Saturday, May 15, 2010

The vanishing Vanishing Elephant photos

One of Houdini’s most famous illusions was his Vanishing Elephant. Houdini introduced the effect as part of the Cheer Up review at the New York Hippodrome in 1918. He later revived it with a smaller elephant for live appearances at the Time Square Theater to promote his film, The Man From Beyond.

But for all its notoriety, precious little is known about exactly how Houdini’s Elephant Vanish looked and worked. While there's an excellent book devoted in part to the effect, Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer, there is only one known photo of Houdini with his vanishing elephant (Jennie), taken by the White Studio for publicity purposes. But this photo does not reveal the cabinet, which is key to the effect.

But apparently there ARE more photos. Or at least there were.

In his own study, Notes on the Vanishing Elephant, Houdini expert Patrick Culliton says six photos of the illusion were published in the New York World in 1918 (he does not provide the exact date). Four years earlier the New York World Sunday Magazine featured the only known photo of Houdini’s Walking Through a Brick Wall illusion, in color no less!

Unfortunately, no collector has yet been able to turn up a copy of the World’s Vanishing Elephant issue. In fact, Patrick says this particular issue is the ONLY one missing from the microfilm archives.

Is it possible the photos revealed a little too much and Houdini (or Jim Collins) scrubbed the issue from the files?

Let the search commence!

Related:

14 comments:

  1. Here:
    http://circusnospin.blogspot.com/2012/04/who-trained-powers-elephants.html
    is some information on Jennie the Elephant and her trainer. Apparently she outlived Houdini by a stretch, and was still alive in 1950.

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    1. Thank you, Bill. This is great.

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    2. According to information available from the Circus Historical Society, Jenny lived until 1957. The Powers Elephants were originally the Walter L. Main Circus Elephants. When the animals and equipment were sold in 1905, William Powers took the five female Asian elephants, and toured them across America. After his death in 1920, his adopted son, George, continued the act until February of 1943. Jenny was then sold to Pollack Bros. Circus, who sold her to Mills Bros. Circus in 1950. Finally, one year later she was sold to Hagen Bros. Circus, and renamed Dixie. She died at Hagen Bros. Winter Quarters in Edmund, Oklahoma in 1957.

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  2. I woke up at 5am obsessing on these for some reason. How is it we can't find a 1918 issue of New York World? It's gotta be in some archive somewhere. I also feel like the clipping could be housed in some old magic scrapbook. I'm still obsessing!

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    1. Why wasn't that page or pages of photos in the Walter Gibson scrapbook? It would HAVE to be. Why isn't it in any collections, the Robinson-Locke scrapbooks or Houdini's own scrapbooks? I wrote down the date of that Sunday issue the rotogravure section of which was to contain the photos. I went straight to the microfilms. The paper was there, but, no rotogravure. I have since misplaced the date, but, I went through the Sunday NY Worlds from Dec. 1917 to Dec. 1918, ONLY ONE ROTOGRAVURE WAS MISSING. And it was the one that was supposed to have the photos. I firmly believe that the bosses saw what Houdini saw and out of genuine friendship, they killed the little magazine that one time.

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    2. Now THAT is an interesting theory Patrick! Harry might have had the influence to sway the NY World people into nixing those photos.

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  3. Which month of the New York World are we talking about here? There are dealers in vintage periodicals who might have copy. Their first question will be "Which month in 1918?"

    Give me the month and I will commence my own search.

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    1. I know it was their Sunday magazine, but Pat does not give a month in his Notes book. I will ask him.

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    2. Dear sir my great grandfather assisted in the great disappearing elephant act with Houdini I have a picture of them together next to the elephant

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    3. Really!? I'd love to see that pic and, if possible, share that it here on my blog. If you care to share it with us, please contact me here. Thanks.

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    4. Was there a follow up to this post? Was the elephant picture shared?

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    5. Nope, never heard from this person.

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  4. Harry Houdini's elephant act photos in the New York World and disappeared when all copies were placed in the primal wooden crate that Jennie the elephant disappeared in when doing his act in 1925.

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