Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Find or fake? Scoop or scam?

This is just a heads up to visit WILD ABOUT HARRY at noon tomorrow for a post that's a true bombshell! This has been developing for the past few weeks and I'm excited to finally share. If legit, it's one of the biggest Houdini discoveries ever. If fake, it's one of the biggest Houdini frauds of all time.

So take the day off and get your fingers ready to do some typing, because I guarantee you will have something to say about this one. It is WILD!

Houdini's hat floats in the 23rd Street subway

If you frequent the 23rd Street subway station in New York City you may have walked right past Houdini without noticing it. Since 2002, the N/Q/R stop has been home to Keith Godard's "Memories of 23rd Street," a collection of 120 mosaic hats worn by famous people who passed through the area in the 1880s to 1920s. Among them is, yes, Houdini!

Houdini did sport a straw hat in the late teens and twenties, so it's a good choice of headgear for the Handcuff King. But I'm not sure what that's supposed to be wrapped in the band. A pack of playing cards maybe? And would it have killed them to have a rabbit peaking out?

The photo of Houdini's hat comes from the travel blog travellina by Eva Kisgyorgy, a New Yorker who hails from Hungary.


Monday, January 27, 2020

Four photos from Houdini's Worcester YMCA test

Here's an exciting followup on yesterday's anniversary flashback post about Houdini's little known underwater test at the Worcester YMCA on September 28, 1926. Reader Jay Hunter has generously provided four remarkable photos of this stunt from his collection. Until now, we've only had is a single poor quality newspaper image of this stunt. Now, thanks to Jay, we finally see it all!

I'm especially excited by this first image that shows Houdini being examined by a doctor before the test. Not only is this a great photo from the stunt, but it instantly joins an elite group of pics that are the last ever taken of the magician. He looks fit, healthy, and fantastic in this shot. In fact, he looks better here than in many of the Shelton pool test pics. It's heartbreaking to think he's only a month away from death.

The other photos show the test in progress. Note Jim Collins poolside.

Here is an article from the Worcester Daily Telegram describing the YMCA test.

Houdini Defies Suffocation in Y Stunt

Sealed in a small casket, Houdini, wizard extraordinary, remained at the bottom of the Y.M.C.A. tank one hour, 11 minutes, Tuesday morning, proving to an audience composed largely of physicians in scientific men that the seemingly impossible feat could be done. While Yogis of India claim to be able to stay buried indefinitely and come up alive by means of spiritual power, the great American performer accomplished his stunt, he asserts, by simple natural means.

Houdini was placed in the iron casket, measuring about 6 feet and containing not more than 10 cubic feet of space. The lid was then soldered on and the casket submerged and held down by weights and sight men sitting on it. While thus imprisoned the master wizard communicated with the outside by means of the telephone and electric bell.

Houdini was examined before entering the casket by Drs. Samuel C. Gwynne, F.L. Maguire and Clarence Usher.

The secret of the stunt, Houdini claims, was in banishing fear and in taking shallow breaths. By remaining quiet he was able to control in a measure the consumption of air.

The original impetus for the Worcester test was so Houdini could answer critics who claimed his telephone system somehow provided him with air during the Shelton test. Papers reported that Houdini would do this test in new glass topped casket which would not require communication. However, we can see in these photos that the casket Houdini used is almost identical to the one he used at Shelton. A few hours after this test he received his new glass topped casket from the Boyertown Casket Co. of New York which he used for a third (non submerged) test at the Summerfield's Furniture store in Worcester on September 30.

With these three stunts we can see that Houdini was clearly moving in the direction of endurance tests being his primary "outdoor" publicity stunts. Very much the kind of thing that David Blaine performs today. It's another reason I find photos like these so exciting. We're catching a glimpse of Houdini's final career metamorphosis.

A monumental thanks to Jay Hunter for sharing these gems from his collection.


Sunday, January 26, 2020

10 year flashback: The Worcester YMCA pool test

As part of WILD ABOUT HARRY's 10th anniversary, I will post links back to significant stories from 2010 with a ten year follow up. Today I share the first of these flashbacks from January 26, 2010.

Houdini's famous Shelton Pool test is well known. But you'll barely find any mention of his second underwater endurance test performed at the Worcester YMCA a month later. So click the link below and travel back 10 years to read all about:

Uncovering Houdini’s SECOND underwater test

TEN YEAR UPDATE: This still remains a largely unknown Houdini stunt and the photo above is still the only known image. I wish I had more to share. But what I had 10 years ago is still pretty much all I know.

