But what I want to share today was a discovery we made after the play. Our group returned to the Magic Castle to ring in the birthday of "Princess Irene" Larsen at midnight. But before the clock struck 12, Lisa and I stole down to the closed library where she wanted to show me a recent discovery in their special "locked case" collection.
It was a copy of the book The Missing Link in Modern Spiritualism by A. Leah Underhill of the Fox Family, which had belonged to Houdini. Tipped inside were two remarkable letters. The first was from Houdini to his friend and research assistant Oscar Teale. What I love about this letter is it's a great slice of life, and it reveals a different side of Houdini. And have we ever heard about this Long Island rental before?
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Now, not to get all Bernard Meyer on us, but it seems to me that this letter comes from a Houdini who is a little depressed. There's also a strong sense of abandonment here, both by Bess and Teale. Houdini was almost certainly a workaholic, and I do think he was prone to slipping into funks when he wasn't working. It's not the first time this depressed Houdini shows himself while on vacation. It's also worth noting that this letter was written the day before the 12th anniversary of his mother's death. That could be the real explanation for his mood here, even if Houdini wasn't aware of it himself.
The second letter is Teale's response, and it's just as personal and revealing. Teale seems to be going out of his way to cheer up Houdini and reassure him that he isn't alone (I unfortunately didn't photograph page 1 in which Teale explains why he wasn't able to make it to the S.A.M. meeting). Teale was an older man, and as a past National President of the S.A.M. (1908-09), he might have been somewhat of a father figure to Houdini. This unique exchange hints at that kind of a relationship.
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Teale tipped these letters into the book and it remained part of his collection until his death. Today many of Teale's books, several of which had come direct from Houdini, are housed at the William Larsen Sr. Memorial Library at the Magic Castle.
Thanks again to Lisa and Tim for the invite to the play, and permission to share this treasure here on WILD ABOUT HARRY.
- Houdini's hurt feelings
- Haversat & Ewing Galleries auction starts January 25 (Teale/Houdini photo)