Monday, April 17, 2017

Did Houdini revive the vanishing elephant in 1925?

Our good friend David Charvet sends over an intriguing newspaper clipping from the Buffalo Evening News, October 21, 1925, about Houdini's engagement at the Shubert-Teck Theater in Buffalo, NY. This was during Houdini's first tour with his 3 Shows In One and the article covers familiar territory, until this remarkable paragraph:

One of the biggest mysteries of "vanishing" which Houdini offers in his performance at the Shubert-Teck is the disappearance of a mammoth elephant from the stage. Another is his East Indian Needle trick.

The vanishing elephant!? This is the first time I've ever heard of Houdini performing this outside of New York City and beyond the years 1918 and 1922. It's also the first I've heard of it being associated with his full evening show. It seems remarkable that Houdini would be able to take something this large on the road. But the Shubert-Teck was an unsually large venue which could accommodate the illusion. So did Houdini really perform the vanishing elephant here in 1925?

According to Koval (The Houdini Research Diary, Part 6: 1921 to 1926], Houdini performed at the Shubert-Teck on October 19-24. During this week Houdini gave a special performance for the city newsboys. He also performed at the School for Crippled Children on East Ferry Street.

The Shubert-Teck was converted to a movie theater in 1945 and became a Cinerama theater in the 1950s. It was abandoned in the 1960s and finally demolished in the late 1980s. You can read about the theater history HERE.

Thanks David.

UPDATE: Gary Hunt (Magic Footnotes) has uncovered a review of the free performance Houdini gave for the newsboys on October 24. The article spells out in detail many of the magic effects Houdini performed, and there is no mention of the vanishing elephant. (The article also includes a terrific photo of Houdini with the newsboys which I will feature in an upcoming post.)

It's now seems likely that the mention of the vanishing elephant came from pre-show publicity -- listing Houdini's past feats -- and that the Buffalo News reporter misunderstood and thought the effect would be performed at the Shubert-Teck. So unless we find a first hand account of the vanishing elephant in 1925, I think we should leave Houdini history as written.

Thanks Gary.



  1. THAT is interesting. I'm guessing HH used the smaller elephant and cabinet that he worked with on those film promotion shows.

  2. "Have elephant..Will travel"

  3. Looks like this was a case of a reporter’s miss understanding. The Buffalo Evening News for Oct 17, 1925 had an article about Houdini planning on giving a free show for news carriers. It included a telegram Houdini sent from Indianapolis about his plans. The rest of the article discusses Houdini’s past exploits including various escapes, East Indian needle mystery and the vanishing elephant. This was probably taken from Houdini’s PR material. It is written as if he was performing the vanishing elephant in his current show. This is repeated in a couple of other articles on the free show during the week Houdini was in Cleveland. However, a very detailed review of the show he did for the new carriers did not mention the vanishing elephant.

    1. Thanks Gary. I think you might have the right take on this. I've updated this post and shared that sensational article about the free show HERE.