Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Houdini's Walking Through A Brick Wall in color

Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin.

As reported on Monday, the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin has made their Harry Houdini Scrapbook Collection available online for free. I've been flipping through these incredible scrapbooks and deep inside one titled "Scrapbook about snake charmers and other conjurers" I found this full page article from the August 2, 1914 New York World Magazine about Houdini's Walking Through A Brick Wall illusion...with COLOR photos! (Well, colorized.)

These are the only known photos of this famous illusion, which Houdini performed only a handful of times at Hammerstien's Roof Garden in 1914. As far as I know, the second photo of the screened wall has only ever appeared in Patrick Cullition's Houdini The Key, and there only in black and white.

Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin.

Below is the full page article which the Harry Ransom Center has graciously given me permission to post (click to enlarge). You can see the original in the Harry Houdini Scrapbook Collection HERE; view by "Content" and go to: "Loose material (The World Magazine) - view 19".

Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin. (Click to enlarge.)

The World Magazine also did an article about Houdini's Vanishing Elephant in a 1918 issue. That article is said to show six (color?) photos of the illusion, including photos of the elusive cabinet. Unfortunately, the Ransom scrapbooks do not contain that article. In fact, The World's vanishing elephant article has vanished as thoroughly as Jennie herself.

Thanks again to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin for allowing me to share this Houdini treasure.

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  1. Interesting. Note that the wall was not build close to the stage floor but instead. Looks like 6 inches or so above it. Secondly I was always under the impression that the wall was positioned so the audience saw both sides of it. Looking at the screen it looks as if the audience only saw one side...houdini would walk through it and I assume walk from the opposite side of the wall to receive his applause?

    1. No, it's just placed that way for the photo. Look at the illustration at the bottom of the page. The wall appears edgewise to the audience, as you'd expect.

  2. You can actually see the blue of his eyes. What I can't determine is whether the photo is a true color photo or tinted.
    About the six photo spread about the elephant in The World, it was supposed to be in the rotogravure section of the Sunday N.Y. World one week early in the run of Houdini and his elephant in "Cheer Up" at the Hippodrome. In the microfilms of the World, every Sunday rotogravure (a magazine section) is recorded--but that week's rotogravure section is missing.
    I have come to the quiet conclusion that something in the photos gave away the trick--and that Houdini, one way or another, stopped publication of that issue.
    He had a wonderful relationship with Herbert Bayard Swope, the executive editor of the World and the Pulitzer sons who owned it after their father died in 1911.
    Many newspapers and newspapermen were fond of Houdini. Very fond. He always helped reporters who were in trouble (with illness, etc.). Houdini could call any paper and say, "Send me a reporter, and I'll give you a story." And it would be a good story.
    I found the color page about the wall in the Gibson scrapbook. It is around and the article was published (without the photos) in other papers. It is in several different scrapbooks in various collections.
    But the elephant article is not in any of them.
    First Houdini made the elephant disappear, then, he made those six photos disappear.

    1. They look to be tinted to me.

      We gotta find those elephant photos!

  3. Fascinating article! I wish I could read the newspaper spread - it won't enlarge. :( I was able to make out a tiny bit of that Nestle ad, though, but not enough to know exactly what in their formula is supposed to make "better babies", lol.

    And I'm pretty sure the photos were painted. The blue area below the brick wall in the one photo kind of gives it away. And if it were a real color photo, I'd expect to see a bit of color separation here and there, in places where the color plates didn't quite match (plus a real color photo of the period would have looked far too nice for a newspaper print).

  4. It's a hand colored black and white. You can use dry dyes and a q tip to color or paint on a matte paper. Dry dyes are very expensive-I have a set, believe me-this looks like a. paint job to enhance the wall. The eyes were probably done in blue because they either lacked paint or wanted them to pop out more.