Thursday, October 31, 2013

The message from Halifax: Houdini stayed silent

The word from the folks at The Official Houdini Seance in Halifax, Nova Scotia is that despite the best efforts of medium Alan Hatfield -- who employed the use of EVP (Electronic voice phenomenon) -- Houdini failed to return from the dead for the 86th year in a row. The seance was held this year at the historic Citadel Hill in Halifax and was co-hosted by Bill Radner and Bruce MacNab, author of The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini.

But while Houdini was a no show, the event seemed to be a hit with the attendees. There was magic performances by Margaret Steele, Mister J, and escape artist Lucas Wilson who freed himself from a straitjacket in 47 seconds. Award-winning singer Laura Smith performed The Houdinis favorite song, Rosie, Sweet Rosabel.

Our friend Robert Somerdin, a member of the inner circle, provided us with photos and live updates from the proceedings (which you can view on my Twitter page) and The Chronicle Herald Live Blogged the event. The inner circle consisted of Fred Pittella, Bruce MacNab, Midge Markey, Robert Somerdin, Noella Brennan Fisher, and Dr. Karen Mann (the daughter of Jack Price). They tried for an amazing hour and a half to "pierce the veil" and bring back Harry. The lights at one point did mysteriously flicker, but Houdini himself stayed silent. Still, I'm impressed with this seriousness of this year's attempt.

Maybe next year.

Program for The Official Houdini Seance 2013.

A very big THANK YOU to Robert Somerdin for providing photos and keeping us all informed throughout the seance. This proved to be an exciting event, even just on the computer.

UPDATE: Photos from The Official Houdini Seance in Halifax

UPDATE 2Official seance medium claims to have captured Houdini's voice.

LIVE BLOG: Official Houdini Seance

I am tweeting LIVE images and updates from The Official Houdini Seance in Halifax, Nova Scotia supplied by our friend Robert Somerdin who is part of the inner circle. Follow below or @HoudiniWild.

The Chronicle Herald is also Live Blogging The Official Houdini Seance in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Click here to follow Tweets from the proceedings happening NOW.

87 years ago today Houdini didn't die

It's now 1:26 PM in Detroit, Michigan, and it was exactly was 87 years ago that Houdini didn't die. Yes, he passed away in a physical form on October 31, 1926, but he certainly didn't leave our world. Because Houdini is as famous and as active today as he was 87 years ago. Maybe even more so.

Houdini's very name has become part of our culture. A week doesn't go by in which there isn't a mention of a sports star, convict, politician or house pet "pulling a Houdini." A 4-hour miniseries about his life is currently shooting in Budapest (today is a shooting day, in fact). There are at least a dozen movie and TV shows about the magician in development. A big-budget Broadway musical is in the works. Several plays are being produced. There are Houdini rides and mazes at amusement parks from California to France. At least 2 new major books are being written about life and career. A new series of teen fantasy novels starring a young Houdini has just been launched. Appleton Wisconsin recently dedicated a new "Houdini Plaza." Official Houdini seances are being held today in Halifax, New York, Scranton, and Las Vegas. A 2-day "Houdini Festival" in Danville starts tomorrow.

And, finally, there is enough happening in the world of Houdini that this blog is able to update everyday. All proof that after 87 years…HOUDINI LIVES!

Halloween Houdini tributes from around the web:
iTricks: There Is Something About Harry
Houdini Museum: In Memoriam: How did Houdini die?
Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence: October 31 1919
Ellusionist: Halloween a day for magic, but magicians use powers all year
Michelle Cushing: Houdini, Halloween, National Magic Day, and Me!
Dangerous MindsHappy Halloween (and death day), Harry Houdini
Constance PhillipsHappy Halloween! Are You There, Harry?
Huffington Post: 6 Surprising Things You Didn't Know Happened On Halloween
Beautifully Bohemian: Celebrating Houdini (Elementary Lapbook)
Atlas Obscura: Waiting for Harry Houdini to escape from death
The Guardian: Harry Houdini - a picture from the past
Wretched Richard's Almanac: The Great Escape
History/HerstoryHarry Houdini Dies, 1926
The Sweetest Chill: Answer - Tell - Pray
Monsterminions: RIP Houdini Houdini is dead

Houdini illustration by Harlan Tarbell appeared in the November 1926 issue of The Sphinx magazine (from my collection).

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Daughter of Jack Price to attend the Official Houdini Seance in Halifax

On this Halloween Eve, I have some very exciting news to share about the Official Houdini Seance set to take place in Halifax, Nova Scotia tomorrow. At the seance table will be Karen Mann, the daughter of Jacques ("Jack") Price. Price was one of the three McGill University students in Houdini's dressing room on October 22, 1926 when the infamous blows to Houdini's stomach were struck by J. Gordon Whitehead.

Karen Mann is a PhD and celebrated Professor Emeritus of Medical Education at Dalhousie University, where she was founding Director from 1995-2006. She also is Chair in Medical Education at Manchester Medical School, University of Manchester, UK. In 2010, she received the Merrel Flair Award for Distinguished contributions to medical education in North America.

"I feel very fortunate to be included in this event," says Karen.

Karen's participation definitly adds something special to this year's seance and celebration. The sold-out event is being organized by Bruce MacNab, author of The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini, and will be held in the catacombs of the historic Citadel Hill in Halifax. (Click here for full details.)

