display has one of the rifles used during his bullet catch. David doesn't know if it's the rifle that killed the magician, but it is one of them that Soo stood in front of on that fateful night in 1918. Wild.

Robert-Houdin has his own standalone room filled with clocks, props, and automata from this earliest age of magic. I believe it's the only closed room devoted to one magician. This was one of my favorite rooms as it seemed to hold a special energy, not unlike how the Houdini Séance Room at the Magic Castle feels like a world apart. Here are the very seeds of modern magic; beautiful and exquisite apparatus that Houdini himself revered as treasures from the past. David said this will all be moved into an open area behind the new Houdini section, so I'm glad I got a chance to experience this room as is. There's something magical going on here.

Eventually we arrived at the famous Houdini area, and it's everything we've seen in photos and more. Here I was able to examine and touch Houdini's custom traveling library case, his Milk Can, Metamorphosis, straitjacket, Iron Maiden, and Water Torture Cell. I was inches away from the Mirror Cuffs and Houdini's baby shoe. A stage jacket worn by Bess is so small you'd think it was made for a large doll. One-of-a-kind posters towered over me, and David paged through a scrapbook filled with photos I've never seen. The famous Houdini-Keller correspondence are in a book that one can flip through. And here too was a case made to carry the Water Torture Cell glass, identical to the case in Houdini's Magic Shop. (This is explained by the fact that Houdini always traveled with an extra pane of glass.)

The Water Torture Cell looks much like it did when I saw the unrestored original at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in 1990. That's because after buying the restored cell at auction, David and his team stripped it back to its original surviving elements (namely all the metal) and rebuilt it using antique wood and period accurate hardware. They also aged it so it appears exactly as if it had never been cleaned since Houdini's final performance. David and I seemed to share the philosophy that it's not always necessary to restore things to look brand new. Age and signs of travel are part of their stories.

David then showed me a rejection letter sent to the young Houdini from John Nevil Maskelyne dated March 24, 1898. He also had a small display devoted to the artist who created many of Houdini's posters, including his beautiful but perplexing 1911 Buried Alive poster, which stands behind the Houdini exhibit (I didn't even know David owned this poster until that moment).

For whatever reason, I did not think to play the snippet of Houdini voice recording that David has set up beside the original wax cylinders and Edison player. But David and I had a conversation about the recordings. I learned that he has not yet transferred all the cylinders to another media, but he plans to. He actually wasn't sure himself what's contained on all six cylinders, and that made me wonder if there's content on these yet to be discovered? [Watch for a dedicated post on this soon.]

It was here I decided to be a fanboy and asked if we could take a picture together. How could I not? David was very obliging and even took the selfie himself, working to get a good Houdini image in the background.

Now, you might think this was the grand finale, and it typically is. But then David said, "Just wait. You haven't seen anything yet."

Yes, I was about to go off the normal tour and deeper into this very special place to see things very few people have seen. But I'm going to save that for PART II.


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Houdini at the Colonial

There are several Manhattan theaters linked to Houdini history: the Hippodrome, the Palace, the Times Square, and Tony Pastor's. But you'll rarely hear the Colonial mentioned among these, even though it played a significant, but now largely forgotten, role in Houdini's career. So let's tell the story!

After Houdini played his first successful season on the Keith and Orpheum vaudeville circuits in 1899 and early 1900, he went to Europe. The plan was for him to stay for six months, and then return with a boosted reputation that came with a European tour. But he was so successful that he remained in Europe for a remarkable five years. In his absence, a proliferation of "Handcuffs Kings" sprung up in his place. In 1905, Houdini resolved to come home and conquer America. But after so many years, would America be interested in, or even remember, the original Handcuff King?

The Philadelphia Inquirer Sun reported his return on August 20, 1905:

Harry Houdini, "the Handcuff King," who returned from Europe three weeks ago, had decided to accept the extremely liberal offers made him by American vaudeville managers. He will rest until October 1, when he will begin his American vaudeville tour. Houdini releases himself from handcuffs, leg shackles, etc. This wonderful performance will be seen at Keith's during the winter season.

It's no surprise to see Keith's mentioned here. Houdini's former manager Martin Beck was partnered with B.F. Keith, and their Keith-Orpheum circuit defined big time American vaudeville. So which of the many Keith's theaters would usher in Houdini's triumphant return? Surprisingly, none.

