Monday, October 31, 2016


Over the weekend I shared the story of the secret message code arranged between Houdini and his good friend magician William Hilliar [read: William Hilliar and the lost Houdini message code]. Houdini wrote the code in a Thesaurus that he gave Hilliar in 1917. Hilliar showed the message to no one, and after his death, the book with the message was lost...until now.

Turns out Hilliar did not keep the book under lock and key as he claimed. After Hilliar's death in 1936 it remained at The Billboard offices in New York where it was used as, yes, a thesaurus! That's when collector John Braun visited the office.

In 1973, Braun sent a letter to his friend Robert Lund, founder of the American Museum of Magic in Marshall, Michigan. In it he wrote:

Years ago, before THE BILLBOARD moved from their old office to Opera Place in Cincinnati, I stopped in to say hello to Bill Sachs, and saw a well-used looking thesaurus gathering dust on the window sill. Houdini had given it to his good friend Bill Hilliar and autographed it in leadpencil Dec. 2, 1917. It's still useful as a thesaurus, and I have one. I'm sure you do too, but this, in collector's language, is an "Association Item," I believe. I will not sell it, but I'll give it to you if you want it! Let me know. Bill gave it to me!

It's clear Braun did not understand the significance of the message inside the book. But apparently Bob Lund did. He never put the book on display in his museum. Instead, he kept it locked away and never showed anyone the secret message. At one point he considered offering a prize for anyone who could divine the message within.

Lund passed away in 1995. It's unclear if his wife Elaine (who was born in Grace hospital in 1926 on the day Houdini was admitted) understood the significance of the book. It was soon swallowed up in the massive museum archives where it remained unseen for years.

Then in 2006, a researcher (who wishes to remain anonymous) rediscovered the book. He came to understand the significance of the inscription and took photos. But as far as anyone at the museum knew, it was just another signed Houdini book. It was even displayed for a period of time in the Houdini exhibit. But when I visited the museum in 2015, the book was gone.

In August I received a friendly email from the researcher who had discovered the book in 2006. Fearing that "everything has been separated" and "history may get lost," he felt the time was right to tell the story and show the world the secret code. And what better day to do it than on the 90th anniversary of Houdini's death.

Here is the Houdini-Hilliar message code:

Click to enlarge.

A you can see, Houdini has written "Semper Idem" (sometimes spelled "Eadem"). This is a Latin phrase meaning "Always The Same." It was also the motto of the first Queen Elizabeth. Possibly this connection to England held private meaning for Hilliar and Houdini (Hilliar was English).

If you click to enlarge the image, you can also see that the message does indeed look like it's been traced over in pencil, so that part of Hilliar's strange tale, in which he claimed the message vanished after Houdini's death, seems to hold up. Luckily for us, the message has not vanished again and remains for all of us to see today.

And what does Houdini think about his code returning on this day? Click below and believe.

on the
October 31, 1926

UPDATEHalloween postscript.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

William Hilliar and the lost Houdini message code

This is something I've held back for a special occasion, and what could be more special than the 90th anniversary of Houdini's death! This is a two-part post, with the big reveal coming on Monday (Halloween). But today let me tell the backstory of the mysterious Houdini-Hilliar message code.

William J. Hilliar was a British magician and escape artist who was good friends with Houdini.  [Read: Houdini and Hilliar.] Hilliar was the founder of the Sphinx magazine and went on to become the editor of The Billboard magazine. After Houdini's death, he wrote a series of articles for Billboard titled, "Is Harry Houdini Trying to Communicate with Me?" In it he revealed that he owned a very special Houdini artifact.

Here's the story as told by Hilliar himself.

We often discussed spiritualism and what it would mean to him if he could get a message from his departed loved one. He told me that if he died before them he would leave a secret code with his wife and brother, so that if he found it possible to send a message from the other world they would know it was really from Houdini. I begged him to leave one with me, but he merely looked intently into my eyes and nothing else was said of the matter at that time. 
December 2, 1917, he came into The Billboard offices, then located at 42d and Broadway, and gave me a copy of Roget's Thesaurus. Upon opening the book I found an inscription written by Houdini in pencil and, as I started to thank him, he whispered: "Hilliar, there is OUR code, but never breathe it to a living soul. If I go first and you get a message from me which includes these words you will know it is genuine. If you pass on first I will look for the same from you." 
No so-called medium, or anybody else, has ever given me the slightest hint of a genuine message from Houdini, but strange and unexplained incidents have happened to those penciled words–call them coincidence or what you will–in addition to other mysterious occurrences, which will be described in future installments, that I am convinced the great mystifier is trying to get in touch with me.

In a later installment, Hilliar continued his strange tale:

Three weeks after Houdini died I opened the book–and it almost fell from my hands. His signature was still plainly visible, but THE CODE WORDS HAD FADED OUT.
I consulted handwriting experts, without of course divulging the reason, and each one told me that while ink will fade from paper in the course of time, penciled writing will not, no matter how much it may be exposed to light.