Might Karen's presence be the key that unlocks the door to the spirit world and allows Harry to finally make his greatest escape?

I guess we'll find out tomorrow.

UPDATE: The message from Halifax: Houdini stayed silent.

UPDATE 2: Interview with Karen Mann.

"Houdini-Palooza" ends in 24 hours

We are in the final 24 hours of the Conjuring Arts Research Center's special "Houdini-Palooza" week. For the past seven days CARC has offered a different free Houdini PDF along with reducing the price of all their Houdini items at their online store by 50% (discount applied at checkout).

The final free PDF is Houdini's 1924 book, A Magician Among The Spirits. The book is now available for download until 1:26pm (EST) tomorrow. After that, Houdini-Palooza heads to the afterlife.

Click on over to the Conjuring Arts Research Center and harvest these Halloween Houdini treats before it's too late.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The man who lives in Houdini's house

The New York Daily News has an article about 71-year-old Fred Thomas who owns the greatest Houdini collectible of them all -- his house! The article includes this tantalizing photo of Thomas inside the foyer of 278. If those stairs could talk.

Here is the article in full:

Hey, Houdini fans, leave this poor man alone this Halloween

Owner of 'Houdini House' on W. 113th St. wishes fans of the magician would stop coming in droves. Traffic picks up around Halloween, the day of the conjurer's death.


There’s no ghost, just a frustrated old man.

Fred Thomas, 71, lives in the famous “Houdini House” on W. 113th St. in Harlem — which becomes one of the city’s premiere tourist attractions every Halloween, the anniversary of the master magician’s 1926 death.

And Thomas has had enough.

"The lady who sold it to me never told me Houdini lived here. The neighbor told me after I moved in," said Thomas as he led The News on a rare tour. "People are always outside talking pictures of the house. I've developed a callousness.”

At the peak of his fame in 1904, Houdini, the stage name of Budapest-born escape artist Ehrich Weisz, bought the four-story house for the then-fantasmagorical price of $25,000. The magician and his wife Bess stayed uptown for two decades until his death.

By the time Thomas bought the place in 1991, the tools of Houdini’s spellbinding trade — shackles, handcuffs and the like — were long gone.

So if you’re looking for lingering magic, don’t bother, though Thomas kept some original features of the 19th-century house between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell Blvds.

"I wanted to keep things original," said Thomas, though he quickly dispelled the main reason mystics flock to the building every Halloween: "There are no ghosts. There are no spirits," he said.

The good news is that Houdiniphiles can still gape at the illusionist’s memorabilia at the ad-hoc Houdini Museum of New York inside Roger Dreyer’s midtown magic shop near Herald Square.

Dreyer, 52, started his 3,000-item collection as a teen buying the goods from various magicians who were close to the elite family.

The best items are Houdini's "Siberian Chain Escape," a 12-inch steel rope which would wrap around the magician's wrist; and the "Metamorphosis Trunk," a four-foot-wide piece of luggage that Houdini used to trap himself inside.

Dreyer framed Houdini's business card, which lists W. 113th St. as his "permanent address."

"Harlem birthed some of the city's top entertainers," Dreyer said. "And during the early 20th century, no one was bigger than Houdini."

Houdini Museum of New York, 421 Seventh Ave. near W. 33rd St., open seven days. Admission is free. For info, call (212) 244-3633.


For more about Houdini's Harlem home, click here to read about my own visit to the house. Sorry, Mr. Thomas!

Unpublished Houdini: Confidence

Welcome to Unpublished Houdini. In this series I share a new never-before-published photo of Houdini every week from our generous Hinson Endowment.

For this Halloween week, how about this stunning unpublished portrait shot of the man himself. This image of Houdini was probably taken around 1904 and just seems to capture the full mystery, majesty, and, above all, confidence of Harry Houdini. Hey, if your job is to escape death every day, you better be confident! Looks like he is.

"The sun shines for me everyday."

Next Monday we'll be giving Harry the week off and I'll share an unique shot of the other Houdini...

Also enjoy:

Download Houdini's Margery exposé FREE for 24 hours

Do the dead return? Houdini says NO and proves it!

Today's "Houdini-Palooza" offering from the Conjuring Arts Research Center is Houdini's 1924 pamphlet, Houdini Exposes the Tricks of the Boston Medium "Margery". The FREE PDF is available for the next 24 hours from the CARC online store.

It's not generally known that Houdini published this detailed exposé of the methods used by Mina Crandon (a.k.a. "Margery") during their famous sessions in Boston before the Scientific American committee had announced their final verdict on her mediumship. Houdini had become impatient with the committee and suspicious that several members had developed compromised relationships with the Crandons. Houdini took it upon himself to published his own conclusion that Margery's mediumship was all accomplished by tricky. The committee later announced a similar conclusion and denied Margery the $2,500 prize.

All this week the Conjuring Arts Research Center is offering a free Houdini book every day leading up Halloween. Each new title becomes available 1:26pm (EST) and is available for only 24 hours. Additionally, all Houdini items at the CARC store are marked down 50%.

Houdini Festival in Danville, Nov 1-2

The "First Annual Houdini Festival" will be held at The Historic North Theatre in Danville, Virginia, November 1-2, 2013. The North Theatre is a beautifully restored 1947 Vaudeville house with a full balcony. The event is open to the general public as well as magicians.

