Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Houdini's 1912 Overboard Box poster

Here's a nice photo of the Houdini's Overboard Box poster currently on display at the New-York Historical Society's Summer of Magic: Treasures from the David Copperfield Collection exhibition. This gigantic 8-sheet poster is a one of a kind (as far as I know) and was part of the Norm Nielsen collection. It now belongs to David Copperfield.


This poster depicts Houdini first Overboard Box escape in New York on July 7, 1912. It certainly takes some dramatic license. The "ocean steamship" was actually a tug boat (Catherine Moran). The box was slid down a plank, not "thrown" overboard. And as far as sinking into shark infested depths, the top of the box actually remained visible on the surface during the course of the escape. Still, a great poster that fires up the imagination and plays on primal fears, like so many of Houdini's posters.

This poster was created by the Strobridge Lithography Company of Cincinnati. In a recent talk on posters at the Magic Castle, Mike Caveney called Strobridge the "Tiffany" of stone lithography. Strobridge created many posters for Houdini, as well as other Golden Age magicians such as Thurston, Kellar, and Carter the Great.

You can see this beautiful poster at the New-York Historical Society's Summer of Magic exhibition through Sept. 16, 2018.


Related:

Monday, July 30, 2018

"My big wife"

Here's a photo of Bess at Houdini's grave in Machpelah Cemetery in 1927. This photo ran on Halloween, the first anniversary of Houdini's death. While I've seen many photos of Bess at the exedra, this is the only one I've seen her standing the bench (which makes me feel better about doing so myself). This really gives an idea of just how small she was. And she's no doubt wearing heels here! Nevertheless, Houdini still sometimes referred to Bess as "my big wife."


For comparison, here's a pic of me and Colleen Bak at the grave in 2017. (I'm 5'9".)


This 1927 "unveiling" of the grave monument can cause some confusion. Houdini himself had erected and unveiled the full exedra in 1916. But a year after his death, the bust and, I believe, the mosaic were added by the S.A.M. An official dedication ceremony attended by 500 people took place on Oct. 30, 1927, which is likely when the Bess photo was taken. Below is a full account from the New York Times.


Related:

Sunday, July 29, 2018

'Women in the Golden Age of Magic' at New-York Historical Society, Aug. 2

Author Margaret Steel will give a talk on "Women in the Golden Age of Magic" at the New-York Historical Society on August 2. This is part of the museum's special "Summer of Magic" programing.

Women in the Golden Age of Magic
FEATURING:
Margaret Steel
Thu, August 2nd, 2018 | 7-8 pm

EVENT DETAILS
In the 1880s, women exploded into the world of magic when Madame Adelaide Herrmann replaced the traditional boy assistant as the first glamorous female illusion partner. Many followed in her footsteps, including her famous contemporaries Bess Houdini and the spectacular illusionist Dot Robinson. In 1899, following the sudden death of her magician husband, Madame Herrmann shocked the world by stepping into the magician’s role herself as vaudeville’s Queen of Magic. That same year, Talma, the Queen of Coins, debuted her own magic act in England. Join us as historian and magician Margaret Steele explores the lives of these pioneering women and their influence on the work of contemporary women in magic. Book signing after the program
Margaret Steele is the editor of Adelaide Herrmann Queen of Magic.
TICKETS
Click here to buy tickets at the event page or contact New-York Historical's call center at (212) 485-9268. Advance tickets may be purchased on site at New-York Historical’s Admissions desk during museum hours.

The New-York Historical Society's Summer of Magic: Treasures from the David Copperfield Collection exhibition features rare treasures from the Golden Age of Magic, including Houdini's original Milk Can, Metamorphosis trunk, straitjacket, Bess's stage coat, and the Mirror Handcuffs (the first time the cuffs have been shown publicly in some 20 years). The exhibition runs through Sept. 16, 2018.


Related:

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Watch film of Hardeen's overboard box escape

Once again we have some incredible film footage that has been hiding in plain sight. This time it's Hardeen's overboard box escape from the Steel Pier in Atlantic City in the 1930s. This appears in episode 4 of the 1999 series, Magic and Beyond, which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.


The footage is show in it's entirety and provides a lot of nice detail. We get a great closeup look at the box itself, which could be Houdini's 1914 box and likely the one on display at the American Museum of Magic. At one point there is a strip of some kind laid down along the edge of the box and then nailed into place. I'm not sure what that is. You can also see Jim Collins overseeing the stunt.

