Monday, April 30, 2018

The time Houdini swallowed needles...for real

One doesn't think of Houdini's East Indian Needle Trick as one of his more death-defying feats, but it apparently has its dangers. This comes from the November 11, 1940 Chicago Tribune, and is a story I've never heard before.

Click to enlarge.

Based on the description, this appears to have happened during Houdini's 8 week run at Princess Theater in Chicago in early 1926. A bad year for accidents!

Houdini wasn't the only magician to have a mishap with the Needles. In 1946 an amateur magician named Stanley McAuley garnered headlines when he swallowed a needle during his own performance of the trick. It took two operations to retrieve it.


Sunday, April 29, 2018

LINK: Joe Notaro escapes to celebrate Houdini on the Magic Isle

Joe Notaro at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence had the great pleasure of attending a special private party to celebrate the upcoming exhibition Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle at the Catalina Island Museum in Avalon. While the exhibit itself is not yet in place, Joe got some photos of the promotional posters now hanging outside the museum, and got a sneak peek at the exhibit materials and gallery space.

Click here or on the headline to read Joe's full report at HHCE.

Houdini Terror on the Magic Isle runs May 5 through Oct. 7, 2018. Visit the Catalina Island Museum website for more details.


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Unseen Elliot Sanford archive sells for $48,000

An archive of unseen material from Elliot Sanford, a previously unknown member of the Houdini troop, sold for a whopping $48,000 (including 20% buyers premium) at Potter & Potter's Spring Magic Auction today. I had called this possibly the most historically significant Houdini auction lot ever, and it certainly got attention, blowing way past the pre-auction estimate of $15,000-$20,000.

Sanford joined the Houdini show in the final weeks of the magician's life and was eyewitness to all that occurred before and after Houdini's death. He was also one of the pallbearers at Houdini's funeral. Included in the lot is an unpublished manuscript Sanford wrote detailing his time spent with the Houdinis. The material had been held by Sanford's family and, incredibly, has never been read by any Houdini biographer. What's contained in these pages could greatly enhance our knowledge of Houdini's final days.

The auction contained a variety of other Houdiniana. Two annotated Houdini spiritualism scrapbooks from the Joe Dunninger collection brought in a hefty $66,000 (estimate $30,000-$40,000). An attractive 1905 color playbill with nice mentions of the Mirror Challenge and the Prison Cell & Barrel Mystery fetched $7,200. A box of photographic negatives labeled "Houdini in Atlantic City" found $5,280. A photo of Hardeen wearing what might be Houdini's iron bar shackles (a little discussed early invention) unlocked $780.

I had my eye on two unpublished original photos, both of which sold beyond their estimates. One shows Houdini and Dr. A.M. Wilson clowning with a "No Parking" sign outside an Orpheum Theater ($2,280). The other shows Bess as a fortune teller ($660). The story of Houdini and Wilson's famous feud is a favorite of mine. I have no idea what the story is behind the Bessie photo.

A pair of alleged Houdini throwing knives, which have made the reality show rounds over the past few years, failed to get any bids. (I was surprised to even see these in this auction.)

As always, congrats to all the buyers and sellers!


Friday, April 27, 2018

"Magic at the Museum" next Friday on Catalina

Next Friday, May 4, the Catalina Island Museum kicks off the first of several Houdini and magic-related special events to tie into their exhibition, Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle. Here are details.

Friday, May 4, 2018
First Fridays at the Museum
Ada Blanche Wrigley Schreiner Building
6:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Members $20, Non-Members $25
Children (3-15) $10

You are invited to enjoy Magic at the Museum! This month, First Fridays at the Museum offers a magic show on the Magic Isle. World Champion Magician Johnny Ace Palmer will amaze and entertain throughout the evening. He will perform close up magic tricks as he circulates through the crowd. At 7:30 pm Houdini Expert John Cox will do a brief presentation about the great Harry Houdini followed by the main Magic Performance by Palmer.
Each month First Fridays at the Museum encourages residents and visitors to explore the museum’s galleries, digital theater and plazas, enjoy refreshments and shop in the Museum Store. The museum will reopen for this event at 6:00 pm. Wine, beer, soda and water will be available for purchase. Click for tickets.

My presentation will be a 15 minute illustrated talk giving an overview of Houdini's career. My idea is to "introduce" Houdini to the island in advance of the opening of Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle the following day (May 5). Should be fun!

You can read more about the event and magician Johnny Ace Palmer at The Catalina Islander.

Other upcoming events will be a screening of Terror Island on May 19, a screening of the classic Houdini (1953) on June 1, and a screening of Death Defying Acts on July 18. Click here for details to purchase advance tickets.

UPDATE: According to the museum's Facebook page, event attendees will get a "sneak peek" at the Houdini exhibit! 


Thursday, April 26, 2018

Houdini in the reptile house

This just goes to show Houdini can appear anywhere -- even the reptile house of a zoo!