There will be Houdini lectures (one by our friend Dean Carnegie), screenings of his silent films, and a Gala Evening Show with performances by Wayne Alan, Tony Econ, Arnei Fucco, and Dean Carnegie. There will also be a special "Houdini's Haunted House" in the theatre's basement.

For ticketing information visit

Thanks to Dean Carnegie at The Magic Detective.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Discover 'The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles'

Here's a Halloween treat. The first book in a new teen fantasy series about the adventures of a young Harry Houdini has just been released. The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles: Demon Gate is written by Marty Chan and published in paperback by Fitzhenry & Whiteside. Here's the description:

When young Ehrich Weisz — the future illusionist, Harry Houdini — follows his brother, Dash, through a strange portal, he is thrust into an alternate New York where the immigrants aren't just different ethnicities but different species. He finds work in this strange steampunk world as a Demon Hunter, tracking down dangerous otherworldly visitors that threaten the city's safety, while hiding his own foreign origins. A curious medallion, his only clue to finding his brother, leads Ehrich to a mysterious woman caught up in inter-dimensional intrigue, and he must learn who to trust as he unravels the truth if he ever wants to find his way home. 
First of a new series, The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles, by the award-winning Marty Chan.

Marty Chan is a playwright, radio writer, television story editor, and the author of several young adult novels and picture books, including The Mystery of the Frozen Brains. Marty was the first playwright in residence at the Citadel Theatre. He also served as Chair of the Edmonton Arts Council and taught playwriting at the University of Alberta. He received an Arts Achievement Award and a Performance Award from the City of Edmonton. Demon Gate is his first teen fantasy novel.

You can buy The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles: Demon Gate from The next book, The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles: Infinity Coil, will be released in Fall 2014.

100 years ago today - a gift for the boss

I'm pushing our regular Monday installment of "Unpublished Houdini" to tomorrow so I can bring you another treasure from the Hinson family collection which marks its 100th anniversary today. This silver punch bowl was given to Houdini by his assistants on October 28, 1913 in Stuttgart to commemorate his 30 years as a performer (1883-1913). The punch bowl is inscribed with the names: J. Collins - J. Vickery - F. Kukol - J. Zwettler. While the first three names are familiar ones, this is the first I've heard of an assistant named Zwettler.

This magnificent punch bowl can be spotted among Houdini's trophies in several photos (like this one). In the 1930s Bess passed it on to her sister, Marie Hinson. According to John C. Hinson, the family used it to store nuts and bolts until his father received it in 1950. The bowl passed to John in 1992 and was actually used at the New England Magic Collectors Association convention that year. It is now on display at Ray Goulet's Mini Museum of Magic in Watertown, Massachusetts, where it can be seen and enjoyed by all.

So I guess that means today is the 130th anniversary of Houdini as a performer. Let's fill up the punch bowl and celebrate!

Download Houdini's 'Miracle Mongers' FREE for 24 hours

Today's "Houdini-palooza" offering from the Conjuring Arts Research Center is Houdini's 1920 book Miracle Mongers and Their Methods. A FREE PDF is available for the next 24 hours from their online store.

All this week the Conjuring Arts Research Center is offering a free Houdini book every day leading up Halloween. Each new title becomes available 1:26pm (EST) and is available for only 24 hours. Additionally, all Houdini items at the CARC store are marked down 50%.

Head on over to the Conjuring Arts Research Center and download your free PDF of Miracle Mongers and Their Methods.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


The Hungarian website FilmHu has just posted the very first photos from the set of the Houdini miniseries currently shooting in Budapest. These shots do not show any filming, but they still tell us a lot! This set appears to be the Appleton Wisconsin of Houdini's childhood (1880s). But the most exciting and revealing image is that of the traveling circus wagon of Dr. Lynn.

Seeing a performance by Dr. Lynn as a young boy is generally considered Houdini's first encounter with magic. Lynn was famous for a grisly effect called "Palingenesia" in which he would dismember and then restore a member of the audience. Houdini would later acquire Lynn's apparatus from the late magician's son and perform some of his feats, including Palingenesia, in his own Full Evening Show.

Note that Lynn's billing, "The Greatest Necromancer of the Age! Perhaps of All Time!", is the exact billing Houdini used near the end of his career. Nice.

This is very exciting as it marks the first time any biopic has dramatized Ehrich's encounter with Dr. Lynn. (Yes, I'm well aware the Lynn performance happened in Milwaukee and not Appleton, but let's cut them some slack.)

Here are some other shots of period Appleton during what appears to be Halloween? This just gets better and better.

Houdini stars Adrien Brody as Houdini and Kristen Connolly as Bess. It's being directed by Uli Edel from a script by Nicholas Meyer. Houdini is an A&E Studios Lionsgate co-production. The 4-hour miniseries will air over two nights in 2014.

Download 'The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin' FREE for 24 hours

Today's "Houdini-palooza" offering from the Conjuring Arts Research Center is Houdini's infamous 1908 book The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin. A FREE PDF is available for the next 24 hours from their online store.

All this week the Conjuring Arts Research Center is offering a free Houdini book every day leading up Halloween. Each new title becomes available 1:26pm (EST) and is available for only 24 hours. Additionally, all Houdini items at the CARC store are marked down 50%.