UPDATE: Reader Jay Hunter has provided four remarkable must see photos from this test, SO GO!


Saturday, January 25, 2020

Appleton gets some r-e-s-p-e-c-t

It's rare that I think, "Hey, that's a great idea for a TV show." But, hey, this is a great idea for a TV show. And it doesn't hurt that there is going to an episode devoted to Houdini's own Appleton. Check out the below which includes a nice Houdini nod.

You can read more about Small Town Throw Down's Appleton visit at wbay.com.


Friday, January 24, 2020

Unseen Haldane of the Secret Service

Here is what appears to be unused footage from Houdini's Haldane of the Secret Service (1923). In it we see Heath Haldane (Houdini) following Adele Ormsby (Gladys Leslie). I'm not sure where in the movie this would have occurred as it does not seem to fit anywhere into the existing plotline. This footage has never appeared anywhere and comes courtesy of our friend Jon Oliver (the man who sleeps in Houdini's bed).

One thing to note here is Houdini/Haldane's clothes. This outfit is never seen in the final film. Interestingly, this same outfit appears in several Terror Island publicity photos, yet Houdini never wears this outfit in that film either.

In real life Houdini sported a similar outfit when he traveled to Austria in 1910 and stopped off in exotic ports such as Egypt and Ceylon. So forget the lost Margery Box, Voisin, and Automaton; I want to know what happened to Houdini's pith helmet!

Thanks to Jon Oliver.


Thursday, January 23, 2020

Happy birthday Magigal Bess

Today is Bess Houdini's 144th birthday. She was born on January 23, 1876 in Brooklyn, NY. To celebrate, here's a shot of Bess and Gerrie Larsen with a Magigals cake. What exactly they are celebrating I'm not sure, so let's just think of this as Bessie's birthday cake!

This unpublished image comes from the collection of our friend John Hinson, the great-nephew of Harry and Bess. Thanks John!


Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Go WILD for Houdini on Facebook

Did you know WILD ABOUT HARRY has several pages on Facebook? This is because I'm insane. And...it's a nice way to follow just that aspect of Houdini's life and career that you find most interesting. My most recent addition is Houdini Illustrated. Here I share only those posts having to do with Houdini in contemporary art and illustration. So if that's your thing, give it a Like!

Below are my other pages with descriptions.

Wild About Harry (Houdini)
Want it all? This is my main Facebook page where I share everything that goes up on the blog and more. This one is for the truly Wild.

My most "Liked" page. Here I share only history related Houdini posts. Forget the movies and plays and comics and clutter, this stays focused on the man and his times.

Houdini's Escapes
Into bondage? Well, there are other Facebook pages for that. But if Houdini's escapes are your thing, here's a page that will keep you captive.

Houdini's Magic
Houdini's career as a straight magician is greatly unappreciated. But we appreciate it here! Like to keep up with Harry's hocus pocus.

Houdini's Spirit Exposures
Do Spirits Return? On this page Houdini says No and Proves it! Here I also share links to stories about modern frauds and psychic rip-offs. The crusade continues.

Houdini the Aviator
Houdini thought he would always be remembered for his achievements as a pioneer aviator, which proves he wasn't psychic. But while the world may have forgotten, we haven't!

Houdini's Movies
Action! Houdini's short-lived movie career lives forever on this page.

Bess Houdini
Who doesn't love Bessie? Give her some Likes, but watch out for her "brainstorms"!

Wild about Dash? So are we. Of course we need a page devoted to The Monarch of Manacles.

Houdini (1953)
For many people, myself included, it all stated with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. The first and still the best Houdini biopic.

The Great Houdinis
I have soft spot for this second Houdini biopic from 1976. And judging by the number of Likes, looks like I'm not alone.

I also have largely retired pages devoted to the Houdini Miniseries and the TV series Houdini & Doyle. And I'm toying with the idea of new page devoted just to Houdini Books.

So Like your favorites or Like them all!

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Lifting the lid on Sergeant Houdini

In my recent Houdini in 1920 post I mentioned an imitator who called himself "Sergeant Houdini" and who toured with a wresting troupe in Canada. Now here's a look at the elusive sergeant himself inside his Milk Can. This comes from the Saskatoon Daily Star, May 19, 1920.

Houdini put an end to the use of his name by penning a letter to the Saskatoon Daily Star. Whatever became of "Sergeant Houdini" and his Milk Can after that I do not know.