CALM (California Living Museum), located in Bakersfield, California, has an exhibit honoring magician Al Robbins, who worked with live rattlesnakes in his vaudeville act and was a reptile expert. The Al Robbins Herpetological Center holds many of the specimens Al collected through the years, along with a timeline of his life. As you can see by the photo on the right, that timeline includes his friendship with Houdini.

Born Dec. 25, 1902, Robbins performed magic for over 70 years. In 1948 he moved to Bakersfield and became Dean of the Bakersfield Magic Circle - part of the parent group of the Society of American Magicians. Al Robbins died in 2000. As far as I know, he was never interviewed about his memories of Houdini.

For more details about CALM (California Living Museum) check out their official website. Below are links to a few more Houdini appearances in unexpected places.

Thanks to Athena Stamos for this discovery and the pic.


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Houdini jumps into L.A. photo exhibition

A exhibition of select photographs from the Library of Congress is on show at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles. Among the 500 images culled from the Library's 14 million is one of Houdini.

The Houdini photo is not shown on the official website, so I went and had a look today. The photo is the iconic shot of Houdini during his 1908 Harvard bridge jump (below). The original photo is a glass lantern slide from the McManus-Young collection. The exhibition credits it to John Thurston.

Unfortunately, what's on display is not the original photo, nor was it among the printed images hanging on the gallery walls. The Houdini photo cycles along with a dozen others on a video screen representing "Art" alongside "Sports" and "Leisure." Still, it was great to see Houdini representing the art of his era.

Not an Ostrich: And Other Images from America’s Library can be see at Annenberg Space for Photography, 2000 Avenue of the Stars, Los Angeles, CA 90067. The exhibition is free and runs until Sept. 9.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Ehrich Weiss makes a name for himself

Houdini has always been used in advertising, both during his life and after his death. Here's an interesting ad from 1939 for "vikingized" coal. The illustration doesn't look much like Harry, but I am happy to see they got the spelling of his real name right.

Below are a few more adventures in Houdini advertising.


Monday, April 23, 2018

Houdini's low point

Houdini had a long hard road to success. But along that road he developed all the aspects that would eventually make him a superstar; Metamorphosis, the challenge handcuffs act, police station challenges, the straitjacket escape, even exposing fraudulent mediums.

But having mastered his performance, in 1898 he found himself sliding backwards. He had given his all in a string of failed tours with outfits like the American Gaiety Girls, the California Concert Company, and the Marco Co. Now he and Bess rejoined to the Welsh Bros Circus, going back to where they had effectively started in 1895. Houdini's diary entries for this period reflect his depressed mood. He records that the last two weeks of the tour "felt like an eternity."

After their circus engagement ended, the Houdinis returned to New York and Harry put his act up for sale in a self-published catalog of magic. Even that failed. In December, he set out to play engagements at the Dime Museums he had worked as a teenager. It's interesting to note that Bess does not appear with him during these late 1898 dates. Did she quit and had remain home in New York? It's possible.

And then came the night of January 11, 1899 at Middleton's Clark St. Dime Museum in Chicago, which I can only think was Houdini hitting his lowest point. The next day the papers recorded the event.

Houdini attempted to spin the incident as an "unfair test", but a failure was a failure and it must have devastated him. Luckily -- or unluckily -- at this stage in his career no one seemed to notice that the Handcuff King had been bested.

But the old saying "it's always darkest before the dawn" seems to apply here. Just two months after this embarrassment, Houdini would be discovered by Martin Beck and was on his way to fame and fortune.

Many biographers say this incident is where Houdini learned to always test handcuffs before an escape, and that he would insist all handcuffs be regulation. But there's evidence to the contrary. Later that same year, Houdini again became stuck in a pair of doctored cuffs. (He was able to free himself from one side and did the rest of his act with the cuffs dangling from one wrist.) He also did not always refuse doctored or non-regulation cuffs. When he discovered a pair of cuffs had been tampered with, he would inform the audience exactly how the cuffs had been rigged to defeat him, but that he would try them anyway if they would grant him extra time. This was a terrific bit of showmanship which certainly got the audience on his side.

Stay tuned for another tale of an on-stage embarrassment; one that I've never heard of before and was painful in more ways than one!


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Mystifier, Fourth Quarter 1992

Continuing my look back at Mystifier, the quarterly newsletter of the Houdini Historical Center that ran from 1991-2003.

The Fourth Quarter 1992 Mystifier is a standout issue in that it reprints a full account of a challenge packing crate escape at the Zoo-Hippodrome in Glasgow in 1904. This challenge had an interesting added element, as you can read below:

During the day representatives of the firm had visited the Zoo and complained that there was a trap door on the stage. They proposed to erect a platform on which the packing case should be placed. To that Houdini had no objections, so he called upon the carpenters present to proceed to business, and the band played. Four tradesmen immediately threw off their coats. Long stout beams were dragged on to the stage, and they set to work with hammer and nails to baffle, if possible, the daring performer. The music of the orchestra was almost drowned in the noise of the active woodworkers. By and by the platform was completed. It was about a couple of feet high, supported by struts, so that a clear view of the stage floor could be obtained underneath.

