Tuesday, December 20, 2011

NYPL Digital Gallery invites us into Houdini's backyard

Check out these photos from the New York Public Library's amazing Digital Gallery website. These pics appear to be Houdini in the backyard of his New York home, "278". Certainly those windows look like the rear of the famous house (or the adjacent building), and Marie Blood spoke about 278 having a small fenced in backyard with flower beds where she played as a child. And yes, in that second shot (which includes Dr. A.M. Wilson, editor of The Sphinx magazine), we get a peek at Houdini's dirty laundry...at last!

While I can't say with complete certainly that the location of the above photos is 278 (there might be too many windows back there), there's no doubt about the photo below. Notice the wing extension, drain pipe, and arched window frames that can all be seen in photos I took of the back of the house in 2005. By the way, that's magic dealer Frank Ducrot, Frederick Eugene Powell, and the great coin magician T. Nelson Downs with our Harry.

While we're on the subject of backyards, check out the photos below, also from the NYPL Digital Gallery, of Houdini taking a dive into a swimming pool. While this is not 278, I can't help but wonder (hope) that these might be shots of Houdini at the Walker mansion in Laurel Canyon, California, which over the years has come to be known as the "Houdini Mansion".

While we know Houdini didn't own the Laurel Canyon house -- he and Bess rented a smaller house belonging to the estate across the street while he made movies in Hollywood -- he almost certainly spent time there, and his appearance in this pics looks to be correct for his movie star days. Also, the Walker mansion did have an outdoor swimming pool with white titles as we see in the pics (I have a shard of that tile), and the surrounding foliage looks very Laurel Canyon to me. It's a long shot, but it would be great to finally put Harry on that property, if even just for a quick swim.

NYPL Digital Gallery provides free and open access to over 700,000 images digitized from the The New York Public Library's vast collections, including illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints, photographs and more.


  1. You know, that third photo is pretty good as is but the clothesline is hilarious.

    You have a shard of the tile?

  2. Thanks for the great photos John! Christopher's The Untold Story has another similar photo from Houdini's backyard except that Hardeen and Houdini's lawyer B.M.L. Ernst are in that one.

  3. Thanks, Leo. Yep, I'm familiar with that photo. That's how I was able to ID Frank Ducrot. He's in that same photo. Looked like an SAM gathering at 278. Except in this pic you can see the back of the house better.

  4. Patrick Culliton recently confirmed that Houdini is indeed jumping into the pool at the Laurel Canyon estate.

    1. Pat really didn't find any firm evidence for this, he just says he recognizes the pool as the one that was at the Walker property.

  5. If the pool is still there at the estate, wouldn't current photographs confirm Pat's assertion?