Thursday, May 31, 2018

Haversat & Ewing will auction the Silverman archive

David Haversat of David Haversat Magic and the Haversat & Ewing Galleries has issued a special announcement via email:

David Haversat has purchased the magic archives of World-renowned Pulitzer-winning author Kenneth Silverman!

Many wonderful and historic Houdini related items soon to appear for sale and at auction - exclusively with Haversat & Ewing Galleries.

I thought Silverman had donated his Houdini research papers to the Houdini Historical Center in Appelton, Wisconsin. Perhaps this is where it was acquired? Or maybe this is an archive apart from those papers? Whatever it is, I look forward to this auction. I would love to have a little something from one of the greatest Houdini biographers.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Houdini honored as Brooklyn resident

Did you know that Houdini has a marker in a special section of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden honoring famous residents of the borough? This is great, except it's pushing it somewhat to call Houdini a Brooklynite. Houdini's residency consisted of three years when he and Bess lived with the Hardeens in their Flatbush home. But we'll take it!

Of course, in the 2014 Houdini Miniseries, writer Nicholas Meyer placed 278 in Brooklyn for reasons I still don't understand. Maybe he did all his research in the Botanical Garden? That would explain a few things. (Yes, I'm still not over it.)

Thanks to Tom Frueh and KC Wright for this one.


Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Houdini's Tour of Australia available in new printed edition

The well-researched 64-page booklet Houdini's Tour of Australia by Leann Richards has been reissued in a printed edition by Ginninderra Press. This is the first time a printed edition has been made available since the original release in 2006.

When escapologist Harry Houdini toured Australia in 1910 he brought magic, mystique, his wife and an aeroplane. Houdini conquered crowds and nearly caused riots, he escaped straitjackets and shackles and flew through the air. Some said he was supernatural, to others he was a fraud, but Houdini confounded them all. This is the story of Harry Houdini, ‘the greatest and most astounding artist that ever appeared in Australia’.

Houdini's Tour of Australia is available at and It's also available for the Kindle.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Houdini and The London Palladium

Our friend Karl Bartoni in the UK alerts me that Houdini appears in the new two-hour ITV documentary, The London Palladium: The Greatest Stage on Earth, hosted by Bradley Walsh. Near the end, Houdini is mentioned along with some film footage of the magician.

Karl isn't sure if he'd seen the footage before, but he says, "It took me by surprise and it was over before I could take in what was being shown." Luckily the doc will repeat tomorrow, Tuesday, May 29 at 11:50 P.M., so this is one to check out!

Houdini played the London Palladium for two weeks in early May 1920. He made $3,750 a week, reportedly the highest salary ever paid to a single performer at the venue. This was during what would be his final tour of the UK. Some sources show him at the Palladium in December 1919, but there's evidence he was home in New York at this time.

Thank you Karl!

UPDATE: Karl checks back in with a screenshot to let us know that the footage shown is from The Master Mystery. He also says the documentary states Houdini played the Palladium for two 1919! Whoops.


LINK: Museum Silent Film Benefit and Art Auction a ‘magical’ success

The Catalina Islander, the same paper that reported on the production of Houdini's Terror Island in 1919, today has a nice report on the recent screening event hosted by the Catalina Island Museum. Terror Island also made the cover of the paper for the week of May 18 (right).

CLICK HERE or on the headline to have a read.

The exhibition Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle is currently on show at the Catalina Island Museum through October 7. For full details check out their website or Facebook.


Saturday, May 26, 2018

Houdini's first outdoor stunt in Times Square

Houdini and New York's Times Square share some interesting history. I've already blogged about how police prevented him from doing a suspended straitjacket there in 1916. And how he finally pulled it off in 1917. But Houdini's first outdoor stunt in Times Square is rarely mentioned in biographies, so I thought I'd take a look at that one today. 

As with most of his outdoor stunts, Houdini presented them as challenges. On July 22, 1912, the New York Times announced the following.

Built in 1910 on the former site of the Metropole Hotel on Broadway and 42nd Street, the Heidelberg Building was a seven story Gothic style office building topped with an 11 stories high tower of scaffolding intended for advertising. This was a bold new idea at the time. But advertisers feared a sign that high could not be seen from the street, so signs rarely appeared on the tower. 