The newsletter continues with an article by Tom Boldt about the newly opened La Maison de Robert-Houdin-Centre National des Arts de la Magie et de I'illusion in Blois, France. A Christmas greeting from Houdini's December 1907 issue of the Conjurer's Magazine is reprinted along with "Helpful Hints for Young Magicians Under Eighty" from the August 12, 1908 issue.

Regular contributor Dr. Morris N. Young then provides an interesting article about the books Houdini traveled with on tour in 1911. Among the some 19 mentioned books that Houdini felt were important enough to keep with him at all times are curiosities such as The International Scientific Series Animal Locomotion and Grimms Fairy Tales.

In "Backstage with Sidney Radner", Sid reports on the recent discovery of a large cache of uncatalogued Houdini material in the Library of Congress. Incredibly, this material had remained unboxed since its arrival in 1927! Sid talks about meeting Dorothy Young for the first time at the 1992 Official Houdini Seance at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame. He says that the BBC and National Geographic are both working on Houdini documentaries. Sid also notes that the first volume of Frank Koval's Illustrated Houdini Research Diary -- "an absolute must for Houdini researchers" -- is available from the museum shop for $20. So too is Pat Culliton's Houdini's Strange Tales.

Sid finishes by reporting that David Copperfield visited Appleton and the Houdini Historical Center on November 19, 1992, and "gave us a very generous plug during his performance in nearby Neenah, for which we give great thanks."

Volume 2, Number 4
Fourth Quarter, 1992
6 pages

Looking Through Scrapbooks
Center to Honor Robert-Houdin
Houdini's Bookshelf on Tour
Helpful Hints for Magicians
Backstage with Sid Radner

Thanks to Gary Hunt of Handcuff Queens for providing me with this issue.


Friday, April 20, 2018

LINK: Houdini film ‘Terror Island’ subject of Island Museum exhibition

Full details of the upcoming "Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle" exhibition at the Catalina Island Museum have been revealed by The Catalina Islander. Instead of re-posting here, click the headline and have a read at the Islander itself. It seems appropriate to learn about this at the paper that was around in Houdini's time and reported on the movie as it was you'll learn in the exhibition!

I've been working with the museum on this, so I already know how special it's going to be. I've withheld the many discoveries that have been made, so the exhibition itself will reveal all and write Houdini history. On May 4, I'm heading over to the island to give a short introductory talk on Houdini during the museum's "First Friday" event at 6pm. And, of course, there's the big Terror Island screening at the Avalon Casino on May 19 (tickets and details here).

So click the headline and read all about "Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle", and visit the Catalina Island Museum website for more information and upcoming special events. It's gonna be a summer of Terror!


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini

The Jewish Museum of Maryland has released details of their upcoming Houdini exhibition, Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini, curated by local magician and performer David London.

On view June 24, 2018 – January 21, 2019

Harry Houdini wasn’t born. He was invented. 
The world’s most famous magician began life as Erik Weisz, the son of a Hungarian rabbi. In 1878 immigration to the U.S. transformed Erik Weisz into Ehrich Weiss. It was the first of many transformations for the man who would become the first international superstar. 
Inescapable, curated by local performer and magician David London, tells the story of how Ehrich Weiss became Harry Houdini and investigates the technologies, marketing prowess and entertainment trends that transformed him into a superstar. On one level, the exhibit is pure fun – incorporating magic, escapes, seances, films, rare artifacts and hands-on illusions. On a deeper level, the exhibit pulls back the curtain, revealing the story of the man behind the image. 
In addition to the exploration of his early life, visitors will find sections illuminating stages of his life and career:
  • Setting the Stage describing the struggles of Houdini’s early life and the difficulties faced by his father, artifacts include a Hebrew bible that belonged to Rabbi Weiss.  
  • The Self Liberator featuring a spectacular display of reproduction posters, photos and press clippings, as well as original apparatus, including a straitjacket and milk can that he used in his performances.  
  • On the Cutting Edge investigates his exploration of new technologies and also features clips from his film career and a chance to listen to a rare recording of his voice.  
  • Houdini’s Third Act: Exposing Frauds showcases his crusade against deceptive spiritual mediums.  
  • The Final Bow/Curtain Call sets the record straight on the events that led to his death and explores the séances to contact him by his wife, Bess.  
  • Houdini in Maryland shines a spotlight on his appearances in the state where he performed close to 100 shows during his career. This section also features Houdini’s personal diary from 1898 turned to the page recording his first tour of Maryland (before his success) where he where he repeatedly reports “no dinner,” as he could not afford to eat. 
Throughout the exhibit, visitors also will have the opportunity to try out some of Houdini’s magic tricks, including the world’s smallest version of Houdini’s biggest illusion – making a five-ton elephant “vanish.”

