Monday, April 30, 2012

Winchester Mystery House movie in the works

Deadline Hollywood reported last week that Hammer Films (yes, they are still around) is developing a horror movie about the famous Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. The house is one of the best examples of Spiritualism run amok as the owner, Sarah Winchester, heiress of the Winchester rifle fortune, was told by her spirit guides that if she kept adding to her house she wouldn't die. The result is a sprawling 160 room maze-like mansion with doorways to nowhere and stairways into ceilings.

But why I'm bringing this up here is there are several Houdini connections to the famous home. First off, Houdini himself visited the house in the 1920s shortly after the death of Sarah (yes, she did die). In fact, the original newspaper article about Houdini's visit is on permanent display in the house museum, as I discovered during my own visit in 2006.

Here's an extra bit of trivia about that visit. In 1988 a man by the name of Fred Paul Faltersack died at the age of 94. In his obituary it was reported that Faltersack was the tour guide who showed Houdini the house that day. It also claims Faltersack later "helped Houdini create some of his illusions."

The Winchester Mystery House was also the site of a Houdini seance in 1977 held by the Society of American Magicians Assembly No. 94. The event -- which was called the "50th Anniversary Seance" even though 1977 marked 51 years -- was covered in The New Tops magazine. The unsuccessful seance was followed by a "nostalgic seance" in which the S.A.M. pros made sure the guests enjoyed some ghostly manifestations.

Finally, in 2009 a graphic novel was developed called Winchester that featured Houdini as "the bad guy." The book was written by Dan Vado with artwork by Drew Rausch. Winchester was supposed to be released in October of that same year, but I was never able to track down a copy, so I'm sure if it ever actually made it to stores. But you can get a peak at Winchester's "bad guy" Houdini below (this comes from the blog, The Mind of Drew Rausch).

I wonder if this new movie might put Houdini into the story in some way? It's never a bad idea...

Clinton on Obama: "He’s not Houdini"

No, I'm not diving into the political arena here (God forbid), just pointing out this story in today's Washington Examiner headlined: Clinton on Obama: ‘He’s not Houdini’. Here's the relevant excerpt:

Leave it to master communicator Bill Clinton to hatch a winning theme for President Obama’s reelection campaign: Cheer up, everybody, Obama’s economic policies are working their magic faster than anyone thought possible.
“Somebody will say to you, maybe, but I don’t feel better,” says Clinton. “And you say, look, the man’s not Houdini; all he can do is beat the clock. He’s beating the clock.”

For the record, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2009 called President Obama's economic polices, "Harry Houdini Economics".

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Grim Game plane wreck lobby display

Our friend Joe Notaro -- who runs Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence, a blog devoted to The Grim Game -- has knocked it out of the park with his discovery of an article from the November 8, 1919 Motion Picture News which shows airplane wreckage being used a part of a display for The Grim Game at the Princess Theatre in Denver, complete with pictures!

Now, unfortunately, the article doesn't say this is THE wreckage of the actual plane from the film. But this is certainly an inspired promotional idea and, who knows, it does appear to be the same model as The Grim Game plane...

For those who don't know what I'm talking about, one of the highlights of The Grim Game -- Houdini's first Hollywood feature film -- was a real-life plane crash caught on film. The crash was incorporated into the story and used extensively in publicity...right down to theater displays like this one.

Head on over to Joe's wonderful blog to see more photos and read the original Motion Picture News article.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Is the Margery Box in Las Vegas?

Anna Thurlow, the great-granddaughter of Mina Crandon a.k.a. Margery The Medium, has responded to my story from last week that asked, What happened to the Margery box? Not only is it a great honor to have a genuine Margery relation comment on my blog, but she brings some potentially encouraging news! Says Anna:

"The Margery Box was never in Margery's possession, so I do not have it. When I went to a Houdini Seance in Las Vegas (I think 1998?) I was told that someone living in Vegas had the box in a storage unit there. I tried the telephone number later but it was disconnected. Presumably it still exist and hopefully someone will bring it to light. As an aside - my grandfather (her son) understood Houdini to have put the ruler in the box. I guess we will never know what really happened that day."

