According to an article in the Daily Telegram (Sept 27, 1926) promoting the upcoming Worcester stunt, this second underwater test was in direct response to the suggestion that the telephone Houdini used during the Shelton test somehow funneled air into the air-tight box. The paper states that Houdini will use a new "coffin" with a glass top so he can signal to his assistants on the surface.
"This time he will leave no loophole for the cynics, for there will be no connection with the outside save for signals seen through the glass top. Houdini will take with him a red bandanna for a warning signal, and a slate and chalk to write on and tell the onlooker how he likes conditions in his submerged quarters."
However, the Telegram's account of the actual test the follow day says Houdini did use a telephone and bell system during the Worcester test, and makes no mention of a glass top coffin or red bandanna signals. It sounds like Houdini intended to use a new custom casket for the Worcester test, but it doesn't arrive on time, so he uses a container similar to the Shelton test. Unfortunately, that "loophole for the cynics" remains.
Okay, until now, it was thought that the Worcester YMCA casket was the one that was famously used to ship Houdini's body back to New York following his death in Detroit. It was also reported that he was buried in this custom casket (although photos of Houdini lying in state and footage from his funeral suggest otherwise). But it turns out this wasn't the "death casket," and here's where it starts to get spooky and we need to revise Houdini history a bit.
According to another article and an advertisement in the Daily Telegram, Houdini performed the air-tight coffin test for a THIRD time! This third test took place in front of Summerfield's Furniture Co. on Main Street on Sept. 30, 1926, and was not a submerged test. As the advert (below) states, "This is the first public test in full view of the people."
|Advertisement for Houdini's third air-tight coffin test on Sept. 30, 1926.|
The full Telegram article (which is again a promotional article, Mark could find no article about the event itself) specifically states that the coffin Houdini would use for this open air public test will be a brand new one, not the one he used at the YMCA, which like the Shelton container, "had to be soldered by a tinsmith after he was placed into it" and then broken open to let him out. This new air-tight casket was made by the Boyertown Casket Co. of New York for $5000 and delivered to Houdini at noon on Sept. 28, 1926 (two hours after the YMCA test). The casket was put on display in the window of Summerfield's in the days preceding the test.
We now know THIS was the coffin used to transport Houdini's body from Detroit, and possibly holds his skeleton today. How can we be so sure? Because, incredibly, Houdini said so!
Houdini, the world famous magician, will perform his death-defying stunt of remaining in an air-tight coffin for one hour in front of the Summerfield Furniture Co,'s store on Thursday from 12 o'clock until 1 p.m. in the coffin in which he will be buried when he dies.
This is pretty mind-blowing as it is the only public declaration that I've ever heard about this coffin being made for Houdini's real interment. Most biographies say he communicated this wish privately (I believe to Joe Dunninger). It's pretty macabre, but also highly effective for Houdini to promote this as "the coffin in which he will be buried." It makes this stunt as much about getting a preview of Houdini in death as a test of breath control, but isn't this true of all of Houdini's most effective stunts? In fact, the Telegraph article talks more about this new coffin than the test itself.
This brand new coffin, delivered at the Worcester theater yesterday where Houdini is appearing all week, weighs 420 pounds. It is made of copper composition frame with a glassed top in two sections, each of which is 1/4-inch thick. The glass was installed by the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co.
Finally, how eerie is it that this is only one month before Houdini really does die and this casket really is used to hold his body? I think we can add this to the series of premonitions and bizarre coincidences that proceeded Houdini's death on Halloween 1926.
A very big thank you to Mark Russell for uncovering this information and allowing me to share it on WILD ABOUT HARRY.
UPDATE: Some clarification about the coffin from Patrick Culliton's Houdini The Key. Patrick describes the Worcester custom coffin as being a "coffin liner." He says this liner was made to be put inside the bronze casket that we see in the funeral footage. Patrick believes, "Houdini may still be in this coffin liner, inside the bronze coffin."