I looked into the book (which by the way had never left my possession since Houdini gave it to me, always being kept under lock and key) several days in succession and eventually discovered a peculiar phase of the situation. While the writing had vanished, the slight grooves left on the paper from the original penciling remained, and I carefully traced them over. Since that time my own penciling of the code has disappeared overnight on several occasions.

Was this Houdini trying to contact his old friend? Hilliar came to believe that it was.

On November 15, 1936, just before his 60th birthday, William J. Hilliar took his own life.

So what ever happened to Hilliar's Thesaurus? And what was the secret code Houdini wrote in the book for his friend? This has remained a frustrating mystery for more than a half century.

But that's about to change.

Yes, this is THE book, and on Halloween at 1:26 PM (EST), the precise time of Houdini's death 90 years ago, I will open the book and reveal the long lost Houdini-Hilliar message code for all...if it hasn't faded out!

So come back here on Monday for:

First subscriber's copy of Conjurers' Monthly sells for $20,910

The first subscriber's copy of Houdini's Conjurers' Monthly Magazine inscribed to Oscar Teale sold for a remarkable $20,910 in today's Potter & Potter auction of The Magic Collection of David Baldwin (Lot 279). The auction estimate was $3,000 - $5,000. Sale price includes the buyers premium.

Description: Houdini, Harry (Ehrich Weiss). First Subscriber’s Copy of the First Issue of Conjurers’ Monthly Inscribed and Signed by Houdini, Together with an Inscribed and Signed Photo of Houdini. August/September, 1906. Two pieces, matted in handsome presentation in a gilt wooden frame. Including Oscar S. Teale’s copy of the first issue of Houdini’s magazine Conjurer’s Monthly, inscribed and signed by Houdini: “To O. Teale, the first subscriber./This copy is the first one sent to anyone!! The regular subscribers will get theirs when others are made. 14th Sept. 1906/ Harry Houdini.” Together with a 1906 portrait of Houdini, inscribed and signed: “Aug 14/06. Dear Mr. T/Your dollar to hand for yearly subs. for Conj. Mag. and you are the first one to send money, therefore you are the first authentic subscriber/ Thanks/Houdini.” Both pieces torn in places, the magazine cover toned in nameplate. 21 x 12”. Not examined out of frame. Unique.

Houdini launched his Conjurers' Monthly Magazine in September 1906. The magazine ran for 23 issues until August 1908. In 1945, Hardeen helped revived it as The New Conjurors' Magazine, which lasted until 1949.

Overall, this latest Potter auction saw some remarkably high prices, with a Robert-Houdin Electric Pendulum Clock selling for $61,500 and another for $51.660. I tried for two Houdini photos (Lots 282 & 286), but lost out on both. (Still looking for my "Moses Buy" for 2016.)


The Official Houdini Séance 2016 details revealed

Should Houdini decide to return on this 90th anniversary of his death, he certainly has a choice of destinations, with seances being held in New York, Marshall, Danville and Colon. But the longest running of them all is the historic "Official Houdini Séance" which this year is being held at the Oriental Theatre in Milwaukee. Today I have some details of what to expect from the evening.

The event this year is being co-hosted by Dead Man's Carnival, a Milwaukee based Vaudevillian, Circus, and Burlesque show, and will offer up a full evening of music and magic open to the public. Period magic will be performed by Bob Rath, John Kurtz and Maria. Escapes will be performed by Glen Gerard and Ron Fable.

Houdini historian David Saltman, who has done important research on Houdini's childhood in Milwaukee, will be there to present his latest findings. David is arriving early to do some on-the-ground research and has already given a taste of what to expect at his blog The Houdini File. I'm looking forward to all of David's reports!

But the séance will be the true focal point of the evening, and this year the organizers have retained Rev. Lynette Corsten, a medium and astrologer. The Official Houdini Séance is distinctive in that it employees a real medium and conducts the séance with all seriousness. At the table will be Houdini notables: Bill Radner, Tom Boldt, Fred Pittella, Dr. Bruce Averbook, Robert Somerdin, Midge Markey and David Saltman.

The Official Houdini Séance 2016 will be held October 31 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 and available HERE. For more information, visit the event's Facebook Page.

Keep up with all the 90th anniversary Houdini events via #Houdini90th.


Friday, October 28, 2016

FLASHBACK: Houdini's pal Hilliar

As we count down to Halloween and the 90th anniversary of Houdini's death, I'm kicking off my own celebration with a flashback to this post from 2013 about and Houdini and his good friend magician William J. Hilliar.

This is a warm-up for a very special two-part post that I'll roll out tomorrow (Oct. 29) and on Monday (Halloween). It's my way of commemorating this 90th year, and is something I've been holding back for a special occasion. I think you will find it "revealing."

But for today, click to revisit: Houdini and Hilliar.

