Saturday, January 26, 2019

Here's Houdini's rarely seen aviation trophy today

Last Sunday I had the great pleasure of spending the morning with Eric Colleary who curates the Houdini Collections (and more) at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Eric and his team recently spent two years cataloging their massive Houdini holdings, making many discoveries in the process.

While returning from brunch at The Magic Castle, Eric mentioned that the Center has an aviation award that Houdini received. I instantly thought of the photo in Houdini's pitchbook of the trophy he received from The Aerial League of Australia for being the first man to fly on that continent (right). I've never seen this trophy outside of that one photo, and I've always believed it to be a lost piece of Houdini memorabilia, so this was exciting! But Eric said theirs was not a standup trophy, it was a wall hanging plaque, and that it mentions the Wright Bros. (?) So it didn't sound like we were talking about the same thing. But I was still intrigued to know what this could be, and so was Eric.

So before we said goodbye, we both pulled out our phones and started searching. I brought up the familiar pic from the pitchbook while Eric pulled up a photo from their database.

And my jaw hit the floor!


This is indeed Houdini's Australian Aviation Award, which is not so lost and quite different from what I've always thought it to be. As you can see, it's not a standup trophy as the pitchbook photo makes it appear. What's even more interesting is Houdini appears to have mounted it inside a frame with a label noting that "In the Competition to win this Trophy HOUDINI had to defeat a Wright Bros. Flier & Bleriot Monoplane."

I believe this was used as part of a theater display as the typography on the label matches others I have seen (notably in a photo of a Houdini window display in Silverman, credited to the Ransom Center). It's also interesting that Houdini felt the need to enhance his accomplishment by making it clear that he had beat others for the prize.

Making this discovery was a great way to end our morning. I told Eric if we could accomplish this sitting in my car in Los Angeles, just imagine the damage we could do at the Ransom Center itself! We're both hoping that day will come sooner than later.


Thank you to Eric and the Harry Ransom Center for letting me share this photo of Houdini's rarely seen Australian Aviation Award. The Houdini Collections are open to the public and available via finding aids at the Ransom Center website.

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5 comments:

  1. Love this! Part of our display are 4 or more Houdini original photos from the Australian trip. Photo of Houdini and his assistants unpacking his plane, unpacked, the flight, a picture of the Wright Brothers plane crash. This is one of the favorite parts of the tour as people see a side of Houdini they never knew. We are currently on a short break for the cold season, revamping the tour and show. We are toying with making the show about a half hour longer, since it is so liked. However it means cutting the tour a bit, which people also love.

    Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz
    The Houdini Museum, Scranton, PA
    The Only Building in the World Dedicated to Houdini

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    1. I believe some of those pics are reproduced in Christopher's Pictorial Life? The unboxing pics are great. Love that the giant crate reads HOUDINI.

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  2. What a great piece of history found,after 92 years stuff is being found. What is out their to be still discover.

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    1. Well, the existence of this was new to me, but Pat Culliton was aware that it was in the Ransom Center.

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    2. Culliton has an amazing wealth and depth of Houdini knowledge! Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz

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

      T

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