Monday, October 31, 2011

It's time for trick or treat

Okay, after a full day of (sometimes harrowing) news, it's time to fire up the jack-o’-lanterns and put out the Halloween candy. And what could be a better Halloween treat than seeing this pumpkin, carved by Tom Interval of Houdini, sitting on a porch?

Tom shared this on his blog today...hope it's okay that I share it here because, well, it's awesome!

Happy Halloween.

NBC: Magic Castle fire a message from Houdini?

NBC LA is the first news organization to pick up on and exploit the coincidence that The Magic Castle in Hollywood caught fire on the 85th Anniversary of Houdini's death. But they should have noted that this fire happend not only on the same day, but during the very hour of Houdini's demise (at 1:26pm).

A message from beyond? Yes. Yes it was. He's back, people!

By the way, I've learned that the Magic Castle's famous Houdini Seance Room, which is filled with authentic Houdini handcuffs, letters, and memorabilia, was not damaged.


Joe Fox just sent me this alarming news from KABC:

HOLLYWOOD (KABC) -- A fire burned part of the attic at Hollywood's Magic Castle restaurant Monday afternoon. L.A. city firefighters responded to a report of a fire in the attic at the Magic Castle, located on the 7000 block of West Franklin Blvd. in Hollywood, after 12 p.m. Monday. The department reported a search and rescue under way. The department reported fire had reached wall space in the structure.

UPDATE: The L.A. Times reports that the fire is out and the damage is being assessed. The report says "the blaze was contained largely to the attic and walls of the historic venue but that there might be significant water damage."


Still, I can't help but comment on the fact that this happened on the very day and during the exact hour that Houdini died 85 years ago. Also, this was Inferno Week at the Castle.

NPR unlocks the secret of Houdini's bloodline

On this 85th Anniversary of the death of Houdini, NRP (National Public Radio) has posted an interview George Hardeen, the grandson of Houdini's brother, Theo. Hardeen, and a member of Houdini's bloodline who has, until now, remained almost totally outside the spotlight.

It's a terrific segment by Daniel Kraker, and George Hardeen sounds like a solid guy. I especially love when he says that Houdini's DNA is now flowing into the Navajo Nation. Also, the recording of Houdini's voice played during this segment (at 3:23) is the different recording that was recently played at EMC 2011. My jaw hit the floor when I heard this!

I'm honored to say I was asked by NPR to help out on this segment. I was able to clarify some information and provided photos from my own collection (one of which you see here). Got a nice credit for myself and the blog. :)

Click below have a read or a listen at


It was 85 years ago today on October 31, 1926, that Harry Houdini died in Detroit's Grace Hospital from peritonitis. He died at 1:26PM. His last words, spoken to his brother Hardeen, where said to have been, "I'm tried of fighting. It looks like this thing is going to get me."

Today, however, Houdini's memory is alive and thriving. He is as famous on this day in 2011 as he was when newspapers around the country announced his sudden death at age 52.

Not only is today celebrated as Halloween, but magicians around the world recognize it as National Magic Day in honor of the great magician, escape artist, author, actor, aviator, collector, and crusader against fraudulent mediums.

The room where Houdini died (#401). These photos were taken before
the demolotion of the original Grace Hospital in 1979. (Houdini Tribute)

Houdini death timeline:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Official Houdini Seance 2011 to be held in Holyoke

According to a very nice profile of collector Tom Boldt in today's Appleton Post Crescent, the Official Houdini Seance will be held this year at the Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke, Massachusetts, hometown of Sidney Radner who passed away in June at the age of 91. Sid had carried on The Official Houdini Seance since the 1940s.

Boldt and Sid's son, Bill Radner, say they will continue the annual "copyrighted" Halloween seances -- at least until Houdini himself decides to join the gathering.

"I’ve been doing this since 1986 and never had an appearance," said Boldt. "This could be the last one if Houdini comes back."

"My biggest regret is (my father) won’t be around to see what we’re doing," Bill Radner said. "The pain is terrible, but I know at this stage this is what he would have wanted. This is not going to be a regular seance; it's going to be a level higher than it's ever been before."

This year's medium will be Kandisa Calhoun. The event will include the showing of a video of Radner explaining the two famous Houdini handcuffs that have been used at the seance for years. There also will be a surprise guest who was a close friend of Radner's and two performers doing illusions Houdini made famous.

"So it’s not only a seance, it's a tribute," Bill Radner said.

The Official Houdini Seance is not to be confused with The Original Houdini Seance, which will be held this year at the Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA.

