Thursday, February 29, 2024

Leap Day Dash

While we know Hardeen was born on March 4, 1876, in Budapest, like his famous brother, he later claimed Appleton as his birthplace and changed his birthdate. The date Dash chose was February 29 (Leap Day), showing he had a sense of humor about all this. As it only happens once every four years, let's celebrate Hardeen's "birthday" today with some dashing posters.

Below is one of my all-time favorite posters for either brother. If Houdini ever created a poster depicting a bridge jump, I've not seen it. But it would be tough to do better than this one. This appeared on the back of the July 1945 Conjurers Magazine "Hardeen Memorial Issue." How I would love to see this in color.


Here's another Hardeen poster that features a bridge jump as a key image. This is a blow-up from a photo of an Oakland billboard when the brothers were both performing there in 1915. Again, how I'd love to see this in color.


Here's another beauty. This appears on the back of Hardeen's pitchbook.


While the above posters will be familiar to some, I'm sharing a Hardeen poster on my Patreon today that I bet you've never seen because I sure hadn't! And, yes, this one is in color. This comes from Eric Colleary and our friends at the Harry Ransom Center. Enjoy.


Happy Leap Day Birthday, Dash!

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Holmes & Houdini Issue 2

The dynamic duo of Holmes & Houdini are back in issue 2 of this three-part series from Zenescope written by Honor Vincent with artwork by Oliver Borges. Girls get it done...again!

The die has been cast, the game is afoot, and this thrilling journey has begun to unfold! 
Spencer Holmes and Erica Houdini’s lives would never have crossed-paths or so they thought. But when a plot that involves the very future of all human life begins to dig its way into the literal minds of all those around them, only Holmes and Houdini will be able to try and find a way to save everything and everyone. 
Don’t miss this exciting and mysterious next chapter of the biggest new series from Zenescope Entertainment!

You can Purchase Holmes & Houdini #2 for the Kindle on Amazon.com. You can also buy directly from Zenescope, which offers printed copies with variant covers (the above is Cover B by Jordi Tarragona and Ivan Nunes).

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Jasper Blakeley presents CHARLATAN

Award-winning magician Jasper Blakeley presents a Houdini-themed magic and mentalism show at The Small Space in Wales beginning March 1, 2024. Details below.

Enjoy a full 90 minute show of astounding magic and laughs from World-Class Magician and entertainer Jasper Blakeley. 

'CHARLATAN' is Jasper's most ambitious show to date and centres around the history of the con artist world of psychics, mediums and those who claim to speak to the dead. This light-hearted, hilarious and laugh-out-loud (yet impactful show), reveals the con-stories behind some of the most notorious psychics and spiritual mediums of the past. We talk about the great Houdini and his exposure of spiritual con artists, the famous fakery of the Fox Sisters of New York and the myriad of other money-driven Charlatans of the past.

Jasper is an International Award-Winning Magic Circle Magician who, for over two decades, has performed all over the world, from multi-million dollar illusion shows in Las Vegas to private parties in Venice and everything else in between. He now owns and performs weekly in his hometown of Barry, at The World's Smallest Magic Theatre - The Small Space. 

For more information and to buy tickets, CLICK HERE.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Sunset Harry

Our friend Dean Carnegie recently shared this image on his Instagram. Yes, I know I just did a post about how A.I. can't get Houdini right. But in this case it did, and offers us a glimpse at what could have been. It's kinda moving, actually.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Talking Houdini on The Macabre World Podcast

This week, I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by Raquel Digati on The Macabre World Podcast. "Rocky" had some great questions and we covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time. You can listen at the Dark Art Studio, Spotify, Amazon Music, or via your favorite podcatcher.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Houdini, the Magician's Code, and the Talking Tea Kettle scandal revisited

Recently, magician Murray Sawchuck has been posting magic exposure videos on his social media. Scott Wells posted an
interview with Murray in which he defends his actions. Scott also posted an interview with David Sandy, Bill Smith, and Mark Holstein explaining why magicians should protect magic secrets. I thought this was a good time to update this post from 2012 about when Houdini found himself embroiled in his own magic exposure scandal.

