Yesterday I had the extreme pleasure of talking to David Copperfield on the phone. David was excited to confirm that he now has Houdini's bookcase in his Las Vegas museum. He also wanted to express his sincere gratitude to all of us who helped him on this particular quest. He said not only did my blog help, but so did "all the comments and contributions" from all the Houdini fans involved. He said we are not only helping him, we are also "helping magic history," and therefore he wanted us to be the first to have the full details of this acquisition and where it fits into his plans for an expanded Houdini display.
Some backstory first. The bookcase, one of two from Houdini's library in his New York home (278), had, amazingly, remained inside the residence all these years. This was discovered when the house went up for sale in June 2017. But the bookcase vanished after the first open house, and there were conflicting reports about what happened to it. But now we know David got it, which is kinda what we suspected anyway.
David told me the bookcase was in VERY poor condition when his team examined it, barely held together by old glue and crude fixes. He suspects the other bookcase had fallen apart at some point and was discarded. I suspect this would have been the fate of this bookcase as well. I doubt it would have been able to support a full load of books, and it may have been seen as a hazard and discarded by the new owner. So while at first I was sad to see the bookcase leave the house, I now believe it was rescued by the right person at the right time. (Not unlike how the last known print of The Grim Game was saved from Larry Weeks' apartment before it was too late.)
David's team is now rebuilding and reinforcing the bookcase, preserving it using the highest restoration standards. They are well aware of the missing moulding and other defining features, all of which will remain. His team are also building a replica of the second missing bookcase. The idea is to have the two cases side by side, exactly as Houdini had them in his home, and able to receive books. That's where the real fun begins.
David owns many of the same books that once filled these shelves. Using the famous photo of Houdini by the case, David and his team are looking to return as many of the original books as possible. They will also take pains to place the same photos of Hermann, Kellar, Tom Thumb, etc. inside the case. David is excited by the idea that visitors can then stand in Houdini's shoes and take a picture in front the fully restored case, recreating the famous image below. A blow-up of this photo will hang beside the bookcase.
In interviews, David has often said that if Houdini himself walked into his museum he would feel right at home among all his familiar props. I now think David has brought it to the next level. I think Houdini would be brought to tears at the sight of his beloved library painstakingly brought back to life, and I think many Houdini fans might have that same reaction!
David also confirmed that he bought the bathtub from 278. This was the larger of the two original tubs that had remained on the property, and likely the one from Houdini's bathroom. "If there was any practicing going on, it was in this tub," said David. The tub was also in very poor condition, having been exposed to the elements for decades, and was certainly destined for the dump. So it looks like it was also rescued just in time.
The tub is now being restored by David's team using authentic vintage fixtures. David says he may set up the tub using a lighting effect that will make it appear to be filled with ice. I love this idea, and I have a suspicion the tub might actually steal the show with visitors and press. "Houdini's bathtub" has always held mythic appeal.
And in case you are wondering, David did not get the piano, which he admits "might have been a mistake."
David is currently working on a major expansion of his museum that will take up to a year to complete. The bookcase and tub will be part of a greatly expanded Houdini area, which in itself will be the greatest Houdini museum on earth. I'll be getting a chance to see the work in progress soon. I'll bring you all along for the ride.
So there we have it. We now know David Copperfield has the bookcase and bathtub. We know they will be restored, protected, and celebrated in a most spectacular way. And we have a nice thank you from the great man himself. So a good day!
UPDATE: David Copperfield conjures Houdini's library in Las Vegas.