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!


  1. I knew Fred when I lived at Central Park West and 108th. He didn't tell me he was the owner. He and a younger guy were working constantly on the place. This was about '93. I think he told me the owner was a lady lawyer.
    He was very nice and he let me and my two year old son come in for a look.
    The downstairs was opened up and emptied out. It was huge from front to back.

  2. I'm sure Fred is a nice guy, but it makes me a bit ill to think that he has "developed a callousness" (his words). I wish someone who fully appreciates Houdini history would buy that house once and for all. I know it's not in the greatest neighborhood, but still.

  3. Wonder why Copperfield has not gobbled it up!

  4. The neighborhood is not nearly as bad as one might think. The house faces north, though, which means it's dark inside.

    1. That's true. Apparently the neighborhood was bad in the 70s and 80s (along with the rest of NYC), but now it's quite nice. Very close to Central Park.

      You read many comments from people who remember that the house being dark inside. Never thought this had to do with the fact that it faced north but, yes, that makes sense. That could be why Mr. Thomas has painted the walls white. Back in Houdini's day I believe all the walls were the original dark wood.

  5. My dream would be to see the house bought, restored back to original interior, and turned into a Houdini museum...with Wild About Harry headquarters on the top floor. When I win the lottery, this will happen. :)

  6. John Hinson grat nephew of Bess and Harry HoudiniOctober 30, 2013 at 2:13 PM

    I would do the same thing John, I hope when I go and vist the house I can see inside.

  7. I'm sure Fred is doing a fine job of taking care of the house. I wish there were more photos of the interior. I can see the stairs next to Fred.