Tuesday, October 9, 2012

This is Houdini's original sub trunk

On October 26, Bruce MacNab's seminal new book, The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini will be released by Goose Lane Editions. Among the many unpublished photos in the book are four fantastic shots of Houdini and Bess performing Metamorphosis on stage in 1901.

Apart from the fact that it's incredible to see new photos of Harry and Bess doing their most famous trick in their prime, what makes these photos extra exciting is the sub trunk they are using is clearly the same trunk that was owned by Patrick Culliton for 45 years. (He sold the trunk on eBay in 2006.)

While I can't show the pics from The Metamorphosis (you'll have to get the book for that), I can show you some nice pics of what we now know to be Houdini's authentic Metamorphosis trunk. I took these photos at Patrick's house before he shipped the trunk off to its new owner in 2006.

Patrick exposed the working method of this trunk (with photos taken on this very day) in his book, Houdini The Key. There is also this film footage of Hardeen using what appears to be the same trunk in the 1930s.

The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini by Bruce MacNab can be pre-ordered at Amazon.com.

UPDATE: Patrick has posted the following to his Facebook page:

"I never really owned Houdini's trunk. I guarded it for forty-five years. During that time, I gathered some excellent documentation on it, and I proved conclusively to myself (and Joe Long) that this was Houdini's original Metamorphosis Trunk. That he had created it with his own hands with a man named Frank Allen. I had beautiful footage of Hardeen performing the substitution with it. Documentation of Hardeen introducing it as the "Original Metamorphosis Trunk which I performed with my brother." There were scoffers, Milbourne Christopher being the loudest and least sincere. I had everything but a photo of Houdini with it. Now you can see four of them."


  1. Looking forward to reading both of these!

  2. Updated with a great quote from Patrick. I never knew Milbourne Christopher doubted the authenticity of the trunk. The photos in Bruce's book come from the Harvard Theater Collection. Wild that they appear to have been missed for all these years.

  3. Could this have been the trunk that a very young Theo posed with on page 126 of Doug Henning's Houdini His Legend and His Magic? The trunk looks too dark in that photo to make a comparison. I doubt Houdini could have afforded to upgrade to newer Sub Trunks before he hit the big time. He might have upgraded by 1899 when he started making serious money with Martin Beck.

    I wonder if Houdini took a Sub Trunk (Patrick's Trunk?) with him to England in 1900? It would have doubled as a large suitcase for clothing and prop storage for the sea voyage. If Houdini did not, then he must have purchased Patrick's Trunk somewhere in England for his performances there.

    John, is that your hand holding the Maglite? What were you searching for in that trunk? Did a mouse get in there?

    1. I think that might be Joe Fox's hand. Maybe we're searching for hair follicles. Houdini DNA! ;)

  4. I think the box that Hardeen and Houdini both pose with and that Harry and Bess pose with might be the basis of the trunk. The dimensions are so similar, and Frank Allen, who was propman at the Kansas City Orpheum explained, "In the 90s, Harry couldn't afford a trick trunk so I helped him make one out of a drygoods box. The trunk I guarded for 45 years is the only substitution trunk in the world that answers that description. Frank Allen says they dressed the box with trunk canvas, oak planks, and trunk hardware. The four photos in Bruce McNabb's new book were taken at the Alhambra Theatre, London, 1901. That trunk trouped for a lot of years. All the evidence plus photos of the trap in action and it's release are in Houdini--the Key----Which you have, Leo. Anyway, wait until you see these photos in McNabb's book!

  5. This is fantastic! Looking forward to MacNab's book to compare the pics.

  6. That is a great chapter on the Sub Trunk Patrick! The photo of a very young Houdini posing next to the trunk was a surprise.

  7. Mr Christopher was not always as smart as he claimed.
    I asked him about Houdinis golf game, and he told me
    I showed him a photo of Houdin and Martin Beck Playing golf
    and he shot back that the photo was staged!
    Jon Oliver

    1. Ha! That's funny. Some of these guys had egos, didn't they?

      BTW, would love to show that pic here. Maybe we could even theme it around Christopher's comment. Have a little fun.

    2. Every time I called the Original Metamorphosis Trunk the Houdini Trunk, Milbourne would look very wise and slowly, like a teacher correcting a student, "the HARDEEN trunk." He was desperate to have it. He wanted everything I had. One item that I still treasure was a trick idea handwritten on the back of a recipe for a Houdini cocktail. Milbourne gave me several reasons why it couldn't have been Houdini's handwriting -- but, it certainly is. I liked Milbourne, I considered him a friend, but, I came to know he was an avaricious collector. Man, did he want the trunk that was Hardeen's not Houdini's and the trick idea that wasn't really written by Houdini. Why is this calling me anonymous? I'm Patrick! Patrick Culliton.

    3. I wonder if Christopher was aware of those pics from The Golden Penny magazine?


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