It was on this tower that Houdini did his escape, although it did not go unnoticed by the police. Again, the New York Times tells the story.

According to the Times article, the stunt was filmed. While this footage has never surfaced, photos do exist. On page 10 of Houdini: A Pictorial Life by Milbourne Christopher are four photos that, while not credited as such, are almost certainly the Heidelberg escape.

This escape is interesting in that you can see in it the genesis of Houdini's suspended straitjacket escape, which would become his main outdoor stunt starting in 1915. I also like that Houdini could see the value of Times Square advertising scaffolding even when advertisers could not. Always ahead of his time!

The Heidelberg Building stood until 1984 when it was demolished to make way for new development. The site is now occupied by the 49-floor Times Square Tower. 

Houdini's last outdoor stunt in Time Square was a suspended straitjacket escape from the Palace Theater in 1922. This is another feat that doesn't get much attention in biographies. That escape and the zany newspaper coverage I'll share next time I circle back to Houdini in Times Square.


Friday, May 25, 2018

See Houdini (1953) on Catalina Island, June 1

Next Friday, June 1, the Catalina Island Museum will screen Paramount's classic 1953 Houdini starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh in their outdoor amphitheater. I will be there to introduce the movie. Here are details.

Friday, June 1, 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 features a screening of the 1953 film Houdini starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh in our outdoor amphitheater.

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. Wine, beer, soda and water will be available for purchase. Click for tickets.

And don't forget that your ticket gives you access to Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle, an exhibition devoted entirely to Houdini's 1920 film Terror Island, which was shot on Catalina. A must see!

Catalina Island can be reached using the Catalina Express, which runs boats to and from the island all day long. For more information and upcoming events (including a screening of Death Defying Acts) visit the Catalina Island Museum website or Facebook.


Thursday, May 24, 2018

Mystifier, Second Quarter 1993

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

The Second Quarter 1993 Mystifier begins with an article by HHC Curator Moira Thomas celebrating the second year of The Harry Houdini Assembly of the Society of Young Magicians. Says Thomas:

Because our SYM chapter is sponsored by the HHC, we feel a real commitment to helping our members understand the history of magic. In addition to teaching Houdini's life story, we present information about other great magicians like Kellar, Thurston, Ching Ling Foo, and Robert-Houdin.

The newsletter goes on to announce that four new poster reproductions, struck from originals in the Radner collection, are now available for purchase in the gift shop (one is pictured on the front page above). This is followed by an extended excerpt from Zen Karate by Randall Bassett called "Houdini's Health and Fame." In the introduction to the piece, Dr. Morris Young writes:

In his book, Randy cites Houdini as a prime example of someone who developed the physical and mental concentration necessary to acquire advance karate skills. During his research, the author questioned me about Houdini and examined the Houdini diaries which the Bernard Ernst estate has retained from the magician's estate.

This is, as far as I know, the first time Houdini and karate have been linking. And how about that confirmation that Houdini's diaries are still held by the Ernst estate? [Shhhh.] Page three features a section of photos from the Radner collection. While familiar to us today, these images would not have been as familiar to 1993 readers.

In his "Backstage with Sidney Radner" column, Sid discusses his belief that, had he lived, Houdini would have launched a new crusade exposing the tricks of professional gamblers. Sid talks about his own exposures of cards cheats while he was with the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) of the U.S. Armed Forces. He then goes on to say that a special steel engraved panel commemorating Houdini will be placed on a wall at Ellis Island in New York, thanks to the efforts of HHC menber Paul Rosen of Lawrenceville, N.J. (Except the Weiss family came through Castle Garden in Battery Park, not Ellis Island.)

In this extra long column, Sid announces the publication of Manny Weltman's important work, Houdini: Escape into Legend, The Early Years 1862-1900. He also tells of how Hardeen got his nickname "Dash" (at least the story Hardeen told him); that David Copperfield recently did a suspended straitjacket escape over fire; and that bottles of "Houdini Beer" are now collector's items as the Appleton based brewery that produced it has lost in least.