Houdini (1953) at the CJM, Tuesday

This is just a reminder that The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco will screen the 1953 classic Houdini starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh this Tuesday, November 1, at 1:00pm. The screening is free with museum admission.

The screening is part of the CJM's special programing for Houdini Art and Magic. The traveling exhibition is currently on show at the museum through January 16, 2012.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Houdini's Flight of Time alarm clock sells for $1,600

One of the faux alarm clocks used by Houdini in his Flight of Time illusion sold today for $1,600 at the Potter and Potter auction of magic memorabilia from the collection of Ken Klosterman. The clock was Lot 84 and it beat it's auction estimate of $800/1,200.

A selection of photos of Houdini and Margery sold for $1,800 (Lot 274); a photo of Houdini and Howard Thurston grabbed $325 (Lot 272); a signed Houdini photo went for $1,300 (Lot 270); and a thrice signed book from Houdini's library sold for $1,900 (Lot 275).

Houdini performed the Flight of Time during his 1925-26 full evening roadshow. The effect has been called "the last illusion invented by Houdini." It was later performed by Hardeen, Hardeen Jr, and William Rauscher.

The impossible possible

Okay, here's something that just doesn't happen anymore, so I had to share with my fellow Houdini nuts. Last Thursday when I went to the wonderful Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood to get a protective cover for my recently arrived Houdini and Conan Doyle, I actually discovered a Houdini book on their shelf that I didn't have!

Houdini A Musical by Muriel Rukeyser is a "previously unpublished verse drama" released by Paris Press in 2002. The play contained in the book was first produced in 1973 at the Lenox Center for the Performing Arts in Lenox, Massachusetts with, get this, Christopher Walken in the role of Houdini! (Who knew?)

Ironically, on the back there is a quote from Sidney Radner (who appears to have had a hand in the publication) saying, "Everyone interested in Houdini needs this book."

Now, I doubt the existence of this book comes as any great surprise to my more hardcore fellow collectors. It is available as a paperback and hardcover on Amazon (this one is nice first edition hardcover in dust jacket). In the store I knew it was familiar and actually wasn't 100% certain that I didn't already have it until I got home. It didn't help that it uses the Europe's Eclipsing Sensation poster on the cover, which appears on several other Houdini books.

But what a joy to make an in-the-store-on-the-shelf discovery in this online age. I really didn't think that was possible anymore. :)

Christopher Walken played Houdini in Houdini A Musical

'From Houdini to Hugo' exhibition opens in Memphis

The Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee presents From Houdini to Hugo: The Art of Brian Selznick, an exhibition of original artwork by the New York Times best-selling children’s author and illustrator, Brian Selznick.

From Houdini to Hugo presents 100 original drawings and paintings from Selznick’s 17 books, among them: The Houdini Box, Walt Whitman: Words for America, Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride, The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, and Frindle.

This presentation at the Dixon coincides with the release of Selznick’s new book, Wonderstruck, and the November 2011 release of a major motion picture, Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese and based on Selznick’s 2007 book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

From Houdini to Hugo: The Art of Brian Selznick runs October 23, 2011 to January 8, 2012. For more information visit the Dixion Gallery website.

LINK: The So-Called Houdini Ruins

Nice article at the blog about the "Houdini ruins" in Laurel Canyon, CA.

Friday, October 28, 2011

85 years ago: Houdini rallies!

The news out of Grace Hospital 85 years ago today was not all bad. Only two days before the world had learned how Harry Houdini had been stricken after a performance at the Garrick Theatre in Detroit, Michigan. After an emergency appendectomy, the great magician was given little chance of survival by his team of four doctors, lead by the chief of surgery Dr. Charles S. Kennedy.

Dr. Kennedy and Hardeen
However, as the days wore on, Houdini appeared to rally, and showed signs of actually fighting off the infection. An experimental serum (the nature of which has never been revealed and causes controversy to this day) was administered in the hopes of helping Houdini in his struggle. It did lower his temperature to near normal. Dr. Kennedy attributed Houdini's improvement to his strong "mental attitude", and noted that no attendant mopped his brow or gave him a sip of water without him looking up, smiling, and thanking them.

Houdini's brothers, Hardeen, Nathan, and sister Gladys all came to Detroit to be at his bedside (Leo was kept back for fear it would upset him). Bess, who was under care of her own physician at the Statler Hotel ("as a result of strain caused by the magician's illness"), received a hopeful telegram from magician Howard Thurston:

"Read Houdini is not worse. His splendid physique, free of alcohol and nicotine, with his natural fighting power, will be great aids to the physicians in his recovery. Sympathy from Mrs. Thurston and myself. - Howard Thurston."

