Friday, June 13, 2014

Houdini's last train ride

Canadian Pacific no. 2327 leaving Windsor Station, Montreal, in 1926.
(Canadian Pacific Corp Archives)

Following up on the Comments in my recent post about the Prince of Wales assault, Joe Notaro of HHCE has uncovered a 1926 railroad time table that may show the details of Houdini's overnight train ride from Montreal to Detroit on October 23-24. It's generally believed that it was on this journey that Houdini's inflamed appendix burst and sealed his fate. Says Joe:

"I found a 1926 Canadian Pacific Railway Time Table (snapshot attached), and according to Table 45, the Chicago Express (21) had a sleeper car that according to Table 46 was scheduled to leave at 11:00 pm from Montreal and arrive at Michigan Central Depot in Detroit at 2:20 pm traveling a distance of 569.3 miles. That is a travel time of 15 hours and 20 minutes if it was on schedule and left on time."

Click to enlarge

While aboard the train, Houdini's abdominal pain became so great that he finally told Bess about the dressing room punch in Montreal. When the train made a brief stop in London, Ontario, a cable was sent to the advance man in Detroit to have a doctor waiting for Houdini at his hotel. But the train arrived late and the troop had to go directly to the Garrick Theater.

There Dr. Leo Dretzka examined Houdini on the floor of his dressing room and recommend that he go to the hospital. But Houdini refused to disappoint the sold-out crowd and performed with a 104 degree temperature. His reportedly opened the show by telling the audience, "We've just made a thousand-mile journey from Montreal, and we are tired."

Thank you Joe.



  1. Dr. Dretzka must have told Houdini in that dressing room that he had symptoms of appendicitis. And yet he refused to go to the hospital. What was he thinking?

    1. Well, Dretzka did say that's what he diagnosed. But sometimes I wonder about that. No-one heard this, and all the other doctors that night, based on the information Houdini provided about the punch, misdiagnosed him. It wasn't known he had appendicitis until the operation (or they would have done it sooner). So are we to believe Dretzka made the correct diagnosis, but somehow that never made it to the other doctors? Or did Dretzka make the same incorrect diagnosis and only say he diagnosed appendicitis to the newspapers after the fact? It does seen likely that Houdini would have gone to the hospital had he heard appendicitis. Another mystery.

    2. I actually have a theory on that.

      You know how people Google their symptoms nowadays to find that WebMD tells them that they're dying of something? As a result of their constant appearance, people generally dismiss those results in favor of more everyday, less deadly ailments that are more in line with what they attribute the causes to be.

      If Dretzka pulled a WebMD and said "You could be suffering from a, b, or c", where one's appendicitis and the other 2 are logical, less pressing, issues that one might expect after being punched in that manner, and explaining the urgency of each, then he could honestly claim that he told Houdini that he might have appendicitis and stressed that such a diagnosis would require immediate hospitalization, while still not actually conveying an appropriate level of urgency.

      He needn't necessarily be lying (per se) while still not telling the full truth about the situation.

      Like I said, it's just a theory, but I can see how it'd work out. Like someone said in a comment on another post on this site, one needn't be a medical professional to suggest appendicitis when hearing about pain in that region--but that doesn't mean it's the only thing suggested or, of all the suggestions offered, the thing accepted as the most likely candidate.

    3. That is an excellent theory, Walt. Yes, I can imagine it playing out exactly like that.

  2. The Dretzka info came from that article "the last man to see Houdini alive."
    It's very good. I have no problem with Dretzka calling appendicitis when he examined Houdini. Houdini ignored him. There was no reason why any other doctors shared Dretzka's diagnosis or even knew about it. And it was already too late. Never mind that, As I read Julia Sauer, Julia Karcher and Sophie Rosenblatt, Bessie understood that Houdini had let a college kid punch him in the stomach and he caught him wrong, when they got back to the theatre Friday afternoon. P.S. I have turned up something else about the coffin escape in Boston.