Volume 3, Number 2
Second Quarter, 1993
4 pages

Center Sponsors SYM Chapter
Houdini's Health and Fame
Photos from the Radner Collection
Backstage with Sid Radner

Thanks to Jay Hunter for supplying me with a scan of this issue. If anyone is willing to part with an original, this is one of only two issues that I do not own, and I'd love to complete my set.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

HOUDINI by MocomiKids

Here's a fun short film by MocomiKids. This was first posted to YouTube in 2014.

Below are links to the true stories behind a few of the feats referenced in this video.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

HOUDINI-OPOLY has arrived!

Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton are now shipping their eagerly anticipated HOUDINI-OPOLY board game. A lot of hard work and care went into the creation of this game, and it's spectacular! Only a limited amount have been produced. The game is available exclusively from the Official Houdini-Opoly Site, where you can also purchase additional pawn pieces.

Thanks and congratulations to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz for giving the magic world such a treat!


Monday, May 21, 2018

Catalina 'Terror Island' screening a magical event

On Saturday, May 19, Houdini's Terror Island screened with live musical accompaniment inside the historic Art Deco Casino Theater on Catalina Island, where the movie was filmed 98 years ago. The event was a triumph! The movie played beautifully before a large crowd who gave the musicians a standing ovation (or was that for Harry?). The event was put on by the Catalina Island Museum in conjunction with Catalina's 31st Annual Silent Film Benefit, which ranks as one of the longest running celebrations of silent film in the world.

The day kicked off inside the historic 1929 Catalina Island Casino with a special brunch for members of the Patrons Society. As a lender and advisor to the museum's current Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle exhibition, I was invited along with fellow lenders Joe Notaro, Mark Willoughby, and friends Joe Fox and Lisa Cousins (Houdini nuts all!). As I didn't have to do any speaking at this event, I was able to enjoy a few mimosas! A great way to start what would be a full day.

After brunch we settled into the stunning 1,184 seat auditorium to enjoy a special magic pre-show by Jim Bentley. Jim, as we all know, has a long career playing Houdini in stage and television. I was disappointed that he did not perform in character, which I believe was the expectation and certainly would have fit the event. But he did do a straitjacket escape on stage, which was a treat to see in the time capsule that is the Avalon Casino.

The doors were then opened to the public and a large crowd filled the auditorium. This happened to also be the weekend of the Art Deco Society's Annual Ball, so some people came dressed in period clothes. One gentleman wore a pith helmet! Houdini nut Stacey Zimmerman, who had traveled from Florida for the event, arrived in a vintage Harry Harper-like mohair sweater, which everyone instantly recognized and was the hit of the day!

Julie Perlin Lee, Executive Director of the Catalina Island Museum, opened with a speech, thanking all the attendees and contributors and provided some nice background on the movie. She then introduced award-winning composer and sound designer, Michael Mortilla, who in-turn introduced his accompanists: Nicloe Garcia, Frank Macchina, and John Krovoza. These are highly accomplished musicians who would perform some real magic on the movie. You can read more about them in the below pages from the very nice 36-page event program.

Click to enlarge.

I had been sitting near the front for Jim's show, but I decided to relocate to the back of the auditorium for the movie. I like to watch the audience watching a Houdini movie. The lights went down with a star-field effect arching over the huge domed ceiling (very art deco!), and from the darkness Houdini returned to Catalina Island.

Now, I've seen Terror Island with audiences both large and small on several occasions, and it plays...okay. It's not a sure fire winner like The Grim Game, but it's also not a slog like The Man From Beyond. But with the beautifully performed and perfectly timed live score, Terror Island came to life as I've never experienced before. The audience seemed entirely involved; they laughed and gasped in all the right places, and when the movie ended, they gave the musicians a standing ovation. I couldn't help but think this was the celebratory premiere event that the movie never had in 1920. It was truly magical. Congratulations to everyone who made the event such a success.

But that wasn't the end of our day's adventure. After the screening, we went to see the nearby ruins of the Hotel St. Catherine, where Houdini stayed when he filmed Terror Island in November 1919. We also took photos overlooking the rocky shoreline where Houdini famously was "buffeted about like a cork" in the high surf as he tried to rescue a crippled camera boat. The dramatic episode is well chronicled in the museum's Terror Island exhibition, which is where we all headed next.

Stacey Zimmerman...or Harry Harper?