The Hardeen footage is followed by Houdini's own overboard box escape from The Master Mystery. This is familiar footage, but it's nice and clear here. William H. McIllany appears in the credits as the source of "Historical Footage."

The downside is the series itself is pretty sloppy as far as history is concerned. Co-host Kristi Sindt calls Hardeen "Houdeen", and the narration says Hardeen was underwater for a full five and a half minutes, which I seriously doubt. It also says that Hardeen was supposed to do the overboard box escape in The Master Mystery, but "because of illness, his brother Houdini substituted for him." If they say so!

If this footage seems familiar, that could be because a 16mm reel sold at Potter & Potter's auction of Houdiniana in 2014. But all we saw there were photos. Now you can watch the film itself!

Check out Magic and Beyond episode 4 on Amazon Prime (U.S.) and Amazon Prime UK.

Thanks to Roy Holcomb for the tip.

Related:

Friday, July 27, 2018

Look what I came home to...

I'm very excited and honored to have received an "Award of Excellence" from the International Brotherhood of Magicians (IBM) for my article "Inside Houdini's 278," which appeared in the October 2017 issue of The Linking Ring magazine. Awards were announced at the IBM's recent convention in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Thanks to all the members of the IBM and Linking Ring editor Sammy Smith for this honor. It's my first and only Houdini-related award! I will proudly hang it at my desk.

Related:

Aaron Faber has Houdini's pocket watch for sale

An 18K gold pocket watch given to Houdini by his English agent, Harry Day, is currently on sale at the Aaron Faber jewelry gallery in midtown Manhattan for a cool $45,000.

The watch is described as a "hunter cased minute repeating chronograph with calendar and moon phases" and carries the inscription "To My Dear Pal, Houdini, From His Sincere Friend, Harry Day, May 1914." This was near the end of Houdini's last tour of the UK before the outbreak of World War I, so it's possible this was a farewell gift from Day.

The watch had sold for $25,000 at a Bonhams auction in June 2012. According to the auction listing (which is still viewable), after Houdini's death, the watch was given to his nephew, Harry White (I'm not sure who that is). Aaron Faber acquired the watch from the collector who purchased it at the Bonhams auction.

Aaron Faber is located at 666 5th Ave, New York, NY 10103. The watch can be viewed by appointment.

Thanks to John Hinson for the alert.

Related:

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Victoria Kelly brings Bess Houdini to Baltimore

Victoria Kelly, author of the novel Mrs. Houdini, will give a talk about Bess Houdini at The Jewish Museum of Maryland this Sunday, July 29 at 1:00 pm.

Mrs. Houdini: The Woman Behind the Magician
Sunday, July 29th at 1:00 - 2:30 pm
Speaker: Victoria Kelly, author of Mrs. Houdini

The legacy of Harry Houdini has captivated millions of people, but his wife has remained mostly in the shadows. Bess Houdini, in assistant in Harry’s earliest performances, was responsible for much of the magician’s success, and the two were rarely apart. What Bess Houdini became most known for were her extensive attempts to contact Harry after his death in 1926.

Author and poet Victoria Kelly’s novel Mrs. Houdini draws on true historical details to recreate a portrait of one of history’s greatest love stories. She also uses fictional details to explore the mystery behind Bess Houdini’s seances following Harry’s death. History and fiction interact in surprising turns that weave through the early days of the twentieth century and the dazzling 1920s. The book has been called “a marvel” (Associated Press), “mesmerizing” (People) and “enchanting” (Shelf Awareness).
Click for more info. and tickets.

The Jewish Museum of Maryland's exhibition Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini runs through January 21, 2019. For more information and a full list of events (including my own talk on Nov. 4), visit their website.


Related:

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

David Haversat to publish Elliot Sanford manuscript


Earlier this year a remarkable manuscript written by Elliot Sanford, a previously unknown member of Houdini's team, sold at auction for $48,000. Now David Haversat of David Haversat Magic has announced that he has located an additional draft of the original manuscript, complete with corrections by Sanford, and that he will be publishing it via his 1878 Press Co.

Elliot 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. The manuscript had been kept by Sanford's family and had never been read by any Houdini biographer. Below is a rare photo of Sanford.


Needless to say, I'm looking forward to this one!

