Now collector Thomas Ewing of Haversat & Ewing Galleries shares with us firm evidence that Houdini did perform the Buried Alive in September 1926. Below is a letter written by Houdini to magician James S. Harto during the week of Sept. 27 when he was performing the Worcester Opera House in Worcester, Massachusetts. I've excerpted the key paragraph below:
|Click to enlarge.|
I put on my Buried Alive mystery this week -- calling it the Mystery of the Sphinx. I am placed into a coffin with a glass front that is lowered into a vault which has a glass, so I can be seen all of the time -- until the sand completely covers everything -- one ton. Fastenings on the vault and in about two minutes I make my escape. I like it very much. Have everything to make it look Egyptian but am not going to do it except on two or three week stands.
What I love about this is it confirms all our speculations. Houdini's description of the effect confirms that it is the same escape he first developed in 1914. His description of an "Egyptian" theme supports that this later Buried Alive! poster is for this stage effect and not for his underwater tests (even though "Egyptian Fakirs Outdone" is a reference to Rahman Bey). We also see that Houdini only planned to perform the effect on "two or three week stands," so it's likely this was the last time he ever did it.
This performance of Buried Alive was first revealed in Kenneth Silverman's Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss (page 406), so Silverman gets credit for bringing this out first. But I suspect this letter was Silverman's source, and it's cool to read the description of this effect in Houdini's own words. And while Silverman (and later Kalush) say this was the "debut" of Buried Alive, this ad shows that he might have actually first performed the effect at the Majestic Theater in Boston [see update below].
It's also worth noting that while Houdini says he called this effect the "Mystery of the Sphinx," his program lists it as "The Secret of the Sphinx."
Now if we only had a photograph of this! I still have trouble getting my head around exactly how Houdini staged what must have been an enormous stage escape. Could it really have been a "ton" of sand?
|Click here for full poster.|
Thank you Tom Ewing for sharing this remarkable letter.
UPDATE: I'm now been able to establish that Houdini did the Buried Alive at the Majestic Theater in Boston during the week of September 20th. This was his third week in Boston and proceeded his appearance in Worcester. As far as I've discovered, this was the first appearance of the Buried Alive.
|The Boston Globe, Sept. 22, 1926.|