Houdini Séance Demonstration in Danville, Oct. 31

Here's yet another Halloween event to mark the 90th anniversary of Houdini's death. Illusionist Wayne Alan presents a "90th Anniversary Houdini Séance Demonstration" at his Historic North Theatre in Danville, Virginia at 12:30 PM on October 31. Here's a description:

A demonstration of séance stunts popular in the 1920’s will be conducted at the Historic North Theatre by Celebrity Magician Wayne Alan. Mr. Alan is an authority on Houdini and has been researching his life for over 40 years. This fascinating, fun and eerie show/presentation will last 50 minutes. At 1:26 PM, Houdini’s time of death, everyone will hold hands and we will wait for 1 minute and 26 seconds for a sign from the other side.

Tickets are $10 an can be reserved by calling 434-793-SHOW (7469). Only 90 tickets will be sold.

    Thursday, October 27, 2016

    S.A.M. dedicates historic plaque and honors Deborah Hardeen in New York

    Yesterday George Schindler, dean of the Society of American Magicians, dedicated a historical plaque at 244 East 79th Street in New York City. The building was once Mrs. Loeffler's boarding house, where the Weiss family first lived when they came to New York. The plaque honors the location as "Home of Harry Houdini 1887." It will be placed on the building's facade sometime this week.

    Schindler also presented Houdini family member Deborah Hardeen with a honorary plaque on behalf of the S.A.M. and Sojourn restaurant (which is housed in the historic building and hosted the event). Deborah is the granddaughter of Theo Hardeen. She traveled from Connecticut for the event with her daughter.

    Deborah said she grew up hearing stories about Houdini in school, but didn't know she was related until she was 12 years old when she discovered a letter addressed to "Harry Houdini Hardeen" and asked her father to explain. She said her father used to roll a coin across his fingers, a trick he had learned from his own father, Hardeen.

    George Schindler also performed the annual Broken Wand Ceremony, which is normally held at the site of Houdini's grave in Queens. United States Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, New York State Senator Liz Krueger and New York State Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright attened the event.

    Despite Schindler telling stories about how the young Houdini and Hardeen practiced their magic at the boarding house, it's unclear if the entire Weiss family ever lived there. Current biographies say Ehrich and his father boarded there alone while the rest of the family remained in Milwaukee. The Weiss family later moved into a flat at 305 East 69th Street, which today are modern condos. When Houdini bought his brownstone in Harlem in 1904, it became the new Weiss family home.

    As reported earlier, Sojourn will also be the site of Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz "Original Houdini Seance" on Halloween.

    You can watch video of the press conference HERE.

    Photos from DNAinfo and MentalFloss.

    UPDATE: Our friend Joe Notaro has found this excellent quote from Hardeen in a November 1933 New York Evening Journal:

    “…we trekked to N.Y. Stopping on 79th st with Mrs. Leffler, mother of George and John, but don’t tell these managers that we still owe “Ma” for room rent. During that first Winter, experiencing the Great Blizzard of “1888” and receiving much food from Mrs. Leffler, and studying at P.S 70”


    The ROUGH RIDERS come to life

    Here's a fun promotional film for the upcoming collected volume of ROUGH RIDERS, a series by Adam Glass that finds Houdini in action alongside Teddy Roosvelt, Annie Oakley, Jack Johnson, Thomas Edison and Monk Eastman.

    ROUGH RIDERS Volume 1 will released December 14 and can be pre-ordered at Aftershock. The final installment of the series, ROUGH RIDERS #7, will be released November 2.


    Wednesday, October 26, 2016

    Fred Pittella inherits Larry Weeks estate

    Some important news in the word of magic today. Houdini collector and all around good guy Fred Pittella has inherited the estate of Larry Weeks who passed away in 2014. That's the good news. The bad news is a large portion of Larry's collection, including many important Houdini artifacts, vanished from his apartment following his death. Now that legal hurtles have been cleared, Fred could use some help. Below is the full press release.

    Fred Pittella with Larry Weeks and Houdini assistant Dorothy Young.
    It’s official. After a two-year long, legal proceeding, Fred Pittella of Queens Village, New York will now inherit the entirety of the Larry Weeks estate.

    Unfortunately, there were many items removed from Larry Weeks’ apartments that shouldn’t have been, just as Mr. Weeks was taken ill, in the hospital, and during Mr. Pittella’s battle to have Mr. Weeks laid to rest.

    At this time, no one is accusing anyone of anything directly. It could be understood why people may have removed items from the apartment in order to save them from being lost to the State or even thrown in the garbage by the landlord because people did not know Larry Weeks’ had documented his last wishes.

    There are quite a number of items missing from The Larry Weeks estate that belong to and are now the sole property of Fred Pittella. These items mysteriously vanished from Mr. Weeks’ apartment. Some of the missing items include, but are not limited to the entire 16mm and 35mm film library which included many historic films (many were Houdini related / over fifty cans of films), The Houdini Spiritualist slide show, a part of the handcuff and key collection (the lineage of this collection will be lost forever, unless it is returned), Houdini books (some signed), Houdini Photos (some signed), other Harry Houdini and Bess Houdini autographs, two Houdini scrapbooks (one oversized and one small), and countless pieces of personal jewelry.