After we spent a good hour in the exhibit (which I covered here), and another hour sitting talking Houdini in the open air patio, Julie Perlin Lee brought us into the museum's work rooms to share with us two new Houdini discoveries, both having to do with the above mentioned rescue incident.

First up, assistant curator Jessica Zumberge played us an audio excerpt from a 1976 interview with Stephen "Squirrel" D'Arcy, who manned the rescue boat that succeeded where Houdini had failed. D'Arcy remembered Houdini, director James Cruze, assistant director Vernon Keys, and the making of the movie on the island. But neither he nor the interviewer (Chuck Liddell) could recall the name of the film! It's a remarkable piece of recorded Catalina-Houdini history.

Julie then showed a recently discovered scrapbook belonging to the other rescuer, Tinch Moricich. Inside was a newspaper clipping from the Los Angeles Examiner, which up until now only existed as a poor quality xerox in Pat Culliton's The Tao of Houdini. But here at last was the original with a very clear photo of Houdini in the rocks. I believe an effort is going to be made to add both these finds to the exhibition.

Another surprise is that the museum now has on-site the new Houdini pinball machine. It's currently set up in the lobby and is very popular! There were a pack of kids playing it the entire time we were there. But as it was now after hours, Julie removed the glass so we could hand trigger the movie modes with hopes seeing the Terror Island features. This proved to not be so easy! But eventually we were able to view the movie clips (and more) and we all enjoyed taking turns playing the game itself. It's a blast!

Somehow the entire day had escaped without time to visit the sites of the Terror Island crew hotels and the Strand Theater, so that will have to wait for the next trip. As the sun set and people in period dress made their way to the Art Deco Ball, we boarded the boat back to Long Beach with the memory and music of Terror Island playing in our heads. It was another magical day on the Magic Isle.

Check out the Catalina Island Museum website or Facebook for details about the ongoing Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle exhibition and their upcoming magic-related events, such as a screening of Houdini (1953) on June 1st and Death Defying Acts later this summer.

Thanks to Stacey Zimmerman for the use of two of his photos. Also check out Joe Notaro's report on the event at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence.


Sunday, May 20, 2018

LINK: An invitation to meet Houdini

This excellent article by Marco Pusterla at The Ephemeral Collector is about the formation and inaugural meeting of The Magicians' Club in London in 1911.

Houdini's presidency and involvement with that early magic fraternity (which pre-dates his presidency of the S.A.M.) doesn't get much attention in biographies, so this is interesting stuff. Click the headline to have a read.

Thanks to Joe Fox for the alert.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Were Bess and Ed Saint secretly married?

There has long been a rumor that Bess Houdini and Edward Saint were secretly married. Magician Arnold Furst, who knew the couple well, believed they were. But no evidence, such as a marriage certificate, has ever surfaced. Of course, no marriage certificate for Harry and Bess has ever surfaced either!

Recently while fleshing out the A.D. page of my New Houdini Chronology, I found this curious item in Ed Sullivan's 1938 Hollywood gossip column:

So is this where the marriage rumor got started? Possibly. But it makes no mention of Saint. Should we accept Bess's word that it isn't true? Or does this item present evidence it might have been true. At least this shows us the idea of a secret marriage was in the air ever at that time.

The date, April 19, 1938, might be suggestive. This is right around the time Bess and Ed began to have some middling success in the movies. Bess had just shot Religious Racketeers, and they had recently set-up a Houdini biopic at Paramount. So maybe they married in anticipation of a expected windfall of cash? Possibly it was more about consolidated assets than romance.

Anyway, just more to fuel the speculation!

Arnold Furst's recollections of Bess and Ed can be read in David Charvet's excellent cover profile of Bess Houdini in the October 1995 issue of MAGIC.


Thursday, May 17, 2018

Duffy Hudson brings 'Houdini' to L.A., June 1-3

Duffy Hudson is bringing his acclaimed Houdini one-man show to the Generation DCD Studio in Burbank, CA for three nights starting Friday, June 1, 2018.

Join Force of Nature for a night of magic and wonderment with one of the most iconic legends of all time: Harry Houdini!
Dare to escape reality and hear from the man who mesmerized and inspired millions, even long after his death! You will believe! 
Featuring Duffy Hudson as Harry Houdini.

The Generation DCD Studio is located at 1001 W Olive Ave, Burbank, CA 91506. CLICK HERE to purchase tickets.

