Friday, October 22, 2021

FLASHBACK: The beginning of the end

It was 95 years ago today that Houdini was punched in the stomach by J. Gordon Whitehead in the dressing room of the Princess Theater in Montreal. This would lead to his death nine days later on Halloween. To mark the occasion, here's a link back to a post from 2016 that details that fatal dressing room encounter. Click the headline to go.

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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Houdini buys a Ford

The saga of Houdini and his cars continues. While later in his life Houdini preferred to be driven (and even developed a slight phobia about driving himself), during the years of his early success he appears to have been a car guy! You might recall this post that showed he purchased a Humber automobile in 1904 and even claimed to have raced it. Now we have evidence of a second Houdini car.

The below ad is from the Providence Journal when Houdini was playing the Keith's Theater on Westminster Street in February 1907. Looks like a test drive is all it took to turn him into a Ford man.


The car Houdini purchased was a Ford Model K 6-cylinder touring car. It sold for a whopping $2800 ($81,488.04 today). By contrast, the 4-cylinder only cost $550. Let's hope he got a price break for doing the ad!

I ran all this past David Charvet, who knows classic cars as well as magic, and it turns out the Model K occupies an interesting place in Ford history. Henry Ford himself did not like the idea of a high end luxury model like the K. His goal was to make an affordable car that everyone could own. So one year later in 1908 he introduced his Model T, and the rest is automotive history. David says 1907 Model Ks are quite rare today and sends over this photo.


Below is a photo of Houdini behind the wheel of a car that does not appear to be the Ford Model K. So I guess the search is now on for car #3!


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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

"To be burnt and destroyed upon his death"

No post today as I prepare my presentation of "Houdini Lost and Found" at 7pm EST (4pm PST), part of the 2021 American Museums of Magic Speaker Series. I'll be sharing images and stories about surviving Houdini apparatus that, happily, were not "burnt and destroyed" after Hardeen's death. And I guarantee at least one thing you've never seen before (courtesy our friends at 278). Hope you can join us. It's not too late to resister HERE.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Have a "Houdini-Weenie" in Detroit, October 24

To mark the 95th anniversary of Houdini's final performance on October 24, American Coney Island in Detroit will hold a celebration featuring music, magicians, and a special "Houdini-Weenie." Proceeds will benefit the Autism Alliance of Michigan. American Coney Island sits across the street from the site of the former Garrick Theater where Houdini performed his last show.


My two passions; Houdini and chili dogs!

For more information visit the American Coney Island website.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Houdini's "near perfect mystery"

This piece of surviving Houdini apparatus has always baffled and intrigued me. I've heard it said Houdini called it a "near perfect mystery." Sidney Radner, who acquired it from Hardeen, told me Houdini planned to make this the featured escape in his "3 Shows in One" replacing his Water Torture Cell. But what the heck is it?


For what I understand, this idea here is Houdini would be encased within these four nested wooden boxes. Iron rods were then placed down the length of the four corners, locking the boxes in place. He may have also been restrained in ropes or chains strung though the holes on either side of the boxes.

Recently I uncovered a review of Houdini's act at the New York Hippodrome during the week of February 16, 1925 (this is before the "3 Shows on One"). What's described here is almost certainly this escape and it's the only record of it that I've ever encountered.

Houdini closed the show, offering a test which he claims to be the nearest approach to actual materialization and dematerialization on record. By this, for those who wish enlightenment, he means that he is encased in a stout wooden box, all sides of which are pierced by iron rods and welded so as to make escape ostensibly an impossible thing, but from which after several long minutes he liberates himself.

The "near perfect mystery" was sold in "The Great Houdini Auction" of 2004 and resided in the collection of Arthur Moses for several years (where the above photo was taken). Today it is in another private collection.

