Houdini frequently announced his imminent retirement. This was especially true during the first decade of his success. It's possible Houdini might have considered retiring early -- his work was strenuous. But I've always suspected these retirement announcements were more about drawing in an audience. See me now or never! (Reminds me of Penn & Teller's current tour billed as "The First Final UK Tour.")
Like I said, Houdini's retirement announcements tended to be from his earlier years. But here's one from 1923! This time it's much more specific and his retirement plan is pretty unexpected.
Seattle Union Record, March 10, 1923.
Needless to say, Houdini didn't retire. But this was his final appearance in Seattle and he did leave vaudeville in 1925. But that was to start his own full evening show.
I would love to know Houdini's mind at this point in time. Could he really have been considering opening "a children's theater of magic in New York"? He had toyed with the idea of opening a magic theater in New York in 1918 and did enjoy performing for children, so...
Speaking of Houdini and children, I recently shared on Patreon a photo I've never seen before of Houdini performing for a group of children backstage at the New York Hippodrome on his last day in vaudeville. You can see it by clicking below:
I've always felt like Houdini's escape from the famed prison ship Success on June 4, 1913 doesn't get enough attention as one of his greatest escapes. But it really was! It's also, I believe, his last official "jailbreak."
So on this 110th anniversary, why not click back to my deep dive from 2018 and give it some love:
Our friend Joe Notaro at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence has made a fantastic discovery in the October 16, 1920 issue of Pictures and Picturegoer. The magazine contains a story adaptation of Houdini's 1919 movie The Grim Game written by John Fleming. Below are links to each installment:
Ever hear the one about Harry Houdini and Fleischmann’s Yeast? Sounds like the start of a joke, doesn't it? But it's not. Houdini's family connection to Fleischmann’s Yeast is something Patrick Culliton has always talked about. But when I was at the Harry Ransom Center last year, I finally heard it from Houdini himself.
In a letter dated June 8, 1925 to Albert Davis of 351 Bridge Street in Brooklyn, Houdini writes:
I noticed you live on Bridge Street. Many years ago my uncle, Simon Newman, he brought compressed yeast into this country and he taught the older Fleischman the business, in fact Fleischman was only one of a number of helpers and managed to get financing – my uncle having refused to form a corporation. His place was at 28 Jay Street and many a happy swim I had off the J Street Dock. By the way, the Fleischman people paid my uncle $200. a month all the rest of his life after having practically put him out of business and some how or other I attribute it has conscience money. Will tell you the whole story in person.
It seems strange to hear that an unknown man brought compressed yeast to this country but he sold it for years and is now entirely forgotten.
Fleischmann’s Yeast is still around today. Unsurprisingly, the official company history doesn't mention Houdini's Uncle Newman. I'm also excited to learn the location of swimming spot for young Ehrich Weiss. Any Brooklyn residents want to try and track down the Jay Street Dock?
Now let's work out the rest of that joke.
Want more? You can see and read the entire original letter as a Scholar member of my Patreon.
Attention fans of Houdini's movies! This month's reward for patrons is a free PDF of the complete pressbook for The Man from Beyond. Pressbooks are an amazing way to see all the posters and advertising material that was created for a film, and The Man From Beyond is an especially good one. Just click the image below to download.
Every month I offer patrons a unique free reward. I try to come up with something that is worth the price of a subscription alone. But you get so much more! If you join today, you will instantly unlock 124 exclusive posts with 541 images. You'll also be supporting all the work I do here at WILD ABOUT HARRY and be part of the inner circle on upcoming projects like the diary book. We're currently 73 members strong. Hope you'll come hang with us!
Broadway World reports that a new musical, Houdini Among the Spirits, will be presented at two private industry readings on June 5 and June 6. These presentations are part of The York Theatre Company’s Developmental Reading Series.
Tony Award-nominee Robert Cuccioli will portray Houdini and Gordon Stanley is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Book and lyrics are by Chris Ceraso with music by William Zeffiro. The director is Eric Parness.
In the years following World War I, magician Harry Houdini and Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became great friends in search of a world-healing truth. In the half-dozen years leading to Houdini’s mysterious premature death, they became bitter rivals in a supernatural quest. Come on this journey!
A Houdini musical on Broadway is something I have longed to see. Several attempts have fizzled. Here's wishing this new production luck!