Head on over to the Conjuring Arts Research Center and download your free PDF of The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin.

Mayor Bloomberg proclaims "Magic Week" in honor of Houdini

Mayor Mike Bloomberg has proclaimed October 25-31 as "MAGIC WEEK" by the City of New York. The mayor recognized that “More than a century ago, a group of New York City magicians gathered in the back room of Martinka and Company's famous magic shop to form their organization", the Society of American Magicians.

For more that 50 years the S.A.M. has recognized the anniversary of the death of Houdini with this special week of charitable performances. The free shows are part of service programs sponsored by the S.A.M. and follow the example set by Houdini who served as the National President from 1917 until his death in 1926.

"It is no illusion that New Yorkers are some of the most generous people in the world. This week's events are a wonderful opportunity to recognize the talented and dedicated magicians who lend a helping hand," said the Mayor.

New York Assembly #1 performers this week will be at VA hospitals, Senior Centers and Rehab Facilities. Participating performers so far are John Bohannon, Paul Hsaio, Rene Clement, George Schindler, Frank Reyes and Jordan Linker.

More more information and to read the proclamation itself, visit the official Society of American Magicians website.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Download 'Elliott's Last Legacy' now

Today's "Houdini-palooza" offering from the Conjuring Arts Research Center is Houdini's 1923 book Elliott's Last Legacy. A FREE PDF is available for the next 24 hours from the CARC online store.

All this week CARC is offering a free Houdini book every day leading up Halloween. Each new title becomes available 1:26pm (EST) and is available for only 24 hours. Additionally, all Houdini items at the CARC store are marked down 50%.

Elliott's Last Legacy contains the work of champion card manipulator Dr. James William Elliott, who died before he completed this book. Elliott's collaborator, Clinton Burgess, turned to Houdini for assistance in finishing it and getting it published. Houdini enlisted the aid of Oscar Teale and published the book through his own "Adams Press Print." Houdini also penned the introduction.

Burgess later complained that Houdini had featured his name on the cover as editor while relegating his own name to a small "complied by" credit inside. (I own an inscribed copy in which Burgess has written below his name, "author and compiler".) The dispute grew so heated that Houdini eventually had Burgess removed from the S.A.M. for "conduct unbecoming a member." But if Burgess wanted Elliott's work to have a legacy, then Houdini's name certainly did the trick.

Head on over to the Conjuring Arts Research Center and download your free PDF of Elliott's Last Legacy.

Enter the world of Norman Bigelow

Our friend and legendary escape artist Norman Bigelow isn't afraid of controversy when it comes to Houdini. Indeed, Norm has made it his mission to tackle the most controversial aspects of Houdini life and career, especially in regards to his death, spiritualism and religion.

In 1983 Norm self-published Death Blow, which introduced many to the Houdini murder theory. In recent years Norm has written a follow-up, The Original Houdini Murder Theory, along with new offerings, Houdini's Final Message To The World, and Mind Reading.

Norm is now offering PDFs of all his latest Houdini essays at his new official website, Have a read and...believe.

Bob Jones High School will conjure 'Houdini' October 29

The award winning Theatre Department at Bob Jones High School in Madison, Alabama will present Houdini: The Last Illusion on Tuesday October 29th at the BJHS Auditorium. Tickets are available at the door for $5. The show starts at approximately 8 PM.

The Bob Jones High School theater productions are all conceived and performed by students. Houdini: The Last Illuison is written and created by Dwayne Craft. Matt Adams consulted on the magic.

Thanks to Bill Mullins for the tip.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Marie Hinson on Edward Saint: "He was the man who said 'no'."

It was 71 years ago this week that Charles David Myers a.k.a. Dr. Edward Saint died on October 22, 1942 at the age of 52. For nearly 10 years Saint had been Bess Houdini's significant other and personal manager (and some claim secret husband).

In many ways, Saint was heaven sent. Following Houdini's death in 1926, Bess struggled with money, alcohol, and was the target of unethical spiritualists and journalists out to exploit her. At one point she attempted suicide. Bess only found her footing and established a new life as "Madame Houdini" when she merged her world with Saint in the early 1930s.

So in remembrance of Edward Saint, I'm returning to our magnificent audio interview with Bess's sister, Marie Hinson (Rahner), recorded in the early 1980s by Stanley Palm and provided to us by Jon Oliver. In this clip Marie remembers exactly when and where her sister met "the man who said 'no'." Enjoy.

NOTE: I plucked that signed photo of Bessie and Ed off the internet because it's a great image that I though worked well with this post, but I don't know where it came from. If that's your photo, let me know and I will remove it or credit you.

Download 'Handcuff Secrets' for FREE

You can now download a PDF of Houdini's 1910 book Handcuff Secrets FREE for the next 24 hours from the Conjuring Arts Research Center.

This is part of CARC's special 7-day "Houdini Palooza" in which they are offering a free PDF of a different Houdini book every day leading up Halloween. Each new title becomes available 1:26pm EST and is available for only 24 hours (click here to see the list of all the titles).

Additionally, all Houdini items at the CARC store are marked down 50% during this same time.