    Before the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office gets involved again in a full scale investigation, this would be an opportunity to send anything back anonymously. If anyone has any information or any of the items that were removed from the apartment there will be no-questions-asked policy and no legal action will be taken.

    A plea to the magic community for your help to choose not to deal in, purchase, or put up for auction any of these items. Please contact The Supervising Detective Investigator of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office regarding any information:

    Robert Addonizio · 350 Jay Street Brooklyn · NY 11201-2908 · 718.250.2444

    Mr. Weeks only sold or gave items after consulting with Mr. Pittella. Please use this address to send back items: Forum Novelties Inc. · c/o Fred Pittella · 1770 Walt Whitman Rd. Melville · NY 11747. If you wish to remain anonymous, please put the above address as the return address as well as the delivery address.

    Among the films now missing are said to be complete prints of Terror Island and The Mastery Mystery. Larry sold his print of The Grim Game (the only known print in existence) to TCM shortly before his death.


    MAGIA 18 celebrates Houdini's 90th

    Massimo Polidoro's Italian magic journal MAGIA: La Rivista Italian Di Cultura Magica devotes a large section of the just released issue 18 to the 90th anniversary of Houdini's death. This beautifully produced 162 journal contains articles about Houdini by Polidoro, James Randi, Silvan, and even yours truly (I guess I know Italian!).

    MAGIA Numero 18 can be purchased from

    Thanks to Massimo for the kind inclusion and my copy (above).


    LINK: Hidden Room’s 'Houdini Speaks to the Living’ creates Halloween magic

    The Hidden Room's production of Houdini Speaks to the Living has received a glowing review from austin360. The play features Patrick Terry as Houdini and Robert Matney as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It's running now through Oct. 30 at the York Rite Theater in Austin. A free performance will be held at the Harry Ransom Center on Halloween.

    Patrick Terry as Houdini. (Photo by Kimberley Mead.)
    "Terry’s work as a close-up magician in Houdini Speaks to the Living is immaculate. The play is performed in the Hidden Room’s atmospheric Masonic hall playing space, with the audience surrounding Terry as he conjures his illusions, making his work here all the more impressive. The magic tricks are mostly old classics, but that does not make them any less mind-boggling or, at times, downright spooky, making this a perfect Halloween-season treat."

    Click the headline above to read the full review at austin360. Tickets to Houdini Speaks to the Living can be purchased here.


    Tuesday, October 25, 2016

    Rare Houdini images from House of Roulx

    House of Roulx & Co. is offering limited editions of rare Houdini photos digitally mastered from the original glass negatives. Some are unpublished. Among them is a terrific solo shot of Houdini's dog Charlie. The site says the images are "From the Personal Collection of Harry Houdini." (I recognize them as coming from a 2015 RR auction.)

    "From slide to slide, his expression remains the same - a furrowed brow. His thoughts not entirely centered in the moment, but fixed on a distant point. On something just outside the periphery. His next journey into the impossible; the upcoming challenge, his mind working, formulating the route from entrapment to escape."

    What interesting about this collection is these all appear to be very personal photos. It's probably why these negatives were kept together. We see Houdini among Bess's family, Harry and Bess holding a baby (some have said this is Marie Blood), and, of course, there's Charlie. But the other photos show Houdini with identified older men. Who are they? Important relatives whose identities have been lost to time? Might these have even been taken in Budapest? A bit of a mystery.


    Houdini will get a call from Colon this year

    Looks like we can add Colon, Michigan, "the Magic Capital of the World," to the list of locations that will try to summon the spirit of Houdini this year. Ron Carnell, who does a regular comedy magic and dinner show at the River Lake Inn restaurant in Colon, will be adding a special Houdini seance to his show this Saturday, October 29.

    "We'll have a forty-five minute comedy magic show first," said Carnell, "Followed by a leisurely dinner, and then conclude the evening with the séance. How long that lasts will ultimately be up to Harry."

    The evening will also include a playing of the original recording of the Final Houdini Seance in 1936.

    "The Séance might be a little spooky," Carnell says, "But our shows at River Lake always put the emphasis on laughter and fun. If we're successful this year, I suspect we'll discover Harry still has a great sense of humor."

    The "Tribute to Houdini" Magic Show and Séance starts at 5:30 p.m. The cost to attend is $29.99, which also includes dinner. Seating is limited, so call (269) 432-2626 or visit the River Lake Magic website for tickets and information.

    Below are links to more seance celebrations marking this 90th anniversary of Houdini's death.


    Monday, October 24, 2016

    S.A.M. Houdini press conference in NYC, Oct. 26

    Click to enlarge.
    The Society of American Magicians (S.A.M.) will commence National Magic Week and the 90th Anniversary of Houdini's death with a special press conference and luncheon at Sojourn in New York this Wednesday, October 26 at 7 PM.

    There will be announcements of all the activities and events taking place throughout New York and the nation to honor the S.A.M.'s "Most Illustrious" past president. The event is free to magicians, illusionists, enthusiasts and fans. Relatives of the Houdini Family will also be in attendance.