Related:

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Stanley Palm has passed away

Noted magic collector and Houdini scholar Stanley Palm has passed away. I never had the pleasure of knowing Stanley, but it's clear from the outpouring of feelings on Facebook and magic forums that he was a beloved figure in the magic world and a true gentleman.

Patrick Culliton says, "Just heard old friend Stanley Palm has passed on. I'm going to miss Stanley. We had a lot of fun. He and I visited one of his favorite spots: the Gillette Castle. We did a lot of things together very often with my son Kieran when he was a little guy. I knew this day was coming, but, Stanley still had a lot to do."

Stanley holds the Mirror Cuffs at the home of the Hinsons.

In 2013 I posted excerpts from an audio interview Stanley conduced with Bess's sister Marie Hinson. You can listen to those HERE.

Photo courtesy Fred Pittella.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Larry Bounds as Houdini at Big River Chautauqua

The Daily Journal News reports that magician Larry Bounds appeared as Houdini himself at the Big River Chautauqua in Bonne Terre, Missouri, on Saturday. Larry combined magic with the magician's own personal story.

The crowd attending the final night of the Big River Chautauqua in Bonne Terre on Saturday received thrill after thrill in the performance of Larry Bounds, who assumed the role of Harry Houdini.

Houdini (portrayed by Bounds) explained that his magic troupe and equipment were currently on a train to Montreal, Canada for the beginning of a series of performances, but that his Saturday appearance was a special performance for the attendees of the Big River Chautauqua.

“Where should I begin?” Houdini said, after introducing himself. “Perhaps with a little bit of sleight of hand. Since I was a very small boy I have loved sleight of hand.”

Houdini then rolled up his sleeves and removed his watch before retrieving several small silk handkerchiefs of various colors. The magician then proceeded to make the handkerchiefs disappear, reappear and transform from one color to another.

Click here to read the full account at The Daily Journal News.

Related:

Houdini met Margery 94 years ago today

It was 94 years ago today that Houdini had his first seance with Mina Crandon a.k.a. "Margery" on July 23, 1924. This seance was unique in that it was the only one to take place inside the Crandons home at 10 Lime Street in Boston.

In 2013, Anna Thurlow, the great granddaughter of Mina, shared with us many remarkable family artifacts, including the detailed notes of that first seance. So on this anniversary, I'll direct you back to that post and you can relive -- or re-litigate? -- Houdini's most controversial encounter:


Below are links to a few more family gems from Anna.

Related:

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Houdini in Lake Placid

This remarkable postcard showing Houdini making The Man From Beyond in Lake Placid, New York, sold this morning on eBay for $1,424.99. The card was made by I.L. Stedman of the Lake Placid Club and shows Houdini with actors Frank Montgomery and Erwin Connelly. It's unclear if this is a behind the scenes shot or an unused scene. (In the finished film, Howard Hillary never makes it into clothes during this "Arctic" sequence.) Either way, it's a rare image from this location and a real gem.


Another exciting feature is that Houdini's signature (which the seller could not say was original to the card or part of the photo image) provides a date for the Lake Placid shoot. March 18, 1921 would put it at the start of The Man From Beyond's 17 week production. It actually pre-dates the official announcement of the Houdini Picture Corporation. But it's likely Houdini needed to film these sequences early to catch the Adirondacks snowfall.

Congrats to the winner of this important and unique piece of Houdini movie history.

Related:

Friday, July 20, 2018

Wild in Houdini's New York (2018)

Last weekend I traveled to New York City to speak at the New-York Historical Society. It was a fantastic trip filled with Houdini sights and discoveries. I'm sensitive about not making this blog "all about me" (people come here for Harry), and I considered not writing up this trip up as I did my visit to NYC last year. But there was just too much cool Houdini stuff to not share! So here we go. All about me. And if you're wondering where the photo to the left was taken, just you wait!

I arrived on Thursday night and met up with my father and sister, Taylor, who would be sharing some of my adventures. (My sister, whom I'm very proud, lives in Manhattan and works for Macy's Fashion Design.) We had dinner at Keens Steakhouse in Herald Square. The restaurant dates back to 1885 and is deeply rooted in the theatrical history of the area. Actress Lillie Langtry famously challenged Keens Men Only policy in 1905. While there were no references to Houdini inside, there's no question that he ate here, so I considered this a Houdini sight in itself.