Below are some more magicians and escapists who played the Houdini name game.


Sunday, January 19, 2020

Bahl Yahn the Strong Man. A Good Night Story by Harry Houdini

One of the more curious and unknown aspects of Houdini's career is that he published several works of short fiction. The first of these stories, "Bahl Yahn the Strong Man," appeared in the May 26, 1907 edition of the New York Sunday World. It was then syndicated in newspapers across the country. Below is the story transcribed in full from the June 2, 1907 St. Louis Post Dispatch along with the original illustrations. Enjoy.

This is the story of Bahl Yahn who was a giant such as you see each year at the circus. More than that, he was a strong man, which many giants are not. And, last of all, he was swarthy, deep-eyed and mysterious looking — just the sort of fellow that all boys and girls like to see at the circus. 
Many, many years before Bahl Yahn came to America, a band of Hindoo musicians was giving shows upon the streets of a seaport town in the East Indies where there were many soldiers of good Queen Victoria. With the musicians was a young girl who smilingly held out her hand for coins. She was so light and slim that one of the officers in gay uniform, a strapping fellow, whose strength was the envy of all the other soldiers, picked her up, tossed her high in the air and caught her as she came down. The girl thought this was great fun to go flying through the air, and it is hard to say who was more pleased with the applesauce of the crowd, the girl or the big officer, whose strength all admired.
But perhaps they played too long at this dangerous game, for the last time he failed to reach far enough out to catch the flying figure, and when the girl woke up from what seemed to her like a long and troubled sleep she learned that never again would she walk. But she was as brave as she was pretty, and by and by the young officer, who I promised her people that she should never want for good care, found that he loved her for her bravery and patience, and so they were married. 
To their home came little Yahn – little only for a short time. He soon outgrew his pretty mother’s arms and promised to be as big and strong as his father. And his father would say to him, when the two bathed and road and exercised together: “You must grow strong and tall and always take care of your mother if anything happens to me.” And then Bahl Yahn would stand very straight and salute his father. When the latter was killed in a battle the boy was willing and able to care for his tiny, crippled mother. 
They had no money, so he went away from the city to where he could till a farm. This lay on a bay in which ships often anchored, and Bahl Yahn’s mother loved to go with him into the field and watch the ships come and go. So Bahl Yahn made for her a cunning little seat of rushes which hooked over his shoulders, and there she sat like a queen on his back while he worked, for he was strong enough to carry her and work, too. 
Thus it was that some red-faced men found him one day. They had come ashore for fresh water and, seeing how strong he was, they offered Bahl Yahn much money to carry the barrels of water on board the vessel. He could not carry both his mother in the barrels on his back, so he sat her carefully under a tree when he made trips to and from the vessel. It was hard work, and the captain of the boat, who could speak a bit of Hindoo language, kept telling Bahl Yahn what a wonderful man he was, which pleased the young Hindoo mightily. Also after each trip the captain would give Bahl Yahn a sweetish, spicy drink that tasted very good, but which finally made the young man feel rather strange. Never before had his knees felt so shaky, his hands so uncertain, and on the last trip he had to sit down to rest on the ship’s deck. And that was the last Bahl Yahn knew until he woke up far out to sea, with the stars shining over his head and ropes tied around his wrist and ankles. 
My! How Bahl Yahn did try to fight! And after the wicked sailors were tired of watching his struggles they gave him more of the spicy drink and again he fell asleep. When he woke they put him to work doing the heaviest labor about the ship, and Bahl Yahn worked, for he found that when he did not work he was lashed and when he did work he received the sweetish drink that made him stop worrying about his poor mother sitting alone under the tree. 
Thus was Bahl Yahn brought to America and delivered to the manager of a circus. He received new, fine clothes, plenty to eat, and, above all, as much of the liquor, for which he had formed a habit, as he asked for. Gradually he forgot the little mother under the tree and his promise to his father to care for her always. There is no telling whether the little mother would ever see him again if Ned Green and his grandmother had not gone to the circus. Ned was big for his age and straight and his grandmother was little in bent and white-haired, and Ned was as careful of her as if she had been a piece of thin, fine china. They stopped a long time before the platform in the side show where Bahl Yahn, the Hindoo giant, sat, and Ned told his grandmother what wonderful things he would buy and do for her if only he were as big and strong as Bahl Yahn. 
Bahl Yahn listen to the boy’s chatter, and something stirred in his heart and there came to his dull eyes a light that had not been there since he had begun to drink so much of the spicy liquor. Neither that night nor the next day did he sleep and on the third day there came to the circus an old Hindoo who lived in the city’s foreign quarter, and Bahl Yahn leaned forward and grasped the old man's hand and they became friends. After that Bahl Yahn drank no more liquor, but every day he practiced the exercises his father had taught him, and the circus people were very much pleased and had his picture taken doing the exercises, and more and more boys and girls came to see him. No longer he sulked in his chair. He smiled and was always busy. 
Then came a night when Bahl Yahn could not be found, and the next day the papers told of the wonderful contest of strength in which the Hindoo giant had wrestled with a strong man at a dime museum for a purse of $500, and how when the victory was won he had slipped away with an aged Hindoo and the $500, to be seen no more. But what the papers did not know was that Bahl Yahn was far out on the Atlantic Ocean while yet the circus people did not know that he had run away. 
It was many weeks before Bahl Yahn reached a little farm overlooking the bay. There was his mother in the care of neighbors, desolate, older and white of hair, but still praying for him to come back. The next day he returned to work in the fields, with his mother on his back. When they sat down to eat their frugal lunch she cried a little and said: "Oh my son, it is good to feel your strong back beneath me, your strong arms around me.” 
And Bahl Yahn held her tiny hand in his big, powerful fingers, and, looking far across the blue water, murmured: 
"Yes, little mother, it is good to have a strong back and a strong arm, but there are other kinds of strength that a man or a woman needs more – it is to refuse that which tastes good to the tongue but eats out the heart and makes one forget duty and promises.” 
But the little mother, who had never heard of the spicy drink which had stolen her son from her, just smiled and stroked his hand happily.