I'll be there with a pack of "Houdini Nuts" on June 2. Hope to see you there!


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Houdini's Mirror Handcuffs to be displayed in New York

The legendary Mirror Handcuffs will be part of a display of original Houdini artifacts at the New-York Historical Society's Summer of Magic: Treasures from the David Copperfield Collection exhibition, June 15 to Sept 16, 2018. This is the first time the Mirror cuffs have been made available to view by the public in some 20 years!

The exhibition will feature a rich assortment of rarities from the Copperfield Collection. Below is a description from the museum's website.

Summer of Magic: Treasures from the David Copperfield Collection features highlights from the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts, the incomparable trove of magical historical artifacts from the Emmy Award-winning illusionist David Copperfield. Evoking the New York magic shops that sparked Copperfield’s imagination, displays explore the careers and achievements of legendary magicians from the Golden Age of Magic (1889s–1930s) and showcase iconic objects used by Harry Houdini in his famous escape stunts, culminating with the Death Saw—one of Copperfield’s groundbreaking illusions. Curated by Cristian Petru Panaite, assistant curator of exhibitions.

Iconic objects on view include the Metamorphosis Trunk, used by Harry and Bess Houdini, that allowed the couple to magically trade places; handcuffs from the 1904 London Daily Mirror challenge, from which Houdini struggled to escape for more than 70 minutes; and Houdini’s Milk Can, an act that premiered in 1908 in which he attempted to escape from this colossal, locked can filled to the brim with water. Also on display are a dress believed to be worn by Adelaide Herrmann (1853–1932), the “Queen of Magic,” who started out as her husband’s assistant and carried on the show after his death, performing her dangerous death-defying bullet catch act; Harry Kellar’s Nested Boxes, an illusion performed for President Roosevelt’s family; and an Inexhaustible Barrel from Dante the Magician’s Broadway show Sim Sala Bim.

A recreation of a magic shop evokes the legendary New York City stores like Macy’s Magic Counter and Tannen’s Magic Shop that inspired and nurtured many magicians. On display are A. C. Gilbert Mysto Magic sets and props from Tannen’s grand catalog—decks of cards, linking rings, a disappearing bird cage, and wands.

The museum is planning a full program of magic and Houdini related events, including a special "Houdini Weekend" on July 13-15. I will be appearing on Friday, July 13, to give a short presentation on "Houdini in New York" before a screening of the acclaimed 2000 PBS documentary, Houdini. The event is free but you'll need to reserve tickets online or by calling (212) 485-9268.

For more information on the exhibition and all the programs, visit the New-York Historical Society's website. I will also keep you updated on all the Houdini-related talks and events.


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The real story of Houdini at Scotland Yard?

The following article ran in several American newspapers in 1901-02. It describes Houdini's visit to Scotland Yard on June 14, 1900, shortly after his arrival in the UK. This is the first recorded version of the events that day, and it's not quite the same story that has become legend. Check it out.

It should be noted that this story was almost certainly supplied by Houdini himself. Houdini frequently sent back to the U.S. stories of his European adventures and victories. However, when Houdini returned to the U.S. in 1905, he began to tell the story of his Scotland Yard visit as a legit challenge, the very thing this article says he was denied. He even claimed he escaped from a jail cell!

The 1928 Harold Kellock biography, Houdini His Life Story, took it to the next level with the full blown story of the all-or-nothing bet between Houdini and Alhambra manager C. Dundas Slater, with Houdini's arms handcuffed around a pillar by no less than the head of Scotland Yard, Sir William Melville That's the story that is repeated in subsequent biographies (except Silverman), right up to 2006's The Secret Life of Houdini which added even more colorful embellishments.

I challenged this "classic" version events in my 2013 post Houdini vs Scotland Yard; but did it really happen?, and what I speculated really happened that day is very much what we read in the above. So do we have here the real story of Houdini at Scotland Yard?

I think we do.


Monday, May 14, 2018

'The Great Houdinis' on Talking Pictures TV tonight

The rarely seen 1976 TV biopic The Great Houdinis will air tonight at 9 PM on Talking Pictures TV in the UK. The network is advertising this as a "premiere," so hopefully that means it will screen regularly. The Great Houdinis was never released on any home format (not in the U.S. at least), and this is first airing of the movie on television that I can recall in decades. So this is exciting!