The museum has also revealed a slate of related public programs, one of which features yours truly:

Houdini Unbound
Speaker David Saltman
Sunday, July 15th at 1pm 
Mrs. Houdini: The Woman Behind the Magician
Speaker: Victoria Kelly
Sunday, July 29th at 1pm 
Street Show, Sideshow, Stage Show
Speaker: James Taylor
Sunday, October 7th at 1pm 
Capturing Houdini
Speaker: Ken Trombly
Sunday, October 21st at 1pm 
Houdini in Hollywood
Speaker: John Cox
Sunday, November 4th at 1pm 
Film Screening: The Grim Game
Sunday, November 4th at 2pm

Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini runs June 24, 2018 to January 21, 2019. For more information visit the Jewish Museum of Maryland website.


The Great Nicola Magic Festival, April 21

This Saturday, April 21, The Warren County History Museum will host "The Great Nicola Magic Festival" in Monmouth, Illinois, the hometown of Nicola. "He was on par with Houdini," says Kellen Henrichsen, executive director of the history museum. "He's still a big name in the magic community."

The Warren County History Museum aims to bring the memory and legacy of the Great Nicola back and remind our community of the great magician that once called Monmouth "home." The first annual Great Nicola Magic Festival will combine magic, history, and entertainment in a family friendly carnival atmosphere. We invite those in our community and beyond to come out, have fun, see some magic, and learn about a man from Monmouth who went on to mystify the world!

During his career, Nicola imitated many of Houdini's signature feats, including the Handcuff Act, Metamorphosis, the Milk Can and even the Vanishing Elephant.

More information of The Great Nicola Magic Festival can be found HERE.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Rough Riders: Ride or Die #3 digs Houdini

The third issue of Adam Glass's Rough Riders: Ride or Die! is out today. It features a nice "buried alive" Houdini cover and storyline with the familiar title "Under the Pyramids".

Volume Three of the hit AfterShock Series continues! In 'Under the Pyramids', Harry Houdini walks on through to the other side and discovers that the Rough Riders are up against the legendary Dutch 'Bokkenrijders 'who have returned to this earthly plane to settle a score with one of his teammates! But Harry's truest challenge may be a visitor from his past who can spell his end...unless he listens to his newest teammate H.P. Lovecraft! Created and written by Adam Glass (executive producer of Supernatural and writer of Suicide Squad) with artwork by Patrick Olliffe (Untold Tales of Spider-Man).

You can buy Rough Riders: Ride or Die #3 at Midtown Comics.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Houdini hopefuls of 1952

In 1952 Paramount launched what it claimed was a "worldwide talent search" for the actor who would play Houdini in their upcoming biopic. I'm expect this was more ballyhoo than a genuine search (Tony Curtis was announced in July), but here's a news item that appeared in several newspapers across the country at the time. This is terrific for a number of reasons.

Of course, Milbourne Christopher was one of the greatest of all Houdini and magic historians, and would go on to write Houdini The Untold Story in 1969. He would also finally play Houdini on stage in 1976. And Gerrie Larsen was the mother of Bill and Milt Larsen who founded The Magic Castle in Hollywood.

I actually think they make a pretty good Harry and Bess!

But there's another reason I like this clipping. You'll note that it mentions Gerrie's famous Royal Crown brooch, given to her by Bess Houdini. That brooch sold last year in auction for $72,000. The brooch and sale was the subject of a recent episode of Strange Inheritance with Jamie Colby, on which I appeared to suggest that the brooch did not come from Czar Nicholas II, as had been long claimed by the family, but more likely came from the Grand Duke (Sergei Alexsandrovich). Well, this article confirms exactly that!

I'm now thinking neither Bess nor Gerrie ever claimed the brooch had come from the Czar. I expect over the years the family just misremembered what their mother had told them. Hey, it's hard to keep all those Russian royals straight!


Monday, April 16, 2018

New Italian Margery book by Massimo Polidoro

Massimo Polidoro has a released a new book in Italian devoted to Houdini and Margery called Il mago e la strega: Indagine sulla più celebrate medium di tutti i tempi (The Magician and the Witch - An investigation on the most celebrated medium of all time).

The book includes Houdini's Margery pamphlet translated into Italian for the first time, an introduction by Massimo, my own "Margery File" posts from 2013, including my interview with Margery's great granddaughter, Anna Thurlow, and a second interview with Anna by Massimo.

A Kindle version of the book is available at and You can buy a printed edition from CICAP.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Houdini was a "wireless telephone" pioneer

Here's an interesting item from The Pittsburgh Press dated February 12, 1922. Looks like we can add this to the lists of Houdini firsts.

What a minute, a "wireless telephone"? Wouldn't that be a cellphone? Now that would be a first!

However, wireless telephone didn't mean then what it means today. For a full explanation, check out this terrific article at Smithsonian: A Mobile Phone From 1922? Not Quite.


Saturday, April 14, 2018

New Houdini Escape Room opening in Detroit

A new Houdini-themed escape room will open this month in Detroit, MI. The "Houdini Trap Room" can be experienced at The Fifth Wall Escape Room in Ferndale.