Okay, to the person who may have the "Margie Box" (as Houdini called it), here's a plea. How about letting me come out to Vegas and photograph it for WILD ABOUT HARRY? I know it would be a thrill for all Houdini and Margery fans to see this historic item. In return, I'll promote whatever you'd like me to promote on the blog, or you could remain anonymous. If this is doable, please shoot me an email. We could make magic history by bringing this box back into the light!

Thank you, Anna Thurlow.

'Death and Harry Houdini' in Florida

The acclaimed House Theater of Chicago production, Death and Harry Houdini, is now playing at the Adrienne Arsht Center's Carnival Studio Theater in Miami-Dade, Florida. It will run through May 20.

Written and Directed by Nathan Allen, this avant-garde stage show features magician Dennis Watkins as Houdini. In the course of the evening Watkins performs the Water Torture Cell among other famous Houdini escapes.

Click here for showtimes and tickets.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Houdini-blue-tini

The Magic Castle held a special Members Only night last night. A drink special of the evening; The Houdini-blue-tini. Just another reason to love the Castle!

Unfortunately, the "Houdini Linguini" was taken off the menu when the Castle changed chefs a few years back.

This image come from the Magic Castle's Instagram: AMA_Magic.

Foster The People release video for 'Houdini'

Foster The People has released a video for their hit song, Houdini. While the video doesn't feature Harry himself, it does include a nod to the craft of Black Art, which is deeply rooted in stage magic. It's also a pretty cool video and a good song. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Genii & Houdini: October 1938

Today we continue our look back at issues of Genii, The Conjurors Magazine that have featured Houdini on the cover. The second Houdini cover was Vol 3, No. 2, October 1938.

About this cover photo of Houdini and his "two sweethearts", Editor and Publisher William Larsen Sr. (father of Magic Castle co-founders Bill and Milt Larsen) writes:

"This picture, incidentally, is one of my most prized possessions and I am happy to be able to share it in this way with my many friends in magic. Through the good offices of Mrs. Houdini I have, in my files, much interesting Houdiniana. But I chose the cover photo as being one of Harry, himself, would like to see on Genii were he here to advise me. I know it shows him with the two people he loved best in all the world."

The issue inside does not contain as much Houdini material as did Genii's first Houdini cover in October 1936. There's only the annual "In Memorial" page from Bessie (this time with an interesting illustration) and the editorial by Larsen, in which he also states, "Ninety-five per cent of the magicians alive today owe some part of their success to Harry Houdini." (Can't you just see Dai Vernon gnashing his teeth over that one?) 

This issue is also notable in that it contains news of the death of T. Nelson Downs, the famous King Of Koins, who was a friend and colleague of Houdini's.

Coming next: October 1939.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Harry Houdini - Toymaker

Houdini did it all. He even patented inventions. Well-known is the patent Houdini filed in 1921 for a quick release diving suit. But less well-known is this "Figure Toy" Houdini patented in 1926. The design allowed for "Houdini" to struggle free of a straitjacket when turned upside down onto his head. Pretty clever!

Unfortunately, the great Houdini figure toy never went beyond the patents office (as far as I know). In fact, a Houdini action figure of any kind was conspicuously absent until Accoutrements released their Houdini Action Figure in 2005.

UPDATE: The great Pat Culliton informs me that a prototype for this toy was made and owned by the Hinson family. Indeed, you can see the prototype in this photo from the collection of John Hinson.

Today the whereabouts of this Houdini Toy is unknown.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Houdini is the King (of Diamonds)

The United States Playing Card Company, makers of Bicycle Playing Cards, has released a limited edition "Vaudeville Deck". The cards celebrate Vaudeville with custom artwork designed "to show that the era may be gone, but it is definitely not forgotten."