Sad news today. Milt Larsen, who co-founded the Magic Castle in Hollywood with his brother Bill, has passed away at age 92. Arlene Larsen released a statement that went out to members today:
My beloved husband, Milt, passed away peacefully last night in his sleep after 92 magical years. I was fortunate enough to have spoken with him right before he went to bed, and he was in great spirits. He led an incredible life, and I want to especially thank Randy and Kristy Pitchford for making Milt’s last year so special for him. In the coming days and weeks there will doubtless be opportunities for us all to celebrate Milt’s life.
In the meantime, I ask for some time to grieve in private and for no gifts or flowers to be sent to our home. Thank you all for your love and support. Milt will be deeply missed by all who knew him.
It just so happens that I was at the Magic Castle last night having a wonderful evening with Bruce Averbook, Mike Caveney, Patrick Culliton, John Gaughan, and other magic friends. At the end of the night Patrick and I dropped into the Houdini Room. There, as always, we looked at the photo of a 6-year-old Milt performing magic for Bess Houdini.
Milt was always happy to share his memories of Bess as "a very nice lady." Well, Milt was a very nice gentlemen. His contributions to the world of magic cannot be overstated. He was loved and will be missed.
So hello to Harry, Bess, and the rest of the gang, Milt!
On May 11 Houdini again showed up on Jeopardy! The category was Grandma for $1600. But this one was a triple stumper as none of the contestants could come up with the answer...I mean the question. This was a tough one!
Josephine Weisz was the mother of Houdini's father, Mayer Samuel Weisz. She is not the "Grandmother" we see buried in the Machpelah cemetery family plot. That is Cecelia Weiss's mother, Hannah Heller Steiner.
To see the full board check out the J! Archive website where you can also see all mentions of Houdini on the show going back to 1985.
Two weeks ago I gave a lecture on "Houdini in Cleveland" at the Magic Collectors Expo 2023. After the conference I spent a day visiting many of the locations I featured in my talk. While it's all still fresh in my head, here's my fact-finding tour of Houdini's Cleveland.
Houdini's first appearance in Cleveland was the week of March 12, 1900. This was during his first Keith's vaudeville tour before he traveled to Europe. He appeared at the Empire Theater which stood at 750 Huron Road. Today Cleveland's beautiful art deco AT&T Building stands at that address.
During his 1900 engagement Houdini escaped from manacles at the Central Police Station on Champlain Street. This was one of his nude tests. That station was razed in 1925 to make way for Terminal Tower which still stands today in downtown Cleveland.
Houdini returned to Cleveland in 1905 and 1908 playing B.F. Keith's Theater at 619-625 Prospect Avenue. In 1908 he was more than a little chagrined to find he was not the headliner. Instead Julius Steger & Co. in the skit "The Fifth Commandment" was the featured performer. "Is this week the first step toward oblivion?" Houdini wrote in his diary.
The Prospect Avenue Keith's closed in 1923 and today a modern office building stands on the site. Or at least that's what I thought. When I visited, I could see that the "modern" building was a facade fronting what appears to be the original building that still shows the profile of a theater. The building beside it, which in Houdini's time was the Colonial Hotel, is still there and very recognizable.
Houdini cancelled his 1911 appearance in Cleveland when he broke a blood vessel in his kidney in Detroit (an injury that never properly healed and gave him pain the rest of his life). But he was back in 1915, this time playing the magnificent Hippodrome Theater at 720 Euclid Avenue. This was the second largest stage in the world at this time. Houdini would play the Hippodrome three times in 1915, 1916, and 1922. Among his escapes at this theater was a challenge from the Cleveland & Sandusky Brewing Co. to escape from a cask of their famous Gold Bond Beer.
The Hippodrome stood until 1981 when it was razed to make way for a parking garage. Today the new City Club Apartments are rising on the site of the theater.
A survivor in downtown Cleveland is the beautiful May Company building. The May Co. challenged Houdini to escape from a packing case made by their shipping department three times in 1905, 1908 and 1915. Houdini beat them every time. In 1925 they left it to their competitor the Baily Co. to challenge Houdini with their own packing case. He beat that one too!
In 1915 Houdini performed one of his more untypical outdoor stunts in Cleveland. He was strapped into a straitjacket atop a railway boxcar and escaped while spectators watched from the Cleveland viaduct bridge above. For more details on this unusual escape, check out THIS POST.
Houdini performed two suspended straitjacket escapes in Cleveland. The first was from the John Harkness Brown Building at 1019 Euclid Avenue on December 20, 1916. Happily, the building still stands today as the Euclid Grand apartments.
Houdini's second suspended straitjacket escape was from the Cleveland Press building on February 3, 1922. The building stood on the NW corner of East 9th and Rockwell. A terrific photo of the escape ran in the paper the following day.