Unlike his later ghostwritten stories (one by H.P. Lovecraft no less), I believe Houdini really did write "Bahl Yahn the Strong Man". His psychology, values, fears, and predilections are just all over this tale. It's really a snapshot of his interior world -- his sense of duty to his father, his guilt over leaving his mother for extended periods, his love of physical fitness and hard work, and his disapproval of alcohol for men and women (a veiled message for Bess who may have developed her taste for the "sweetish drink" by now?). And the mysterious "old Hindoo who lived in the city’s foreign quarter" appears to be a substitute father figure, the likes of which Houdini would seek approval from his whole life.

One puzzle remains the identity of "Ned Green" who is mentioned by name when no-one else in the story is given a name besides Yahn. It's almost as though this "good-night story" is intended for young Ned.

Once when asked what his greatest ambition was, Houdini answered: "To live a life and die being worthy of the mother who bore me." Words that could have come from mighty Bahl Yahn himself.

According to Patrick Culliton, who collected Houdini's fiction in his book Houdini's Strange Tales (1992), "Bahl Yahn the Strong Man" was first uncovered by Manny Weltman.


Saturday, January 18, 2020

Houdini lives in 'American Dreams'

Houdini, Bess, and even Jim Collins play roles in the new comic series American Dreams written and created by Daniel Kalban. The series is two issues deep and can purchased in digital and print editions from publisher Short Fuse. Here's a description.

New York City. 1900. At the dawn of a new century, Jewish immigrant Jake Gold gets caught up in a mad experiment being done by Thomas Edison. Now gifted with new abilities, Jake must decide how to use them, especially as others affected begin to use theirs for evil. Set against the backdrop of an era very different, yet similar, to our own and with a grand cast of characters both fictional and historical, American Dreams is the story of one neophyte hero's fight for everyone's chance at the American Dream.

Creator Daniel Kalban has provided us with a special peek at some of the Houdini images in the first issues. When it comes to Houdini in comics and graphic novels, I am partial to artists who attempt to capture Houdini's actual appearance as opposed to a more square-jawed superhero take. As you can see, artists Dody Eha (pencils), Tebe Andry (inks) and Waenia K. Sahadewa (colors) do a nice job of capturing the 1900 Harry.

Daniel also sent this "pin up" of a variant cover from issue 1. Here we see Houdini has recruited hero Jake Gold as his own escape artist supreme. Now there's a superhero! Daniel is currently at work on issue #3.

Thanks to Daniel Kalban for sharing these images. You can check out more of his work via his Twitter @DanielKalban.

Below are links to a few more favorite graphic novels that opted for a realistic looking Harry.