If you're interested in learning about more surviving Houdini apparatus, please join me this Wednesday, October 20, for an online ZOOM lecture, "Houdini Lost and Found," part of the 2021 American Museum of Magic Speaker Series. I'll have some exciting and unusual things to share and hope to see you there. Click here for details and tickets.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

LINK: Remember when Harry Houdini escaped the belly of a ‘sea monster’ in Boston?

Here's an excellent article by Steve Annearin about Houdini's famous escape from the carcass of a "sea monster" in 1911. Some new information here. Click here or on the headline to have a read at the Boston Globe.


Friday, October 15, 2021

Watch Posterfix restore The Master Mystery

This fascinating video from Posterfix in New York shows their full restoration of a Houdini Master Mystery 1-sheet poster. I might have argued to leave the poster fragment as-is until I saw the final product. Pretty amazing. The video also shows the restoration of a Master Mystery lobby card and three Houdini handbills from 1902.

Unfortunately this video is no longer available.

Posterfix also took on the task of restoring five Houdini window cards from the recent find in Warwick, Rhode Island. One of those restored cards sold last month in a Potter & Potter auction

Thanks to Michael Mitnick for the alert.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Three days in Schenectady


It was 95 years ago today that Houdini arrived in Schenectady, New York, for a 3-day engagement at the Van Curler Theater. This would be his first and last appearance in the city. This was a rare split week for Houdini's "3 Shows in One." He had played the first half of the week at the Capitol Theater in Albany, where on October 11 he broke his ankle doing the Water Torture Cell. News of the accident reached Schenectady and the theater ran special ads assuring audiences that Houdini would still appear as planned.


Houdini began his first day in Schenectady with a 10AM lecture to students at Union College. In the afternoon he gave a radio address over station WGY where he was photographed. This is one of the last photos ever taken of Houdini.


Houdini's show that night played to an "overflowing house." A review of the show in the October 15, 1926 Schenectady NY Gazette noted that his injury caused him to "limp slightly" and "because of this he announced that he had to discard one of his best tricks and replace it with five others." (No doubt that best trick was the Water Torture Cell.) Singled out for special attention is a trick that was largely unknown to Houdiniphiles until recently. This review offers the best description yet:

The slicing of a woman, a trick derived from the ancient torture machines of China, is one of the big features of the first act. With the aid of assistants, Houdini places a young woman in a casket. Several knives are suspended above her body. The blades descend at a fast rate and seemingly slice the body of the girl. But when the casket is opened she steps out from the box, bows, and makes her exit none the worse for the experience.

The show this night was divided into two acts instead of three. Before the close of the first act, Houdini announced that he would donate several books on spiritualism to the library at Union College. He then invited a student on stage to receive the books. Are those books still there, I wonder?

The second act featured exposes of fraudulent spirit mediums. According to the review, Houdini introduced a woman (possibly Rose Mackenberg) who revealed she had visited several mediums in Schenectady and spoke to several dead children and dead husbands in heaven. "A chuckle broke over the audience when she further stated that she is single and never had a husband."

Houdini played three evenings and two matinees in Schenectady before the company moved on to Montreal, Canada, where he would have his fateful encounter with J. Gordon Whitehead.

The Van Curler theater was located at 430 Franklin Street at the corner of Franklin and Jay Streets. Opened in 1893, it sat 1600 and was said to be one of the largest and best appointed theatre in the country. In 1910 the Van Curler become one of the first theaters in Schenectady to play movies. The theater closed in 1943 and in 1959 was replaced with a modern office building that still stands today.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Houdini (1953) Italian Blu-ray

It's nice to see physical media hasn't vanished entirely, but I wouldn't wait to buy a much-loved movie on DVD or Blu-ray! So if you're an Italian fan of Houdini (1953), know that a new Blu-ray has just been released by A&R Productions. It includes Italian dub audio as well and the original English with subtitles. The case artwork appears to be an original Italian poster for the film.

