Friday, January 27, 2012

Houdini, reincarnation, and a man named Von Treck

This one is a bit off the wall. Just want to warn you up front.

Recently I re-read Norman Bigelow's self-published 1983 book, Death Blow, which examines the question of whether Houdini was murdered (yes, that again). I'm not a fan or a supporter of the murder theories, especially after the recent Brad Meltzer's Decoded debacle, and I didn't find anything here that changed my mind. However, near the end of the book, Norm writes something that did catch my attention:

"In 1975, I spent and entire afternoon talking shop with historian Walter Gibson. He spoke freely about Houdini's belief in reincarnation. Gibson told us he had research material in his files on two people whom Houdini claimed to be in former lives. One of them was a German magician named Von Treck who failed in a buried alive stunt. He also told us Houdini went around everywhere talking about reincarnation."

Houdini believed he was the reincarnation of a German magician named Von Treck? This is pretty far out stuff. But there is ample evidence that Houdini did have an interest in reincarnation.

Bigelow cites The Detroit Free Press, November 1, 1926, which has a section headlined, "Reiterates Reincarnation Belief". And then there's Houdini's 1922 film, The Man From Beyond, which uses reincarnation a key part of its plot. In fact, The Man From Beyond press book contains a very pro story about "The theory of reincarnation", and Houdini featured the concept on advertising, such as the teaser on the right.

And then there's this little gem of a title card near the end of the film:

"Our personal beliefs are of no importance. The great teachers of the earth -- Zoroaster down to Moses and Christ -- who who have made civilization possible -- have taught the immortality and progression of the soul...reincarnation."

Okay. But what of Von Treck?

Unfortunately, I could find no record of any magician named Von Treck. Houdini's The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin -- a suburb source for pre 20th Century magic -- makes no mention of him (at least in the index). Even the eminent Bill Goodwin at the William Larsen Sr. Memorial Library at The Magic Castle could turn up no record of a magician named Von Treck. And would a magician really be doing a buried alive stunt before 1874, as this would have to have been in order for Von Treck to slip into the new born Ehrich Weiss?

Norman Bigelow (who it should be noted is a is a bit of provocateur when it comes to Houdini) says he doesn't know what ever became of Gibson files. But if this information did indeed come from Walter B. Gibson, who knew Houdini well, it's worth the mention.

Told you this was an odd one.

UPDATE: Our friend Joe Notaro over at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence has posted a remarkable ad and article from The Grim Game pressbook that is even more aggressive in stating Houdini's "belief" in reincarnation. You know, I'm starting to think there really is something to this.

UPDATE 2: It now looks like we may have found "Von Treck". See: Is this Houdini in a past life?


  1. wasn't Von Trek the name of the guy who invented the USD in the Houdini movie with Vivian Vance?

    1. You're thinking of the Tony Curtis movie (Vivian Vance was in Glaser movie) and his name was Von Svagar (sp?). But, yeah, that crossed my mind as well. :)

    2. What if Houdini's past life WAS Jean Eugene Robert Houdin? Look at the dates of born and death of Houdin,,,then of Houdini... Could this be? A psychic once told me 'I' was Houdini from a past life. I am soon to be regressed with hypnosis and then the book comes out. Watch this space. I have had many signposts showing me Houdini...I once played a drum solo on Halloween in a band, and dressed up as Harry with a sign on my back saying...'Houdinis' Back', the drum solo was done with handcuffs on! 1991 in Canandaigua, N. Y. Then another signpost my wife and I went to france and ended up in Blois...pulled into a museum and here it was HOUDIN'S museum with a statue of Houdin outside, and all his tricks and illusions displayed within. Just sayin.....

  2. Hmmm . he might have been interested in the theory but did he actually believe it?

    1. Yeah, he clearly had an interest. But did he believe in it? Well, if he really thought he was the reincarnation of Von Treck, then he believed. But to know if that was true, it would help to find out if there really was a Von Treck?

  3. Good question, melbo.

    You know, The Man From Beyond is VERY strange movie to have come from the mind of Harry Houdini. I think people are in a little bit of denial about it. This was entirely HIS movie, it's not a movie from a skeptic. It's almost propagandistic it's support of reincarnation and even spiritualism. It even ends with Houdini's character reading a pro-spiritualist book by Arthur Conan Doyle .

    I sometimes wonder if this film showed Houdini was going down this road, at least in performance, if for no other reason than there was money to be made. Then, following his blowup with Doyle, he discovered the far more satisfying and lucrative role of combating it.

  4. I think he had quite an open mind about a lot of spiritual matters - that's my impression anyway. He seemed to be open to the possibilities but remained to be convinced because of the dearth of any actual evidence. He just didn't like scammers is all.

  5. For heaven's sake, don't let Dick and Dorothy see this. They will have to conclude that Houdini was a "religious nut."

  6. Dear Pat;


    Of course we have been aware of this for a long time. At first we felt it might have been a publicity ploy, as Houdini would often do, for promotion purposes. To promote a movie with what had to be a considered a controversial theme. In our delving deeper, it seems Houdini had trouble dealing with the possibility of the finality of death. Not an abnormal feeling. He wanted to believe, it seems, that the good things we do on earth, would not be for naught, and somehow the human personality or soul, if you wish, would continue in some way.

    Norman Bigelow has told us that Walter B. Gibson, who we were both friendly with, told him that Houdini was quite annoyed that news writers would not cover any part of what Houdini discussed about reincarnation in their stories after they interviewed him.