Just as Harry Houdini was arriving in Detroit for his fateful last stage performance, a mysterious room was under its final preparations. An unknown person or persons built the room for one purpose: to trap the famed escape artist! 
You and your family, friends, or co-workers are tasked with two goals: uncover the cryptic plan, and free yourselves before time runs out! 

For more information visit The Fifth Wall Escape Room website and Facebook.


Friday, April 13, 2018

Hardeen's Double Fold debut was almost his last

Today I discovered this photo and a fresh account of Hardeen's 1935 accident in the Double Fold Death Defying Mystery. Interestingly, it was Dash's first time performing the escape.

Houdini's Magic Bar opens in Canterbury

Kent Online reports that Houdini's Magic Bar has opened on St Peter's Street in Canterbury in the UK. The new establishment promises "a heady mix of cocktails and conjuring."

Among its 13 resident magicians is escapologist, Stuart Burrell, a member of the Magic Circle in London, who will try to break his own world record for freeing himself from a pair of traditional prison transport leg irons this weekend. His attempts are scheduled outside the bar at 2pm and 4pm on Saturday and Sunday, weather permitting.

Houdini’s Magic Bar is the brainchild of Sam Watson and partner Claudette Cairns.


Thursday, April 12, 2018

President Harding was wild about Harry

Houdini's encounters with Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson are well recorded, but for some reason Houdini's meeting with President Warren G. Harding gets sidelined. This is a shame because it's the only meeting that actually took place inside the White House. Harry and Bess met Harding on January 11, 1922, as can be read in this article from The Baltimore Sun.

It certainly sounds like Harding (Hardeen?) was a genuine Houdini fan. And the feeling seems to have been mutual. The only vote Houdini is ever said to have cast was for Harding in the 1920 presidential election.

The day after this meeting, Houdini performed a suspended straitjacket escape from the Riggs Building at 15th and G Streets in Washington D.C. One expects super-fan Harding didn't miss that performance either.



Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini #4 released

The fourth and final issue of the adult comic Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini by Cynthia von Buhler is released today by Hard Case Crime and Titan Books. Issue 4 comes in two variant covers; one with art by Dean Haspiel and the other by Cynthia von Buhler.

Unappreciated at her father's detective agency, the fabulous, rabbit-loving Minky Woodcock straps on her gumshoes in order to uncover a magical mystery involving the world-famous escape artist, Harry Houdini. Created by acclaimed artist, author, director, and playwright Cynthia Von Buhler.

You can buy all four issues of Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini at Midtown Comics. A collected edition will be released July 24 and can be pre-ordered now at

Cynthia von Buhler has hinted on her Facebook and Twitter that there is movie interest in the series. For more visit


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

White Shadows in the South Seas (1919)

Recently I was excited to add this first edition to my shelf of Houdini movie-releated books. But how exactly is this a Houdini collectible?

White Shadows in the South Seas was released in 1919 and provided much of the background inspiration for Houdini's Terror Island, including the cannibal village and the gibbet device from which Houdini escapes (a real thing). The book is even quoted on-screen in the movie itself (below). I've also wondered if the green tint to the Terror Island lobby cards were meant to evoke the cover of this popular book.

The curator of the Catalina Island Museum, Julie Perlin Lee, is the one who pointed out the full significance of this book to me. Julie is putting together an exhibition called Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle, set to run May 5 to October 7, 2018. A special screening of Terror Island will be held on May 19. Visit the museum website for more details.


Monday, April 9, 2018

Joe Posnanski's Houdini book will be a 2019 release

Joe visits John Gaughan.
Joe Posnanski's new Houdini book is now schedule to come out in 2019. Amazon shows the release date as October, but Joe tells me it may be sooner. While I'm sorry we won't have the book this year, I have no doubt it will be worth the wait! The book will be released by Simon & Schuster.

Award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author Joe Posnanski enters the world of Harry Houdini and his legions of devoted fans in an immersive, entertaining, and magical work on the illusionist’s impact on American culture—and why his legacy endures to this day.

Pre-order Joe Posnanski's Untitled Houdini Project at (U.S.) and (UK).


Sunday, April 8, 2018

Mystifier, Third Quarter 1992

Continuing my look back at the Mystifier, the quarterly newsletter of the Houdini Historical Center that ran from 1991-2003.

The first issue to carry the new Mystifier name was released in the Third Quarter of 1992. The newsletter kicks off with a terrific article by William M. Doerflinger who, as a boy, saw Houdini do his vanishing elephant at the New York Hippodrome. What a memory! Here's an excerpt:

To a round of applause, Houdini and the ponderous elephant appeared from the wings, walked to center stage, and saluted the audience. A very large, slightly rectangular cabinet, curtained along one of its long sides, had been pushed on stage by assistants. It was shown to be empty. The docile elephant lumbered up a short ramp and into the cabinet. The curtains were drawn. The cabinet was then slowly rotated, and left with its curtained side toward the audience. Houdini walked to the cabinet and whisked apart the curtains. We looked into an empty cabinet and through a circular opening, much too small for the elephant to pass through, in its rear wall. The elephant was gone.

