Thursday, September 3, 2009

Bess costume among rare Houdini items on display in Austin

A collection of rare Houdini items, including a stage coat worn by Bess during the Houdinis European tour, are going on display for the first time at the historic Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas. Reproductions of the items will also be offered for sale. Here is the full press release:

Austin, TX – Houdini returns to the Driskill

Austin magicians have discovered rare Houdini belongings given to a local man over 50 years ago by a lifelong friend of the famous escape artist. Kent Cummins, the founder and Executive Director of The Kent Cummins Magic Camp and a Special Consultant to the Society of American Magicians will present the items at the historic Driskill Hotel where Houdini always stayed while performing in Austin.

Austin oilman Jim Baldauf recalls, “It was in 1955 when I was a budding boy magician, and Houdini’s old friend, Jim Bard, was in his mid 80s. He would pull out his scrapbooks and share stories and rare memorabilia related to his and Houdini’s careers. They started out in show business together, touring with the Welsh Bros. Circus in 1896. After the gigs, they would go out and shoot pool.”

In addition to a collection of posters, letters and postcards, Bard passed on to Baldauf personal Houdini belongings such as a statuary bust of the magician, and a stage coat worn by Houdini’s wife, Bess. As spelled out in letters from Bard, Bess gave the coat to Mrs. Bard in the 1920s, and Houdini gave the bust to Jim Bard some years earlier. Only two other copies of the sculpture are known to have survived, one in David Copperfield’s collection, and the second in another major Houdini collection. The stage coat, designed and handmade by Bess for a European tour, is a one-of-a-kind rarity that exists nowhere else in the world.

“I really didn’t know the value of what I had until I consulted with local magicians and studied a new biography which describes the lifelong friendship of Houdini and Bard,” Baldauf said. “Since then, several private collectors have expressed interest in the original items, but I decided to make reproductions available to the general public, and to let some of the revenues benefit two non-profit magic groups.”

Kent Cummins says the news conference will be the first public showing of the Houdini items; the sale of reproductions will kick off a fundraising campaign for the non-profit Austin Magic Camp. The Kent Cummins Magic Camp was founded in 1993 in Austin, and now helps nearly 1,000 children each year enjoy the fascination and fun of juggling, puppetry, and MAGIC!

The news conference will present the 100-year-old originals along with the Reproduction Offering. A group of Houdini experts and Texas magicians, including Baldauf, will be on hand to discuss the collection and to recreate some of Houdini’s stage magic. ‘Bess’ will appear in full-dress uniform to showcase the vintage stage coat.

WHAT: First Public Viewing of Rare Houdini Items
WHEN: 11 a.m., Thursday, September 3, 2009
WHERE: Driskill Hotel, Victorian Room, 604 Brazos, Austin, TX
WHY: Sale of Houdini Items to Benefit Austin Magic Camp

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