What I really like about this deck is the Kings are all magicians of Vaudeville's Golden Age, with Houdini himself as the King of Diamonds! The other magical Kings are Thurston (King of Spades), Carter (King of Clubs), and Alexander (King of Hearts). The Jacks and Queens pay tribute to antique fashion styles.

The back design shows stage curtains surrounding a crystal ball. The tuck case features the custom Vaudeville logo.

You can buy the Vaudeville Deck at or direct from The Blue Crown.

'Dark Side' Houdini handcuffs on eBay

A pair of gaffed Houdini handcuffs that were featured on Steve Santini's Deals From The Dark Side TV show are now for sale on eBay. Bidding starts at $3000 with a Buy It Now price of $4,500. The cuffs have excellent provenance (not covered in the show), which Steve lays out in the auction description below:

Offered is a very rare set of Froggatt "Darby" handcuffs made for legendary escape artist Harry Houdini by well known Victorian British handcuff and restraint maker Tomas Froggatt. Froggatt and Houdini were friends and it is known that Froggatt made a number of tricked handcuffs and restraints which Houdini used in his acts of self liberation. This particular pair of handcuffs were made by Froggatt with a shortened spring which allowed Houdini to "rap" them open and escape from them without any tools or lock picking instruments. These handcuffs originally come from the Joseph Dunninger collection of magic memorabilia which included many original Harry Houdini owned and used props. In the 1980's these handcuffs, along with a number of other Houdini related artifacts went from Joseph Dunninger's widow to one Richard Silmzer, a Canadian escape artist and collector who had befriended Mrs. Dunninger. From there they passed through the hands of two collectors before finally coming to me. I am more than happy to outline all of this information in a provenance letter I will supply with the cuffs. Unlike many alleged Houdini owned restraints, these cuffs were tricked at the time of manufacture by Froggatt and show no signs of tampering post manufacture. The end caps, pictured, show no signs of having ever been removed post manufacture to substitute a weaker spring in the cuffs. The cuffs are featured in a episode of the Canadian T.V. show, "Deals From the Dark Side" where we took them to The Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA. A master locksmith and collector of restraints at the museum studied the cuffs and said that he believed that the gimmicking proccess which allows the cuffs to be rapped open was done at the time of manufacture. The cuffs themselves function perfectly and come with the original key. Both cuffs and key are stamped with the number 3 and the cuffs are also stamped with the maker's name, FROGGATT. If you are a collector of Houdiniana, this is one items that is a must have for your collection. View auction.

Click here to watch the Houdini handcuffs episode of Deals From The Dark Side.

UPDATE: The cuffs sold for $3,800.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

In Search Of... Houdini's Secrets

From 1976 to 1982 Leonard Nimoy hosted the popular series In Search Of... Each week the show investigated some fresh mystery, such as Bigfoot, UFOs, or the Loch Ness Monster. I loved it! That's why I was delighted when on November 21, 1981, the show went In Search Of... Houdini's Secrets.

Okay, they really didn't go "in search of" anything, it's just a standard biography. But it's a decent one that uses much of the Houdini stock footage from the BBC's The Truth About Houdini. Standout moments include a new interview with Walter B. Gibson (his last?), nice footage of handcuffs from the Sid Radner collection, and Leonard Nimoy (in a cape!) standing in the Magic Castle's Houdini Seance Room in front of a display case that is no longer there. Also, near the end, there is footage of the Water Torture Cell in the Houdini Museum in Niagara Falls when it had its full fish tank "water effect" in operation. This, of course, caused horrible damage to the historic artifact.

As far as I know, In Search Of... Houdini's Secrets has never been released on any commercial format, but now you can watch the entire half-hour episode thanks to the magic of YouTube.

You can enjoy more Houdini video finds like this on the WILD ABOUT HARRY YouTube Channel.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Margery box found?

Check it out! The intrepid Dean Carnegie of Carnegie: Magic Detective alerts me that he has found the missing "Margie Box"...sorta.