I'm a big fan of this biopic, despite the liberties it takes. The Great Houdinis first aired on October 8, 1976 on ABC.


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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Here's to the moms

Here's a great image of Bess Houdini with her mother, Balbina Rahner, and mother-in-law, Cecelia Weiss, in 1909. The Houdinis took their mothers to Europe that year. By all accounts the two moms, who were both German-speaking widows with seven children, got along extremely well.

Happy Mother's Day.

Photo from Houdini His Legend and His Magic by Doug Henning.


Saturday, May 12, 2018

See 'Terror Island' on Terror Island next Saturday

Next Saturday, May 19, you'll have the unique opportunity to see Houdini's 1920 movie Terror Island on Terror Island itself (aka Catalina Island).

The Catalina Island Museum in conjunction with the 31st Annual Silent Film Benefit will screen Terror Island in Avalon's historic Art Deco Casino with live orchestral accompaniment by award-winning composer and sound designer, Michael Mortilla & The Accompanists. The screening is at 1:00 pm and tickets can be purchased HERE.

There will also be special pre-screening Magic Show with magician and noted Houdini impersonator Jim Bentley. Jim will be doing several signature Houdini feats, including a straitjacket escape. The pre-show is for museum members only, but memberships will be available at the door.

As a bonus, the Art Deco Society will be holding their annual ball that night, so expect to see the island swarming with people in period dress -- just like the days when Houdini was there! And, of course, Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle, an exhibition devoted entirely to Houdini's 1920 movie, is currently on show at the Catalina Island Museum and is a must see.

Catalina Island can be reached using the Catalina Express, which runs boats to and from the island all day long. I'll be attending the May 19 events along with a pack of fellow Houdini nuts. Hope to see you there!

UPDATE: This won't be the first time Terror Island has screened on Catalina. As you will learn in the museum's exhibition, Terror Island played at Catalina's Strand Theater during its initial release in 1920. Last weekend Joe Notaro found the location of The Strand. Check out Joe's report HERE.


Friday, May 11, 2018

Is David Blaine reviving a Houdini myth?

I really admire and enjoy David Blaine. In many ways, I do believe he is the modern Houdini. And those who have seen his live show say it's phenomenal. However, a recent article at Houston Culture Map suggests David might be trading on the old myth that Houdini died in his Water Torture Cell. Here's the surprising paragraphs:

Fans who know Blaine only from TV will see a different side of his work at the Smart Financial Centre — up close, front, back, and side. For his finale, he allows audience members to come onstage and examine a large, clear tomb of water before Blaine is lowered in and holds his breath for minutes that seem like hours. It’s the closer for Blaine’s show. It was his hero Houdini’s final act, too.

“Insurance companies won’t cover that part of the show. I push myself as far as I can, right to the breaking point, and that’s the end. Houdini died after doing this. He collapsed and was rushed to the hospital.

So that's a bit of a shocker to read. Certainly, David Blaine knows the truth of Houdini's death. David is a great admirer of Houdini and credits the image of Houdini on a book cover as igniting his passion for magic. I'm also sure he knows Houdini didn't even do his Water Torture Cell during his final performance in Detroit, so there's no way to parse this into any kind of truth.

But David Blaine wouldn't be the only performer who couldn't resist the publicity appeal of this myth. In the 1970s, escape artists such as Steve Baker and Charlie Myrick openly advertised the Water Torture Cell as "the trick that killed Houdini." I believe even Doug Henning said this at some point. But this was back when the influence of the Tony Curtis movie--which created this myth--reached far and wide, and people didn't have the immediate means to know any better. But nowadays, a simple Google search will reveal the truth.

So even though you won't witness "the trick that killed Houdini," David Blaine Live is clearly a must-see. Check out his official website for tour dates.


Thursday, May 10, 2018

"The Great Handcuff Contest"

David Copperfield is sharing select treasures from his collection on his Instagram, and yesterday he shared this incredible poster for the Mirror Handcuff Challenge. Of course, that's what we call it today. In 1904, as you can see here, it was "The Great Handcuff Contest." (This can also be seen on a playbill that recently sold in auction.)