So head on over to the Conjuring Arts Research Center website and begin to harvest these free Houdini Halloween treats.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

7 days of FREE Houdini books from The Conjuring Arts Research Center

The amazing Conjuring Arts Research Center in New York is offering a very special 7-day "Houdini Palooza" to end the month of October. Here are the details:

FREE Houdini Book PDFs
50% Off Everything Houdini! 
To end Magic Month we have decided to honor the Great Harry Houdini. 
Houdini spent the last 7 days of his life in Grace Hospital and died at 1:26 on Halloween, 1926. 
Starting RIGHT NOW you can download a free Houdini Book each day. Each title will only be available free for 24 hours, starting at 1:26 PM today, Thursday the 24th. 
Each day's book is FREE from 1:26 PM on the day it is offered until 1:26 PM the following day.

The FREE PDFs are:
  • Oct 24th-25th: The Right Way to Do Wrong
  • Oct 25th-26th: Handcuff Secrets
  • Oct 26th-27th: Elliott’s Last Legacy
  • Oct 27th-28th: The Umasking of Robert Houdin
  • Oct 28th-29th: Miracle Mongers and Their Methods
  • Oct 29th-30th: Houdini Exposes...Margery
  • Oct 30th-31st: A Magician Among the Spirits

Also 50% off on all our Houdini products and PDFs until Halloween at 1:26pm.

Head on over to the Conjuring Arts Research Center website and begin to harvest these free Houdini Halloween treats. Don't miss a day!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Meet Houdini's technical advisor: David Merlini

Hungarian born escape artist David Merlini is serving as technical advisor on the Houdini miniseries currently shooting in Budapest. David joins a small and prestigious fraternity of magicians that includes Dunninger (advisor on Houdini, 1953), Harry Blackstone Jr. (The Great Houdinis), and Jim Bentley (Houdini, 1998).

Says David, "It is certainly a privilege and a challenge to be part of such an exceptional cast, preparing the most amazing motion picture ever about The Great Houdini. His magic has been following my whole life and it is now enlightening each day of shoot."

David has performed some truly spectacular escapes in his career, such as freeing himself from the inside of a SCUD missile in flight, being embedded in a block of concrete then thrown in a river, and being frozen in a block of ice while in a straitjacket for 33 hours. In 2007 he was awarded Best Escape Artist at the World Magic Awards in Los Angeles. He is also the holder of the World Record for holding his breath while underwater at 21 minutes, 29 seconds, set in 2009.

You can learn more about David's work at his website:

Merlini in action.

Houdini stars Adrien Brody as Houdini and Kristen Connolly as Bess. It's being directed by Uli Edel from a script by Nicholas Meyer. Houdini will air on History in 2014.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Time to rethink the rethinking on the Houdini punch

It was 87 years ago today that Houdini was punched in the stomach by J. Gordon Whitehead in the dressing room of the Princess Theater in Montreal. Those punches marked the start of a chain of events that would culminate in Houdini's death on Halloween eight days later. But did those punches kill him?

After Houdini's death, it was widely reported that the punches (frequently misreported as a single punch) were the cause of his fatal illness -- "traumatic appendicitis." But in the past few decades, historians have questioned this on medical grounds, saying that it's more likely Houdini was suffering from appendicitis before the attack and the punch only worked to cover-up the serious infection developing in his abdomen. This opinion has been stated in many Houdini documentaries (even by yours truly), and even appears on the official McGill University website. In fact, the most recent Houdini biography, The Secret Life of Houdini, goes as far as to say that traumatic appendicitis as a medical condition "has never existed" (page 518).

Eyewitness sketch
But Houdini author and expert Patrick Culliton has pushed back hard against this thinking in recent years. He believes Houdini's appendicitis was caused by Whitehead's blows. Furthermore, he thinks Houdini was not struck unexpectedly. He believes Houdini was prepared for the blows, but because of his broken ankle, he elected to remain lying on his dressing room couch. But with his back against a hard surface, there was no "give" when the punches were struck, which is key to performing a feat of physical prowess such as absorbing blows to the stomach.

Patrick cites the famous footage of Frank "Cannonball" Richards getting hit in the stomach with a cannonball. Having give in the body is essential. Had Richard's been standing with his back against a hard surface, well... Hence the blows from Whitehead were especially damaging to Houdini's internal organs.

But what about the claim that traumatic appendicitis doesn't exist? Why are we asking magicians? Why not ask a real doctor?

Marc Gellman, M.D., a Houdini buff and reader of this blog, has taken up this question for us and sent over a May 28, 2010 report by the RCS Advance Surgical Standard on Trauma Surgery on the "Systematic review of blunt abdominal trauma as a cause of acute appendicitis." Their conclusion; while rare, traumatic appendicitis absolutely exists. In fact, this report seems to confirm many of the conditions of Houdini's fast acting illness.

Click to enlarge.
Although rare, the diagnosis of acute appendicitis must be considered following direct abdominal trauma especially if the patient complained of abdominal right lower quadrant (RLQ) pain, nausea and anorexia. Appendicitis can be reasonably attributed to trauma if the presentation was early after the traumatic event and the patient has not suffered from suggestive symptoms prior to trauma.

It's important to know that Houdini's doctors all signed off on the traumatic appendicitis diagnosis. The push back against the idea came from Houdini's insurance company. If they could establish that Houdini was suffering from the illness before the dressing room incident, they would not have to pay double indemnity for an accidental death. Some newspapers aided in this, reporting that Houdini was ill on his arrival in Montreal and was traveling with a nurse.