Instead, Houdini decided to play his first dates at the independently owned Colonial Theater on 1887 Broadway near 62nd Street in New York City. The Colonial was a new theater to Broadway. It had opened on February 8, 1905, and was designed in the style of a Victorian London music hall. It was creation of Fred Thompson and Elmer Dundy, the same duo behind the Hippodrome and Coney Island's Luna Park. But within two months of its opening, Thompson and Dundy sold the theater to Percy Williams, who dropped the "Music Hall" theme and ran it as a straight vaudeville house. It was Williams who landed Houdini's return.

The theater proudly promoted this "Important Engagement."

In the week proceeding his U.S. opening, Houdini made two PR stumbles. An attempt to expose rival Handcuff King, Cunning, in a Harlem theater, had led to a brawl and the arrest of Hardeen. The press sided with Cunning against the "foreign looking" interlopers. Houdini then challenged another rival, Boudini, to an underwater handcuff escape contest off Battery Park. But the few New York papers that covered the contest smelled a set-up and reported as much. So Houdini was not going into his Colonial engagement riding a wave a of glowing press, and the theater itself was not known for giving performers a break.

In Houdini The Man Who Walked Through Walls, William Lindsay Gresham described the Colonial and its reputation:

In one way, it was the toughest spot in town. Although vaudeville, growing respectable, had lured the family trade, there were rough elements in Little Old New York who de- lighted in rattling the performers and, if antagonized, doing everything short of ripping up the seats. Monday matinee at the Colonial was a nightmare to vaudevillians, even those who could "josh" a music hall audience into a good humor. At this lush palace of entertainment was born a tactic of audience-displeasure which has persisted to the present day at ball parks and fight arenas—the "Colonial clap." This was applause de- signed to rattle and "break up" the actors onstage by its maddening, mocking rhythm: clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.

On opening night, according to Gresham, Houdini marched out onstage to the stirring Kaiser Frederic March "his chin held in, his gray-blue eyes staring directly ahead." He performed a straitjacket escape and then accepted handcuff challenges. This was basically the same act he had performed five years early on Broadway when Bess became disastrously stuck in the Metamorphosis trunk. A repeat of that certainly would have brought on the "Colonial clap." But Houdini's act, honed in Europe, delivered.

On October 8, 1905, the New York Tribune reported:

So successful had Harry Houdini, the "Handcuff King," proved as a magnet art the Colonial Theater during the week just closed that Percey Williams has retained the lock picking specialist as the headliner of the Colonial bill for another week. Challenged as he is at every performance by spectators skeptical of the legitimacy of his feats of handcuff elusion, Houdini has thus far in every instance succeeded in escaping from the manacles, shackles and other locks with which volunteers have sought to imprison him.

For his second week, the Colonial billing dropped "Harry" and featured him as just HOUDINI.

Following his second successful week, Houdini set out on the Keith-Orpheum circuit. His escape from the United States Jail in January 1906 firmly established him as an American superstar. It does not appear he ever played the Colonial again.

In 1912, B.F. Keith took over the theater, altering its name to Keith's Colonial Theatre. When E.F. Albee took over from Keith five years later, it became the New Colonial Theatre. In 1923, a show at the New Colonial called Runnin' Wild introduced the dance craze called the Charleston to America.

In 1932, RKO took over the theater and began showing movies. NBC purchased it in 1956 and converted it into one of their New York television studios (Show of Shows was taped here). A decade later, ABC used the Colonial studio mainly for taping game shows.

The last owner was Rebecca Harkness, who in 1971 sunk $5 million into renovating the theatre for her ballet company (it went broke after one season). There were a few Broadway bookings in the mid-1970s, after which the building was sold off to a developer and demolished in 1977.

Today the location of the Colonial is a condominium tower with a public atrium (the David Rubinstein Atrium at Lincoln Center). Certainly this is now a worthy stop on any tour of Houdini's New York; the site of Houdini's triumphant U.S. return.


Monday, February 19, 2018

Discovering Terror Island

"...Where the drums beat till dawn and the wild dances madden the blood."
Our expedition to Catalina Island this weekend in search of Terror Island locations and filming details exceeded all expectations! The good folks at the Catalina Island Museum rolled out the red carpet for me and fellow explorers Joe Notaro and Mark Willoughby. We had the time of our lives, and not a cannibal in sight. Whew!