This is actually a 2007 sculpture by Australian artist TV Moore and was part of the exhibition, TV Moore - Fantasists in the Age of Decadence. He called his creation, "The Margery's Box / N.A.N.".

This image comes from the roslyn oxley9 gallery where you can see more of TV Moore's artwork.

Thank you, Dean. If only...

Friday, April 20, 2012

What happened to the Margery box?

During his highly publicized battle to expose Mina Crandon aka Margery the Medium in 1924, Houdini constructed a special "cabinet box" to contain and control the wily medium during their seances. He called it the "Margie Box."

Of course, there was controversy. At one point a ruler was discovered inside the box that Margery could use to ring a bell box on the table outside. Margery accused Houdini or planting the ruler in the box to discredit her. Houdini denied it. Then Margery forced open the lid and Houdini had to reinforce it with additional padlocks. And so it went.

But the real mystery is what ever happened to the famous Margery cabinet box? According to Ken Silverman, Houdini once again used his "Margie Box" during a demonstration of Margery's techniques at Boston's Symphony Hall in January 1925. Said Houdini, "This is the first time it has been seen outside of the seance room because I was bound to secrecy by the Scientific American." But after this, the box vanishes.

It seems amazing to me that Houdini's Milk Can from 1908 would survive in the basement of 278, yet a prop from 1924 -- one that was a big part of his most famous exposé -- would not. You would have thought Houdini would have kept it for use on other mediums, or even featured it during his full evening roadshow, as explaining the techniques of Margery was part of the third act for a time.

So does anyone out there know what happened to Margery's box? Along with Houdini's biplane, this might be one of the greatest missing Houdini artifact mysteries.

The Margery box after Houdini's reinforcements and the rarely seen back.

UPDATE: In 2010 Dean Carnegie investigated the whereabouts of the original Margery Bell Box(s) and was able to locate one in the Salon de Magie Collection. According to Dean, there were two Margery cabinets as well, "one tight as a drum and one gaffed." So that makes two missing cabinets.

UPDATE 2: Is the Margery Box in Las Vegas?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Please take this short survey on magic collecting

Calling all magic collectors! Reader Philip Treece writes to tell me he is currently doing a MA degree in Conservation of Historic objects at The University of Lincoln (UK) and is concentrating on magic collections for his dissertation.

Philip is reaching out to all magic collectors with a very brief and easy to fill out survey. He needs as many responses as possible, so I'm throwing out the word here on my blog. The survey doesn't ask for any personal information, and the results are totally anonymous. (I just did it and it was a snap.)

Also, those who participate will be entered into a prize drawing for a $30 (£20) amazon gift certificate. Emails collected from those will not be used for any other purpose than informing the winner of the drawing. All the emails will be deleted after the prize is accepted.

The survey can be found here:

Thanks for helping Philip out!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Houdini letter to cemetery fails to sell in auction.

Click to enlarge
A letter in which Houdini spells out precisely who should be buried in the Weiss family plot at Machpelah Cemetery failed to sell yesterday at a Swann auction of Autographs and Revolutionary Americana (Sale 2276, Lot 260). The letter, which was written in May 1925, carried an estimate of $4000 - $6000. I suspect it didn't reach the reserve.

I've seen this letter sourced in biographies, but I've never seen the actual document itself. It's pretty fascinating. It's also easy enough to read between the lines and see that Houdini making certain that his brother Leopold, for whom he held a deep grudge, doesn't make it into the family plot. This letter also explains why none of his brothers spouses are buried in Machpelah. Apart from Bess, this was clearly "Weiss Only."

But one thing that really jumps out at me here is that Houdini says that his sister, Carrie Gladys Weiss, went by the name of Gladys Houdini. How interesting that she would adopt the "Houdini" name. I hadn't heard this before, but this helped solve a mystery in preparation for my Top Secret presentation at the Magic Collectors Weekend next month.