But sworn affidavits from all of Houdini's crew refuted the idea that the magician was ill before Montreal. It's true that a nurse was traveling with the show, but she was looking after Bess who was still recovering from a serious bout of food poisoning. The insurance company failed to establish pre-illness and eventually paid out. That should have been the end of the story.

So why have we all now taken up the cause of the insurance company? Why shouldn't we accept the word of Houdini's own assistants and the diagnosis of his own doctors? I believe it's because, at some point, someone suggested the medical improbability (and then impossibility) of traumatic appendicitis and we all took the bait. For some it appeals to a sense of logic; to others a predilection for conspiracy theories.

But thanks to Marc, we now know traumatic appendicitis does exist. So the possibility that Houdini died from Whitehead's blows has to be seriously entertained, especially considering how the punches were delivered (Patrick's theory). In fact, I'd say the burden of proof is all on the opposite side.

Now, whether Whitehead intended to injure Houdini or if the incident was truly accidental is something else that is argued by Houdini buffs, but I'm not opening that can of worms here. One controversy at a time! What I'm offering up here is proof that it is medically possible Houdini's fatal appendicitis could have been caused by the punches he received 87 years ago today.

Thanks to Marc Gellman, M.D. for his help clarifying the medical side of this for us. If you'd like to read the full RCS report, shoot me an email and I will send you the PDF.

UPDATE: Check out this post for a revelation that might shed some new light on Houdini's reluctance to seek medical attention. Read: Did a contract clause kill Houdini?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Unpublished Houdini: Hollywood pals

Welcome to Unpublished Houdini. In this series I share a new never-before-published photo of Houdini every Monday from our generous Hinson Endowment.

Here's an unpublished photo of Houdini with Thomas Meighan and Jack Pickford in Hollywood. Meighan was a major star with Famous Players-Lasky; at one point he earned $10,000 a week. Jack Pickford was the brother of silent movie superstar, Mary Pickford. The men shared a connection in that Meighan was the sole witness to Jack's secret marriage to Ziegfeld Follies girl Olive Thomas in 1916.

This casual shot taken before a series of photos of the actors subjecting Houdini to several rope tie challenges. Those photos appeared in Houdini's 1921 book, Magical Rope Ties and Escapes.

"During one of my engagements at the Lasky studio, in California, that popular leading man, Tom Meighan, who established a lasting reputation by his admirable work in the screen production of the The Miracle Man, told me of a tie that was formerly used to secure an Indian who had imbibed too freely of "fire-water."

I am led to believe that he carried the process considerably farther than was the custom in the case of the bibacious aborigine, but I succeeded in freeing myself in less than four minutes."

- Houdini, Magical Rope Ties and Escapes (1921)

What I like about this unpublished shot is it reveals the encounter wasn't quite as serious as the published photos below portray. Acting!

Next week we'll head into the portrait studio for an image of Houdini that just feels right as we approach Halloween...

Also enjoy:

Sunday, October 20, 2013

DODO scares up Houdini

The latest issue of DODO, an adventure, science and fantasy magazine aimed at young readers, contains three very fine articles about Houdini by Amy Freeborn.

"Houdini and the ghosts" is a well-researched biographical piece. "Tricks" looks at the Houdini's major escapes and magic (impressive that she included The Whirlwind of Colors). Amy also tackles the history of the "Official Houdini Seance," including the mysterious happenings at last year's seance in Ft. Worth (yours truly even got a mention).

You can buy DODO #1 at their website.

Houdini documentary screening at the Frankfort Film Festival, Oct 26

The award winning documentary Houdini will be screened at the Frankfort Film Festival in Frankfort, Michigan on Saturday, October 26, 2013. Director Gene Gamache will be on hand for a Q&A after the screening.

This documentary was originally released on VHS in 1996 by Unapix Entertainment. It's now getting a second life theatrically. This is good news because this excellent doc has never made it to DVD.

Here's a brief synopsis from the Frankfort Film Festival website:

"A haunting journey into the life of the world’s most celebrated escape artist, the great Harry Houdini. Utilizing some never-before-seen archival footage and interviews with Houdini’s associates and other experts, Houdini focuses on the man behind the magic, and attempts to unlock the myths that surround one of the most compelling personalities of the 20th century."

The screening will take place at The Garden Theater at 301 W. Main Street, Frankfort, MI 49635.

Click here for ticket information on the Frankfort Film Festival.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Houdini caught by Christie Girls (update)

I love it when Houdini and Hollywood intersect, and this photo from our Hinson Endowment is certainly one of those instances. While this doesn't qualify for our "Unpublished Houdini" series (it appeared in Ken Silverman's Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss), I still thought I'd still share it because, well, it's awesome! This is Houdini "caught" by a bevy of starlets on a movie set. Doesn't look like he's trying too hard to escape, does it?

But I'm not posting this just because I like it. Silverman captions this as "With unidentified starlets", but I thought we could do better than that. So I ran this image past Hollywood historian Marc Wanamaker at the amazing Bison Archives and he was able to identify these actresses as "Christie Girls" from the Christie Comedies. Marc believes this photo was taken at the Christie Film Company in Hollywood.

The Christie Studios were housed on the corner of Sunset and Gower at what had been the Nestor Studios, the first ever motion picture studio in Hollywood. That lot later became Columbia Pictures and is today the Sunset-Gower Studios. But before 1916 Christie Comedies were produced at Universal Studios in Universal City (North Hollywood).