The newsletter continues with "A Tale of Two Trunks" by Morris N. Young in which he examines a second trunk Houdini used to carry his escape tools. The HHC Endowment Fund is then discussed. We then get a lengthy first draft article by Houdini on "Historical Lock Pickers", edited and annotated by collector and manuscript owner Manny Weltman.

In his "Backstage" column, Sid Radner reports on the success of the recent Magic Collectors' convention in Appleton, saying, "we had the greatest every gathering of Houdini experts ever assembled one area!" He also notes that "six or more books by convention attendees are in the works, the first of which, by Pat Culliton, had a September publication date." That book was Houdini's Strange Tales.

The newsletter concludes with news of new postcards in the museum shop.

Volume 2, Number 3
Third Quarter, 1992
6 pages

Seeing the Elephant Vanish
A Tale of Two Trunks
HHC Endowment
Historical Lock Pickers
Backstage with Sid Radner


Saturday, April 7, 2018

Another Period "Séance" available on Amazon

You can now purchase and stream the Houdini episode of the Comedy Central's Another Period. "Séance" featured Gil Ozeri as Houdini taking advantage of the more rich than bright Bellacourt family.

Purchase "Séance" and other episodes from Another Period Season 3 at


Friday, April 6, 2018

Houdini on the Bible, Freud, spirits, and spells

In September 1925 The Pittsburgh Press ran a series of articles in which Houdini answered readers questions. As you can see from the photo above (which I've never seen before), Houdini came into the newspaper office to do so. The questions were primarily related to spiritualism as Houdini was engaged in exposing fraudulent mediums at this time. But some veered into other areas and prove quite revealing, yet I've never seen them quoted in any book.

So to celebrate Houdini's other birthday today, I've excerpted some choice exchanges below. Enjoy.

