Thursday, June 20, 2002

Houdini honored with U.S. postage stamp

WASHINGTON - Harry Houdini, America's most famous escape artist and magician, will return to the spotlight July 3 in New York City when the U.S. Postal Service issues a new commemorative postage stamp in his honor.

The Harry Houdini stamp will be dedicated at a 10 a.m. first day of issue ceremony held in conjunction with the SAM (Society of American Magicians) 2002 Centennial Convention from July 3-6 at the Hilton New York, 1335 Avenue of the Americas.

David Copperfield, hailed as "the greatest illusionist of our time," will join David Solomon, vice president, Area Operations, New York Metro, Postal Service, in the dedication of the stamp.

The Houdini stamp will be available at the ceremony and at New York post offices starting July 3. It will be available at post offices across the country beginning July 5.

Although registration is required to attend SAM 2002, the stamp ceremony will be free and open to the public. Doors will open at 9:45 a.m., and the ceremony will take place in the Grand Ballroom. The public is also invited to attend a special lecture by Marie Blood titled "Uncle Harry and Me." Blood is the niece of Harry Houdini.

The 2002 issuance of the stamp coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Society of American Magicians. Houdini served as president of the society from 1917 until his death on Halloween, Oct. 31, 1926.

"Harry Houdini is considered one of the great magicians of our time," said Tony Curtis, who participated in the unveiling of the Harry Houdini stamp design in Las Vegas on Oct. 29, 2001. "I was privileged to play him on the screen and tried, when I made the movie, to instill all the subtleties and genius of the man."

Harry Houdini was born in Budapest, Hungary, on March 24, 1874. His family immigrated to the U.S. when he was four and settled first in Appleton, Wis. His "professional debut" occurred at the age of nine, when he appeared as a contortionist and trapeze performer at a five-cent circus staged by a friend. He went on to perform magic and escape tricks in dime museums (exhibitions that featured human oddities and curiosities for a low price), medicine shows, circuses and other small performance venues.

Houdini's name was Ehrich Weiss until he changed it in the early 1890s as a tribute to the famous French illusionist, Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin. He began performing escape tricks on vaudeville stages in the spring of 1899, and by the following spring he had become a star known as the King of Handcuffs. Houdini astonished audiences with his daring escapes, not only from handcuffs but from straitjackets, ropes, chains, jail cells, and trunks submerged in water.

Beginning in 1915, Houdini thrilled huge crowds with his suspended straitjacket escape. In this "outside stunt" Houdini was bound in a straitjacket and a rope was tied around his ankles. He was then hoisted high above the crowd and suspended from a beam that projected from a window in a tall building. In a 1916 performance in Washington, D.C., an estimated 15,000 spectators watched Houdini free himself from this terrifying predicament.

In his later years Houdini crusaded against spiritualism and worked to expose fraudulent mediums who claimed to be able to contact the spirit world. Houdini, who believed that these people preyed on grieving families, used his knowledge as an illusionist to reveal their methods. Ironically, Houdini died on Halloween, Oct. 31, 1926. He was one of the best-known performers of the early 20th century, and his name remains synonymous with magic and escape today.

The portrait on the Harry Houdini stamp, which depicts a confident, self-assured man at the height of his career, was taken from a 1911 lithographed poster in the collection of Gary H. Mandelblatt. Designed by Richard Sheaff of Scottsdale, Ariz., the stamp contains a hidden image that-when viewed through the official U.S. Postal Service Stamp Decoder-appears to wrap Houdini in chains.

Current U.S. stamps, as well as a free comprehensive catalog, are available toll free by calling 1 800 STAMP-24. In addition, a selection of stamps and other philatelic items are available in the Postal Store at


Issue: Harry Houdini
Item Number: 452100
Denomination & Type of Issue: 37-cent commemorative
Format: Pane of 20 (1 design)
Series: N/A
Issue Date & City: July 3, 2002, New York, NY 10199
Existing Art: Collection, Gary H. Mandelblatt
Designer: Richard Sheaff, Scottsdale, AZ
Engraver: N/A
Art Director: Richard Sheaff, Scottsdale, AZ
Typographer: Richard Sheaff, Scottsdale, AZ
Modeler: Joseph Sheeran
Manufacturing Process: Offset with Scrambled Indicia
Printer: Ashton Potter (USA) Ltd. (APU)
Printed at: Williamsville, NY

This post first appeared on Houdini Lives.

Friday, April 12, 2002

'Inside the Houdini Museum' on The Travel Channel

A new documentary, Inside the Houdini Museum, will air on The Travel Channel this month. Below is a report by Eric Klister from the Appleton Post Crescent:

It's not too often that Appleton and the Fox Cities get national TV time, but when the subject is Houdini, the experts know where to turn. 