    Norman is also one of the few people I know who knew Sophie Rosenblatt. I believe Norman also said that in his talks with Sophie Rosenblatt she said Houdini complained about it. She was not just a nurse, but close to Houdini.

    A while back we had written this to Norman;

    "Bess, probably at first ..... may have thought he might come back and ended up bitter about it.  HH himself I think may have believed in the possibility of reincarnation. or some kind of afterlife."

    Dick Brookz & Dorothy Dietrich
    Houdini Museum
    Scranton, PA

  7. Check out the update and this link to Joe Notaro's blog. Maybe this isn't so crazy.

  8. (First one removed for spelling correction)

    We have an Houdini ad in a program with a reincarnation headline. We believe it is in a display case downtown at the Houdini Museum.

    We have shows all day today and will not get back to the computer room till after midnight here in the East. If I find it I will either post it on our website or email it to John Cox.

    Hey Culliton, please be reminded there is an entire large "sect" in the magic community and in the real world, who feel that anyone who believes in an after life, or god, or belong to any organized religion, no matter how popular or oddball are, as you put it, "religious nuts." It is something many people grapple with throughout their lives. It is all a matter of one's perspective.

  9. Houdini made it clear in the Senate Hearings aand Magician Among Spirits that he believed in God and life after death. Norm

  10. Houdini & Believe
    I do not believe anyone who spends years researching religion and life after death does it as a passing fancy. Like many people it is a search for truth. After all those years why are Houdini’s beliefs in the background?
    Anyone who understands the ruthlessness of some in religion knows why some beliefs are suppressed or just left out of accounts. Houdini was a believer in reincarnation and he will in the end take his place in history with many other famous people who also believed in reincarnation.
    The line from the movie Man From Beyond says it all when it comes to leaving his beliefs alone. According to Gibson when the Houdini movie with Tony Curtis was made Dunninger said they wanted no part of the punches that struck HH as they did not want to get into that area at all. People always avoid subjects sensitive and only today are opening up more. So the idea or plot that Christ teaching reincarnation would have caused anger in many. This of course is not something HH thought up. There have been warnings all through history by some who say the church chucked out the word reincarnation for resurrection because if we knew that we would have many lives we would not shape up.
    Now it doesn’t matter if the idea is true or false the anger around it is real and that is the whole point. I say HH put it in his movie because he couldn’t get it in the press! Even today people express anger when I say HH really believed this.
    I think there is a good case for spirit living on. Look at Jesus, Buddha and or others. Their spirit lives on in the hearts and minds of millions of followers as does the spirit of Hitler live on in people. The old saying, the sun shines on the good and bad.
    Houdini is now an above ground and underground cult. There are books, films, sites, and people becoming magicians, escape artist or exposing fraud because they are gripped by the spirit of Houdini. After all these years he is still of great interest and new facts just keep coming out. He now lives in many, less in some and more in others. People look for many explanations why they are addicted to Houdini. They say its obsession. Perhaps it is or perhaps it is just the spirit of Houdini moving in them.

    1. Hi Norman. I used to watch you escape being tied in a chair with a fire under it at Stratam or Rochester fair before I went on stage to do a straitjacket escape. My Dad and I used to chat with ya but I moved from NH to NYC. Nice to see ya still into it. I bought a few of your papered books from Walter Gibsons brother. Windle i think his name was. he had a little magic shop.

  11. Re: von der Trenck. You've got mail, John!

  12. I think one thing this shows is that Houdini was maybe a little more "new age" in his thinking than he is typically portrayed.

  13. george Costanza: When you die you have no bounds and can zoom anywhere to all the galaxies and find out all the mysteries of our Universe. Why would you come back to see who was at your funeral?

  14. People seem to get the impression that, because Houdini was a big debunker of Spiritualists, he did not believe in an afterlife. I hate all that psychic/Medium junk, but I also happen to be a believer in reincarnation myself. I believe in an afterlife, just not one where complete strangers with very specific 'gifts' can reach across and pluck you back for a 45 minute indirect conversation with your family (I mean, how do the spirits know who to go to, unless they knew the Medium in life? And how do they know that that particular Medium will just happen to run in to their family?) Plus, believing that a soul is reborn in to another body after death leaves little room for the idea of ghosts hanging about. So, there's no reason why Houdini couldn't have believed this, I suppose.

    1. Very true, Jessika. Spiritualists threw that at Houdini, some saying he must be an atheist. But he was always very clear in saying he was not attacking religion. In fact, he didn't even say he was attacking "Spiritualism" -- just the fakes.

    2. Makes you wonder who might be walking around with what was previously Houdini's soul now O_O

    3. Did it ever cross anybody's mind that maybe Dorothy Dietrich is Harry Houdini reincarnated? Too many coincidences to list, but can be believable if you think about it. The biggest of all is that HH died on Halloween & that's Dorothy's Birthday. Then there's the bullet catch. Houdini always wanted to do it. What if the spirit of Bess is the one haunting the museum? He might be one of those souls who is not finished with his "work" & won't rest until it's done. Just a thought.

  15. In the book JOURNEY OF SOUL by one western author, he has mentioned about great personalities in the world, who are reincarnated in this life. The phenomena of rebirth(since reincarnation is only for highly Spiritual souls) is still a question in the scientific community and world famous author on this, Dr.Ian Stevenson of virginia university who did research for more than 50 years has produced thousands of "EVIDENCES" of rebirth through out the world. As per Hindu spirituality, cosmology etc., Rebirth and Karma goes hand in hand and the term "Metempsychosis" where man being born as Animal or vis-a-vis is accepted in several Mental hospitals thru out world.// r m agadi, bangalore, india //