Wilhelmina Braun–Why do you keep hounding the spiritualists when you known they are consoling the bereaved? Why don't you leave them their faith?
Houdini–You might as well give the dope fiend dope, as a cure. It is far better to tell the bereaved immediately what is what, than let them chase a rainbow.
Anna Jackson–Mediums explain to me that the reason you do not get any evidence from the spirit world is that you are too antagonistic and that you are not acceptable to the spirits. You stop the progress when you are in a seance room.
Houdini–You might just as well say that a man not feeling in the proper frame of mind goes to the photographer. The photographer would say, "You are antagonistic and the emulsion on the negative will not work." Ten thousand magicians investigating the process of the radio could not stop it.
James Atkinson–Do you know there are a great many allusions in the Bible regarding spirit return; Do you wish us to believe that these statements in the Bible are wrong? Have you ever read the Bible?
Houdini–Yes, I not only read the Bible but I study it frequently. I try to keep away from Biblical arguments, as there are so many interpretations of the same thing. But I do know it states in Leviticus: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." And you will find frequent statements against having "familiar wizards," but I have no desire to enter into controversies regarding Biblical statements in THE PRESS, if you consult your Bible you will find facts, but please bear in mind I am willing to meet anyone in person and talk over any paragraph in same.
John Stone–You claim you do not believe in spiritualism, but you evidently are superstitious. As I was walking past THE PRESS office the other day, you were with a short gentleman, he walked under the ladder and you did not. Why are you superstitious?
Houdini–We are all superstitious more or less, and I was afraid that the man on top who had a pot of paint, might let it accidentally fall, so to make assurance doubly sure, I walked around the ladder. If you wish to test me, meet me with a flock of ladders and I will walk under them for you. I will admit I have been superstitious, but that was before I looked into the thing and I cannot believe that just because I am seated at a table with 13 that is going to cause someone to die–the only thing that bothers me is that there are people at the table who worry about it.
M. O. Mack, Blairsville–Can you tell me how to locate hidden things? I know about where there is a pot of gold and silver money, but not the exact spot. If you can tell me, you will be well paid.
Houdini–Your letter caused me the first good laugh I have had in a long time. Finding hidden treasure, pots of gold, etc., is something beyond the ken of men. These things are found by accident or clues. I remember the story of a man who had a dream that in his farm there was a pot of gold hidden and he had to plow it up in order to find it. He plowed it up and then thought he might seed it and he had a rich crop. He then saw the dream he had of the pot of gold came true, as the result of his hard work.
Dora Baron–I lost my first born three years ago and since then have been blessed with another child. As often as I embrace my baby I imagine it is still the first born, to whom I was attached. A medium told me that the soul of the first baby is in the body of the one I now possess. Can this be true?
Houdini–The theory of one soul occupying the body of another leans more toward the reincarnation belief, and the white soul that you lost certainly would not usurp the body of another little soul. So your first born is with the other babies who die in babyhood and the little stranger you are now loving was given to you as an entirely different human and will grow up as such. Mothers who lose their first born rarely get over it; there is something so sweet and divine in the first born of a real honest mother that, no matter how much times passes, they still yearn for the little soul whose baby hands entwined themselves around the mother's heart. I am certain that no medium would be in a position to tell you one way or the other.
Henry Frey–Enclosed is a clipping from THE PRESS, which you have read before this, telling about a man driving a car blindfolded through the streets. Explain it. Can you do it without help?
Houdini–Regarding the clipping mailed, that party does not claim that the spirits help him in his work. I never expose an entertainer, or one who admits that he resorts to the natural science and laws. [Note: The Blindfold Drive was a specialty of Houdini's friend and fellow debunker Dunninger.]
Thoman Wilsens–At a friend's home some months ago we all laid hands on a heavy table. We were all friends, and the answered questions by wrapping and eventually moved clear across the room and out the door. There was no chance for trickery. How can you explain that?
Houdini–The theory that tables can be made to move with spirit agency was exploded by Prof. Tyndell long ago, also by Prof. Carpenter. Anyone can make a table move by laying on of the hands. It is simply synchronization of movement, and that is why soldiers break formation when they get to a bridge. If you wish to test a table, do not place your hands on same and see if it will move.
Edgar Johnson–How can a medium read a message that I have written on a visiting card and, though I marked the envelope, nevertheless she read my message.
Houdini–This is accomplished by the medium having a sponge saturated with alcohol and by smearing the envelope with the alcohol causes the paper to become transparent, enabling her to read the message. Try this yourself and you will see that in a few moments the alcohol dries. When I was a boy I paid a medium $100 for this secret.
James Willis–Is there any truth in the statement, of which you are accused, and which came up at your lecture demonstration in Boston, that the Catholic Church is paying you to attack religion, and what is your birth and religion?
Houdini–No. I am the son of one of the prominent rabbi's of America, taught in the junior classes of his college in Milwaukee. I was born in Appleton, Wis., 50 years ago, and if I were to be born again, and the Almighty in his infinite wisdom would grant me the privilege of selecting parents. I would ask for no greater boon than to once again have the same Godfearing mother and studious father.
William Chester Jones, Lancaster–Is there anything true in the ouija board, as I have a had a number of wonderful things told to me by that board? I was alone and no one in the room still it wrote me a message and included a secret of the family of which the purport is known only to the "Clare" who guided my hand in writing or spelling the message
Houdini–The ouija board is the first step towards insanity. A great many people believe that there is something in this writer of supposed-to-be supernormal actions. Even Epes Sargent, the well known author and one time editor of the Boston Transcript believed implicitly in the tracing of the ouija board, but if you will securely tie the operator's eyes and change the letters on the board no one can write messages.
Penley Smith–Do you believe in the Freud theory?
Houdini–I haven't gone into it 100 per cent, as yet, but from what I have discovered it appears to be a license to openly speak about sex matters in mixed circles. Freud's statement that the sex problem is so strong in infants is open to discussion. I do not agree with the doctrine of psycho-analysis, but know that some people have to be analyzed as they cannot do their own thinking. They are like sheep; when one makes a move, the rest follow.
Fred Voalked–I know that you are in league with the devil. If not, please explain to me how you made the elephant vanish six years ago at the New York Hippodrome. I saw what I saw, and you can't kid me. Manager Dillingham also complained that he could not keep you supplied with elephants.
Houdini–I am sorry to note your version of my act, but you are all wrong. Everything I do can be explained by natural means and as to my being in league with the devil, no, that belongs to the dark ages before people were enlightened as they are in the present day.
Mrs. Anna Weber–Will my daughter return and when?
Houdini–I thank you. You will note at the top of the column I am not a fortune teller but I am publishing this in case your daughter reads it and she will know you are worried.
Louis Gensen–Many people believe in the life after death and incarnation. Kindly explain your opinion.
Houdini–I do believe in the hereafter and many believe in reincarnation. I do not.
Mrs. Mary A. Yuran–I am 24 years old and married three years and weigh only 93 pounds. Do you think I have a spell put on me, as I am getting awful poor. And I've been going to different doctors and they can't cure me. I can't sleep right. Sometimes I go to sleep and something seems to get hold of me so that I can't move myself. I call for help and try to move myself, but I can't. What could that be?
Houdini–No one can put a spell upon you. Even in Pittsburgh there are men and women pretending that there are spells on humans and for a certain sum they will cause the spell to leave. Under no circumstances believe that you have a spell. The fact that thought is in your mind is enough to make you worry, and worry will kill a cat. Forget all about it. Take plenty of exercise and plain food, consult a doctor and you will regain your health and cheerful frame of mind. If there was such a thing as casting spells and killing anyone the mediums would have killed me long ago. But the Almighty in His infinite wisdom does not allow such a thing.

That last question is alarming, no? One wonders what ever happened to poor Mrs. Mary A. Yuran. And considering Houdini's low opinion of psychoanalysis, I can't help but wonder what he would have thought of Bernard C. Meyer's Houdini: A Mind in Chains, A Psychoanalytic Portrait. His rejection of reincarnation is also interesting in light of his earlier stated belief.