Friday, July 13th

I had most of the day free before my talk, so I decided to hit a few Houdini locations. The first was the Houdini Museum of New York at Fantasma Magic. This was my first visit to their new location with an expanded space for owner Roger Dryer's spectacular Houdini collection. Roger wasn't able to be there, but he told his staff to let me see anything I wanted, even offering to open any display case and let me handle any object.

I've written about the museum's artifacts in previous posts [be sure and read: Did Hardeen reveal Houdini's most secret secret?], but what stood out to me this time was the grave bust of Houdini that now sits in the entryway. This is the 1976 replacement bust, which was stolen in 1983 and recovered in 2002. It's on loan from the Society of American Magicians. What I love is it still has the police evidence tag on it -- now part of its history! I was also excited to see a very detailed photo of Bess in her stage coat; the very coat I would be seeing on display at the NYHS that night. John Gaughan's full size reproduction of the Automaton from The Master Mystery is a new and popular addition. I also got to see some of the treasures back in Roger's private office. It was a perfect way to begin my day. Thanks to everyone at the museum for making me feel so welcome.


I then crossed town to "Mrs. Loeffler's Boarding House" at 244 East 79th Street. This was the first New York home of the Weiss family, and it would still be recognizable to them today (at least the outside). I stopped in at Sojourn restaurant excited to see the historic plaque that was given to them by the S.A.M. in 2016. I presumed it would be hanging up in the restaurant or somewhere on the building facade. Unfortunately, it was nowhere to be found.

My great friend Colleen Bak, formerly "our girl in Queens" who so lovingly watched over Houdini's grave, joined me for lunch. We had a delightful meal and conversation. Did young Ehrich and Dash play where we were seated? It's possible!

Time was getting tight, but with Colleen's subway assistance, I could squeeze in one more stop. So we shot down to 14th Street where, again, I had been told I would find a historic plaque. This time I was in luck! Near 14th and 3rd is a plaque marking the spot where Tony Pastor's famous vaudeville theater once stood. Interestingly, it was just across the street from where Huber's Dime Museum was located at 106 East 14th Street. So I got two Houdini locations in one. Thanks Colleen!

I then zipped back to Taylor's apartment; napped, showered, put on my suit, and I was off to the New-York Historical Society, housed in a beautiful building off Central Park West. There I met curator Cristian Petru Panaite who showed me around the amazing Summer of Magic: Treasures from the David Copperfield Collection exhibition. It's every bit as impressive as I imagined, and the Houdini area (a round glass enclosure surrounded by large screens showing Houdini doing escapes) was breathtaking. And the Mirror Cuffs!


The exhibition also had a clever "levitation" photo op. Here's Taylor getting a lift from DC.


After a quick sound check inside the museum's impressive Robert H. Smith Auditorium, I was able to meet magicians Adam RealMan and The Great Dubini, who were performing for the assembling crowd and would be featured for the entire "Houdini Weekend." But now it was showtime!

I'm happy to report that my talk on "Houdini in New York" seemed to go over extremely well. I had built this talk just for this event, and I really wanted to deliver for the museum and David Copperfield who had put so much (blind?) faith in me. I shared several uncommon stories, and the ~370 attendees seemed to really enjoy them. I was also able to play up the fact that the day marked the 104th anniversary of Houdini's first performance of his Walking Through A Brick Wall at Hammerstein's Victoria in NYC, a happy coincidence.


We then screened the excellent PBS documentary Houdini (2000). After the screening, I met many friends and blog readers, and even the family of Kenneth Silvermam. I was also thrilled to meet in person the new owners of Houdini's house (278), who were sitting front and center. They told me they were stunned when I showed a photo of Mrs. Loeffler's boarding house and Sojourn restaurant, because that is where they had met! So they met at Houdini's first New York home and then ended up buying his house. Now that is wild!

Saturday, July 14th

This was to be an exciting day, as I had been invited to see 278, which is currently in the process of being restored. Having met my father and sister at my talk, the new owners also invited them along, so this proved to be a nice family adventure for us. At noon we made our way to Harlem and walked up the steps and through those magical doors. Last year when I left the open house, I felt a wave of sadness as I realized I may never be back. But here I was back inside 278!

This time I knew much more about the house. But that doesn't mean there still weren't discoveries to be made. The first was just how much Fred Thomas, the previous owner, had saved it. I'm afraid I've never given him enough credit for this. But now I saw the photos Fred took when he first bought the house in 1991. I'm not sure what the heck was going on inside the house during the '80s, but it looked on the edge of being condemned! I also saw Fred's blueprints for his own renovations and restorations. So while he may not have loved Houdini fans, he clearly loved 278. Thank you Fred!