The discoveries (and there were many!) will be featured in the museum's upcoming exhibition Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle, which runs May 5 to Sept. 23, 2018.

I also learned what kinds of artifacts the museum has planned for the exhibition, and it's going to be historic. Executive Director Julie Perlin Lee is clearly committed to making this a major event (she may have even caught the Houdini bug herself). So if you have any unique Terror Island collectibles you think might enhance this exhibition, feel free to contact me or the museum direct. They'll be gathering material until April 1st.

And if there was ever a time for someone to come forward with the missing reels 3 & 4, THIS is it!

The museum will also be screening Terror Island with live musical accompaniment in the famous Avalon Casino on May 19th. Tickets are available now. I'm told this will be a busy weekend on the island as the Art Deco Society will be holding their annual Avalon Ball, so making travel arrangements early is encouraged.

Below are a few (non-spoiler) pics from our adventure.

Fearless expedition leaders Gail and Julie.
Treasure hunting on the seas and in the archives.
Into uncharted territory...
Where all will be revealed in May.

Keep watching WILD ABOUT HARRY and the Catalina Museum website for upcoming details about Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle.

A monumental thanks to Julie Perlin Lee and everyone at the Catalina Island Museum.


Sunday, February 18, 2018

Houdini in World War I exhibition in Richmond

A pair of Houdini handcuffs can be seen as part of an exhibition devoted to World War I at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture in Richmond, Virginia. The display commemorates Houdini's various war efforts, such as teaching soldiers heading overseas the secrets of escaping from German handcuffs and restraints (yes, he really did that).

The exhibition runs February 17 through July 29, 2018. For more information visit the museum website.


Friday, February 16, 2018

Expedition to Terror Island

I'm off on another Houdini adventure this weekend. This time I'm headed to "Terror Island" itself (a.k.a. Catalina) with fellow explorers Joe Notaro and Mark Willoughby. We will be meeting with the good folks at the Catalina Island Museum in preparation for their exhibition Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle, which runs May 5 to Sept. 23. I'm looking forward to digging through their newspaper archive and also taking a boat trip in search of filming locations.

Hope we don't run into any cannibals!

I was hoping to get the first part of my report about visiting David Copperfield's incredible museum in Las Vegas up this weekend, but there is a lot to describe and I need more time to do it justice. So watch for that next week.

Meanwhile, check out the Catalina Museum website for details about Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle, as well as their special screening of Terror Island on May 19th. Tickets for that are available now.


Young Saint

Here is a remarkable photo of Dr. Edward Saint. This comes from George Martin, a vintage camera collector, who discovered this while rummaging through some old photos. This shows Saint in his "Professor Sesrad" stage costume. It may have been in this guise that he first met Bess Houdini at Playland in Rye Beach, New York in 1930. The rest is history.

Thank you George for allowing me to share your find here on WILD ABOUT HARRY.


Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini #3 released

Hard Case Crime and Titan Books has released the third issue of Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini by Cynthia von Buhler. The adult comic comes in two variant covers as you can see below.

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. Created by acclaimed artist, author, director, and playwright Cynthia Von Buhler.

The  fourth and final issue is due for released next month. A collected edition will be released in June and can be pre-ordered at

For more on the series visit You can also read a terrific profile of Cynthia von Buhler at Genii Online.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Houdini has no time for love

Here's one for Valentine's Day. This appeared in the Harrisburg Telegraph, May 5, 1926. So don't pester Harry today!


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Off to Vegas...

This morning I'm gassing up the Humber and heading to Las Vegas, where I've very excited to see David Copperfield's show at the MGM Grand and get my first look at his legendary International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts. David's museum is currently undergoing a massive expansion, so I will getting preview of what's to come. Including, presumably, an expanded Houdini section, which we now know will include a few pieces of furniture.

I'll also be dropping in at the original Houdini's Magic Shop in New York, New York, a museum in itself, and whatever else I can fit into this quick trip. A stop off in Needles maybe?

Anyway, I'm excited to share all that I can when I return. I'll be tweeting some photos and whatnot @HoudiniWild.

The original photo above is in the Jim Rawlins collection.