The Italian Houdini Blu-ray is available to buy at Amazon.it and Blu-ray.com.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Miracle Mongers and Their Methods (Centennial Edition)

Curious Publications has released what they are calling a "Centennial Edition" of Houdini's Miracle Mongers and Their Methods. Official description below:

This book is a republication of the 1920 edition of Houdini's Miracle Mongers and Their Methods, as originally published by E. P. Dutton & Company. In it, Houdini collects notes and stories about various dime museum attractions and circus wonders he met personally while traveling or learned about while studying his profession. These tales includes feats of sword swallowers, fire eaters, poison defiers, human ostriches, and more. Do not try them at home. Or anywhere else. 

This Centennial Edition appears 101 years after the original E. P. Dutton publication. One year escaped us.

Actually, Miracle Mongers and Their Methods was published in early 1921, so this really is a "Centennial Edition." But apart from calling it this, there doesn't appear to be anything added or special about this particular reprint. 

But if you've never picked up a copy of what is probably Houdini's best book, you can buy this one at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

New York Herald, Jan. 30, 1921.

Monday, October 11, 2021

LINK: Houdini's Weird Tales Q&A 2

Joe Notaro at HHCE has more Houdini Q&A from the April 1924 issue of Weird Tales magazine. I'm especially intrigued by Houdini's answer regarding Black Mass:

I have never seen a complete description of the “Black Mass” and the rituals. Some of it, if my memory serves me right, was photographed in Sweden, and was of such a nature that the picture, which cost a fortune, had never been seen by the public. It was called, I believe, Superstition of the Age. I saw this film run, but up to the present it has never been seen outside of a private projection room. It took more that two years to make it. 

I'd love to know the circumstances of when and where Houdini was able to screen this forbidden film.

Click the headline above to check out the full Q&A at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

LINK: WILD ABOUT HARRY WEEKLY #25

Today I sent out the 25th issue of my WILD ABOUT HARRY WEEKLY email newsletter. As this is a bit of milestone, I'm offering this issue for anyone to view by clicking here or on the headline link. 

If you like what you see, consider subscribing. As a subscriber you will also receive the occasional WILD ABOUT HARRY EXTRA. It's a great way to stay Wild!

Friday, October 8, 2021

Watch Houdini's historic Australian flight

Here's another excerpt from 'High Lights in the Strenuous Career of Harry Houdini, Edited and Compiled by Houdini's Brother Hardeen'.

Film of Houdini's history making flights in Australia is widely available. But it's nice to have it collected here in sequence instead of just fragments. Also, the final shot is entirely new to me. So even though it's brief, this clip does appear to offer footage of a Houdini flight that has never been seen before. Enjoy.


Notice that the date is shown here as March 16, 1910. The true date of Houdini's first Australian flight was March 18. But Houdini adopted the March 16 date in publicity, and speculation is that he was concerned about a claim from Fred Custance that he had beat Houdini into the air by a day.

Thanks to escape artist Rick Maisel for allowing me to share this rare footage. A playlist of these clips can be found on the WILD ABOUT HARRY YouTube Channel.

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Thursday, October 7, 2021

Houdini's 'Magic Hat Mystery' in Indiana, Oct. 16

On October 16, 2021, Mayhem 4 Hire in Logansport, Indiana, will present "The Magic Hat Mystery" described as an interactive whodunnit to find Houdini's Magic Hat! You can buy tickets and get more information HERE.

Below is a teaser trailer. I like how they went for a Houdini sound-alike.


Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Houdini's last hire

Here's one last Providence related post for this anniversary week. While searching for a review of Houdini's show, I stumbled on this classified ad that appeared in the Providence Journal 95 years ago today.

Providence Journal, Oct. 6, 1926

We now know the man who landed this job was Elliot Sanford. Sanford joined the troupe in Providence and had a ringside seat for all the dramatic events of Houdini's final weeks. He even acted as one of Houdini's pallbearers. He would remain with Bess into early 1927 to help her settle the estate and move to a new home. He then returned to his old job in Providence. 

In 2018 an unpublished manuscript written by Sanford about his days with the Houdinis sold at auction for $48,000.

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