I was also able to go down into the basement, which I could not do in 2017. At long last I saw the mysterious wheel that has, so far, failed to excite Houdini collectors, maybe because some have suggested it might just be part of the dumbwaiter or some other mechanical part of the house. I wanted to get to the bottom of this, so I rolled it out into the light to get a closer look. I even took a wet paper towel to clean it off.

The first thing I discovered was that it was painted dark green with signs of bright orange paint as well. It reminded me of circus colors, and my mind flashed on this image. Could this have been from a circus wagon? Or, better yet, could it have come from Houdini's vanishing elephant cabinet, which was said to have been painted to look like...a circus wagon!!!


This possibility had me bouncing off the basement walls. However, when I later read up on wagon wheels, it turns out they were commonly painted this shade of dark green to hide dirt. Orange was also a color commonly found on wagons. (Who knew wagons were so colorful?) So the paint was not unusual or especially theatrical. However, it does confirm this is a wagon wheel, not a gear, and Houdini did an escape called "the big wheel release." So I'm pretty convinced this is the last original Houdini prop stored in the basement of 278. (A wine press that dates back to Houdini is also still present.)

The owners then took me on a very thorough tour, showing me where they had uncovered some of the original flooring and features, and even a few mysterious areas that had been sealed off, such as a large space in the basement and a fireplace on the top floor. What could be inside? They intend to find out! I also saw the original doorway to Houdini's library that Fred had stored in the basement. It will be put back in place. The new flooring in Houdini's bathroom will also be taken out. According to the owners, Fred did not remove the original floor, just covered it over. So will they find the much mentioned "H" in the tile underneath? (One concern is Fred might have poured concrete over it.)

We explored and talked for hours (outlasting my dad and Taylor). Then, for the grand finale, we went up on the roof. Yes, I was on the freakin' roof of 278! Here I could see the top of the famous stairway skylight, and also where two other skylights had originally been (or maybe the stairway skylight had been moved?). I was also able to take a flashlight and look into a crawl space just below the roof -- gazing into the very guts of 278. The owners joked (or not?) that it would be fun to project film of Houdini escaping from a straitjacket on the side of the adjacent building so it could be seen from the street below. Um...yes please!

After our explorations, we had a lovely outdoor lunch at Bier International just down the street (I could see 278 from my seat). We enjoyed sausages and beer, and I was struck by how the area still has a German influence, just as it did in Houdini's day. It was a sensational time and I'm so grateful to the new homeowners for the visit. I really got a good idea of what they are planning, and I know the finished house is going to be magnificent. They also invited me back, so I'm excited that I'll be able to continue to share details of the house's revival.

By now it was late afternoon and I was pretty tired, but I decided to go for broke and make the trek out to Queens and visit Houdini himself. After an hour subway and bus ride, I found myself at Machpelah Cemetery. It was closed on Saturday, but I know Houdini's trick of how to walk through walls. The weather was perfect and the light beautiful, and I spent a good two hours there as the sun set. I've never been to the grave alone, and it was nice to spend this time, as Houdini himself once put it, "in silent contemplation." (Okay, I did briefly FaceTime with my cat.)


Sunday, July 16th

My flight home wasn't until the afternoon, so I could still hit a few Houdini spots. For this I was aided by the great Fred Pittella, whose amazing Houdini collection I saw during my 2017 trip. Fred picked me up from Taylor's apartment and we travelled to Union City, New Jersey. There we found the building that once housed Houdini's workshop and his ill-fated Film Developing Corporation. Today it is part of Hudson River Studios, a collective of buildings available as rental space. This building is known as, what else?, "Houdini"! There's even a pic of Harry inside the front door. (And that's where I took the top image.)


The building was closed on Sunday, but I was happy just to see the outside, which still looks almost exactly as it did in Houdini's time. But then a film crew arrived to load some equipment into the building. After a little persuading, the very nice woman in charge allowed us to have a quick look inside. It was immediately clear that the film lab must have been housed in a large open area on the first floor. But what about the workshop?