Of course, Houdini's instructions were not entirely followed. The dreaded Leo did make it into the family plot, although his headstone, as well as the headstone of Carrie Gladys, are currently in storage. Also, Bessie was not buried with her husband, as we know.

Thanks to Kevin Connolly at Houdini Himself for the tip.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Genii & Houdini: October 1936

Genii, The Conjurors Magazine is celebrating its 75th Anniversary this year. Houdini has graced the cover of Genii many times. I've gathered a compete collection of these issues, so in celebration of Genii's 75th, I thought I'd kick off a new series, "Genii & Houdini", in which I will take a look back at each of these issues inside and out.

First up is Vol. 1, No. 2, October 1936. This was only the second issue of Genii, which was originally conceived as magazine devoted to West Coast (or "Pacific Coast") magic news. Editor and publisher William Larsen and his wife Geraldine (parents of Magic Castle co-founders Bill and Milt Larsen) were close friends with Bess Houdini, who lived in Hollywood at the time, so Genii was an extremely pro-Houdini publication from the start. It also just made good business sense (then as now) that if you want to launch a new magic magazine, put Houdini on the cover as soon as possible! And they did.

According to MH Magic Magazines, this Houdini issue was limited to only 250 copies as compared to 1,000 issues of Vol 1 No 1. There are lots of Houdini goodies in this rare issue. On opening the magazine you are met with two full page Houdini memorial ads, one from Bess and the other from Houdini's English agent, Col. Harry Day, which reads "England Remembers." William Larsen devotes his "The Genii Speaks" column to Houdini, commenting that if Houdini were alive today, "He would be active in vaudeville, in pictures, radio, and would be preparing himself for television" (!).

The center of the mag has two-page fold out display of "Houdiniala" including photos of Bessie at Houdini's grave (one of her touching the bust that I've never seen), Houdini's calling cards, stationary, and a photo of Bess with William Larsen and Harry Mendoza in Hollywood.

L.O. Gunn talks about meeting Houdini while he was performing at the L.A. Philharmonic Auditorium in October 1924 (interesting because this engagement is not listed in Koval). Geraldine Conrad (Larsen) devotes her "Paging the Ladies" column to Bess, telling the fictional "acid on dress" story of her first meeting with Harry. There is also a nice quote from Bess that, "Mrs. Larsen must feel the same thrill and pride at the wonderful first issue of her husband's magazine that I did when Harry brought home the first issue of The Conjurors Magazine."

Finally, Ed Saint notes in his "Through the Monocle" column that Bess is going back to New York to spend Thanksgiving with her 88-year-old mother (still alive in 1936!).

Coming next: October 1938.

Monday, April 16, 2012

No escaping Houdini

Today I went to the Los Angeles Police Museum near Pasadena to see their special Black Dahlia exhibit (the life and death of Elizabeth Short is one of my side obsessions). But what did I see on first entering the museum? A poster of Houdini! There's just no escaping this guy.

The poster is not an original. It is one of a limited run of 500 put out by Rosebush Enterprises in 1991. Because it was hanging in the old cell block of what was once a real police station, I hoped this meant Houdini might have escaped from one of the cells. However, the Highland Park Station, as it was originally called, was built in 1925, so this isn't the case. The poster is just there as part of a wall display illustrating period handcuffs and restraints.

There's actually another Houdini connection with this museum. Our friend Joe Fox's handcuff collection is normally on permanent display here. But at the moment the Dahlia exhibit is using the display cases.

Wouldn't have held Harry anyway

Sunday, April 15, 2012

When Houdini met Batman

Last month I posted a look back at Houdini's encounter with Dracula in the graphic novel Ghosts of Dracula. Here's another unusual crossover -- Houdini meets Batman!

