Monday, September 10, 2012

Salvaged S.A.M. collection will go on display in Whittier, CA

A rare collection of magic memorabilia from the Society of American Magicians will go on display at the Whittier Historical Society & Museum in Whittier, California starting September 16, 2012.

The exhibition is called Behind Smoke and Mirrors: The History of Magic and Illusion and will fill an entire floor of the museum.

This collection of posters, apparatus, costumes and ephemera was originally displayed in the basement of a bank in Hollywood and viewable only by appointment. Founded in 1967, "The Society of American Magicians Hall of Fame and Magic Museum" included significant Houdini items from the collection of Beatrice Houdini, such as original Houdini handcuff displays.

But in December 2004, an underground electrical blast contaminated the building with toxic PCBs. Access to the collection was sealed, accessible only by trained personnel in hazmat suits, as the SAM battled the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power over the cost of decontamination.

Now it appears the collection has been retrieved and saved and this will be the first time it has ever been wildly available for public view. The SAM Museum Facebook page says "a significant portion" of the original collection will be on display. So far I've been unable to confirm whether that portion includes the Houdini items.

A special opening reception featuring magicians and refreshments will take place on Sunday, September 16 at 2:00pm. I'll be attending the opening and, of course, will report back on what Houdini items are on show.

Behind Smoke and Mirrors: The History of Magic and Illusion runs through July 13, 2013. The Whittier Museum is located at 6755 Newlin Avenue, Whittier, CA 90601.

One of the contaminated Houdini handcuff displays at the original
SAM Museum in Hollywood. Photo from Houdini The Key

UPDATE: Russian Manacle and other Houdini rarities in Whittier


  1. If memory serves, PCBs are inert. Unless you cook them they should not be toxic. I am assuming that by blast you mean there was a fire? Or was it just a conduit rent open or some such non fire related spill?

    1. Yes, I believe there was an explosion and fire nearby and the smoke from this filled the basement and building. I got the PCB info from the LA Times.