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?