Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Link: The Man Who Hated Houdini

No, this isn't about Dai Vernon. This is a terrific post by David Saltman at The Houdini File about William Hamlin Childs -- political power broker for President Theodore Roosevelt -- and a controversy regarding the famous photo of Houdini and "The Colonel" taken aboard the Imperator in 1914 (left). Really nice detective work by David on this one.

Click here or on the headline to have a read at The Houdini File.


  1. I doubt Childs had any serious hatred for Houdini. He most likely found Houdini to be a bit pushy and egocentric, an observation that was held by a number of Houdini's contemporaries. When Hagedorn sent Childs that airbrushed fake of Houdini posing "alone" with Roosevelt, Childs identified it for what it was--a fake airbrushed photo.

    Professor Silverman mentioned in Houdini!!! that Houdini copyrighted that fake photo and sent out hundreds--perhaps thousands of those fakes over the subsequent years. It isn't difficult to see how one of those fakes landed in Hagedorn's possession.

    Getting yourself in a photo with a famous celebrity is still considered a way to elevate your social standing in our society. I remember reading an article in Genii magazine from a magician who gave pointers on getting a celebrity to pose with you in a photo. The photo could then be used as part of the portfolio to secure bookings.

  2. If I read it right, Childs tells Hagedorn the group photo is a fake, not the airbrushed version.

  3. Hi David--
    I still believe Childs is referring to the airbrushed version that Hagedorn mailed to him. The second to the last paragraph reads a bit tricky:

    A copy of the original with our entire party, which included those whom you see in this picture, also Mr. Erickson and Mr. Ridgeway, can be obtained from Mr. Erickson, but for Heavan's sake do throw this one away.

    The second sentence:"...those whom you see in this picture..." refer to Houdini and Roosevelt.

  4. Hi, Leo -- I think I see where the confusion arises.

    If you look at the second paragraph, Childs says "one film was taken with Houdini in the group." It seems clear that Hagedorn sent Childs this group shot. Otherwise, why send the airbrushed shot to Childs at all? How would he know Childs had anything to do with the picture, if he had not seen him in it?

    The "our entire party" line you cite means the entire golfing party, which included Erickson and Ridgeway (a foursome and a threesome). Neither of those two appear in the shot with Houdini.

    In other words, Childs could not be referencing the airbrushed shot, since Houdini was not a member of "our entire party, which included those whom you see in this picture," and included, in addition, Ridgeway and Erickson, not seen.

  5. David--According to you, there is another fake of this photo floating around? Childs called it a fake picture. If the photo Childs refers to is not the well known airbrushed version, what the heck is he referring to?

    Is there another fake out there?

    According to Childs, Houdini was eventually shoved out of the group so that others could get photographs with Roosevelt,

  6. No, I didn't make myself clear. Childs is saying the group shot, with Houdini in it, is a fake picture because Houdini was not supposed to be there. And that only pictures taken after Houdini was shoved out should be considered "real."

  7. Understood David. Thank you for clarifying this.