Monday, February 12, 2018

Replica Water Torture Cell at Austin Magic Museum

Magic's Theater & Museum in Austin, Texas contains a Houdini display that I was not aware of until now. As you can see, the display includes a remarkable reproduction of Houdini's Water Torture Cell. I wonder who made this?

The museum is run by John Magic and is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Please call 512-289-4461 24 hours in advance for reservations. Entrance is $10 for all ages. For more info and photos visit the official website.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Remembering Bess on the 75th anniversary of her death

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the death of Bess Houdini on February 11, 1943. To mark the occasion, our great friend Janet Davis braved the rain and fog and traveled out to Bess' grave in Gate of Heaven cemetery in Hawthorne, New York to bring us some photos.

John, here are the photos I took of Bess' gravestone this morning, exactly 75 years after her death. You can see that someone who preceded me has BIG love for Bessie, with the large stone they left! 
Someday, I know you will see this marker for yourself. In the meantime, I know we're all thinking of Bess today. Take care and enjoy the rest of the weekend.

Thanks Janet.


Saturday, February 10, 2018

Houdini returns to Catalina Island in 2018

In November 1919 Houdini filmed part of Terror Island on Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California. Now Houdini will return in a special exhibition at the Catalina Island Museum called Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle. The exhibition runs May 5 to September 23, 2018 and will feature many rarities never before put on display.

Escape artist Harry Houdini delved into the magic of moviemaking toward the end of his career. This unique exhibition focuses on the 1920 adventure film Terror Island in which he starred. Ephemera and movie props from the film made on Catalina Island, nicknamed The Magic Isle, will be on display. The exhibition highlights a real-life occurrence in Catalina's waters that placed Houdini in a precarious situation that ended in mystery.

The museum will also host a special screening of Terror Island in Catalina's spectacular Art Deco Avalon Casino Theater on Saturday, May 19th at 1:00 PM. The screening will include live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla and The Accompanists. Tickets are available now.

I'm proud to say I've been working with the museum on gathering artifacts and information for this exhibition. In fact, next weekend I'll be heading over to Catalina with fellow Houdini nuts Joe Notaro (HHCE) and Mark Willoughby to scout out any surviving Terror Island locations along with the museum staff. Whatever we find will also be part of the exhibition. So get ready for a lot of Terror Island talk in the coming months!

Check out the Catalina Museum website for more details, and maybe start planning a vacation in Catalina Island for 2018. Even without a Houdini exhibit it's a terrific destination. Look who else thought so!

The Catalina Islander, Oct. 29, 1936.

The Terror Island lobby card above comes from the Mark Willoughby Collection and will be among the many original lobby cards on display at Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle.


Friday, February 9, 2018

John Bushey has passed away

I have some extremely sad news. John Bushey, a great friend and a major collector of handcuffs and Houdiniana, passed away on Thursday after battling cancer for several years. The blog Ennyman's Territory announced his passing today with a heartfelt tribute. Friends are leaving messages of condolences and remembrance on John's Facebook page and at

Among John's many contributions to the Houdini world was his taking on the task of collecting and documenting every edition and variation of Houdini's pitchbooks. He was an unsurpassed expert in this area, and I always enjoyed receiving his excited phone calls sharing the news that he had just uncovered yet another variant of Adventurous Life of Versatile Artist, etc. John shared many of his rare finds in a continually updating treatise called The John Bushey Houdini Collection.

John was also a huge Bob Dylan fan and one of the forces behind the Duluth Dylan Fest in his home state of Minnesota. John had a regular show on radio station KUMD called Highway 61 Revisited. The studio has now been renamed the "John Bushey Highway 61 Revisited Studio."

A giant among the Houdini collectors and a good friend to us all, I was very lucky to have known him and I will miss him very much. Say "hi" to Harry for us John!


Houdini goes 'Under the Knife'

For those who can't get enough of Houdini's final illness, know that the new book Under the Knife: A History of Surgery in 28 Remarkable Operations by Arnold van de Laar has a 10 page chapter devoted to Houdini.

Where does Mr. Laar come down on the many intrigues surrounding those final days in Detroit? I don't know because I don't have the book, but the suspense is killing me like a case of peritonitis!

You can purchase on (U.S.) and (UK).

Thanks to Arthur Moses for the alert.


Thursday, February 8, 2018

LINK: Houdini connection to the first driverless car

Here's an interesting article at the Discover website about the first driverless car experiments done in the 1920s by the Houdina Radio Co.