    To RSVP, contact George Schindler at the number or email listed on the event invite (right).

    Sojourn is located at 244 East 79 St. in the building that was once Mrs. Loeffler's Boarding House, the site of Houdini's first New York home. The restaurant will also be the site of the "Original Houdini Seance" on Halloween.

    Keep up with all the 90th anniversary Houdini events via #Houdini90th.

    UPDATES.A.M. dedicates historic plaque and honors Deborah Hardeen in New York.


    Sunday, October 23, 2016

    The Kaiser and the King of Handcuffs tangle in 2017

    Yesterday I received my copy of Metamorphosis by Vivianne Perret, the first book in a new french series featuring the adventures of "Houdini Magicien et détective." Even though I don't read French, it still makes a nice addition to my shelf of Houdini fiction, and I was excited to see an advert for Book 2 in the back.

    Le Kaiser Et Le Roi Des Menottes ("The Kaiser and the King of Handcuffs") finds Harry and Bess in Berlin in 1900. The book will be released in Spring 2017. As I had expected and hoped, this fictional series roots Houdini in historically accurate times and places. I love this approach.

    Metamorphosis is available now via the French and It will be released on Kindle in the U.S. on November 9.

    Related posts:

    Saturday, October 22, 2016

    The beginning of the end

    It was 90 years ago today that Harry Houdini was playing at the Princess Theater in Montreal, Canada. He had lectured a few days earlier at McGill University, where he boasted about his ability to withstand blows to his stomach. He even took a blow from a student as a demonstration.

    On October 22, Houdini invited two McGill students, Sam Smilovitz (aka Smiley) and Jacques Price, to visit him at the theater. The boys arrived around 11:15 AM. Houdini was nursing a broken ankle, caused by an accident in the Water Torture Cell, so he reclined on his small dressing room couch and read mail while Smiley, an art student, sketched him. Smiley recalled that Houdini was kind, affable, and seemed to be trying "to impress upon us the he was 'one of the boys.'" He also recalled that Houdini appeared to be a man "much in need of a long, carefree vacation."

    As Smiley sketched, Houdini spoke. He told them that even though he found film production "highly interesting," he would not return to it. He said that in a year or two he would write a book containing many of his secrets, but would withhold publication for a long time.

    That's when a third student named J. Gordon Whitehead was shown into the dressing room. Whitehead was tall (six-foot-one) and spoke, as Smiley recalled, with "an exaggerated Oxford accent." He wore a blue gabardine coat that seemed too small for him. Whitehead was there to return a book Houdini had loaned him. Houdini invited him to have seat with the other boys.

    The talkative Whitehead began peppering Houdini with questions. Eventually he asked Houdini his opinion of the miracles mentioned in the Bible. Houdini declined to comment on "matters of this nature." Whitehead then asked if it was true he could withstand blows to his abdomen without injury, a question Smiley said "came out of a clear sky." Houdini said that it was.

    Whitehead rose up and started hitting Houdini in the stomach. He delivered several blows that Smiley described as being "terribly forcible, deliberate, well-directed." Eventually Houdini waved him off saying, "That will do."

    After the bizarre incident, the boys settled back and Smiley finished his sketch, which Houdini signed and dated for him. Looking at the image, Houdini is reported to have said, "You made me look a little tired in this picture. The truth is, I don't feel so well."

    Later that afternoon, Houdini's niece and show assistant Julia Sawyer found him in pain in the dressing room. Houdini explained that he had been struck in the stomach by a student before he had a chance to stand and get ready for the blow, "possibly because of a misunderstanding."

    Nine days later Houdini would die on Halloween from complications of a ruptured appendix.

    Here are collection of links related to Houdini's final days:

    Friday, October 21, 2016

    'Original Seance' to be held at site of Houdini's first New York home

    Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton will hold their "Original Houdini Seance" at the Sojourn Restaurant in New York City on October 31 at 12 PM. Among the attendees will be celebrity mentalist Marc Salem. The seance is open to the public. Admission is free.

    The choice of location is a meaningful one. Sojourn is located at 244 East 79 St., in a building that was once Mrs. Loeffler's Boarding House. It was here that young Ehrich Weiss and his father stayed when they first arrived in New York in 1887. Amazingly, the building would still be recognizable to Houdini and his father today.

    Dorothy and Dick's "Original" seance (not to be confused with the "Official" seance, which this year is being held in Milwaukee) traces back to Walter B. Gibson, who suggested that Dorothy carry on the annual seance tradition. Along with the American Museum of Magic's "Lox and Bagel" seance, it looks like Houdini is going to have a choice of destination on this 90th year!

    Marc Salem's new show "Haunted Mind" will play a special Halloween night event at The Gramercy Theatre at 127 E. 23rd Street in Manhattan.

    You can read the full Original Houdini Seance press release at


    Houdini starts speaking tonight in Austin

    The Hidden Room's production of Houdini Speaks to the Living debuts tonight at 8pm at the York Rite Temple in Austin, Texas. The play runs through October 30. A special free performance will be held at the Harry Ransom Center on Halloween.