Until now, my best guess was that it was on the second floor. This is because in the few photos of that space the windows appear to be level with the neighboring rooftops. Unfortunately, we could not get to the second floor as that is where the film shoot was taking place. However, Fred and I could see those same level rooftops from the first floor -- so it's a bit of an optical illusion. That means it's possible the workshop was here somewhere.

That's when I moved toward the back and found another room off to the side. Boom! The brick walls and the windows are a very good match to the famous photos. It also makes logical sense that Houdini's workshop, with its heavy machinery, would be on the first floor. So Fred and I firmly believe we've found the location of Houdini's magic workshop. What an unexpected treat!


By the way, the fact that there hasn't been an Official Houdini Seance in this place is crazy! This needs to happen.

Leaving the lab, Fred and I traveled deeper into New Jersey for what would be the last stop of my trip, and it was a big finish! We arrived at the home of the King himself, Kevin Connolly, who owns one of the world's great Houdini collections.

To describe all I saw just isn't possible. Kevin's study is filled with Houdini posters, pitchbooks, tobacco cards (the largest collection of Houdini cards in existence), and bookcases overflowing. At long last I got to see the fabled Russian pitchbook. Kevin even kindly paged through it for me, allowing me to confirm some important research. He also showed me his Haldane of the Secret Service pressbook, which came from the Christopher Collection and is, as far as I know, the only one in existence. Oh some of the Haldane posters it shows!

If that wasn't enough, we then took a seat at the dining room table and Kevin served up an unending banquet of file folders jam packed with programs, letters, and photos. Truly spectacular Houdiniana at my fingertips. In one folder Kevin had programs from almost every stop of Houdini's 1922 Vaudeville tour (allowing me to confirm and fill in a few spots on my Chronology). I also got to read through the unusual letters Houdini wrote about monkey gland transplants, an operation he might have been considering having himself.

It was also just a delight to talk, joke, and gossip with Kevin and Fred. These guys know where all the bodies are buried! They also remember the "old timers" like Sid Radner, Jay Marshall, and Milbourne Christopher. Hmmm...does that make us the new "old timers"?


We bid our goodbyes to Kevin and his lovely wife Susan, and Fred drove me to the airport. Thus my 2018 Houdini adventure came to an end. Thanks to everyone who made it so special.

Thanks to my dad, Ron Cox, Colleen Bak, and Ray McNally for the event and exhibition pics.

Related:

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Early "Houdini" toy in Antique Toy World magazine

The August 2018 issue of Antique Toy World magazine contains what it claims is a Houdini toy "made in Germany around 1900." I've never seen this before!


You can subscribe to the print edition or buy the digital edition at the Antique Toy World website.

Thanks to Tim LaGanke for the alert and pic.

UPDATE: Philip Treece at CollectingMagic.co.uk provides the following insight:
I think the editor who wrote the title got carried away suggesting it was Houdini with chains. This is a generic magician figure who performs a linking ring style effect called the tumbling rings: tumblingrings.com.

Related:

Houdini Magic Show with Bill Martin, July 24

Magician and former Houdini impersonator Bill Martin will be talking about Houdini and performing magic at the Cannon Library at the Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico on Tuesday, July 24.


Bill performed as Houdini throughout New Mexico for many years. He also amassed an impressive collection. In 2011 he announced he was retiring from doing his Houdini act, but would still give talks and perform his magic show for kids as "Swami Salami."

The Cannon Library is located at 107 W. Albright Ave - Cannon AFB, NM 88103. Visit their website for more details.

Related:

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Mystifier, First Quarter 1994

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


The First Quarter 1994 Mystifier kicks off with a favorite topic: Was the Mirror Handcuff Challenge Real or Arranged? The article by Bill Liles and Janet Merrill is very well researched and nicely annotated. Their conclusion? (Spoilers ahead!):

We believed Houdini used his extensive knowledge of locks and lock picking and his specific familiarity with the Bramah lock to design the handcuffs used on him in the Daily Illustrated Mirror challenge. The most challenging part of Houdini's 70-minute escape was probably maintaining audience attention while he pretended to be initially overwhelmed by the intricate locking mechanism, before simply using a duplicate key to escape from it.

The issue continues with a report on David Copperfield's performance at the Pickard Auditorium in Neehah, Wisconsin. David, who first visited the HHC in 1993, donated a portion of his ticket sales to the museum and attended a special members only gathering after the show. Sid Radner presented him with a gift basket containing assorted Houdini HHC souvenirs and "a half-pound of Houdini blend coffee from The Daily Grind, an Appleton gourmet coffee shop." (There was Houdini coffee?) The newsletter contains a nice photo of David receiving his gift.

