Sunday, October 28, 2018

Jack Hoeffler remembers the "Prince of the Air"

Houdini always marked October 28, 1883 as the day he made his professional show business debut. Because it was on this day exactly 135 years ago that he appeared as a trapeze artist in Jack Hoeffler's 5¢ Circus billed as "Ehrich Prince of the Air." And just in case one might think this is mythology, below is a clipping from the September 29, 1915 Appleton Post Crescent which records Hoeffler's visit to his old friend in St. Paul where he recalls the historic engagement.

One area for debate is Hoeffler says they lived in Appleton, which implies his circus was there as well. But by 1883, the Weiss family had moved to Milwaukee, and this is where most biographers say the circus took place. But the math in this account ("thirty-four years ago") would put his debut in 1881, and thus in Appleton. Houdini seemed firm on 1883, but we all know how sloppy he could be with dates!

Regardless, how fun to hear from Jack Hoeffler himself and find evidence of Houdini's professional debut...135 (or 137) years ago today.


1 comment:

  1. Great find John!
    Lol about Houdini and dates. Houdini’s earliest reference to October 28, 1883 Milwaukee date that I could find was in The Magician Annual v3 (1909-1910) p16:
    “October 28, 1883, was the date of my first appearance before an audience.”
    However, checkout what he said in the Edna Ferber interview published in the Appleton Crescent on July 23, 1904:
    "My first performance? Well I remember it well as if it had taken place yesterday. I am earning now, from $900 to $2000 a week, but my first performance brought me slightly less than that. It took place in an old field across the track in the Sixth Ward and I did a contortionist act, giving three performances, for which Jack Hoeffler, who was managing them, as now, paid me exactly 35 cents." Houdini threw back his head and chuckled reminiscently and thought of the $2000 per.
    Apparently, Jack Hoeffler was another youth from Appleton, which could have helped Ehrich get the gig when he offered to perform (in either Milwaukee or Appleton).