Houdini was performing in Los Angeles in late November/early December 1915 and during that time he had a meeting with Universal about playing Captain Nemo in a production of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It's exciting to think that this photo could have been taken on the day of that meeting and this is Houdini at Universal Studios which, of course, is still a working movie studio and a famous tourist destination today.

So what we have here is Houdini with the Christie Girls at either Universal or the Christie Studios at Sunset-Gower. It's good to be King (of Handcuffs).

You can check out the Christie Girls by name at the NYPL Digital Gallery.

Thanks to Marc Wanamaker at the Bison Archives.

UPDATE: Houdini's discussions with Universal about 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea actually took place in February 1915, so well before he paid his visit to the Christie Girls.

UPDATE: Very excited to now be able to confirm this was taken at Universal Studios on Monday, December 13, 1915. The following is from the The Los Angeles Times, Wed., Dec. 15, 1915.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Eszter Ónodi is Cecelia Weiss in Houdini

Film New Europe reports that Hungarian actress Eszter Ónodi is playing Houdini's mother, Cecelia Weiss, in Houdini the miniseries. The 4-hour Lionsgate/A&E Studios co-production is currently shooting in Budapest, Hungary.

The 40-year-old Ónodi is a native of Budapest. She's done extensive work in movies, TV, and on stage. In 2000 she won the Cosmo Grand-Prize as the Best Hungarian actress of the year.

It's interesting that they would cast a younger actress in the role of Houdini's mother. This suggests that maybe Houdini will contain more scenes of when Houdini was a child than we normally get in biopics. Of course, Angela Clarke was only 44 when she played Mama in Paramount's 1953 Houdini, so...

The site also reports that filming began on October 14 (not Sept 30th as I reported) and will spend 45 days shooting at MaFilm and Korda Studios in Hungary. Pioneer–Stillking Pictures -- a partnership between Prague-based Stillking Films and Budapest-based Pioneer Pictures -- is co-producing with Lionsgate and A&E Studios.

Stillking producer David Minkowski told FNE: "The combination of story, locations, tax incentives, and Houdini's Hungarian roots was a plus. It all made sense" to shoot in Hungary.

Houdini stars Adrien Brody as Houdini and Kristen Connolly as Bess. It's being directed by Uli Edel from a script by Nicholas Meyer. Houdini will air on History in 2014.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Houdini Museum announces 3-day Houdini Celebration

The anniversary of Houdini's death this year (the 87th) is shaping up to be quite an occasion. Yesterday we got details of the Official Houdini Seance in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Today we have news of a special 3-day Houdini Celebration at the Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA. Below is a pared down version of the official press release (you can read the full release here):

Three Day Houdini Museum Celebration in Scranton, PA,
October 31, November 1 and 2

For three days, October 31, November 1 and 2, there will be a special Magical Houdini celebration, in Scranton, PA. During the three days there will be a ribbon cutting for the Houdini Museum's new marquee, a recreation of the Original Houdini Seance, an escape at the Ritz Theater where Houdini performed, an autograph session, a proclamation by Mayor Chris Doherty of Scranton, and a Magic Show.

Day one… Oct 31. To honor Houdini, there will be a ribbon cutting at 11:30 by the Mayor of Scranton, Christopher Doherty, for the new grand marquee that will greet patrons as they arrive at Scranton's Houdini Museum. The original design was by artist David Starr. The new marquee was built by Bryan Filarsky and Jason De Candis of Dragonfly Signs.

Because Houdini died on Halloween, Dorothy Dietrich, celebrity magician and museum director, will recreate the Original Houdini Seance, a tribute started by Houdini's wife Bess, the year after Houdini died. It 's not a real seance, but a test to challenge those who claim they can make contact with the dead. Houdini's wife carried on the tribute for ten years and then passed it on to legendary writer and friend, Walter B. Gibson. Before Mr. Gibson died, he passed the honor, legacy and responsibility of doing the Houdini tributes to Dorothy Dietrich of the Houdini Museum. Reservations suggested for this event, which begins at 12 noon, after the ribbon cutting.

Day two… Nov 1. The Mayor of Scranton, Chris Doherty, will proclaim November 1, 2013 as Dorothy Dietrich Day at 7 PM, at the Ritz Theater building, at 214 Wyoming Avenue, Scranton, PA, where Houdini himself performed. The honor is being bestowed to Dorothy Dietrich for the tourism, publicity and business her Houdini Museum has brought to the city, as well as all the public awareness generated when she and fellow magician and curator Dick Brookz and escape artist Steve Moore restored Houdini's bust at his grave in Queens, New York, 2 years ago. His grave site has recently been abandoned by the Society of American Magicians and Ms. Dietrich is advocating the raising of funds to bring the grave site back to its former glory. There 'll be a special signing when she will autograph pictures of herself, the Houdini Museum, and the new bust at Houdini's grave for those who attend. She'll also attempt Houdini's signature challenge escape from a Strait Jacket. This is a free event, in the space now occupied by Wendell & Company Interior Design, and is open for all to attend. Donations will be accepted.

