Thursday, November 14, 2013

Did Houdini return to Russia in 1913?

Author and Houdini aficionado David Saltman has a very interesting post on his blog The Houdini File about the possibility that Houdini could have returned to Russia in 1913, and may have even been involved in an effort to "undermine Rasputin." David has uncovered a Russian theater ticket from 1913 with Houdini's name on it, as well as a letter from Houdini to the U.S. Ambassador to Russia suggesting that they meet up in "Petersburg."

This is pretty wild stuff. Is it possible Houdini went back to Russia in the middle of his career without it ever being chronicled? I hate to say it, but it makes me wonder if there's something to the whole "Houdini was a spy" thing after all. I'm not ready to completely climb aboard that theory just yet, but I would recommend reading what David has uncovered below:


  1. Can we get anyone to translate the writing on the ticket. Houdini himself or impersonator ?
    Did he not say that he would never return to Russia ?
    The Master Mystifier continues to keep us on our toes. ;-)

  2. Also--1913 was the tragic year of his mother's passing in the summer. I don't believe Harry was in any psychological condition to head to Russia after the summer.

  3. Here's the translation, from top to bottom (I studied Russian & other languages in college):

    Big May Festivities
    Brilliant Fireworks
    In the Open Theater
    3 World Famous Attractions HOUDINI, 3 World Famous Attractions
    Ponak, Pantzer

    Tour of Moscow's Favorite C. F. Sarmatova.

    On the Veranda Concert Parisien.

    (Then a series of proper names which appear to refer to musical numbers: "Swan," "Lorwald," "Jenksen-Bremenwald," "Malagitta.")

    (The boilerplate on the bottom line notes "Reg. N. Butler" - promoter's name, perhaps?)

    More details on The Houdini File (

    About the timing: if genuine, this would have occurred BEFORE Harry's mother died.

  4. Many thanks. Cheers.

  5. Does anyone have Koval's Diary at hand to check if it was possible that Houdini made a trip to Russia before the summer of 1913?

    1. The only Russian engagements in Koval is the 1903 tour. Summer of 1913 is pretty well documented. The only open block is April 14 to May 3. Koval has nothing for those dates.

  6. Thanks John! My set of the Koval Diaries is boxed away at the moment. That gave Houdini just a bit over 2 weeks to get to Russia and back. In a modern jet airliner this is not problem. In 1913, it would have taken a week just to cross the Atlantic in a steamship. Fugedaboutit.

  7. I'm not looking at the sources right now, but if I recall correctly he was already in England in April and May 1913. So the trip is feasible as a quick sail on a fast yacht, or a 30+ hour train ride.

    1. Indeed he was in England at that time so the trip is feasible.

      I wonder what Bill Kalush thinks about this? For 7 years I've waited for something new to surface that helped supported his spy theory. Now we have a possibility here.

  8. Bill gave me the lead about Houdini's letter to Curtis Guild, ambassador to Russia. I had a copy of the letter, but, as discussed on The Houdini File, it was carelessly addressed to "Giles" instead of "Guild." It was Bill who figured out that it was really sent to Guild.

    As to Houdini's spying: I've discussed this at some length with various experts, including Edmund Morris, Theodore Roosevelt's biographer. He believes that, given the circumstances at the time (1903) it would be inconceivable that Houdini would be a palace "insider" and NOT be asked to report back to Washington. The question is (as you have correctly asked in the past): what would he report? Clearly he was not checking out troop movements or anything like that. But he could definitely have reported palace gossip - for example, that the Empress Alexandra was pregnant! This was important political news, because if she had a boy he would become heir to the throne. The entire power struggle among the aristocrats in Russia was about who would inherit the throne after Nicholas. And she was in fact reported to be pregnant during this time, and then appeared to have a miscarriage.