The Magician's Code is no joke. Houdini once said that exposing tricks is "taking bread and butter from honest hard working ambitious magicians." But even Houdini once found himself in the hot-seat for exposing secrets. In fact, the scandal is partially why there is a formal Magician's Code today.

The problem erupted when Houdini published an article in the October 1922 issue of Popular Radio exposing The Talking Tea Kettle. This is an effect in which one can ask a question and hear the answer via a ghostly voice inside a tea kettle. Houdini claimed it was a tool used by dishonest mediums "for getting money from their credulous followers," and he exposed it as he did with other spiritualistic trickery "as a public duty."

The trouble was The Talking Tea Kettle was the invention of magician and author David P. Abbott. Abbott created the illusion in 1907 as a "spooky" stage effect, not one for use in the séance room. To many, there was a difference between a spiritualist stage act, like The Davenport Brothers (respected even by Houdini), and one-on-one séance room bunko artists like Margery. With his article, Houdini had clearly exposed a stage effect. What made it worse is Houdini purchased his tea kettle from a magic dealer and not from the estate of a deceased medium as the article claimed.

Abbott suspected this was payback for his support a year earlier of Eugene Dennis, the Omaha "Wonder Girl," who assisted police officers in solving crimes using her alleged psychic abilities. Houdini believed she had informants who fed her the details of crimes. Abbott dismissed the idea, saying, "I don't think [Houdini] ever investigated a medium in his life."

Now he lambasted Houdini's explanation of the Tea Kettle. "Houdini is a publicity seeker," Abbott told the Omaha Daily. "He's talking about something that he knows nothing whatever of, just to get his name in the paper. He borrowed the teakettle that I made for Keller, had his picture taken with it, and drew those wire coils in from his own imagination. I wouldn't mind his guessing the secret if he guessed it right."

Abbott's local S.A.M. assembly in Omaha took up the matter and, according to The Houdini-Price Correspondence by Gabriel Citron, "voted for Houdini's resignation as President of the S.A.M. over the affair." A letter published in The Sphinx pointed out that Houdini had once forced a member to resign for exposing his Milk Can effect. It's incredible to think that even Harry Houdini could be run out of a magic fraternity for violating the Magician's Code.

Houdini argued that he did not expose the method of the kettle in his original article. The magazine added the explanation to his text and the photographs without his consent. In MUM, Houdini reproduced correspondence between himself and the magazine editor, Kendall Banning, that proved this was the case. Nevertheless, even the title of Houdini's article, "Ghosts that Talk by Radio," could be considered an exposure.

Houdini remained president of the S.A.M. and went out of his way to personally patch things up with Abbott. However, the controversy only died down when the S.A.M. formed a committee to decide on a formal code of conduct that would govern the exposure of secrets. They determined what was allowed and what was not (devoting a special section to spiritualist trickery) and also laid out punishment for those who broke the rules. A version of those rules stands to this day.

David Abbott revealed the secret of the Talking Tea Kettle in his book, David P. Abbott's Book of Mysteries. The book showed that Houdini had indeed gotten the method wrong. Abbott's Tea Kettle was far more subtle and clever.

I'd tell you what the real method was, but...


Want more? I've uploaded the original "Ghosts that Talk by Radio" article from Popular Radio for Scholar members of my Patreon below.


Thanks to Joseph Pecore for providing me with the pages in MUM that show the Houdini-Banning correspondence.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Reviews and pics from 'Houdini's Greatest Escape'


Houdini's Greatest Escape
, the new play from New Old Friends in association with Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, is currently touring the UK through June 30, 2024. It offers a humorous take on Houdini's story. Below are links to some reviews.

(If you've reviewed this play, please send me the link 
and I will include it here.)


Here are some photos from the production by Pam Raith, courtesy the New Old Friend Facebook page.


CLICK HERE to see all tour dates for Houdini's Greatest Escape.