The Houdina Radio Control Co., a radio equipment firm, was founded by former U.S. Army electrical engineer Francis P. Houdina (that was indeed his name, a detail to keep in mind for later).

Click the headline to read the full story and learn how Harry comes crashing into the story.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

New image of Houdini in straitjacket

Here's a terrific photo of Houdini in a straitjacket that I've not seen before. This comes from the March 15, 1908 Pittsburgh Daily Post Sun. It's always exciting to find something like this. Now if we can just find a better version of this shot.

During that same search I also turned up what I believe to be a new portrait shot. This is also from the Pittsburgh Daily Post Sun, March 8, 1908.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Houdini exposed mediums MUCH earlier than we thought

While working on my New Houdini Chronology, I discovered a remarkable clipping in The St. Joseph Herald dated Jan. 6, 1897. While we knew Harry and Bess did a spiritualist act early in their careers, here is evidence that Houdini did public exposures of fraudulent mediums at this time as well. Houdini exposing mediums is a practice that's typically associated with him in the 1920s, so this is a bit of game changer.

Interestingly, Harry and Bess would do their own "Spiritualistic Seance in open light" just 10 days later at another A.O.U.W. Lodge in St. Louis.

Of course, you will still see Houdini's involvement with Spiritualism dated to his mother's death in 1913, but this is really one of the more ingrained Houdini myths. While Houdini certainly wanted to speak with his mother if possible, his interest and involvement in Spiritualism dates back to the start of his interest in magic itself. And now we see so did his ghost-busting.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Joe Posnanski's new Houdini book hits Amazon

Joe Posnanski's upcoming Houdini book is now available for pre-order on Amazon. The book will be released by Simon & Schuster on October 23, 2018. While it doesn't yet have a title or cover art, it does have a nice description.

Award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author Joe Posnanski enters the world of Harry Houdini and his legions of devoted fans in an immersive, entertaining, and magical work on the illusionist’s impact on American culture—and why his legacy endures to this day.

Harry Houdini. Say his name and a number of things come to mind. Escapes. Illusions. Magic. Chains. Safes. Live burials. Close to a century after his death, nearly every person in America knows his name from a young age, capturing their imaginations with his death-defying stunts and daring acts. He inspired countless people, from all walks of life, to find something magical within themselves.

This is a book about a man and his extraordinary life, but it is also about the people who he has inspired in death. As Joe Posnanski delves into the deepest corners of Houdini-land, visiting museums (one owned by David Copperfield), attractions, and private archives, he encounters a cast of unforgettable and fascinating characters: a woman who runs away from home to chase her dream of becoming a magician; an Italian who revives Houdini’s most famous illusion every night; a performer at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles who calls himself Houdini’s Ghost; a young boy in Australia who, one day, sees an old poster and feels his life change; and a man in Los Angeles whose sole mission in life has been to keep the legend’s name alive.

Both a personal obsession and an odyssey of discovery, Posnanski draws inspiration from his lifelong passion for and obsession with magic, blending biography, memoir, and first-person reporting to examine Harry Houdini’s life and legacy. This is the ultimate journey to uncover why this magic man endures, and what he still has to teach the world about wonder.

Based on the descriptions, think we can guess who Joe's cast of "Houdini-land" characters are?

Pre-order the Untitled Houdini Project by Joe Posnanski from (U.S.) and (UK).


Sunday, February 4, 2018

Superboy does a Houdini

Here's a page from Adventure Comics featuring Superboy performing Houdini's Walking Through A Brick Wall. What interesting is that it's performed here pretty much just as Houdini did it with two screens on each side. I don't know the year of this, but it fun to think the writer or artist might have seen Houdini do it himself.

Below are links to a few other Houdini superhero encounters.


Friday, February 2, 2018

Houdini's office inside 278 is finally FOUND!

Where exactly was Houdini's delightfully cluttered office inside 278, as seen in the famous photo above? Unfortunately, my visit the house last June did not really answer that question. There are several descriptions of Houdini's office being on the 4th floor, and I took this photo expecting to find a perfect match. But I did not. The third floor alcove offered a better possibility, and at the time I went away thinking that was most likely the location of the office. But I never felt great about it. Recently, I've been working on the idea that it was actually located on the stairway landing of the third floor, and there are aspects that help support this theory (including a perfect window match). But now the mystery has been solved, and the solution has been right inside this photo the entire time!