The Devil's Workshop was released by DC in 1993 as part of their experimental "Elseworlds" series (setting classic superheros in "strange times and places"). The book was written by Howard Victor Chaykin and John Frances Moore with illustrations by Mark Charello. The extremely dark story finds Houdini and Bruce Wayne/Bat-Man investigating child abductions in Gotham City. Not only does the book experiment with Batman's timeline, but it plays fast and loose with Houdini's timeline as well. Even though it's 1907, Houdini's mother is dead and he makes references to his Buried Alive stunt and friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Houdini also smokes in the story. References to Houdini's Judaism abound. He even wields a Jewish star.

Unlike most graphic novels, we don't get a look at Houdini's stage act, but we do get to see a nifty seance in which the villain/medium conjures "Mama". The artist depicts Cecelia Weiss accurately, but for some reason Charello doesn't draw Houdini from any life image. He looks instead like a young Paul Riser. Tom Mix also makes a cameo appearance.

While I had thought Ghosts of Dracula was Houdini's only vampiric adventure, the villains at the end of The Devil's Workshop turn out to be vampires (I think).

It's really not the best Houdini or Batman adventure, but it is an  interesting experiment and a curiosity worth seeking out.

By the way, according to Patrick Culliton, Batman creator Bob Kane was a big Houdini fan.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Cover art for Houdini and Conan Doyle UK paperback

Cover art for the UK paperback edition of Houdini and Conan Doyle by Christopher Sandford has been revealed on While keeping the same basic design as the hardcover, it is a little different in the arrangement of the text.

The paperback Houdini and Conan Doyle will be released by Duckworth in the UK on October 15, 2012. Still no word on the U.S. paperback.

Read my review of this book HERE.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

David Saltman sends Houdini into action in Russia

Author and Houdini aficionado David Saltman -- who wrote the acclaimed biography of Gilda Radner, Gilda -- has just completed his latest book, The Escape Artist, a work of historical fiction featuring Houdini's adventures in Tsarist Russia.

The "100,000-word multi-layered historical novel" is based on Houdini's tour of Russia in 1903. David takes us into the realm of fiction by bringing in President Theodore Roosevelt, who recruits Harry to do a little spy work, and the leader of the Russian secret police, Count von Plehve, who plots to undermine Harry. Other historical characters include Chekhov, Gorky, Diaghilev, Durov the Clown, and, of course, Rasputin! Sounds like great fun.

David's agent, Marly Rusoff, is currently shopping the book to publishers with a goal to get it in stores in 2013.

David has also launched a new blog, The Houdini File, where he will update the latest news on the book as well as his latest (non fiction) research. On that front, David has uncovered remarkable new evidence that Franz Kukol did not leave Houdini's employment at the start of World War I, but remained Houdini loyal assistant (and photographer) until Houdini's death. You can look forward to hearing more about that at The Houdini File.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Adrian Conan Doyle on his father's belief in Spiritualism

Here's an excerpt from an interview with Adrian Conan Doyle, son of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in which he talks about his father's belief in Spiritualism. No mention of Houdini here, but it's interesting to hear the family take on this fifty years (or so) after the fact.

You can watch the full three-part interview (which deals mostly with Sherlock Holmes) starting here.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Kate's Bess

Check out this color artwork for the cover of Kate Bush's 1982 album The Dreaming. The album included the song, Houdini. Apart from being a Kate Bush fan, I really love this image because it works as a standalone tribute to Bess Houdini herself. "With a kiss I pass the key..."

The Dreaming was Kate Bush's fourth album and the first one she produced on her own. The album peaked at #3 on the UK charts and was the first Bush album to chart in the U.S. The artwork used on the album itself was slightly different, as you can see below.

The Dreaming was released on CD in 1990 and as an MP3 Download in May of last year. You can read the lyrics to Houdini here. You can hear the song itself on YouTube below.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

SyFy brings The Dark Side to the U.S.

The Syfy channel has picked up the Canadian reality show Deals From The Dark Side hosted by "relic collector" and escape artist Steve Santini.