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Sunday, February 18, 2024

Houdini's war on fake mediums began 100 years ago today

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the start of Houdini's first lecture tour exposing the practices of fake spirit mediums. The tour kicked off at the Plaza Theatre in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, on February 18, 1924. The only reason I know this is thanks to a program in the Harry Ransom Center that Houdini himself annotated as being "very rare."

Houdini's first tour ran for five weeks. He called it "Unmasking the Miracle Mongers" and concluded the lectures with the Double Fold Death-Defying Mystery. This sometimes led to confusion as to what kind of Houdini "show" this was supposed to be. 

Houdini would drop the escapes for his second tour later in the year and also changed the name to what you see on the famous poster above (which I don't think many people realize was made for his lecture tour, not his vaudeville act).

Houdini's lectures truly kicked off his war on fraudulent spirit mediums.

Want more? You can see the program for Houdini's East Stroudsburg lecture on my Patreon below. Also, this month's free reward lists all the known stops on Houdini's tour. Is your town on the list?


Friday, February 16, 2024

The next, next stop

What would Houdini's life have been like had he lived beyond Halloween 1926? We can only speculate. But we do have a good idea of what his November would have looked like.

Houdini had planned to play his "3 Shows in One" for two weeks at the Garrick Theater in Detroit. His second week would have commenced on Halloween. He would then have traveled to Cleveland and the Hanna Theater for a one-week. That was the next stop.

Until now, that was as far as we could go into a future that never was. But I've now discovered that after Cleveland, Houdini was booked to appear in Toledo, Ohio.

I've shared details of where, when, and what replaced Houdini on my Patreon. So click below and journey to the next, next stop.


Thanks to my patrons for supporting my research and making discoveries like this possible. Not a member? Come hang with us! You'll instantly unlock 261 posts just like this.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Did Houdini repeat the Mirror Challenge?


The Mirror Handcuffs Challenge is the gift that keeps giving. There are still many mysteries and unanswered questions about this seminal escape during the height of Houdini's Handcuff King days. While the current hot topic is the Tatler cuffs, I recently stumbled on a new curiosity in the December 1947 The Linking Ring.

Below is an excerpt from the article "Royal Aquarium & Egyptian Hall" by Will Stone. As a young man, Stone worked with magician Paul Valadon in England. Stone talks about a hapless Handcuff King named Pongo, whom he had helped with an escape in the presence of Valadon and Albini. He then continues...

It was about this time that Houdini was advertised at the Hippodrome. He would give 500 pounds to any one who could get out of a special set of handcuffs, called "Mirror Handcuffs." The Daily Mirror Newspaper Corporation had these handcuffs made especially to challenge Houdini to get out of them, and Houdini accepted the challenge. At the same time, he passed the challenge along to any one. After a lot of urging, Valadon and Albini persuaded Pongo to compete, telling him that he had a fine chance to win, but warned him never to say a word about Valadon and Albini asking him to compete. In fact, never to mention either of their names.

The evening came when Houdini was to get out of the Mirror Cuffs. It had been advertised all over London. Val gave me tickets for Pongo and myself, with strict orders for me to see that Pongo got to the Hippodrome, and that his seat was right down near the stage. After having helped him in the back yard, he knew I was his friend, and he stuck close by. We got seats in the third row, and I had never seen such a full house before. Every seat was taken. The stage was set for Houdini. On the stage a small tent was erected. In came Houdini. The applause was tremendous. He stated what he was about to do—or try to do. He made a long speech, and he knew what to say and how to say it. He then made the challenge to any one in the audience who would attempt to get out of these handcuffs. Up jumped Pongo. "I accept that challenge," he shouted. Every eye was turned on him. Houdini stopped and stared. Then the audience gave a yell. Pongo grabbed me to go with him on the stage, but I pulled away from him and he went alone. Houdini asked three or four from the audience to come onto the stage to see that everything was fair. Valadon and Albini were among those who responded. Houdini looked Pongo over, and no doubt sized him up correctly. He then made a talk explaining things. He said he would fasten the Mirror cuffs on Pongo, and also an ordinary pair of cuffs. Pongo positively refused the ordinary cuffs; only the Mirror cuffs for him. So Houdini fastened the Mirror cuffs on Pongo and led him to the tent. In Pongo went.