Could Houdini escape from the clutches of death itself?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Patrick Culliton lectures on Houdini at The Magic Castle, Sunday

Patrick Culliton, author of Houdini The Key, will present his acclaimed lecture, "Houdini in Hollywood", at The Magic Castle this Sunday, October 30, at 3:30pm in the Palace of Mystery. The lecture is free and open to all Magician Members.

Patrick is filling in for Joseph C. Bauera who had been scheduled to present his recreation of Houdini's spirit lecture that day. Hopefully Joe will give his lecture at a later date.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

85 years ago: Bad news from Detroit

Eighty-five years ago today, the world opened their newspapers to find this alarming piece of news out of Detroit, Michigan.

Could Houdini win the fight...

Tom Lalicki's Spellbinder re-released

Tom Lalicki's 2000 book Spellbinder: The Life of Harry Houdini has been re-released under the new title, Houdini: The Ultimate Spellbinder.

The book sports nice new cover art (by my count this is now the fourth recent book to use this same image of Houdini performing his 1908 Harvard Bridge jump on its cover) and runs 88 pages. It' nicely illustrated with photos and is a good, concise biography for younger readers.

Houdini: The Ultimate Spellbinder is available as a paperback and as an Kindle eBook via and

Tom Lalicki is also the author of the enjoyable Houdini & Nate series.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Link: New York Times reports on Houdini grave bust restoration

The story of Houdini's grave bust restoration continues to get national attention, now with an impressive story in the New York Times. Click the headline to read.

Monday, October 24, 2011

85 years ago: Houdini at the Garrick

It was 85 years ago today that Houdini's full evening roadshow opened at the Garrick Theater in Detroit, Michigan. The great magician had just traved from Montreal, and the arrival of Houdini in town was always an event. The evening show was sold out.

However, audience members noted that Houdini didn’t quite seem himself that night. He appeared to be carrying on a conversation with someone in the wings, and was unable to complete some of his magic effects in the first part of the show. His chief assistant, Jim Collins, had to take over at several points.

Houdini cut the escape section of the show and appeared to rush the final act in which he exposed the methods of fraudulent mediums.

It was 85 years ago today, and something was wrong with Houdini...

Advert for Houdini's performance at the Garrick comes from The Carnegie Blog.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Did Houdini have claustrophobia?

This is an odd one -- an incident that I've never heard of before. It comes via a letter from Houdini biographer Kenneth Silverman that I found among The Culliton Papers, and relates a bizarre accident that Houdini was involved in in Boston in 1922 [see update].

While doing research for his book, Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss, Ken uncovered a clipping from an unidentified Boston newspaper dated January 11, 1922. Under the headline, HOUDINI IN FALL, the paper describes how Houdini was badly hurt "a couple weeks ago" in a traffic jam on the Boston Elevated railway.

When the trains were stalled by a short circuit, Houdini forced open the door of his car. He then jumped a four foot space to the roadbed of the bridge, and then dropped 12 feet to the street. On landing, he hit a piece of ice and his feet shot out from under him. Houdini fell on his hip, "wrenching it badly." He was, however, able to continue his engagement in Boston without canceling.

There are a few ways to think about this incident. As this is 1922 and Houdini is still in the thrall of being a movie "action hero", this could be yet another example of Houdini attempting to play the role of real-life action hero with predictably un-movie-like results. This hearkens back to another incident while filming Terror Island on Catalina Island when Houdini tried to rescue a stalled boat in the bay and was almost drowned himself.

But there is another, much stranger way of reading this.

I can't help but think about how this curious story helps support Bernard C. Meyer's provocative theory, put forward in his 1976 book, Houdini: A Mind in Chains - A Psychoanalytic Portrait, that Houdini may have suffered from latent claustrophobia, and that his escapes where compulsive attempts to "master" his anxiety disorder.

Meyer notes how in several real-life situations in which Houdini found himself unexpectedly "trapped", he would fly into rages or act out in ways that could be classified as claustrophobic panic. One famous example was when he was jokingly locked into a telephone booth at the Savoy hotel. He flew into a rage, kicking and banging at the door until the terrified prankster let him out. Meyer also suggests Houdini's famous seasickness could be partially attributed to the disorder. Bess even once had to tie him to his bunk for fear that he would make good on his threat to throw himself overboard.