When I was talking to David Copperfield last week about Houdini's library bookcase (which he now owns), he mentioned the "other picture" of the bookcase. Wait. Other picture? He then sent me the familiar "office" photo, and my jaw hit the floor. How did I never notice that the library bookcase is right behind Houdini in this pic!?

You can see the bookcase even better in this image from the McCord Museum. Unmistakable.

So if that's the bookcase, that would suggest this is not Houdini in his upper floor office after all. It's Houdini in his library on the 2nd floor Parlor Level. To make this even more humiliating, several books (including "lying" Kellock) caption this photo as "Houdini in his library."

But there was still a problem. The Parlor Level library (today the master bedroom) is a large open room, just as it was in Houdini's day. This appears to be a much smaller room. So what gives? Is it possible the bookcases were originally on the upper floors? If so, my third story landing theory might still have a chance.

That's when I received an email from Alec Mathieson. Alec is the bright young man who discovered the missing moulding at the top of the surviving bookcase, which provided proof positive ID (the discovery of the open house, IMO). Coincidently, Alec had just made the same discovery about this being Houdini's library, but he came to it from a different source than the bookcase and he once again nailed it! I'm going to let Alec's email speak for itself:

The theory I've come up with is that this famous "office" photo is actually a photo of Houdini in his library, and not in a room on the 4th floor. I'll lay out the clues that brought me to that conclusion, which, I know, sounds bonkers, but bear with me. 
I found the first clue in this photo:
At the back of the room, there is clearly a wood-paneled wall, which doesn't match the panelling in the enclosed balcony on the 4th floor, which is something that I imagine threw you off too at the open house. I unfortunately don't have any clear photos of the wood panelling in the library/master bedroom, but I recall seeing it on the tour. It would be behind the bed in this picture, continuing below the windows.
So in following this thread, and even I thought it was crazy, I tried to match up the features of the back window with the photos, and that's what convinced me. We've been assuming all along that the "office" is a narrow, cramped room, because that's what the photo suggests. I assumed that the desks and piles and shelves are backed up against a wall, but if my theory is correct, they would have created a sort of partition down the middle of this room in between the bookcases against the wall on the left, and the door to the back bathroom. Here's what confirmed it for me. If the office photos were in fact taken in the library, then there would have to be a mirror on the wall to the right of the two windows, and here it is:
In the above photo, it looks clear to me that the books at the top of the pile are reflected in the mirror they are sitting against. As far as I know, this is the only place in the house where a window and mirror are next to each other in this configuration. 
I imagine the photo of Houdini with the trumpet, and other photos of that angle could be another room on the upper floors, and maybe that was a separate office space he used, but it seems to me that the photos of Houdini at his desk must have been taken in the library. Maybe his office was moved at some point, or he just let the clutter get out of hand, because clearly the "office" photos are unrecognizable from what I thought was the only photo of his library (Houdini leaning on the bookcase). 
Again, maybe you already knew all this, but it's new to me and totally changes the layout of the house in my head in an awesome way. Let me know if anything wasn't clear or if you have any questions. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!

My answer to Alec was simple: You got it!!!

Another thing I love about this discovery is that it fits with Houdini's comment about working at his desk and hearing Mrs. Houdini call up from the kitchen, "Young man, your lunch is ready." This is one of the things that I had to reconcile with the other candidates, and it never worked. Houdini could never hear Bess from the kitchen in those spaces. But here with the door open (or maybe there was no wall in Houdini's day) to the entryway and the stairway leading down to the 1st floor kitchen, it works perfectly!

Unfortunately, I did not do a great job of photographing this room when I was inside 278. But here are the photos I did take of what we now know is the location of Houdini's famous cluttered desk. I've also amended my floor plan to show the new room configuration.

Click to enlarge.

Now as to the idea of the 4th floor office in the alcove off the front workroom, I believe that to still be valid. Houdini could have had a second office space upstairs, or he could have moved his library office up to the 4th floor when the open balcony was enclosed, which I think happened sometime in the 1920s. That could explain why there is no more clutter in the photo of Houdini standing by his bookcase, which is clearly a photo of Houdini later in life. By this time, the mess had been moved upstairs!

Thanks to Alec and, of course, DC for helping crack yet another Houdini mystery.



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