    Houdini Speaks to the Living stars magician Patrick Terry as Houdini and Robert Matney as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Author Beth Burns took much of the dialogue straight from correspondence, essays, diaries, and books in the Harry Ransom Center’s Houdini and Conan Doyle collections.

    Beth recently told the Austin Chronicle: "I've spent so much time with the Ransom Center's incredible collections. I feel like Houdini and Doyle are my roommates now, because I sit with them and look at their correspondence and listen to them bicker. My job was specifically to activate the Houdini collection on the 90th anniversary of his death. And when I found out that Doyle's collection was nearby, we were all set – I've been poring over the documents, and I've learned so much about the two of them."

    For more information and to buy tickets visit The Hidden Room website. Below is a promo for the play from the Humanities Media Project.


    The House of Houdini Halloween party

    David Merlini's House of Houdini Museum in Budapest, Hungary is throwing a special Halloween party on Saturday, October 29th at 8:00 PM. Today is the last day to book, so if you're interested, RSVP to

    For more information, check out the event page on Facebook.


    Wednesday, October 19, 2016

    REVIEW: Bob Loomis delivers a Houdini masterclass

    Houdini's Final Incredible Secret by Bob Loomis is a masterclass in the study of Houdini and magic history. It's really one of the most remarkable works ever produced on any single magician. This densely packed 323 page book is about a single magic trick that Houdini performed once. That's it! How can that be a book? Well, imagine spending a week in Houdini's home, getting to know every aspect of his personality and his environment, and then travel with him step by step in the trial and error development of a single perfect magic feat. Yes, that's a book!

    The trick that is the focus of Bob's 20 year investigation was performed by Houdini for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Bernard M.L. Ernst in his New York home in 1922. Only one description of the trick exists, told by eyewitness Ernst in his 1932 book Houdini and Conan Doyle: The Story of a Strange Friendship (pages 240-245). The trick involved producing the written message "Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin" on a chalk slate suspended in the middle of a room in full view of Doyle and Ernst.

    Past books have mentioned the famous feat and some have attempted to explain it, including most recently The Secret Life of Houdini. Bob examines and dismisses all previous explanations, which he shows invent or omit key descriptive information to fit their own theories. Bob assigns himself the task of explaining the trick exactly as described by Ernst.

    It's clear that Bob is a researcher par excellence (he was the librarian at the Magic Circle in London). It's also clear he delights in doing research. Bob shares that joy by taking the reader step by step through every bit of his own process with lively prose. It might even be too much process for some. But even if one feels lost at times, there are gold nuggets along every part of the trail, so one never dares jump ahead.

    I was especially impressed with Bob's overview of Houdini's character (the good and bad) on pages 67-89. Even if one doesn't want to take this full journey, the first section of the book is required reading for anyone with a desire to better understand Houdini. Gold, gold, gold!

    So did Bob solve the mystery of Mene Tekel? Well, he certainly offers an explanation that is technically feasible, and he's backed it up with proof that the methods -- and there are several methods at work -- were all familiar to Houdini. The explanation is not simple or elegant. It requires divergent elements to work perfectly in sync, and the possibility of failure seems remarkably high. Maybe that's why Houdini only performed it once.

    One aspect of the explanation that I don't think Bob nailed as well as others is how Houdini acquired the message that Doyle wrote several blocks from Houdini's house. Bob offers several scenarios in which confederates on the street could have gotten a peek at the message. But it just seems high risk for Houdini to leave such an essential part of the trick in the hands of others and chance. It also just seems a little improbable that such a complicated and seemingly nonsensical message could be gotten from a glance or by watching the end of a pencil. And would Houdini really be able to canvas the entire neighborhood with confederates, including policemen? Well, this is Houdini we're talking about, so maybe!

    To his great credit, Bob takes Ernst at his word and accepts that Houdini not only had to fool Doyle, but Ernst as well (who remained with Houdini at all times). But I'm not entirely convinced Ernst was an innocent observer. He was Houdini's lawyer and confidant (consigliere?) in all matters. My own feeling is he was in on the trick. This would help explain some things. But there I go twisting the stated facts to fit my own ideas, just as others have done in the past. As I said, Bob doesn't give himself that luxury. As impossible as it all seems, Bob shows us that the impossible was possible.

    In the end, whether or not you fully agree with all of Bob's findings, you'll still agree that this is a remarkable book. In Houdini's Final Incredible Secret, Bob Loomis not only teaches us how Houdini did it, but he also gives a lesson in how to research Houdini and magic history in a meticulous and ethical way. It's a book that deserves a standing ovation.

    You can purchase Houdini's Final Incredible Secret at (U.S.) and (UK).


    Tuesday, October 18, 2016

    Houdini pinball playfield shown in Chicago

    Houdini and pinball collector Robert Somerdin shares with us this photo he took of the playflield for American Pinball's upcoming Houdini pinball machine. This was displayed at the Chicago Pinball Expo last weekend. Robert points out that it's still a prototype and subject to change, but it looks pretty cool! And is that Tony Curtis' "Pagoda Torture Cell" back there?