The Houdini Historical Center in downtown Appleton will be featured in a documentary that will air next week on the Travel Channel. "Inside the Houdini Museum" will air at 8 p.m. Monday on the cable network. 

The program will explore the secrets of Houdini's escapes, as well as the tools of his trade, including his handcuffs, trick keys and straitjackets. The documentary also will offer biographical information about the escape artist, beginning with his childhood in Appleton. 

Lori Van Handel, marketing officer for the Outagamie County Historical Society, is happy to see that the program will draw attention not only to the Houdini Center, but to Appleton in general. 

"We're really happy that the documentary has been filmed' here and that they chose to focus in on our collection," she said. "There has always been an interest in Houdini, not only among magicians, but among the general public." 

Many magicians will be If featured, including escape artist Bill Shirk, known as the "modern-day Houdini." He will attempt a seven-ton burial escape.

Sunday, March 10, 2002

Houdini's missing grave bust recovered by police

A bust that went missing from Houdini's grave in 1983 has been recovered by police from a home in New Hyde Park. This article below by Sumathi Reddy appeared in the March 10, 2002 issues of Newsday.

Harry Houdini, that legendary escape artist, reappeared Friday night in the shape of a 2 1/2-foot, stern-faced bust stolen from his headstone almost two decades ago. 
Nassau police said they found the marble-composite bust Friday, stored in a cardboard box in the bedroom of a New Hyde Park man's house.

"[The bust] was missing since August 14, 1983," Det. Lt. Kevin Smith said at a news conference in Mineola yesterday.

With it, Smith said, were three newspaper articles, dating from Aug. 15, 1983, detailing the theft of Houdini's bust, then worth $500, from the Machpelah Cemetery in Glendale, Queens. The bust is now valued at $10,000, Smith said. 
Police charged Stephen Chotowicky, of 1007 First Ave. in New Hyde Park, with third-degree possession of stolen property, a felony, punishable by 1 to 7 years in jail.

Chotowicky was arraigned and is being held on $15,000 cash bail at Nassau University Medical Center's detention unit. It was unclear why Chotowicky was at the medical center. 
Police do not know whether Chotowicky, 43, stole the statue in 1983 or acquired it later. 
The trail to the bust began with Chotowicky himself. Police said he filed a complaint against his son-in-law, claiming he stole some of his tools. Police found the charges unfounded but learned from the son-in-law, whom police did not identify, that Chotowicky had a bust of Houdini. 
Chotowicky's wife, Linda, also was arrested and charged Friday for traffic law violations unrelated to the theft, said Patrick Byrne, a police spokesman. No additional information was available. 
Born Ehrich Weiss, the magician died on Oct. 31, 1926, leaving an ornate cemetery monument that has been vandalized numerous times. Houdini fans and magicians across the country reveled at the great-escape artist's resurfaced bust.
"That's Harry for you," exclaimed John Bohannon of Wantagh, who heads the New York City chapter of the Society of American Magicians' Houdini Committee. "I'm thrilled ... I'm glad he's back. I just hope that we'll be able to get it back and put it back in our archives where it belongs." 
Police said they will hold the bust until the case is solved.

Bruce J. Lish, regional vice president of the Society of American Magicians, said it will make a claim for the bust since the society maintains and monitors Houdini's gravesite and holds an annual service there. 
There's a discrepancy between police and magicians as to which bust was found. 
Police say the recovered bust is the third one erected at Houdini's monument. According to police, the original Houdini bust was damaged; a second one disappeared in 1975 and was never recovered; and the third one was stolen in 1983. 
However, Bohannon believes the bust found in New Hyde Park could be the original copy.

Bohannon said Houdini had a bronze bust made of himself while alive. He added that a marble copy of that bust was placed at Houdini's cemetery plot after he died, which was either stolen or destroyed in 1975. 
The American Society of Magicians then borrowed the original bronze bust from a city museum and made copies of it with a gray plastic resin. One was placed on the cemetery monument and stolen in 1983, and another one was stolen in the late 1980s, Bohannon said. 
The recovered bust is white, which leads Bohannon to believe it's the original, unless one of the copies was painted. 
"The copies were dark gray," he said. "This sounds like it was the original, stolen back in 1975." 
Whether it's the original or not, magicians say the bust is probably worth more than $10,000. 
"This is probably priceless now," said John Bravo, co-director of The Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pa. "I'm elated," he added. "I hope they really punish this guy. It's a horror to desecrate somebody's grave." 
Chotowicky's family could not be reached for comment. Neighbors say he and his wife have five or six children and are quiet and hard-working. 
"I think it's amusing because it was gone for 20 years, and then it's found right on this block," said Micky Halpern, 40, a nurse who lives down the street from the family.

"Maybe that's what the tapping was on my door," she said, with a laugh. "Houdini's ghost."

By Sumathi Reddy
Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc.

This post first appeared on Houdini Lives.