So here we have another example, and a classic one at that. According to Wikipedia, "a typical claustrophobic will fear restriction in at least one, if not several, of the following areas: small rooms, locked rooms, cars, tunnels, cellars, elevators, subway trains, caves, airplanes and crowded areas."

So what do we think? Was Houdini playing action hero that day in Boston? Was he having a claustrophobic panic attack? Or did he just have somewhere he really needed to be?

The doctor is in.

UPDATE: While this was reported in the paper in 1922, it's likely this happened during the week of December 19, 1921 when Houdini was playing Keith's Theater in Boston.

Also enjoy:

Saturday, October 22, 2011

85 years ago: Houdini in Montreal

It was 85 years ago today that Harry Houdini was playing at the Princess Theater in Montreal, Canada. He had lectured a few days before at McGill University, where he reportedly boasted about his ability to withstand blows to his stomach.

Houdini invited two students, Sam Smilovitz (aka Smiley), and Jacques Price, to visit him backstage at the Princess. Houdini was still nursing a broken ankle, caused by an accident in the Water Torture Cell earlier in the month. He reclined on his dressing room couch and read his mail while Smiley, an art student, sketched him. (Smiley would later do a sketch of the dressing room scene itself.)

Soon a third student joined the party, J. Gordon Whitehead. He returned some books to Houdini and started to pepper the magician with questions. He then asked if it was true that Houdini could withstand blows to his abdomen without injury. Houdini said that it was.

Whitehead rose up and started hitting Houdini in the stomach. He delivered several blows before Houdini waved him off saying, "That will do."

After the bizarre incident, Smiley finished his sketch, which Houdini signed and dated for him. Looking at the image, Houdini is reported to have said, "You made me look a little tired in this picture. The truth is, I don't feel so well."

It was 85 years ago, and Houdini's next stop was Detroit...

'Houdini Coin' is for the hardcore (collector, that is)

Some of you may have noticed a listing on Amazon for a DVD entitled Houdini Coin, due for release on Tuesday. The listing has no description or cover art, so what could this possibly be?

Well, using the distributor as a clue, I've traveled to the seedy side of the Internet, purely for research mind you!, and have discovered that Houdini Coin is an adult DVD, and a pretty hardcore one at that. I'm not going to post the cover art for fear Blogger will reclassify my site, but I can share with you the plot:

"A sexy escape artist is tricked into a straight jacket and has her magic coin stolen. It's up to a voluptuous P.I. to recover the precious coin."

So there you go. If you like, you can purchase Houdini Coin on Amazon.

It might interest you to know that this is not Houdini's only foray into the world of pornography. Recently Arthur Moses, author of the definitive Houdini Periodical Bibliography, discovered an Italian comic book from 1978 featuring the erotic adventures of Houdini and Margery!

Raising the dead indeed.

New Culliton Papers coming soon

Just a heads-up that I will be posting a new installment of The Culliton Papers soon.

This time I'll reveal the bizarre details of an untold incident from 1922 that may help support one of the more provocative theories ever put forward about the psyche of Harry Houdini.

So don't panic! (hint) A new Culliton Papers is coming your way soon.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Kenneth Silverman to speak at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

Kenneth Silverman, author of Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss (which I still consider to be the best Houdini biography yet written) will give a lecture at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco on Thursday, December 8, as part of the museum's special Houdini Art and Magic programing. Here is the description from the CJM website:

Kenneth Silverman: Harry Houdini—Jewish Star of American History - Thursday, Dec 8 ∙ 6:30 – 8 PM.
Kenneth Silverman, Pulitzer-prize winning biographer and author of Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss, discusses Houdini’s leadership in creating the Rabbis’ Sons Theatrical Benevolent Association, a group that included the most famous Jewish entertainers of the day. Silverman addresses how Houdini used his fame to combat anti-Semitism and comments on the significant legacy of Jews and magic in American history. Silverman, professor emeritus of English at New York University, has also published biographies on Cotton Mather, Edgar Allen Poe, and Samuel F.B. Morse. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he has received the Bancroft Prize in American History, the Pulizter Prize in for Biography, the Edgar Award of the Mystery Writers of America, and the Christopher Literary Award of the Society of American Magicians.

Looks like I'm heading north in December. This is one that can't be missed!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Houdini makes the cover of MUSE

Houdini graces the cover of the October 2011 issue of MUSE, "The Magazine of Life, The Universe, and Pie Throwing."

I'm not exactly sure what's inside, but the description on the MUSE website says that in this Halloween issue "we investigate a doomed friendship between two famous artists", so I suspect they have an article about Houdini and Conan Doyle.