The first season has an episode featuring a pair of gaffed Houdini handcuffs. It also shows the restored grave bust, and Steve does an escape. I'm not sure when the network plans to air the series.

Thanks to our friends Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton (who are nicely featured in this episode) for the tip.

UPDATEDeals From The Dark Side debuts with Houdini Handcuffs episode.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Link: Re the birthdays...

Click on the headline to link back to my story from last April 6 about why today is sometimes incorrectly noted as being Houdini's birthday (as in this clip from the Associated Press).

AP fail

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Souvenir of Houdini's big (picture) show

David Haversat Magic has for sale this unique and rare Houdini item. This is a giveaway advertising The Man From Beyond at the Times Square Theater in New York in April 1922.

This wasn't your run-of-the-mill movie engagement. This was the single theater debut of The Man From Beyond, and because Houdini planned to distribute the film around the country via his own Houdini Picture Corporation (using the State Rights method) he worked extra hard to ensure its success at the Times Square Theater. That's why he appeared in person performing Goodbye Winter and Arrival of Summer, the Needles, a straitjacket escape, and a revival of his famous Vanishing Elephant (using a smaller elephant). He also apparently gave away goodies like this.

Now, I'm not sure why this is shaped like a pyramid. I first thought maybe it was playing into the mania that swept America with the discovery of King Tut's tomb in 1922, but that was still five months away. More likely this was just keeping with other The Man From Beyond promotional material that played up the "mystic" aspects of the film, particularly the theme of reincarnation.

David is asking $398 for this unique giveaway. Details here.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Connecticut estate of Leo Weiss?

Just when we solve the mystery of one Houdini Mansion, here comes another.

According to Virtual Globetrotting, a massive estate in Ridgefield, Connecticut, known as The Highmeadow Estate, has been taken off the market after being listed for sale in 2008 for $7,490,000. The description on the page, which appears to have been taken from this 2007 auction listing, says the home once belonged to "magician Harry Houdini's brother."

Unfortunately, it doesn't specificity which brother, but I think it could only be Leopold Weiss, who became successful as one of New York's first radiologists. Bill Kalush in The Secret Life of Houdini confirms that "Doc" Weiss had "a huge Connecticut estate."

Of course, Leo was also the brother Houdini ostracized for reasons that are somewhat vague. The general belief is that because Leo married the divorced wife of his older brother, Nathan, Houdini believed the family scandal contributed to his mother's death. However, looking at this house, could Leo's real crime have been that he was every bit as successful as Houdini?

But this house also presents us with an entirely new "Houdini mansion" mystery. The listing states that the house was also owned by actor Robert Vaughn. But Vaughn told our friend and Houdini expert Patrick Culliton -- who worked with the actor on Kung Fu: The Legend Continues -- that he owned Houdini's Connecticut home. Patrick assumed that Leo later took over the estate, which Houdini dubbed the "Weiss farm."

Trouble with this is according to Gresham (Houdini The Man Who Walked Through Walls) Houdini's Connecticut "farm", which he purchased around the same time as 278, was in Stamford. This property is in Ridgefield. Also, this house is said to have been originally built for John Stokes, the U.S. Ambassador to the Court of Saint James, in 1910.

The Highmeadow Estate is located on 5.67 acres and is one of the largest homes and most expensive homes in all of Fairfield County. You can check out more pics of the house here.

UPDATE: Dean Carnegie has confirmed that, yes, this is Leopold's house. In fact, Dean did a nice blog post about it back in December 2010. Thanks, Dean!

UPDATE 2: Turns out the true owner of this house was Leopold's wife Sady. Read: Guest blog: Leopold and Sady Weiss: Why Houdini Wasn’t Happy

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Houdini joins The 39 Clues franchise

Houdini is about to become a part of Scholastic's popular The 39 Clues series with a new book, The 39 Clues: The Cahill Files Book 4: The Houdini Escape by Clifford Riley.