    Click to enlarge.

    The game, to be called "Houdini Master Mystery", was announced last month at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas.

    Thanks Robert!

    UPDATE: Here now is video:


    Monday, October 17, 2016

    Official Houdini Seance to be held in Milwaukee

    The Official Houdini Seance will be held this year at the Oriental Theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The event is being co-hosted by Dead Man's Carnival, a Milwaukee based Vaudevillian, Circus, and Burlesque show. Below are details.

    "The Offical Houdini Seance" & "Dead Man's Carnival" are proud to present this tribute to the worlds most famous magician on the 90th anniversary of his death.

    As many know, in his later life Houdini had been a crusader against fraudulent mediums. Making it his personal mission to expose con artists who prey on grief stricken family with claims of contacting departed loved ones. He also vowed to prove once and for all if contacting the afterlife was possible. Promising that if there was any way to escape from the afterlife he would find it. He created secret codes only known to a few fellow magicians, friends, and relatives. With this fail safe against trickery he planned to alert them from the world beyond.

    Each year on the anniversary of his passing fans honor his life and legacy with a sincere spiritualistic séance in attempt to make contact.

    The program will also include expert discussion of Houdini’s life, magical entertainment, and live era approperate music from our house band "The Magnificents".

    The Official Houdini Seance takes place on Oct. 31 at the Oriental Theatre on 2230 N. Farwell Ave. The show begins at 7:00 p.m. and continues through 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 and will be available soon. 
    For more information, visit the event's Facebook Page.

    Milwaukee makes a nice choice of location for the 90th year seance. Young Ehrich Weiss spent several formative years in the city. He even worked as a messenger boy and shoe shine on the streets. Maybe this year he'll come home.

    Keep up with all the 90th anniversary Houdini events via #Houdini90th.

    UPDATE: Tickets are now available HERE. Also, here's the official poster. Slick.


    Sunday, October 16, 2016

    How "The Houdinis" became "Houdini"

    When Harry and Bess set out on their showbiz careers in 1894, they billed themselves as "The Houdinis." But by the time they achieved their first success under Martin Beck's management in 1899, the act was now billed as just HOUDINI.

    I've often wondered how and when that change occurred? Was it Beck's idea to sideline Bess in the billing? That might have been an awkward conversation, especially as we know Houdini feared Bess's "brainstorms."

    But now I've stumbled on an article from the March 15, 1908 Pittsburgh Post Gazette Sun which, incredibly, describes that very conversation. As with other articles that focus on Bess -- "a little brown-haired bit of humanity" -- it's filled with oddities. Houdini introduced her onstage as his sister? But it also features a knockout shot of Bess and their dog Charlie that I've not seen before.

    I know the image quality is poor, so I've also excerpted the relevant paragraph below, but the entire article is worth the read if you can.

    Click to enlarge.

    "Harry," said the wife one day. "I have never known a act billed as 'Mr. and Mrs.' to succeed. Can you think of one?" He thought awhile and then shook his head in negation. "Well," said she, "suppose you bill yourself just as Houdini and leave me out of it." To make a long story short, the following week, "Mr. and Mrs. Houdini" disappeared from the program and the single word Houdini had taken their place. From that time dates the rising tide of Houdini's fortune.

    So is this true? Who knows. Bessie was as much a myth-maker as her husband. Remember the interview in which she talked about her daughter? But it's still a great tidbit.

    Check out the links below for more tales from The Houdinis early career.


    Saturday, October 15, 2016

    Evanion collection on display at the British Library

    The Guardian reports that the British Library has on display rare early magic items from the collection of Henry Evans Evanion, "royal conjurer and humourist." The library acquired the items from Evanion in 1895. This is the first time they have even been publicly displayed.

    One course, the name Henry Evans Evanion will ring a bell with Houdini buffs. In 1904-05, Houdini acquired many of his rarest magic treasures from Evanion. Houdini's first reaction to seeing items from his collection was: "I remember only raising my hands before my eyes, as if I had been dazzled by a sudden shower of diamonds."

    For the full story of Houdini and Henry Evans Evanion, check out my post from 2012: House of treasure.

    For more on the British Library display, visit the British Library website. The exhibition is free and runs through February 12, 2017.

    Related posts:

    Friday, October 14, 2016

    Trick or Treat

    The magic collecting community is abuzz today about this "Rare 1925 Post Card Back Stage Pass" currently on eBay. What an amazing find!!! And how secure was Houdini's show that he had to write himself his own backstage pass? Two days left!!! Place your bids!!! Will Copperfield swoop in and snatch this up for a cool million!?

    Here's a rare find. Small Postcard dated July 4th 1925. Houdini Backstage Pass signed Harry Houdini. Back has a 1 1/2 cent stamp. Marked on stamp Bay City Michigan. I recently purchased a collection of old books and found this item in one book. Little postcard measures 4 inches long by 2 1/2 inches wide. Average good condition with age yellowing as my pictures show. Rare item. None of these around. USA buyers only. Add $3.00 postage.