New HHC members are listed on page 4. Among the familiar names is our friend Joseph Fox, Wayne Allan, Richard (Dixie) Dooley, Mick Hanzlik, and also John Gardner. Gardner was a British novelist who at that time was writing the James Bond books. Being a Bond fan, I've read all of Gardner's Bond novels, and in a several he name-checks Houdini. So it looks like he was a genuine fan!

Page 5 reproduces a 1913 article from The Sphinx on "A new and original break for locating the Chosen Card." It also announces that HHC curator Moira Thomas is leaving and that a national search for a new curator is underway.

In his "Backstage" column, Sid Radner discusses at length the Mirror article. He also teases that he has uncovered a new forgotten member of Houdini's company -- "a woman who worked for Houdini as an investigator of psychics in the Chicago area in 1925." He says an interview with her will appear in a future Mystifier.

Sid also writes about the recent BBC documentary, Omnibus: Houdini, and that Ruth Brandon's Houdini biography, The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini, should be out soon in the United States (it was first released in the UK in 1993).

Mystifier
Volume 4, Number 1
First Quarter, 1994
6 pages

Contents:
The Mirror Handcuff Challenge: Real or Arranged
Copperfield Appears for HHC
New Members
New T-Shirts at the Museum Shop
Backstage with Sid Radner

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


Related:

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Jim Steinmeyer reveals The Secret History of Magic

The Secret History of Magic: The True Story of the Deceptive Art by Peter Lamont and Jim Steinmeyer is released today. Yes, I said Jim Steinmeyer. Yes, I said magic history. That means BUY NOW!

But if you still need to be sold, check out this description:

Pull back the curtain on the real history of magic – and discover why magic really matters

If you read a standard history of magic, you learn that it begins in ancient Egypt, with the resurrection of a goose in front of the Pharaoh. You discover how magicians were tortured and killed during the age of witchcraft. You are told how conjuring tricks were used to quell rebellious colonial natives. The history of magic is full of such stories, which turn out not to be true. Behind the smoke and mirrors, however, lies the real story of magic.

It is a history of people from humble roots, who made and lost fortunes, and who deceived kings and queens. In order to survive, they concealed many secrets, yet they revealed some and they stole others. They engaged in deception, exposure, and betrayal, in a quest to make the impossible happen. They managed to survive in a world in which a series of technological wonders appeared, which previous generations would have considered magical. Even today, when we now take the most sophisticated technology for granted, we can still be astonished by tricks that were performed hundreds of years ago.

The Secret History of Magic reveals how this was done. It is about why magic matters in a world that no longer seems to have a place for it, but which desperately needs a sense of wonder.

Jim Steinmeyer will be speaking and signing copies of the book today (July 17) at The Magic Apple in Studio City, CA, from 3pm to 6pm.

The Secret History of Magic: The True Story of the Deceptive Art can be purchase at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

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Monday, July 16, 2018

On top of Houdini's 278

Last year I went inside Houdini's 278. This year I went on top!  Yes, that's me on the roof of Houdini's brownstone. Truly where no nut has gone before.


My New York trip was jam-packed with Houdini adventures and discoveries. It might take me a while to write up, but I just couldn't wait to share this image.

UPDATE: Okay, here we go. Wild in Houdini's New York (2018).

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David Jaher at New-York Historical Society, Wed.

The Summer of Magic continues at the New-York Historical Society with a talk by David Jaher about Houdini and Margery this Wednesday, July 18.

The Witch of Lime Street
FEATURING:
David Jaher
Wed, July 18th, 2018 | 7 pm to 8 pm

EVENT DETAILS
Her most vocal advocate was none other than Sherlock Holmes’ creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Her supernatural gifts beguiled many. There was only one left to convince—acclaimed escape artist Harry Houdini! History comes alive in this riveting account of the rivalry between Harry Houdini and the so-called Witch of Lime Street, whose iconic lives intersected at a time when science was on the verge of embracing the paranormal. Book signing after the program. 
David Jaher is a screenwriter and the author of The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World. 
LOCATION
The Robert H. Smith Auditorium at the New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024
Click here for more information and to buy tickets.