Anything related to the Mirror Challenge is always of interest, and this is especially exciting to see because there is no illustrated standalone poster that we know of. (The closest thing we have is an image on this lost poster.) Of course, David also owns the Mirror handcuffs themselves.

Earlier this year I had the extreme honor of visiting David Copperfield's amazing collection in Las Vegas. Click the related link below to relive that adventure. Also stay tuned for some exciting Copperfield Collection news...


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The haunting of Houdini's 278

In 1927, Bess Houdini sold the house at 278 West 113 Street to her neighbors, John and Filippina Bonanno. The Bonanno family owned 278 for the next 53 years, with their daughter, Rose, occupying the house until her death in 1979.

Recently I found this incredible article about how the Bonanno family believed the house was haunted. This appeared in several newspapers in late October 1949. The following clipping is from the Hartford Courant:

Click to enlarge.

That year Joseph Dunninger held his annual Houdini seance inside 278 (it was Dunninger who started the annual seance tradition in 1947). During the midnight proceedings there was a curious incident, as reported the next day by The Evening Sun:

Click to enlarge.

The Bonannos weren't the only ones who claimed contact with Houdini inside 278. Mr. Wilkes, who lived in the house alone during the 1980s, said the spirit of Houdini was a regular visitor. This is according to Dixie Dooley who spent a stormy evening inside 278 with Mr. Wilkes in 1985. Wilkes told Dixie: "He'll educate you too, he's educated me!"

Fred Thomas, as far as I know, made it through his 26 years in the house spirit free.

Last week came the news that 278 now has new owners. Might they find themselves dreaming of Houdini? Or maybe a plaster dog with one ear?



Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Houdini inspired original music by Casey Winn

Houdini: The Curious and Amazing Illusions of Harry Houdini is a selection of original music by Casey Winn inspired by Houdini's life. Among the 15 tracks are: Houdini Overture, The Manacled Diver, The Death and Resurrection Show, Film Star, and Magician Among the Spirits.

This was released in 2013. Individual tracks or the full MP3 Album can be purchased at and There you can also sample each track.


Monday, May 7, 2018

Mystifier, First Quarter 1993

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

The First Quarter 1993 Mystifier kicks off with the reproduction of an article called "Card Tricks Exposed" from The New Penny Magazine (No. 120, Vol. X). It doesn't provide a date, but it appears to be from very early in Houdini's first european tour (similar to his "Wizard Exposed" articles of 1901).

I recently asked the "Mystical Man" if he would mind enlightening the readers of The New Penny Magazine as to how certain tricks are performed–those shown in public, and others indulged in by "sharps" at card tables. He readily responded to this invitation, and also consented to go before the camera in order to illustrate pictorially his various explanations. These photographs, I think it will be admitted, are quite unique, and form a remarkably interesting feature of the expose.

This is actually a pretty major exposé, revealing card moves practiced by card sharps and also magicians. The newsletter notes that this article comes from Houdini's "jail breaker" scrapbook, given to museum by Tad Ware of Excelsior, Minnesota.

The newsletter continues with a reproduction of an unintentionally amusing article from a 1913 Variety headlined, "Magic on Decline". The article rings the death knell of the magic art and puts the blame on exposure acts and "the lack of a master performer of the calibre of Herrmann or Kellar." (Ah, hem.)

Many magicians have given up the fight and entered other occupations. At this very time New York has two former magicians of high ability performing in its first class theaters. One is a dancing comedian and the other a comic ventriloquist. I know another magician upon whom great hopes were placed, but he has given it up and is studying law.

Also reprinted from 1913 are two oddities: "Some Passing Thoughts" by George Schulte, and "What to Wear While Performing Magic Stunts" by Harry Palmer, both from The Sphinx.

In his "Backstage with Sidney Radner" column, Sid praises Frank Koval's newly published Illustrated Houdini Research Diary. He also states that "Ken Silverman is writing what I predict will be the most complete biography of Houdini to date." And he says Pat Culliton's Houdini's Strange Tales and accompanying cassette tape are "first class all the way."

