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Along with this remarkable photo comes a remarkable story. According to our source, Houdini's body arrived at the building at 9AM on November 4 in his glass-topped bronze "show coffin." But the Elks purchased another coffin, a traditional wooden coffin, and placed the bronze coffin inside of that for the viewing. Houdini was then given last rites by two Rabbis, and also received traditional Masonic Rites.
Some 2000 people then filed past the open casket (which gave a view of the glass-topped casket inside). After the last person left the building, the Elks removed the bronze coffin and carried it to the front door of the lodge room. There they handed it over to the pallbearers who carried it down the stairs, through the lobby, and out the front door to the waiting hearse. What's interesting is our source says the Elks placed flowers over the top of the casket to hide the glass top and obscure any view of the body inside. Indeed, in all the film footage of Houdini's casket being transported to Machpelah, the entire top is covered with flowers or foliage of some kind.
But the story doesn't end there. The Elks kept the wooden casket they had used that day, and after a few months in storage, they put it on display in the lobby roped off with a portrait of Houdini. As NY #1 was a private clubhouse, it was only ever seen by members. The Elks would also use the coffin during initiation ceremonies. The candidate/initiated would be blindfolded, placed inside Houdini's coffin, and carried up the stairs into the lodge room while a pipe organ played a funeral march. There it would be opened and the candidate asked if he wished to continue. (Our source emphasizes that the Elks do not do these kinds of initiations today.)
After the Elks lost the building in 1934, Houdini's coffin was moved to a few different locations, before settling at the Elks Temple in North Tonawanda, N.Y. There it was kept, and possibly displayed, until the building burned down in 2010-11.
Wild stuff, eh?
Now, I can't personally vouch for this photo's authenticity. All I can do is trust our source and share what he shared with me. But the photo is definitely the inside of NY #1, and was identified as Houdini's funeral by high ranking Elks in a position to know. The details of the funeral where taken from actual Elk meeting minutes. Also, our source sends over this photo of Houdini's gold Elks Club membership card case. Just another secret Houdini Elks artifact that has remained unseen...until now.
Postscript: Because I expect this will prompt some discussion in our Comments, below are the two other photographs said to be Houdini in death. One comes from a morticians trade magazine and is captioned as being Houdini at the West End Funeral Chapel (this photo also appears in The Secret Life of Houdini). The other is a personal photo from the collection of Jon Oliver. On it Bess has written: "This is the last photo of Houdini."
Click to enlarge.
UPDATE: You can see the uncovered casket as it was lowered into the ground HERE. There's also a reference to this Elks Card Case in a letter from Kit Clarke to Houdini dated May 14, 1918. Clarke writes: "That was very nice of the Elks to present you with a diamond studded case for your card."