    Okay, maybe hold off on those bids for a sec. For those of us who have every page of every Houdini book imprinted on our brains, you'll immediately see this was clipped or copied from page 178 of The Original Houdini Scrapbook by Walter B. Gibson. They didn't even clip it properly -- you can still see the page graphics (drop shadow, etc.) around the edges. Below is the image as it appears in the book.

    It's not even clear if the pass depicted in the Gibson book was ever actually used by Houdini. Rick Ruhl over at Kevin Connolly's CONJURING HISTORY Facebook group points out that Tabby Crabb mocked up postcards using this image as "a hoax dedicated to Ted Annemann in the name of Max Abrams." So is this a fake of a fake?

    The seller claims to have found this in a book and doesn't appear to know anything about Houdini, so this could be innocent enough on their part (the auction currently has one bid). However, it does appear an effort was made to forge Houdini's real signature (note the Hs), so deception did play a part somewhere in history of this one.

    I'd pass on this pass.

    Thanks to Kevin Connolly and Rick Ruhl. Below are links to a few other recent dubious eBay auctions.

    UPDATE: Our great friend and mega collector Arthur Moses provides us with a look at what a real Houdini pass looked like. Thanks Arthur!

    UPDATE 2: The seller ended the auction early.

    Related posts:

    Second Young Houdini book released in Italy

    I missed this back in April, but it looks like Simon Nicholson's second Young Houdini novel has been released in Italy with illustrations by artist Iacopo Bruno.

    La maledizione dello scorpione is published by Piemme and is available to purchase from the Italian The book was first published in English as The Demon Curse and is set in New Orleans.

    Nicholson's first book was published by Piemme last year as L'Ordine del Corvo Bianco.

    The (wholly fictional) Young Houdini series comprised three books: The Magician's Fire, The Demon Curse and The Silent Assassin. The final book was only released in the UK.

    Related posts:

    Wednesday, October 12, 2016

    Original Master Mystery poster headed to auction

    Haversat & Ewing Galleries upcoming magic auction on November 11-12 will include a rare one-sheet poster for Houdini's 1918 serial The Master Mystery. The poster is for Episode 3 ("The Water Peril").

    The poster comes from the collection of Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton, who own a complete set of all 14 posters from the serial. The posters have remained private, not part of the museum display, and have only been shown to a handful of visitors.

    "We have been offered in the range of $20,000-$30,000 each for several of them, and $195,000 for the entire set of 14," say Dorothy and Dick. "They are all kept in a safe deposit box in a secret location. We love having them. As much as it breaks our hearts to let any of it go, we need to raise funds."

    David Haversat says the decision was made to go with Episode 3 because this particular poster has never come up for auction before. Here is the description from the not-yet-released auction catalog:

    Lot 95. Houdini, Harry. The Master Mystery starring Harry Houdini (1919). Stone lithograph (Otis Litho- one sheet poster) for Episode Three. Very rare and desirable, only several known to be in existence. In original form, unmounted and in good condition. Small loss on left-hand side near border with original fold-lines. Very bright and clean. Your opportunity to own something very special. $22,000-$24,000

    Haversat and Ewing's November auction will also contain a number of other rare Houdini pieces, including a cabinet photo of Houdini and Mama featured on the cover of the catalog (left). There's also an important letter in which Houdini mentions an injury he received in Detroit in 1911 from a challenge that caused him to bleed and get off the road. Houdini admits waiting too long before going to the doctors. It all sounds eerily similar to 1926!

    Haversat & Ewing's November 11-12 auction lots are not yet available to view online, but details and links will appear at their website (and on my Houdini Calendar).

    Thanks to Dorothy and Dick for the news.

    UPDATEMaster Mystery episode 3 poster sells for $28,080.


    Tuesday, October 11, 2016

    LINK: In 1926, Houdini Spent 4 Days Shaming Congress for Being in Thrall to Fortune-Tellers

    Atlas Obsucra has a post today by Alicia Puglionesi about Houdini's lively 1926 testimony before Congress in support of a bill to outlaw fortune telling in the District of Columbia.

    The congressional hearings on the matter careened on for four raucous days. Order in the chamber disintegrated, police were repeatedly summoned, and the husband of a medium nearly punched Houdini in the face. Meanwhile, newspapers nationwide had a field day with headlines like “Hints of Seances at White House” and “Lawmakers Consult Mediums”.

    Click the headline above to have a read at  Atlas Obsucra. Below are links to more about when Houdini went to Washington.


    The Witch of Lime Street released in paperback

    Today sees the release of David Jaher's The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World in paperback from Broadway Books Crown.

    This non-fiction work examines Houdini's spiritualistic investigations and his famous battle with Mina Crandon aka Margery. The book was released last year in hardcover to excellent reviews, including one from myself.

    STX Entertainment purchased the movie rights to the book last year and is currently developing a movie with author David Jaher writing the screenplay and Andres Muschietti attached to direct.

    Purchase The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World paperback (U.S.) and (UK).