The New-York Historical Society's Summer of Magic: Treasures from the David Copperfield Collection exhibition features rare treasures from the Golden Age of Magic, including Houdini's original Milk Can, Metamorphosis trunk, straitjacket, Bess's stage coat, and the Mirror Handcuffs (the first time the cuffs have been shown publicly in some 20 years). The exhibition runs through Sept. 16, 2018.


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Saturday, July 14, 2018

Thanks everyone

I'm still in New York and about to fire out on a new Houdini adventure, but I wanted to post a very big THANK YOU to everyone who came to my talk last night at the New-York Historical Society. So nice to meet so many of you in person. We had a great turn out (~370) and everyone seemed to really enjoy the evening. And the museum's exhibition is spectacular!


Summer of Magic: Treasures from the David Copperfield Collection runs through Sept. 16, 2018.

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Houdini's in New York

I'm in New York City where tonight I'll introduce the PBS documentary Houdini (2000) with a short talk about "Houdini in New York" at the New-York Historical Society. This will kick off their Summer of Magic: Treasures from the David Copperfield Collection "Houdini Weekend." Hope to see you there!

I won't be updating the blog until I get home on Monday, so below is a collection of links to stories about Houdini in New York. These will give you a deeper dive into some of the things I'll mention during my talk, and also many things I will not. Because as I discovered in preparing this, "Houdini in New York" is a big subject! Enjoy.


Found him!

Houdini street art image courtesy of All About Magicians.com.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Janet Langer remembers working for Houdini

Recently I came across a remarkable article from the March 31, 1975 Journal News about 81-year-old Janet Langer who worked as a Houdini's secretary and stenographer. Any first hand recollection of Houdini is gold, especially now that so many (all?) of the known eyewitnesses have passed on.

Interviewed at the Maple Leaf Nursing Home in Monsey, New York by Journal News reporter Bob McEwen, Mrs. Langer recalled:

"I was about 23 when I first started working with him in 1917. He was a very temperamental man, and hard to work for, but I was a young girl then and very much impressed with him.
I used to attend all his performances, but Houdini was a very secretive man. He never revealed any of his tricks to me. The only ones who ever knew how he made his escapes where his wife and his assistant, a man named John [sic] Collins."

The article goes on to say that when Houdini wasn't touring he was "dictating the story of his life to Janet in the attic of his three-story brownstone at 278 West 135th [sic] Street." It then continues:

"I used to take 150 words per minute shorthand in those days," she said. "He paid a good salary too. About $70 a week. In those days that was a lot of money. Of course his fees were phenomenal. When he was appearing at the Loew's State Theater in New York he was making $2000 a week, an amazing figure even by today's standards."
"He was a man who got what he wanted," she said. "His one regret was not having a son he could leave his secrets to."
Mrs. Langer said it wasn't always fun working for Houdini because he was so demanding, but seeing him perform made it al worthwhile. Occasionally he would take time out from his dictation to talk more intimately with her.
"He'd orate for hours and hours, then stop and say, 'Oh, c'mon, let's talk.' I'm a Orthodox Jew and he was very interested in Judaism. Houdini was a Jew (but not very religious).

"He was always asking me about my religion, and I was going to invite him to my family's seder one year, but just before Passover I quit. I got tired of it and decided to move on.

"I never regretted working for Houdini," she said. "I was young and he came along and gave me the opportunity to travel. I never would have gotten the chance otherwise. The traveling kept me from getting married too early, and I had several offers in those years."

I'm wondering if this "life story" Houdini was dictating could have been the autobiography that he is said to have later lost?

Mrs. Langer also recounts how Houdini escaped from a nailed "coffin" under the ice of the Detroit river, saying, "It was the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen. The crowds went wild." This is a little disconcerting as we know this didn't happen. But maybe she witnessed some other Houdini underwater escape and over time it melded with the Tony Curtis movie? Even reporter McEwen concedes that her "memory has been dimmed by age and the pain of arthritis."

But other than this, her recollections do have a ring of authenticity, and what a gem this is from 1975.

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Death Defying Acts 10 year anniversary

It was 10 years ago today that Death Defying Acts was released to theaters in New York and Los Angeles. The film starred Guy Pearce as Houdini and Catherine Zeta-Jones as a Scottish psychic out to collect his $10,000 prize. It also co-starred a young Saoirse Ronan, who has gone on to great success.

The movie only played for one week in just two locations. Did you see it in theaters? I did!

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