After waiting a half hour, the audience became restless and began to shout. Another half hour passed and Houdini went and spoke to Pongo. Pongo came out, looking as if he had been in a fight. The audience saw him with handcuffs still on. He went down to the footlights with uplifted arms, and the spectators, seeing that he had something to say, quieted down. Pongo shouted: "Give an Englishman a chance!" That got them. The yelling and stamping was deafening. So Pongo went in for another half hour, but finally had to call it a go, and quit. The handcuffs were unlocked by the referee, and Pongo acknowledged his defeat.

Houdini was handcuffed with the Mirror cuffs, then with the ordinary pair of cuffs. He went into the tent, and in about ten minutes, out flew the ordinary cuffs. More yells and shouts, then they quieted down, for about twenty minutes. Houdini came out, still handcuffed. His assistant got a pair of shears and cut his coat up the back. It looked as if the coat was too tight. More yells and shouts and stamping! Houdini went into the tent again, and in about twenty minutes he was out with the cuffs unlocked. Then bedlam prevailed, and we went home.

What do we make of this? No mention of Pongo appears in any other account of the challenge, including the Daily Mirror's own highly detailed report. Stone's memories of the escape are also filled with slight differences, such as Houdini being secured with a second pair of handcuffs and his coat being cut off by an assistant instead of being slashed off by Houdini himself with a pen knife. It also seems highly improbable that a full hour would be given to a random challenger on the day of the highly publicized escape. But my biggest problem with this account is that we know Houdini offered up the Mirror handcuffs to challengers only after his escape on March 17 (read: Houdini's own Mirror Challenge).

However, I believe what Stone describes did happen. But it was not March 17, 1904. This was a performance after the original escape when Houdini accepted challengers, Pongo being one of them. Applying a second pair of handcuffs is a believable detail that makes perfect sense in context. The Mirror handcuffs were non-adjustable, so a second pair of cuffs would prevent the challenger from slipping them off.

But what of Stone's memories of seeing Houdini make the escape with all the on-stage dramatics of the original? Is he conflating memories of what he saw with what he had only read? That could be. But I think he may again be describing precisely what he saw, and Houdini was repeating his escape from Mirror handcuffs. He might have even done this several times during his six-week run at the Hippodrome when all of London was abuzz about the original escape.

What interests me is that Houdini also repeats the original escape's onstage theatrics, such as coming out of the cabinet and shedding his coat. But instead of going through the gymnastics of doing it himself, he had an assistant cut it off. Being locked in a second pair of cuffs and having them fly from the cabinet at the 10-minute mark is actually a nice addition.

All this is suggestive that Houdini came to see the Mirror Challenge and his dramatic struggles onstage as a performance piece. Or maybe it was conceived as such from the start.

Want more? You can read Will Stone's entire article from The Linking Ring as a Scholar member of my Patreon below.


Thanks to Joe Fox and the William Larsen Memorial Library at the Magic Castle.

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Monday, February 12, 2024

Houdini still popular on Pawn Stars

I fear Pawn Stars has long past its prime, and Murray seems to phone this one in (in more ways than one). But the market for Houdini collectibles remains hotter than ever, so they have my attention.


Sunday, February 11, 2024

LINK: William Lindsay Gresham, The Inklings, and Magic: An Interview with Diego Domingo

Our good friend Diego Domingo is interviewed at Fellowship and Fairydust about William Lindsay Gresham, author of the 1959 biography Houdini: The Man Who Walked Through Walls. Diego is a Gresham expert and top-flight magic historian, as you will see. Click the headline or the image below to have a read.


If you want to keep up with Diego's research, join his William Lindsay Gresham group on Facebook.

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