Sid goes on to say that his interview with Dorothy Young has to be postponed to the next issue due to the death of Dorothy's husband in December. He also promises to reveal a photo of Dorothy coming out of the Radio of 1950 illusion from the collection of Manny Weltman. At the time, that was an unpublished image. He finishes by announcing his upcoming visit to the Library of Congress and librarian John Higbee. Organizing the McManus-Young collection, which he complains "is not what the magic fraternity would like", appears to have been one of Sid's major efforts at this time.

Volume 3, Number 1
First Quarter, 1993
6 pages

Looking Through Scrapbooks
New Houdini Books at Museum Shop
Magic on Decline
Some Passing Thoughts
Fashion Tips for Magicians
Backstage with Sid Radner

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


Sunday, May 6, 2018

Craig Campbell Houdini bust reproductions for sale

Artist Craig Campbell is selling a limited edition reproduction of the gorgeous Houdini bust he made for Appleton's Houdini Plaza in 2015. The busts are bronze, 26" on a 2" walnut base, and come in a limited edition of 25.

You can purchase the bust at Campbell's website. It says there to contact him regarding price, but an article about the bust at City of Lafayette shows the price as $25,000.


Saturday, May 5, 2018

Houdini is back on 'Terror Island' starting TODAY

Today sees the opening of Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle at the Catalina Island Museum in Avalon. The exhibit is devoted to Houdini's second Famous Players Lasky-Paramount feature film, Terror Island, which Houdini filmed on Catalina in November and December of 1919. It runs through October 7, 2018.

Last night the museum held its First Friday "Magic at the Museum" event featuring World Champion Magician Johnny Ace Palmer, preceded by a short Houdini talk by myself. The event was very well attended and offered everyone a first look at the exhibition. I can tell you, this is something very special.

Housed in the museum's standalone SAPAP Gallery, the exhibit tells the story of Terror Island from conception to its opening at a local Catalina Island movie theater in 1920. Among the treasures on display are original letters penned by Houdini while on location; pages from the original screenplay (showing the original title, SALVAGE); original stills; lobby cards; magazines; the pressbook; a pair of authentic Polynesian spear handles, said to be the only known surviving props from the movie; and recently discovered issues of The Catalina Islander newspaper from 1919 covering the filming of the movie as well as Houdini's infamous near drowning incident in front of the Hotel St. Catherine. An authentic 1910 diving helmet, identical to the one seen in the film, is also on display.

Almost all the artifacts are being displayed for the first (and likely only) time. Among the contributors are Arthur Moses, Mark Willoughby, Fred Pittella, Joe Notaro, Chip Romero, the Motion Picture Academy Library, and myself.

The story of the making of Terror Island on Catalina is told with screen captures and photos of the locations as they exist today (this information has never appeared before). The museum also reconstructs the missing Reels 3 & 4 in an audio-visual presentation using stills and text from the original screenplay.

There is great artistry in how the exhibit is laid out, making this one of the most unique and special Houdini exhibitions that has ever been offered. And it's on Terror Island itself! That's magical. Credit is due hard work and skills of curator Julie Perlin Lee (who has become a bit of a Houdini nut herself during this process), assistant curator Jessica Zumberge, Gail Fornasiere, and all the staffers who clearly take pride in their beautiful island museum.

Of course, what would a Terror Island exhibition be without a screening of the movie itself? So on May 19th, the museum in conjunction with the annual Silent Film Benefit will screen Terror Island in Avalon's famous Art Deco Casino with live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla. Tickets can be purchased HERE.

And if you need a further inducement, the museum also has a fantastic exhibit devoted to the movie JAWS. The city of Avalon is also festooned with advertisements for the Houdini exhibition and the upcoming Terror Island screening. It's just so cool that after 99 years, Houdini back as a star on Catalina Island.

Catalina Island can be reached using the Catalina Express, which runs boats to and from the island all day long. The ride takes about an hour. Just watch out for cannibals!

Houdini, wizard of the stage and screen, was reported to have declared that Santa Catalina Island was the most ideal spot that he had ever come across, and that when he had finished his work before the footlights that he intended to come back to the island and build a magnificent home.
- The Catalina Islander, 1936

For more information on Houdini: Terror on the Magic Isle, visit the Catalina Island Museum website. I will also keep you updated on upcoming screenings and related special events. The summer of Terror has begun!

UPDATE: Joe Notaro has a nice report on Friday's event at his blog, Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence.