|Karen Mann and her father Jacques Price.
Now I'm honored to share a Q&A interview I was able to conduct with Dr. Mann via email. While she isn't able to answer all our deepest questions or help confirm or dispel the many conspiracy theories that have grown up around this incident, it's still incredible to hear from someone personally associated with the most infamous moment in Houdini history. So without further ado, here's Karen!
WAH: First, can you please tell us a little about yourself?
KM: I am the only child, and only daughter of Jacques Price and his wife Margo. I live in Halifax Nova Scotia. I am a university professor in medical education, and although I have 'officially' retired, I still work at things I love, like teaching, and am probably employed about 75%of time. My husband and I live in Halifax, and he too is partially retired from the University. I have three grown children, and we have 8 almost 9 grandchildren.
WAH: Can you tell us a little about your father, Jack Price, and what happened to him after McGill University?
KM: After McGill, my dad found his way to University of Toronto, where he studied civil engineering, graduating in the late 30s. I think he worked for some time before he went to university. It was in Toronto that he met my mother, who was from Niagara Falls. They married in 1940, and moved to Nova Scotia, via Prince Edward island. My dad served in the Royal Air Force in the War, as a squadron Leader, who taught calculus to pilots. He spent his work life as a self-employed civil engineer, a profession which he loved.
WAH: Do you remember when you first learned that your father was one of the students in the dressing room on Oct. 22, 1926, when Houdini was punched?
Jack Price sat center on Oct. 22.
KM: I learned about it from Donald Bell, who was researching and writing a book called The Man Who Killed Houdini. He contacted me as he had been trying to find my dad without success. He had gone to the UK, and found my dad's sisters who were still living in Blackpool and Preston, in the North of England. He found them through the local Synagogue, which was also how I learned that my dad was Jewish. Someone told him there, that my dad had a daughter in Halifax, and as Halifax is a small place, he found me without too much difficulty. I think it was sometime in 1992.
WAH: Do you remember exactly what your father told you about that day?
KM: I asked my dad about the incident, and the first thing he said was 'I didn't do anything wrong'. I think back on that now, and realize that there may have been a lot of questions around exactly what happened, and he was very cautious. He did tell me a little about it, just as the incident has been reported.
WAH: Did your father ever hint that he thought J. Gordon Whitehead deliberately tried to injure Houdini that day?
KM: WE didn't discuss it. At the time, I didn't know enough about the story to ask those questions.
WAH: Some think that Houdini's lawyer, Bernard Ernst, manipulated the details of the dressing room incident to aid his insurance claim for an accidental death. Did your father ever say anything about being manipulated or that his affidavit wasn't the full truth of what happened?
KM: No, he didn't. We didn't get to chat about it again. My mom died shortly thereafter and my dad within a few months. He was also a very private man all his life.
WAH: Did you know if your father went to see Houdini's lecture at McGill, or if he had ever seen Houdini perform on stage?
KM: I think he had. I think he was interested in meeting him, and so was happy to go backstage with his friend, Sam Smilovich.
WAH: Did your father stay in contact with Sam Smilovich after college? Did you know Sam?
Sam Smilovich in 1994.
KM: I don't know for sure; however when I spoke with him, I remember his being aware of what had happened with Sam following their time together, so they must have done in some way, perhaps not directly.
WAH: Did your father ever tell you what happened to the sketch Sam did of Houdini that day in the dressing room?
KM: No- wouldn't it be wonderful to see!
WAH: Did your father talk about the dressing room incident in public? Was it general knowledge among his friends that he was one of the eyewitnesses to the punch that may have killed Houdini?
KM: Absolutely not! He was reluctant to talk about it even with me. And when Don Bell called him following my conversation with him, my dad told him he didn't want to discuss it. No one knew. My mother was unaware even, until I told her.
WAH: Finally, how was the seance in Nova Scotia? Any strange phenomena occur?
KM: The séance in Nova Scotia was a wonderful experience from start to finish. I felt very pleased to be there and really enjoyed meeting all the people who are so interested in and knowledgeable about Houdini. I'm not sure whether we actually heard anything, as our medium was unable to play back the tape very clearly. He (the medium) said that he could hear chains clanging- whether Houdini's or those of a ghost purported to live in the Citadel where the séance was held. My most enduring thought about the séance is that I really felt it connected me with my dad, who died in 1993. I especially appreciated the opportunity to say a few words about him.
Please join me in thanking Dr. Karen Mann for sharing her recollections of her father with all of us here at WILD ABOUT HARRY.
Photos from The Man Who Killed Houdini by Don Bell. Also thanks to Bruce MacNab for making this possible.