Tuesday, January 14, 2020

A Winchester Mystery House mystery...solved?

I'm always on the lookout for any mention of Houdini's visit to the famous Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA. This is mainly because no one, not even the museum itself, has ever been able to nail down the exact date of his visit. For me, this has been the true mystery of the Mystery House.

But now a voice from beyond might have provided the answer. Recently I stumbled on this August 14, 1988 obituary for Fred P. Faltersack, who worked as a tour guide at the house and claimed he was the man who brought Houdini there. While he doesn't provide a date, he does feed us fresh clues.

Click to enlarge.

Houdini visited the house during his nationwide spiritualism lecture tour in 1924. We know this because Houdini spoke of his visit during a lecture in Oregon on November 3, stating it was "last week" and that it was a midnight visit. (This newspaper that makes mention of this is on display at the Winchester Mystery House.)

I recently found evidence that Houdini gave a lecture in San Jose on October 29th. This is where Mr. Faltersack would have seen him. The "tricks" he assisted with would have likely been to play the part of the sitter in a seance as Houdini performed manifestations visible only to the audience. This was a highlight of the lecture. (The obit says Mr. Faltersack related this "in a 1982 interview". That interview I've not been able to find.)

So I'm now thinking it's likely Houdini and Mr. Faltersack (and Bess?) toured the house after the lecture on the night of the 29th -- the aforementioned "midnight visit". In fact, that's really the only time that fits as Houdini's lecture dates where tightly packed. He had spoken in Los Angeles on October 28th and would be in San Francisco on October 30th. So everything about the 29th works! Nevertheless, the search continues for firm confirmation.

Meanwhile, the Winchester Mystery House remains a popular San Jose tourist attraction ripe for a Houdini seance or some sort of special Houdini event. Maybe on October 29th?

Below are more Houdini Winchester Mystery House encounters.

UPDATE: The April 1938 Genii magazine has a nice article about the Winchester House that ends with the following paragraph. This corroborates the midnight visit. It also states that Houdini was the guest of "2 local magicians". We can assume Fred was one. But who was the other?



  1. The June 1988 issue of M-U-M magazine published Fred's obit and reported "Fred met Harry Houdini while working his way through San Jose University as a tour guide at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. Houdini was in town for performances at the old Victory theatre. When Houdini asked for volunteers, Fred was the first up on stage. Houdini was quick to note Fred's S.A.M. lapel pin! Fred later took Houdini on a tour of the Winchester Mystery House."

    Houdini reported his lecture tour schedule in the Oct, 1924 issue of M-U-M and said he would be in Los Angeles on October 27-28, and in San Jose on the 29th, and San Francisco on the 30-31.

    The 29th sounds like a winner for the Winchester tour date.

    1. Thanks Chuck! I had seen his Genii obit, but not the MUM one. They are basically the same, but MUM has the name of the Victory Theater, which is great! I didn't have that.

      The Oct '24 MUM is indeed where I found the San Jose date. He didn't adhere exactly to all those proposed dates, btw. I found a few changes were made on the road. But, yeah, I feel pretty good about the 29th as the date of both the lecture and house.

      I also found a nice reference to the visit in the April 1938 Genii. It affirms the "midnight" visit. I also says HH was the guest of 2 magicians. So Fred was one. Wonder who the other was?

  2. The Winchester House was certainly on his mind that tour. In the LA Evening Express of 28 Oct 1924, an article about his lecture the previous night at the Philharmonic Auditorium quoted him as saying:

    "Houdini pointed out that millions of dollars are diverted annually by mediums who prey on the gullibility of elderly wealthy people. He referred to a woman of Palo Alto, who was prevailed upon by a medium to spend $5,000,000 to rid herself of spirits.

    'She built a house with 122 rooms, with 10,000 windows and 150,000 panes of glass because she was told that as long as she provided a room for each successive spirit she would not die.'"

    1. Thanks Bill. I knew he would reference Sarah and the Winchester House in his lectures -- what better example of how spiritualism could drive a person "insane" -- but I wasn't sure if he only started doing that after his visit. Looks like he was doing it before. No surprise that he was already aware of it. This, I believe, was only a year after Sarah died. Which, of course, was never supposed to happen! Dang lying spirits.

    2. Sarah Winchester died 9/25/1922

  3. Great post - thanks, John (and commenters above). Despite the negative connection to spiritualism, I can certainly imagine Houdini being secretly fascinated by the house's many quirks and oddities.

  4. Did anyone ever see the 2018 movie "Winchester" with Helen Mirren as Sarah? I never did. Wondering if it has a Houdini namecheck.

  5. I saw the movie. No mention of Houdini in it.


  6. It probably takes the cleaning lady an entire year to go from one end of the house to the other.