Day three… Nov 2. Dorothy Dietrich will be performing a stage magic show at The Houdini Museum which is available to the public. The show will include her doves, a rabbit, a duck and two poodles. She'll also be floating an audience member who will rise in the air and even have a hoop passed around them to prove there is no visible means of support. Dorothy Dietrich will also give a guided tour of the Houdini Collection. Doors open at 1 pm. Reservations are required, call 570-383-1821 for tickets.

For more details on the Houdini Museum in Scranton visit their official website at

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Details on The Official 2013 Houdini Séance in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Here are the full details on the 2013 Official Houdini Seance which this year will be held at the historic Citadel in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Also check out the cool video below that promotes the event. Sounds like this will be a seance to remember!

Official Houdini Séance will Haunt the
Halifax Citadel on Halloween

Famous Canadian fort to host an evening of
magic, mystery and history

Harry Houdini spent a month in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1896. This Halloween, some are hoping the legendary escape artist will return to the harbour city. The 2013 Official Houdini Séance is set to convene at historic Citadel Hill, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada on October 31.

Before he died on Halloween in 1926, Houdini promised to send a message from the Great Beyond. His widow Beatrice held the first ten séances on the anniversary of his death, and each year since the Official Houdini Séance has been held in a city where Houdini performed. It is now organized by an American consortium of Houdini experts, piloted by Tom Boldt and Bill Radner, son of Sidney Radner who was caretaker of the Séance from 1947-2010. Halifax organizer is Nova Scotia author and Houdini historian Bruce MacNab.

The Séance will be conducted by world-renowned medium Alan Hatfield of Pictou Landing First Nation. Some of Houdini’s personal possessions will be placed on the Séance table. Award-winning singer Laura Smith will sing Rosabelle, Houdini’s favorite song.

Doors to the Garrison Room will open at 7pm. The opening entertainment will feature New York magician Margaret Steele along with two Canadian performers who have appeared on CBC’s Dragon’s Den—popular local magician Mister J and illusionist Lucas Wilson, holder of three Guinness World Records. Houdini biographer Bruce MacNab will open the evening with stories of Houdini’s tumultuous time in Halifax.

Tickets are $45 with a portion of each sale going to FEED NOVA SCOTIA. Ticket requests can be sent to

UPDATE: Daughter of Jack Price to attend the Official Houdini Seance in Halifax.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Buster Keaton gives Houdini a plug

Houdini's connections to the famous silent movie comedian Buster Keaton are well-known. Harry and Bess performed with Keaton's parents in their early days, and lore has it that Houdini gave the comedian his famous nickname after seeing baby Buster take a fall down a flight of stairs.

Now reader "JC" has altered me to another Houdini-Buster connection. Keaton's classic 1922 short COPS starts off with a quote from Houdini: "Love laughs at locksmiths."

COPS features Keaton evading the entire Los Angeles Police Department in a series of comedic set-piece escapes. Maybe this is why the movie starts with a Houdini quote? Or maybe this was Buster's way of retuning the favor of famous name. It could also be that the attribution of this Shakespearean proverb to Houdini is a joke in itself.

In 1997 COPS was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in their National Film Registry. So this cinematic nod to Houdini from the great Buster Keaton will now live forever.

You can watch COPS in its entirety on YouTube (Houdini quote is at 0:21).

Thank you JC.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Unpublished Houdini: Man of action

Welcome to Unpublished Houdini. In this series I share a new never-before-published photo of Houdini every week from our generous Hinson Endowment.

This week I offer up a special treat along with a mystery. Here are two unpublished shots of Houdini which appear to go together. The question is; what's going on here? Even our benefactor, John C. Hinson, doesn't know what these rooftop shots are all about.

At first I was excited that what we may have here are images captured during one of Houdini's "human fly" stunts. It's not generally known that Houdini sometimes engaged in non-escape related acrobatic stunts, such as scaling buildings. He even once climbed the exterior of 278 to bring Bess flowers on their anniversary. Houdini performed at least one human fly stunt during his return tour of the UK in 1920 when he climbed to the top of a castle in Newcastle and dangled from the parapet. These rooftops do appear to be does the above photo show Houdini coming over the top of a building ledge with an assistant there to help?

But then when I paired the above image with this second shot of Houdini astride a chimney, I started to think that these photos don't capture a human fly stunt after all. Instead these appear to be Houdini engaging in movie-like "action." But this also ties into his 1920 European tour.

"The Movie Fans are clambering for another Houdini serial, and as that is much easier than my Self created hazardous work, I may step that way."

Houdini embarked on this tour at the height of his movie career and went out of his way to present himself as a freshly minted movie star. He also brought along a movie camera and shot random scenes in London, Edinburgh and Paris for a movie he was going to call The Dupe. Some of that footage was later used in Haldane of the Secret Service. But some footage was never used.

So could these be photos taken during some "action scene" shooting? Maybe what we're seeing in that first photo is not Houdini come over a rooftop, but struggling to hold on as a thug tries to kick him off.

These could also be posed shots for later use. There are other examples of these, notably a series of shots taken in Paris, one showing Houdini defending himself against a thug with a broom in front of Notre-Dame. Trouble is, these rooftops photos were both badly overexposed, so Houdini's day of high altitude action was for not.

Well, not entirely. Because thanks to a little Photoshop magic and the foresight of the Hinson family to hold onto these shots, today we can all enjoy Houdini's rooftop action. Douglas Fairbanks eat your heart out!

Speaking of movies, next week we will take a trip to the glamour capitol itself...

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