Friday, June 22, 2018

To Gladys from Bess Houdini

Fifteen years ago Bill Bremer, a postcard collector in Texas, unearthed a cache of 36 postcards sent to Houdini's sister, Carrie Gladys Weiss. All this week I am sharing select cards from this remarkable collection. [Read the full story of Bill's find here.]

Today I wrap things up with three incredible cards from Bess Houdini herself. This is appropriate as today is Harry and Bess's anniversary (I didn't even plan it that way). There is so very little written by Bess during Houdini's lifetime that anything in her hand is gold, and these cards have some great content. So let's get at 'em.

The first card is from Kansas City on Sept. 8, 1915. It's addressed to Gladys at 315 West 98th St. in New York, where she and Leopold now resided. The card was written while Houdini was on a coast to coast vaudeville tour that year.

Kansas City - MO
9-8-15
Lots of love to you both. I wish I was in Flatbush where I belong
Ever your sister
Bess

When Bess speaks of "Flatbush," she is taking about home. Harry and Bess had moved out of 278 and in with the Hardeens in Flatbush the previous year. So she appears to be homesick. Or maybe her comment here has something to do with the date. Sept. 8, 1915 was the day Houdini performed what is believed to be his first suspended straitjacket escape. So perhaps her wish to be elsewhere is a sign of her nervousness that day?

Bess seems to have found peace a month later in Seattle, Washington, where she sent this card on October 20, 1915.

Hello Gladys
I've got a lovely little flat here and am some busy.
Lots of love to all
Bess

It's interesting that she says I've got a lovely little flat, not we. This card was sent while Houdini was playing the Orpheum Theater at 3rd & Madison in Seattle.

In Bill's collection there is a third card from Bess, this one sent to Leopold from Denver, Colorado, on December 30, 1915.

Dear Doc
Merry Xmas and a very Happy New Year.
Harry is doing his outside stunt to-morrow (Thurs.) and Friday this state goes dry, two historical events. Say isn't it too bad Bro. Bill doesn't live here now.
Lots of love
Bess

Bess seems to have recovered from any nervousness about Houdini's suspended straitjackets escapes, at least enough to be able to quip that his upcoming escape (from the Denver Post building on Dec. 30) was a "historical event." Of course, she turned out to be right about this!

Her mention of the state going "dry" refers to a prohibition on alcohol that Colorado and six other states (Iowa, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Arkansas, and South Carolina) instituted on December 31, 1915. Bess mentioning brother Bill in this context is likely a joke as Bill was said to be quite a drinker (his nickname was "Lobster Bill").

Please join me in thanking Bill Bremer for sharing with us his incredible find. Below are links to all the posts.

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12 comments:

  1. On the illegible part: it's "some". The phrase "I am some busy" was an idiom in the 1910s. See
    https://www.google.com/search?tbm=bks&q=%22am+some+busy%22

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  2. Do you know if brother Bill ever did live in Colorado?

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    1. I'm afraid I don't know. The only brother I know to have lived outside the state of NY was Nathan, and this was after HH's death.

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    2. Wait a minute, according to Silverman HH and Hardeen took a train trip to the Midwest in 1904. On the return trip back to NY they ate at a kosher restaurant with Nat. He saw them off at the train station.

      And didn't Leo live at that estate home in Connecticut?

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    3. That kosher dinner with Nat was in Chicago so he must have been living there in 1904.

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    4. Sounds like Nat moved around on business. I don't know where he lived at any given time. That's right, Leo had the Ridgefield home for a time.

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  3. Makes me wonder if there are more postcards floating out there. People used to send them quite a bit back in the day. Shops used to have a postcard spin rack near the front.

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    Replies
    1. There are postcards from Houdini to Gladys. The Magic Castle has three wonderful cards in the display case of the Houdini Room. There are also some in private collections.

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    2. Would love to see images of those Castle HH postcards.

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    3. They are great. The best things in the seance room, IMO. On one he drew a pair of handcuffs.

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    4. I assume that at one time these Texas cards were together with at least a few HH cards written to Gladys. Would love to know when (and how) the HH cards were cleaved from this set.

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