Pretty nice Houdini cover if you ask me! Now I just need to figure out how to get a copy.

Thanks to MaxNY at the Genii forums for the tip.

S.A.M. proclaims 'National Magic Week' in honor of Houdini

Alaska's 2010 Magic Week proclamation 
PRESS RELEASE: Vinny Grosso, National President of the Society of American Magicians, has proclaimed the week of October 25 to October 31 as National Magic Week throughout the United States and Canada. For more than forty years the Society has recognized the anniversary of the death of Harry Houdini with a special "week" of events to highlight the charitable work of the Society throughout the year.

Each year governors, mayors and other governing bodies throughout the country are requested to issue proclamations declaring the last week in October as National Magic Week, encouraging magicians throughout the country to participate in the activities.

The Society of American Magicians adopted the idea of National Magic Week as a way of promoting the Art of Magic by performing shows at orphanages, hospitals and nursing homes for those who would have difficulty getting to a theatre to see a live performance. The members of the Society of American Magicians that participate in these shows find it a rewarding activity. Many people enjoy magic shows during this week that otherwise would not be able to do so.

The roots of National Magic Week go back over 80 years. Before there was a National Magic Week there was a National Magic Day. It all started with a "Houdini Day" in the summer of 1927, less than one year from the death of Harry Houdini. A trophy in honor of Houdini, who served as the President of the Society of American Magicians for nine years until his death on October 31, 1926, was presented by Mrs. Harry Houdini in New York City.

There were many other "Houdini Days" following, but it was not until 1938 that Les Sholty, a Chicago member of the Society of American Magicians, sought official sanction for a "Houdini Day." A friend of the Houdini's requested and obtained permission from Mrs. Houdini to proclaim October 31 as National Magic Day in honor of Harry Houdini. The plan was formulated at that time to have free performances for shut-ins and handicapped people.

The first radio broadcast about National Magic Day occurred over radio station KQW on July 20, 1938. Mrs. Harry Houdini participated in that broadcast.

Each Assembly of the Society of American Magicians is encouraged to send in a list of their planned events so they may be published on the website. Additionally, each Assembly is encouraged to submit their Magic Week activities photos, publicity received, scans of Proclamations and letters of recognition and all other Magic Week items for publication on the website and to have them included in the annual CD. Items should be sent to the Magic Week Chair, Jeff Sikora at

National Magic Week is the S.A.M.'s and the magical fraternity's way of sharing with others in a great art form that is deeply loved by those who participate in it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Houdini and the Necronauts return

The superb Houdini mash-up graphic novel, Necronauts by Gordon Rennie with illustrations by Frazer Irving, is re-released today as part of Tharg's Terror Tales.

First released in 2003, Necronauts teams Houdini, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Fort, and H.P. Lovecraft in a supernatural thriller.

Set on Halloween Eve in 1926, the story finds Houdini, Doyle, Lovecraft, and Fort pinned inside Houdini's New York home by demons inadvertently summoned by Houdini's experiments exploring the boundaries between life and death. As Fort and Doyle battle the creatures in the halls of 278, Lovecraft and Houdini venture into the netherworld to try and defeat the awakened "Sleepers."

Considering the time frame, it's not really a spoiler to reveal that Houdini dies in this story. This makes it unique among printed Houdini fiction in that it suggests an alternate version of his demise (which, of course, must be covered up). It's all good stuff. Hardeen even puts in an appearance, although for some reason he's bald and sports a handlebar mustache.

Unfortunately, the Houdini story doesn't feature on the cover, which makes me debate whether I need to add this to my collection as I have the original. But this is a great opportunity for those who missed the original (which is now rare and expensive) to read this story. And you can see a bit of original Necronauts cover art on the lower left.

The new Necronauts can be purchased on Amazon.

Dorothy Dietrich unlocks Houdini's Mirror Handcuff escape, tonight

Dorothy Dietrich, escape artist and director of the Houdini Museum in Scranton, will discuss the mystery behind Houdini's famous Mirror handcuff escape on the Travel Channel's Mysteries At The Museum tonight at 9pm. The show will repeat tomorrow at 12pm, and also on Saturday, October 29, at 4pm.

Says Dorothy, "Not sure what will come out, as they filmed for over 7 hours straight. It was one of the most difficult TV sessions I have done. Because of the style of the show most of the time I was in complete darkness."

Some of the best minds in magic and escapes were contacted for input for the story, including: Jeff Blood, Dick Brookz, Ken Silverman, Norman Bigelow, John Bushey, Patrick Culliton, Chris Gower, Mick Hanzlik, Joe Laurer, Bill Liles, Steve Moore, and Fred Pittella.

"Houdini is one of my idols and saved my life. I hope I did him proud," says Dorothy. "It was more difficult than when I escaped from a straight jacket suspended from burning rope from the top of a parachute ride for the HBO Special called The World's Greatest Escapes."

For more on the show, head on over to this page at the Houdini Museum website.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Link: My Secret Power – By Houdini

Check out this article written by Houdini on the website, Magicians Scrapbook. Houdini is writing in response to an article "Houdini The Mystery Man" By David Gow, Editor of Light. That article can also be found on the site. In fact, Magicians Scrapbook has several nice Houdini articles. Worth the look and a bookmark.

REVIEW: Houdini and Conan Doyle by Christopher Sandford

Full confession. In my 35 years of obsessive Houdini research, I’ve always found his anti-spiritualism crusade to be the least interesting aspect of his life and career. In fact, I’ve sometimes felt I’ve had to slog though these sections in biographies. But all this has changed with the new book Houdini and Conan Doyle by Christopher Sandford, which had me riveted, and is one of those rare books that I came away from feeling like I know Houdini better.

Houdini and Conan Doyle (which will be titled Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini when it is released in the U.S. next month) is the third major non-fiction book written about the curious relationship between these two famous men. The other books are Ernst and Carrington’s Houdini and Conan Doyle: The Story of a Strange Friendship (1932) and Massimo Polidoro’s Final Séance: The Strange Friendship Between Houdini and Conan Doyle (2001). While full props must go out to these first two books, especially Polidoro’s scholarly work, I do feel like Sandford has synthesized all previous research with his own new findings and formidable skills as a biographer to create the best book yet written on the subject of Houdini and spiritualism, and maybe the most skillfully written book about Houdini in general since Silverman (Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss).

Houdini haters will be upset to learn that Houdini actually comes off as quite scholarly and rational in this book. For all of Houdini's efforts to portray himself as a man of letters, it really wasn’t until this book that I finally saw that man clearly. Houdini was a man of action (and reaction) to be sure, but Sandford shows he put more thought into these actions then he is generally given credit for. In other words, he really was a smart as he said he was! This is because Sandford has gained access to some key Houdini diaries (as well as some "unpublished writings" of Bernard Ernst, Houdini lawyer and close friend) that offer a counterpoint to what was going on between the two men in their letters and in public. There was what Houdini said to the papers; there was what he said to Doyle in letters; and then there are his own beliefs and private feelings that are sometimes very different.

While there are no Charmian London level bombshells in Houdini and Conan Doyle, there are a several things that I found revelatory (my apologies if these are in Polidoro – I hoped to re-read that book before I wrote this review, but that didn’t happen). My jaw hit the floor as early as page 3 when Sandford says Houdini, at age 11, attended a "series of séances" in a failed attempt to contact his dead half-brother Hermann. Also, at age 18, Houdini sold his watch to pay for a "professional psychic reunion" with his recently deceased father. Forget the death of Mama in 1913, certainly the seeds of Houdini's hostility toward mediums can be at last partially attributed to these early disappointments in his youth.

I was also fascinated to learn that Houdini purchased Doyle's father's art portfolio in auction, and that Bessie returned this treasure to Doyle after Houdini’s death; that J. Gordon Whitehead was born on the same day Houdini performed his first ever public handcuff escape (Nov. 25, 1895); that Houdini prided himself on having a substantial collection of Sherlock Holmes memorabilia, and struggled to prove that Doyle lifted his Holmes material from the writings of Edger Allen Poe. (Houdini seems eager to unleash this evidence on the world, he even teases it in his spiritualist lectures. But despite spending "long hours in his library comparing the two texts", he doesn't seem to be able to prove the theory to himself and never publishes.) And then there's the suggestion from Will Goldston that Houdini occasionally "partook in a nip of opium"(!).

(Also, on a fun personal note, I had no idea that Dr. Daniel Comstock, inventor and founder of Technicolor – my current employer – was on the Scientific American committee with Houdini.)

The narrative of Houdini and Conan Doyle is pretty evenly split between the two men, relating their respective biographies in equal measures (maybe a little more weighted to Doyle in the first third). Of course, I came for Houdini, but I found the Doyle material just as fascinating, and sometimes downright shocking! I had no idea just how far off the rails Doyle went near the end of his life, firmly believing his prophetic spirit guide, Pheneas, that the end of the world was imminent and preaching preparedness to his followers. One thing Sandford never really addresses is why Lady Doyle, as the voice of Pheneas, perpetuated this fiction for her husband. (At times Pheneas would implore Doyle to buy new home furnishings or kitchen appliances.) Unless they were both just flat out bonkers. It really is a strange, strange story.

My only complaint might be that the collection of photos included in the book leaves something to be desired. There is not even a single photo of Houdini and Doyle together (at least not in the UK proof edition, which is what I'm writing this review from -- maybe the final book will have more photos*). But photos are not what's important to us Houdini nuts and historians. It's the text that matters, and this is where Houdini and Conan Doyle by Christopher Sandford delivers!

Purchase Houdini and Conan Doyle by Christopher Sandford at (UK edition) and (U.S. edition).

*UPDATE: Having now received my copy of the finished book, I'm happy to report that it does indeed contain more photos than what was in the proof, including a photo of Houdini and Doyle together.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Houdini poster we've never seen

Kevin Connolly over at Houdini Himself has knocked one out of the park today by posting a photo from his own collection of Houdini posing in front of a poster that has never been reproduced in any book. Certainly I've never seen it. A photo of Houdini we've never seen...a poster we've never doesn't get better than this! Click here to have look at Houdini Himself.

Thank you, Kevin. Looks like we can add this one to our lost posters.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Link: Keys to Houdini's secrets (video)

Check out this clip of Dorothy Dietrich discussing the mystery behind Houdini's famous Mirror handcuff escape on the Travel Channel's Mysteries At The Museum. The show airs October 18 at 9pm and again on October 19 at 12 AM.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


The UK edition of Christopher Sandford's excellent new book about Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is now shipping from a week in advance of its official Oct. 20 release date.

This UK edition from Duckworth sports the title Houdini and Conan Doyle and the very slick cover art you see here on the right. I'm not sure when Amazon started shipping, but the listing currently shows only 8 copies left.

The U.S. edition from Palgrave Macmillan won't be released until November 22 under the title Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini.

This book is, IMO, the best yet written on the subject of Houdini and spiritualism. Watch for my full review of Houdini and Conan Doyle by Christopher Sandford this weekend.

Purchase Houdini and Conan Doyle (UK edition) on

The Great Houdini by Steven Carlson

There is a lot of original Houdini artwork out there on the web, but I thought this illustration by Steven Paul Carlson was a cut above and worth a shout out. Carlson created this print, titled "The Great Houdini", last year. It can be purchased as a print, framed, or on canvas from Fine Art America.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

85 years ago: Houdini's Water Torture Cell accident

It was 85 years ago on October 11, 1926, that Houdini had his only recorded accident while performing his famous Water Torture Cell. No, he didn't drown, as Hollywood has portrayed in three different films. But the accident was serious, and it can be seen as the first in a series of strange events that would ultimately lead to his death on Halloween.

While performing at the Capitol Theater in Albany, New York, Houdini was being locked in the stocks and preparing to be hoisted upside-down over the Torture Cell. But just as he was being raised from the stage, one of the cables loosened and twisted, causing the heavy stocks to shift and fracture his ankle. He was attended onstage by Dr. Elwynn Hannock (or Brannock).

The next day the papers made much of the doctor's comment that had the cable loosened only three seconds later, Houdini's foot would have been completely severed. Houdini himself quipped, "Into all kinds of danger I have thrown myself, and I have not been touched. Then I lie on my back and fracture my foot!"

Of course, Houdini enemies saw this as an omen. One medium reportedly sent a message to Houdini's friend and fellow ghostbuster, Fulton Oursler, warning, "The waters are black for Houdini. He thinks he has only broken his ankle, but his days as a magician are over."

With his foot in a brace, Houdini would perform next in Schenectady, before moving on to Montreal...

Newspaper clipping image from Houdini The Key.

Machpelah before the exedra

How's that for a headline only a Houdini nut would understand? Check out this photo, which has just popped up on eBay, of the Houdinis at Mama's grave in Machpelah Cemetery in Queens, New York.

There are several things I really like about it. First, I don't recall ever seeing it before. I have seen photos of Harry and Bess taken at this same time, but here we see Dash (Theo. Hardeen) and a little boy whom I presume is one of Dash's sons. I also like that we can clearly see Houdini half-brother Hermann's original grave stone behind them, clear enough to read.

Of course, all this would change in 1916 when Houdini dedicated the full Weiss family plot. Mama's original headstone (and presumably the original headstone of Mayer Samuel) would be incorporated into the large exedra. By the way, when Houdini moved his brother and father to the plot, he had their caskets opened. Houdini noted that "Herman's teeth were in splendid condition."

Check out my own little "five-cent tour" of the Houdini family plot in 2005. The Houdini grave bust was recently restored thanks to the efforts of Dorothy Dietrich, Dick Brookz and Steve Moore of The Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Found! The man who bought Houdini's Voisin

Donald Stevenson
Magician and Master Locksmith Mick Hanzlik, author of Looking Into The Mirror, has teamed with Jon Becker in the continued search for Houdini's Voisin biplane, and today Mick sends over something pretty exciting!

No, he didn't find the plane, but he did find photographes of the man who bought the plane from Houdini in 1913, Donald Stevenson.

Until now, there were no known photos of Stevenson, a magician and engineer who worked alongside Chung Ling Soo building model planes in the great magician's workshop. In the color photo below you can see one of those model planes.

In 1913 Houdini offered Stevenson his historic Voisin if Stevenson would pay off the storage fees. The letter Houdini wrote allowing Stevenson to claim the plane can see seen in Milbourne Christopher's Houdini A Pictorial Life (page 73). Where the Voisin went after that...well, that's the next mystery.

Thank you Mick for sharing these terrific images!


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Foster The People perform 'Houdini'

Foster The People performed their song Houdini on NBC's Saturday Night Live last night.

The search for Houdini's airplane continues

Last year as part of the Centenary celebrations of Houdini's first flight in Australia, a search was launched to find out what happened to Houdini's historic Voisin bi-plane. The investigation culminated with the tantalizing idea that Houdini's plane could have landed in the hands of Chung Ling Soo (aka William Robinson) via a fellow magician and aviation enthusiast, Donald Stevenson, who purchased the plane from Houdini in 1913.

Not long after I first posted this story on my old website, a gentlemen named Andrew Stevenson posted the following in my Comments:

"I am Donald Stevensons grandson and we know he had a plane later on on display at his aeronautical and automotive engineering works in Maidenhead. We are trying to find some photos to see if it is the same plane."

Unfortunately, Mr. Stevenson did not post a follow-up comment, so it's unknown whether he confirmed or denied that this Maidenhead plane was Houdini's Voisin.

Now Jon Becker has taken up the case and is chasing down new leads and uncovering new information about Stevenson and Houdini's plane. Obviously, he would love to get in touch with Andrew Stevenson, or anyone who might have information on Houdini's plane. Are you still out there Mr. Stevenson?

Jon can be contacted via a special email address he has dedicated to his search:

I'm thrilled to hear the search for Houdini's Voisin is continuing. Let's help Jon find this sucker!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

L.A. Times crossword conjures Harry

Anyone do the L.A. Times crossword puzzle for Tuesday, October 4, 2011? If so, you may have notice these key questions:

20A. Understand how things are done.
36A. Places to see links.
42A. Simple floral garlands.
58A. Stage name of Ehrich Weiss, for whom the ends of 20-, 36- and 42-Across were props.


With thanks to L.A. Times Crossword Corner.

Boardwalk Empire DVD release date, Jan. 10, 2012

The Boardwalk Empire Season One DVD and Blu-ray finally has a release date: January 10, 2012.

This first season of the acclaimed HBO series featured an appearance by Houdini's brother, Theo. Hardeen, played by Remy Auberjonois in the episode "Paris Green" (check out some reviews here).

Season Two is currently showing on HBO, but I've yet to hear whether Hardeen is coming back.

Pre-order Boardwalk Empire Season One (DVD) on Amazon
Pre-order Boardwalk Empire Season One (Blu-ray) on Amazon

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Metamorphosis poster uncovered in France and, yes, it's for sale

Click to enlarge

Attention collectors! Earlier this week I received an email from a gentlemen in France named Patrick Bourlet. Patrick sent me a photo (above) of what he says is an authentic The Houdinis - Metamorphosis poster, which has been stored in his attic for 29 years.

I don't know Mr. Bourlet and all I've seen of the poster is what you see here, so I can't personally vouch for its authenticity. But it looks pretty good to me! The size looks right, and I particularly like that the white space above is stamped with Welsh Bros (Circus). I've seen a King of Cards poster with this same Welsh Bros header, and I think this really makes this poster extra special.

Metamorphosis is one of Houdini's earliest posters. It was printed by the National Printing and Engraving Co. in Chicago in the late 1890s. A copy of this poster sold in auction for $50,000 in 2007. At the time, it was touted as being "the only known copy."

Patrick Bourlet says the poster is for sale and it was okay for me to post his contact email.

Good luck!