When Houdini became fascinated with aviation in 1909, he bought a French Voisin biplane in Germany. But he needed a place to fly it. So Houdini made a deal with the commander of German army troops stationed at Wandsbek near Hamburg. In exchange for using the Hufaren parade grounds as his airfield, Houdini would give aviation lessons to the German soldiers. Proudly, Houdini had photos taken of himself and his "students" on the day of his first flight, November 26, 1909.
When World War I broke out several years later, Houdini became swept up in the patriotic fervor of the day, selling war bonds and even enlisting for service himself. But, privately, he fretted about the flying lessons he had given to the German soldiers at Wandsbek, fearing that he was responsible for teaching them skills now being used against U.S. and allied troops. So he destroyed all photos of himself with the German soldiers, and relocated the stories of his early aviation triumphs to Australia.
But this photo reprint seems to have slipped through and found its way to Marshall – which is where I found it and bring it to you today. It's the photo Houdini didn't want you to see. (If you need help finding Harry, click here.)
Click to enlarge.
Thanks to Alex and Keli Hindenach of the American Museum of Magic for making me a copy of this photo and allowing me to share it here. The American Museum of Magic's Research Center is available to researchers by appointment.
Information on the Wandsbek parade grounds deal is found in The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush and Larry Slomon, which contains the best chapters on Houdini's aviation exploits.
Stay tuned for more from the archives of the American Museum of Magic.