Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Double Fold's inspirational journey to auction

Among the big Houdini news this month has been the reappearance of the custom made box Houdini used in his famous Double Fold Death Defying Mystery (which was an enhanced version of his Milk Can escape). That box will be going up for auction as part of Potter & Potter's massive sale of Houdiniana set for this Saturday, August 23.

But the box has not been as hidden as I first thought. In fact, it's been out on the road as part of a Gospel magic act by Gary Collins and his family. Ironically, Gary may have used the prop more than Houdini or Hardeen! Says Gary:

"My wife and I traveled for 30 years performing in churches across the U.S. I started in '71, sold my house, bought an Airstream trailer and van to pull it. As we acquired more equipment out tow vehicles got larger.

Wendy and I were married in August of '74 and in Sept I received a list of used magic from. LaWain's House of Magic. On the list was a trunk that he said was Houdini's. I wrote and asked if it was real and he said it was so I bought it.

We would be in a church from Sunday through Wed/Thur. We would display the trunk and mention that I would be escaping from it one of the nights during the week. I asked them to bring padlocks. I would get in the trunk and be handcuffed or have stocks put on my wrists or both, it changed over the years. Wendy and our daughter would put the top on, lock the hasps, have the people put their padlocks on. We would say that I would escape in 60 seconds. If possible I would do a run a round to the back of the church. I would not be out in 60 seconds, so Wendy would have the people get their padlocks off, open the lid and I would run in from the back. It was fun and the people enjoyed it. Thousands of people saw it over the years.

You mentioned that it was rumored that the trunk existed but nobody knew where it was. Because I performed in churches, never at a convention, never wrote a book or lectured, to the magic community, I didn't exist.

We stopped traveling in 2000 and now I am in the process of selling all of my equipment.  [...] Since we used the box for 30 years, I am assuming we used it more that Houdini and Hardeen combined. We just never had the water can. But we got a lot of enjoyment out of it and the people had fun."

Below is a terrific clipping Gary sent me about one of his many appearances with Houdini's Double Fold box. Below that is a letter from the previous owner, Jack La Wain, explaining how he came into possession of the famous prop.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

A very big thank you to Gary Collins for sharing his story with us. While I doubt the next owner will be performing the escape, let's hope they will enjoy and cherish it as much as the Collins family.

You can see the Double Fold Death Defying Mystery box for yourself starting TODAY at Potter & Potter's auction exhibition preview at 3759 N. Ravenswood Ave., Suite 121, Chicago, IL 60613.



  1. Wow, what a great "hidden in plain sight" story!...and it has a happy-ending too.

    Too often we hear, "Oh, we didn't know what that old thing was, so we gave it to the junk man" - or - "We used it for firewood".

  2. I remember seeing a picture of the chest in the old (Kardwell) "The Magic Magazine" back in the 70's with someone wanting to verify that it was Houdini's.

    1. Joe Fox found that in the October 1975 The Magic Magazine. HERE IT IS.

  3. Some of us remember this for sure. Gary's had more slats then the Houdini box.

  4. There is a lot of history and facts yet to be discovered. What makes all of this so interesting.

  5. It's amusing to know that the box wound up with a magician named Collins, since it was Collins who most likely built it.

  6. David: Time to check my "The Magic Magazine" issues tonight!

  7. Gary also took good care of this piece of apparatus, given all of the miles he logged on it. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the curators for the ill fated Houdini Hall of Fame museum.