Young Harry Houdini's family is eager for a fresh start in America, but secrets from their past have followed them to New York. When the aspiring magician is kidnapped by a dangerous enemy, the Vespers, Houdini discovers a secret talent: death-defying escapes. Will his rare talent allow him to survive the attack? Or will it get him into deeper trouble than he ever imagined?

The 39 Clues is an interactive and multi-platform adventure series combining books, collectible cards, and an online game where readers become a part of the story. According to Scholastic, "the groundbreaking series is the first of its kind in the publishing industry."

At the moment, The 39 Clues: The Cahill Files Book 4: The Houdini Escape is only available for pre-order on the Kindle (release date August 7, 2012). But a paperback version should be coming down the pike soon. I'll update this post when it does.

Thanks to Charisse Meloto of Scholastic for this first look at the cover art.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Mandala catches Houdini on the web

The March/April issue of the online magic magazine The Mandala ("Magic With An Attitude") contains the first in a new series of articles about Houdini by our friend David Byron. This first installment of Houdini Now and Then is called "Caught on the Web" and looks at what it is to be a Houdini fan today and how the web is changing the landscape for this "scattered tribe."

David generously mentions WILD ABOUT HARRY alongside Dean Carnegie's Magic Detective and Kevin Connolly's Houdini Himself as being "game changers."

"These three webmasters illustrate the impact of the Internet on the world of Houdini, and on magic history in general. It’s tough being a fan of the Great Houdini. But it has never been less tough, nor more exciting, than it is right now."

David also playfully takes Mandala editor Shawn McMaster to task for being a "Houdiniphobe." Shawn shoots back with his own contribution to this issue, "The Little Hungarian Tyrant" (see, magic with an attitude). The issue also includes news of the recently uncovered USD photo in Scotland, the notorious "Was Houdini Murdered" episode of Decoded, and lots of other (non Houdini) goodness.

You can buy individual issues or subscribe to The Mandala at

UPDATE: Unfortunately Kevin's site is now offline.

Two Spanish Houdini rarities hit eBay

Two rare Spanish movie-related Houdini gems have appeared on eBay.

The first is a 16-page magazine special, Harry Houdini in Tras La Pantella (Behind the Screen) by Silvio Mantagud. The date is 1921 and includes photos from The Master Mystery. This is a rare one! Auction link.

Next is a Spanish pressbook for the 1953 film, Houdini, with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. While I've seen Spanish posters for this film, I've never see the newspaper adverts contained in this 4-page pressbook. Auction link.

Both items have low start prices, but they do have reserves.

Muy Bueno!

UPDATE: Sold for $500.

The Magic Castle makes some Houdini additions

On Friday I stopped by The Magic Castle to work on my Top Secret Houdini project for the Magic Collectors Weekend in May (thanks again, Bill), and I was happy to see a few new Houdini items have been added to the Castle decor as part of their ongoing fire recovery.

First and foremost is the addition of the beautiful bronze Houdini bust created by Spectral Motion (right). The bust with custom base sits behind the maitre'd in the main dining room. The Castle has also acquired the Keller, Thurston, Chung Ling Soo, and Robert-Houdin busts, which are being installed above the W.C. Fields bar in the Inner Circle. The busts came courtesy of member Mike Elizalde, owner of Spectral Motion.

Speaking of the Inner Circle, I was happy to see there is now a Houdini Europe's Eclipsing Sensation poster hanging on the wall between the original Alexander and Will Rock-Thurston Show sheets. The poster is not an original, but it still looks great and, you know, it's Houdini! (The great Mike Caveney will give a tour of the Castle posters on Wednesday, April 4.)

Also in Houdini Castle news, our friend and fellow gravehunter Joe Fox has been made the "official curator" of the Houdini artifacts in the Houdini Seance Room. Joe has donated many of the handcuffs on display and is working up a placard for the room that will identify the cuffs. Congratulations Joe!

UPDATE: The Houdini bust has now joined the others behind the W.C. Fields bar.