Thursday, March 8, 2018

Houdini's 278 parlor revealed

Here's an extraordinary new (old) photo of the inside of Houdini's 278 during his lifetime. This is the 2nd floor parlor looking towards the street. This comes from the John C. Hinson Collection and was part of our 2013 Hinson Endowment. At the time, I did not recognize this as 278. But now having been there, I can see it's unmistakably Houdini's house (and the clock on the left is the clincher that it's Houdini era).


You'll notice this photo shows Houdini's piano (referred to as a "player piano" in a 1919 inventory). This is clearly not the same piano that was inside 278 last year. That piano was said to have been original to the house, so I suspect it actually belonged to the Bonannos. The piano was not among the items purchased by David Copperfield for his International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas. Looks like that was the right call!

Below is the same room in 2017.


And before you ask, no, I don't yet know who bought Houdini's house. The house went under contract in January. We'll need to wait for the deal to close before we'll have a shot at finding out who the next owner of 278 will be. But the suspense is killing me!

Thanks to John Hinson.

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12 comments:

  1. Wow, this is incredible! There are so many angles of this house I thought we'd never get to see, and this one has so many cool details. What a great find! Thanks for sharing, John!

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  2. Wow, what an extraordinary photograph! So many wonderful details revealed here, but I'm particularly intrigued by the "lattice" pattern at the top of the picture, visible behind the chandelier. I assume that is the vaulted portion of the tin ceiling, but because of the clearly visible pattern, I'm guessing part of it was painted black? I know Houdini painted certain parts of the house interior black, but this seems a very unusual detail - unless it's something entirely different. What do you think?

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    1. Yes, good catch! I was intrigued by that as well. There is indeed lattice of some sort across the room. It appears very similar to the wood lattice in the entryway. I think this is what Dixie Dooley had drawn in his sketches of 278, and it led me to misunderstand and think this side of the room was sectioned off with a wall. But not the case clearly. It's just section by the lattice.

      I suspect this was not part of the tin ceiling itself, but maybe just a wooden decorative addition that was taken away instead of being restored like the lattice in the entry.

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  3. Thanks, John. Yes, it did remind me of that wood lattice in the entry but it seemed a strange place for it at the top of the room. But you must be right, and looking closer at the tin ceiling, the pattern is very different from the lattice pattern. Thanks!

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  4. Excellent find! And to think some of us were standing right there, separated not by space but by time! A truly unforgettable experience and thank you again for continuing to merge two time periods, the past with the present. Did you talk with David Copp. about 278? Did he visit it? Did he have any interest in buying it? Why or why not? --Dale

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    1. Afraid I didn't discuss 278 with DC. We did talk a bit about the Laurel Canyon house and truth behind it.

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  5. Strange that there are fireplaces on all the other floors of the house, but not in the parlor. Unless there was one there originally and it was later removed.

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    1. There is a fireplace back in the library area. But, yeah, the upper floors have two fireplaces and this floor only has one. I don't think one had been removed.

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  6. Thanks, John. Strangely enough, I live in a brownstone of the same period as 278, on what was originally the parlor floor, and mine is the only apartment in the building without a fireplace, though there is a covered area where one originally stood. I've always wondered why it was taken out. That's why I thought perhaps the same thing might have happened in 278. But apparently that wasn't the case.

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    1. I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing the front parlor was always fireplace-less, especially as we see the gigantic mirror that stands in the only spot where a fireplace would really fit was there in Houdini's day.

      You know, when I was there, I assumed the giant mirror was new addition and didn't give it much attention. Wish I would have now. I would have checked to see if it was two-way mirror maybe. :)

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  7. Yes, you are probably right. Maybe the heat from the fireplace directly below was enough to add warmth to the parlor too. And re. the lattice over near the windows, I was looking at a book with pictures of old Manhattan brownstones around 1900, and saw a wooden lattice pretty much identical (from what I can see) to that in the pic of the old Houdini parlor. In the other pic, it was in the middle of the room and there was a curtain directly below used as a room divider. It made me wonder if Houdini ever hung a curtain from the lattice so he could make an entrance from behind it when guests visited!

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