Accepting open questions was one of the features of Houdini's 3 Shows in One. In fact, a question box was placed outside the theater for this. It's said that a transcription was taken at each of these performances for legal reasons. One wonders what ever became of those transcriptions? I'm sure they contained more gems like: "If there was such a thing as casting spells and killing anyone the mediums would have killed me long ago."

UPDATE: Our great friend Janet Davis has found out what happened to Mrs. Mary A. Yuran. The good news is she lived to the ripe old age of 86. Her husband served in WWII, and they had several children. [More here.] So maybe Houdini's advice helped!

Thank you, Janet.


Thursday, April 5, 2018

Houdini answers your questions (tomorrow)

In 1925 The Pittsburgh Press ran a series of articles in which Houdini answered readers questions. Houdini actually came into the newsroom every day at 10 AM to do so. Some of his answers were extremely revealing, yet I've never seen them quoted in any book. So to celebrate Houdini's other birthday tomorrow, I'll share some select Q&A exchanges along with a photo I've never seen before. I think you'll enjoy.

Duffy Hudson joins Son of Houdini

Last year I reported on a proposed movie from SilverFox Cinema called Son of Houdini that was seeking investors. Now comes news that Duffy Hudson, known for playing Houdini in his acclaimed one-man show, has been cast as Berl Weiss, father of hero, Hyman Weiss. Duffy is also on-board as "Authenticity Consultant" (now there's a job title I'd like to see associated with more Houdini movies).

Son of Houdini is described as a "Coming-of-Age Romantic Comedy without violence, obscenity, nudity, crudity, car chases or the ingestion of questionable substances that demonstrates finding true love may be the greatest trick of all."

For more information visit the official website.


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Wild About Harry now supports HTTPS

Hey everyone. Just letting you know that WILD ABOUT HARRY now supports a https connection. Simply put, https is encrypted and therefore more secure than http. (You can read more here.) So if your browser has been giving you a warning that the site is non-secure, that will now go away.

While you can continue to access the site via http (old links will automatically redirect), I would encourage you to switch your bookmarked URLs to:

"Be safe," says Harry.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The most historically significant Houdini auction lot EVER?

Potter & Potter Auctions has released the online catalog for their upcoming Spring Magic Auction and it contains a wealth of Houdiniana. Chief among the lots are two recently discovered Houdini spiritualism scrapbooks from the Dunninger collection. Those are expected to fetch a very high price. However, it's Lot 360 that has me losing my mind this morning!

Lot 360 is "Elliot Sanford’s Houdini Manuscripts and Archive." The hitherto unknown Sanford worked as Houdini's secretary in the final weeks of the magician's life and was eyewitness to all that occurred before and after Houdini's death. He was also one of the pallbearers at Houdini's funeral (so identified in Christopher's Houdini The Untold Story, which is the only biography to mention him). Among letters, books, and postcards given to Sanford by both Harry and Bess is an unpublished manuscript he wrote detailing his time spent with the Houdinis. Here's just part of the mind bending auction description:

The manuscripts total over 100 pages, both holographic and typewritten, and are filled with tantalizing looks inside the Houdini home, Houdini’s ill-fated final tour of America, including the fateful episode in Montreal that would cost Houdini his life. Other elements discussed include the Weiss and Rahner families, the aftermath of Houdini’s death, and even the magician’s finances and the nature of his estate and how it was dealt with after his untimely passing. Various drafts and outlines, both typewritten and handwritten are included. In all, an archive of historical significance, filled with tantalizing unpublished data and anecdotes regarding the most famous magician the world has ever known. Sanford began working for Houdini as his business secretary in the last weeks of the magician’s life. His story, told in these pages, but as yet unpublished, describes in minute detail his time with the great magician, from the moment of his first interview for a position as assistant in Houdini’s dressing room, to the time of the fateful death blow delivered to Houdini in Montreal, and beyond. Sanford had a front row seat to these moments in history and recounts them in great detail in the pages of his unpublished memoir, offered here for public sale for the first time. The material in these pages has been virtually unknown until now and is an un-mined trove of lore not incorporated in to any published Houdini biography.

While rare posters and original props will always fetch the highest auction prices and cause the greatest stir, this is the kind of thing I consider a true treasure. A poster doesn't really tell us anything new about Houdini. But these pages hold the possibility of rewriting Houdini history, or at least enhancing our understanding of those critical last weeks and their aftermath.

Might they reveal whether Houdini was ill before Montreal? Might they provide new insight into Bess's substance abuse? Just looking at the sample pages melts my brain. A "near-accident" at Houdini's grave? The "lab" on the top floor of 278? Depending on what these pages contain, yes, this could very well be the most historically significant Houdini auction lot...ever!

Potter & Potter's Spring Magic Auction will be held April 28, 2018 starting at 10:00 AM. Previews take place at Potter & Potter's Chicago gallery April 26 & 27, from 10:00am to 5:00pm. The printed auction catalog, which sports a terrific Houdini cover (right), will ship approximately three weeks prior to the auction.

UPDATEUnseen Elliot Sanford archive sells for $48,000.