Today the Press building is long gone, and even the Dunkin Donuts that now stands on this corner was out of donuts when I visited. So a double let down at this location! But at least we know Houdini hung here.
In 1924 Houdini barnstormed the country with his spiritualism lecture. Cleveland was one of his tour stops. Houdini appeared at Engineers Hall on February 27, 1924. Engineers Hall was located inside the Engineers Building on St. Clair Ave. It was demolished in 1989 and today is the Marriott Key Tower. By the way, I didn't know the location of Engineers Hall when I gave my talk. Fellow expo attendee Jim Kopco found it for me. Thank you, Jim!
Tickets for Houdini's lecture were sold at the Korner & Wood bookstore located at 1512 Euclid Avenue. This was a popular store that stood until 1963. Both Houdini and Blackstone are remembered to have been customers. Today the store and building are long gone.
If there was ever a time to be a Houdini fan in Cleveland it was 1925. Houdini performed in the city twice that year. But don't take it from me. Let's hear from someone who was there!
Houdini performed at the Palace for two weeks beginning March 9, 1925. The first week he featured his escape act. The second week he devoted to spiritualist exposes. The Palace is inside the magnificent B.F. Keith Building at 1615 Euclid Avenue. The good news is the Palace survives along with several other beautiful theaters in Cleveland's Playhouse Square.
While the theater was closed during my visit, I was still able to find my way into the lobby. It's a beautiful space and I could imagine Houdini as the prince of this palace.
During Houdini's 1925 run he exposed the well-known trumpet medium George Renner. Houdini attended Renner's seance at 2650 Superior Ave. in disguise and secretly smeared his trumpet with lampblack. When the lights came on, Renner's hands and face were cover in the soot, proving that the trumpet manifestations were the work of the medium and not the spirits. Renner was arrested and charged with fraud. Houdini had ten minutes to make it to the Palace for his performance. Newspapers reported he did his act with his hands still covered in the lampblack.
While Houdini's exposures drew headlines and large crowds to the theatre, it made him at least one enemy. Check out the below from the March 10, 1925 Cleveland Plain Dealer:
While in Cleveland Houdini stayed at the Hotel Statler at 1127 Euclid Avenue. The Statler is still there (it's now apartments), and from the outside appears just as it did in Houdini's time. A bonus is that the building stands beside the former John Harkness Brown building where Houdini did his 1916 suspended straitjacket escape. It's a great block for Houdini location seekers!
Houdini returned to Cleveland in November 1925 with his "3 Shows in One." This time he performed at the Hanna Theater located at 2067 East 14th Street, just a block over from the Palace. The Hanna still stands today. I couldn't get inside, but I did find the old stage door and could feel Houdini's spirit on that spot.
During his final Cleveland appearance, Houdini performed for handicapped children at the Sunbeam School. Below is a terrific photo of Houdini performing for the kids. An account of this show in the November 6, 1925 Cleveland Plain Dealer details Houdini's performance of the die box. The original school building was razed for the new Sunbeam School located at 11800 Mt. Overlook Ave.
Houdini was booked to return to the Hanna for the week of November 9, 1926. This was to be his next stop after his two week engagement in Detroit. He didn't make it. As we know, Houdini died in Detroit on Halloween of that year.
There's one last Houdini Cleveland connection. In 2017 the city played host to the Official Houdini Séance inside a bank vault. Houdini was a no show, but his memory proved to be alive and well in Cleveland -- a five star Houdini city!
Want more? You can see an exclusive photo of Houdini in Cleveland from the collection of Dr. Bruce Averbook and download the research I did for my lecture as a Scholar member of my Patreon below.
Here's a well done video from the YouTube Channel MetaPixel Lab. They take the unique approach of slowly colorizing Houdini images as they tell his story. They also gave me a very nice thanks. So I'm sharing the love!
This came to my attention via one of my favorite blogs, Travalanche, where the great Trav S.D. did a post about Huber's New York Dime Museum for International Museum Day. Huber's was a regular haunt of Houdini's in his early career. Trav pointed out that Huber's was recreated for the Cinemax series The Knick. Above is an image of that recreation. You can see a Houdini poster on the upper right of the building. Cool stuff.
I also found this promotional video for The Knick Season Two that provides a nice look inside their Huber's recreation and some Houdini factoids to boot.
We would love a photo of the real Huber's for the diary book. If you have or know of any Huber's images, please get in touch.
Check out On Huber’s Palace at Travalanche. Below are some more posts related to Houdini and Huber's.