Thursday, August 16, 2018

Houdini's 1915 Coney Island comeback


We all know Houdini played Coney Island in his early days. In fact, Coney Island is where he famously met Bess. But once Houdini became a headliner, Coney Island became a place of leisure for Harry and Bess. It was not the kind of place where you would expect to find a performer of Houdini's stature. Or so I thought!

Turns out Houdini did play a week in Coney Island at the height of his career in 1915. In fact, it was 103 years ago today. (Which is not a coincidence.)

Coming off two weeks at the prestigious Palace Theater on Broadway, Houdini opened at Henderson's Music Hall on August 16, 1915. Located on the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues, Henderson's was Coney Island's most popular venue for music, theater and vaudeville. (The Marx Brothers made their first public appearance at Henderson's in 1907.) Here Houdini featured challenge escapes and, presumably, his Water Torture Cell. To promote his appearance he did an Overboard Box escape from Ward's Baths on Tuesday, August 17 at 4:30pm.

Below are newspaper adverts and an account of this rare reappearance of Houdini in Coney Island. As a bonus, I've left the ad for Steeplechase Park attached with its grinning clown, now an iconic symbol of Coney Island's heyday.


Houdini's engagement lasted one week and, as far as I know, he never played Henderson's or Coney Island again. I've never seen a program for this week nor a photo of his Overboard Box escape at Ward's Baths. But now that we know he was here, maybe we could find something? Paging the Coney Island History Project!

Henderson's Music Hall closed in 1926 and became "Lillie Santangelo's World in Wax Musee" until 1984. The building was renovated and restored in 2004. But like so many Coney Island landmarks, it was purchased and unceremoniously demolished by Thor Equities in 2010.

Below is a video tribute to the theater where Houdini made his Coney Island comeback 103 years ago today.



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7 comments:

  1. Wow! Such a fascinating find, John!

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    1. Thanks Colleen. Came across this when I was doing the chronology. Such a pleasant surprise. Now to just find some more info on the Ward's Baths Overboard Box escape.

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  2. Great information - also rather romantic knowing they returned to Coney. I wonder if the Coney island Museum has anything about this appearance. Thanks so much for sharing.

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    1. I emailed David Sullivan, who is a major Coney Island historian (check out his site Heart of Coney Island), and even he had no idea.

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    2. Thanks. I'll try and do some more digging as well this weekend.

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  3. This is the same year Houdini returned to North East Pennsylvania,including Scranton, PA, where he had spent the longest two engagements of his entire career. A season in 1895 and another in 1898 with Welsh Brothers Circus which came through Scranton, Wilkes Barre, Williamsport, Harrisburg, etc. Although grueling and grinding it was on these type of shows that would help develop about 80% of the routines that would serve him his entire life. The needles trick, rope, chain, sack escapes, Metamorphosis, Strait Jacket, Handcuff escapes, Police challenges, etc. We at the Houdini Museum are proud to continue the promotion of his legacy in this area.

    The Houdini Museum, Scranton, PA
    The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini

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    1. Yep, he was at Poli's in Scranton week of Feb. 22-28. He did a full coast to coast tour this year.

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