Friday, January 17, 2020

LINK: Houdini - Down on the Farm

Chuck Romano at My Magic Uncle has shared a story about how Houdini found farmers "harder to fool than city people." This was a story that ran widely in the months after Houdini died, but the article Chuck found is from 1925 and has something that I've not read before -- a story of how Houdini was once challenged to escape a "thief-proof barn" in Iowa. You'll note it's yet another variation on the unlocked door parable. That sure seemed to happen to him a lot!

So click the headline and have a read at My Magic Uncle. And don't be fooled by that pic of Farmer Harry. Something tells me that's made up as well!


Thursday, January 16, 2020

Sean Doran is searching for Houdini at Niagara Falls

Here's something exciting. Sean Doran, who attended last year's Official Houdini Seance in Niagara Falls (and sent us photos), has decided to take up the task of finding some of the locations for Houdini's 1922 film The Man From Beyond. And he's off to a great start! Here's what Sean sent me over the holidays:

"I had a bit of time yesterday to stomp around The Falls in balmy 34 degree sleeting weather. I originally set out in search for the shots of the rapids shown in the movie, but some of the trails I wanted to hit were closed for the season. Dejected, I wandered back to one of my favorite spots to take in a view Of the falls all by myself as no one else was there. Standing in the cold rain, I looked to my right and hen it hit me, this looks like the spot of the crew photo!"
Click to see the reveal.

I would say he found it!

The area is part of Prospect Point Park. Some of the point fell victim to erosion and a spectacular landslide in 1954 (caught on film). But it appears the Houdini location survived and is there just waiting for us to take a new group shot!

Sean has now created a website, THE MYSTERIARCH (great name), where he will be sharing his findings and research adventures. I just love "Houdini archeology" and I can't wait to see what he discovers next.


Thanks Sean.


Tuesday, January 14, 2020

A Winchester Mystery House mystery...solved?

I'm always on the lookout for any mention of Houdini's visit to the famous Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA. This is mainly because no one, not even the museum itself, has ever been able to nail down the exact date of his visit. For me, this has been the true mystery of the Mystery House.

But now a voice from beyond might have provided the answer. Recently I stumbled on this August 14, 1988 obituary for Fred P. Faltersack, who worked as a tour guide at the house and claimed he was the man who brought Houdini there. While he doesn't provide a date, he does feed us fresh clues.

Click to enlarge.

Houdini visited the house during his nationwide spiritualism lecture tour in 1924. We know this because Houdini spoke of his visit during a lecture in Oregon on November 3, stating it was "last week" and that it was a midnight visit. (This newspaper that makes mention of this is on display at the Winchester Mystery House.)

I recently found evidence that Houdini gave a lecture in San Jose on October 29th. This is where Mr. Faltersack would have seen him. The "tricks" he assisted with would have likely been to play the part of the sitter in a seance as Houdini performed manifestations visible only to the audience. This was a highlight of the lecture. (The obit says Mr. Faltersack related this "in a 1982 interview". That interview I've not been able to find.)

So I'm now thinking it's likely Houdini and Mr. Faltersack (and Bess?) toured the house after the lecture on the night of the 29th -- the aforementioned "midnight visit". In fact, that's really the only time that fits as Houdini's lecture dates where tightly packed. He had spoken in Los Angeles on October 28th and would be in San Francisco on October 30th. So everything about the 29th works! Nevertheless, the search continues for firm confirmation.

Meanwhile, the Winchester Mystery House remains a popular San Jose tourist attraction ripe for a Houdini seance or some sort of special Houdini event. Maybe on October 29th?

Below are more Houdini Winchester Mystery House encounters.

UPDATE: The April 1938 Genii magazine has a nice article about the Winchester House that ends with the following paragraph. This corroborates the midnight visit. It also states that Houdini was the guest of "2 local magicians". We can assume Fred was one. But who was the other?


Monday, January 13, 2020

Revisit Houdini's Conjurers Monthly Magazine No. 1

Our friend Jack Coray has taken on an exciting project at his recently revived blog Houdini & Hardeen. Jack is deep diving into every issue of Houdini's Conjurers' Monthly Magazine, which ran from September 1906 to August 1908. There's gold in these issues, and Jack intends to mine it all! Below are links to his posts covering issue No. 1:

Individual issues of Conjurers' Monthly Magazine are rare (the above scan is from my own collection). In 1991 Kaufman and Greenberg published all the issues in a two volume set. That is also now rare and expensive. At the moment there is a copy on Amazon.

 Thanks Jack. Looking forward to more issues and more discoveries!


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