Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The New Houdini Chronology progress report

I'm happy to report that my New Houdini Chronology now runs unbroken from 1874 to 1918. While I will continue to add information, these years are currently filled in to the best of my abilities. I've also launched the "A.D." page (1927 to present).

I'm now tackling 1919 to 1926, and expect to have the entire Chronology completed sometime next month.

Below is a link to the homepage where you can begin the journey. You can also leap directly to the year of your choice via the drop-down menu above.

In doing this, I've discovered many little gems of Houdini history that have been missed or ignored in most biographies, so expect some cool upcoming posts.



  1. John, The chronology is fantastic! It is fun playing detective and rooting out facts from chronologies like this. I've done so in genealogical work before. I had read somewhere that the USD took about 2 years and $10,000 for Houdini to make. We have always understood Jim Collins to be the mechanic behind the torture cell so: Jim was hired by Houdini on Dec 3, 1910. Yet Houdini presented the USD as a playlet on Apr. 29, 1911. Only 4 months have gone by between hiring Collins and presenting the USD playlet???? I'm sure a lot of the actual construction was farmed out but 4 months? I wish we had more background on the design and construction timeline for the USD. If you know of any, please share it sometime. I also wonder if, since a lot of the work was farmed out, if any blueprints survived in Houdini's effects? Thanks for the chronology, though. Is it printable?

    1. Now that is an interesting observation, James. 4 months? That doesn't seem possible. And also know Collins comes up with the Double-Fold chest in that time as well.

      Collins did sign his secrecy oath on Dec., 3, 1910, but I think it's possible he worked behind the scenes with HH before that. Some sources say Collins was hired in 1908. Remember that we discovered he worked for Hardeen starting in 1902, so he was part of the Houdini universe. Maybe the secrecy oath was a specific part of becoming a STAGE assistant? Perhaps there was an earlier oath that we don't know about?

      But this is a great example of how doing a chronology like this helps bring things into focus...or reveal conflicts. I've learned so much in doing these.

      Apart from just printing the webpages themselves, there's not a printable version, but I'll think about offering something when I'm all done. But it changes so often, any printed version will be outdated very quickly.

    2. John, you have gone back many times to that Illustrated Chronology of Houdini for reference data. You updated that as more info became available so it was actually outdated as soon as it was printed, too! That does not diminish its value to a researcher though. Had I a printed version of your chronology, I could do the same thing as info becomes available. I, like you, just want to start with the best info available at the time. Today that would be your chronology.
      I do believe Collins was working behind the scenes for Houdini before he signed his secrecy oath. But he did get an awful lot done once he did! By the way, who is Charles O. Williams? He is referenced in 1911 on:

      March 12-18: Empire Theater (Queen Street), Cardiff, UK [1][8]
      ➤ Houdini shows film of his Australian flights during act. [8]
      ➤ Houdini visits Charles O. Williams about the construction of the Water Torture Cell.

      This is a scant 6 weeks away from the playlet for the USD being presented. Did Charles have a hand in building it? Who was he? Does your reference for that note say any more? Obviously I'm all ears when anything to do with the USD is mentioned. Please share more info on this if you have it. Thanks.

    3. Whoops, I forgot to credit that. That is one of the things I retained from Koval. I'm not sure of his source, but it may have been The Riddle of Chung Ling Soo (page 193) or The Magic Wand vol. 1, p 168 or vol. 7, p. 151. Koval's crediting isn't super clear. And I don't know who Charles O. Williams was.

      I doubt very much the cell HH used for the playlet was the final cell. It may have been an actual aquarium, just as they call it in the play. Christopher (p. 131) says he picked up the glass for the cell in London in April 1912. So I think the playlet might have been more about presenting/copyrighting the concept rather than performing the final apparatuses.

  2. Excellent work. I believe the best years are yet to come and I anxiously await them! Dale

    1. Some of the hardest, that's for sure! This is because he doesn't tour as much. Movie making, lectures, and seances are much harder to pin down. 1919 has been a bear! Koval only had two entires.

  3. Charles O Williams has an entry in Magicpedia. He's probably best known for recognizing that if you riffle shuffle two stacks of cards together, the "stacked-ness" remains in the new arrangement. Charles Jordan used this concept extensively. If you search for "C O Williams" in AskAlexander you get a lot of hits.