Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Houdini returns to Appleton in 1897

In my Facebook Live chat yesterday with the great Andrew Basso, I mentioned an article I had recently seen in the April 1, 1897 Appleton Post. I thought I'd put that up today so all can have a read. This was well before Houdini (a.k.a. Mr. Weiss) was famous. This is when he and Bess were touring with the Rogers' Orpheum Stars. So this is really just a story about a local boy's return to his home town and that's one of the things that makes it so interesting and special.

The reference to Houdini almost drowning as a boy is especially intriguing. Ken Silverman always made much of the potential psychological motivations this might have played in Houdini's later water escapes. The trip to England appears to be pure fiction on Houdini's part -- unless this is something waiting to be discovered. The reference to his sisters (plural) I find intriguing as it bolsters the idea that Houdini might have had a half-sister.

Houdini would return to Appleton many times during his career and he would always be interviewed by the Post (most famously by Edna Ferber). But how fun to have discovered the first.

I hope you saw and enjoyed the chat yesterday. This was my first live chat and it was an honor to do it with Andrew. I think the chat is re-watchable HERE.

UPDATE: I just realized that Bill Mullins sent me this clipping, I did not "discover" it on my own as implied in my opening paragraph. Thank you Bill!



  1. That was an interesting live chat! Nice how you mentioned this article and the drowning incident. In his bio Silverman analyzed moments in Houdini's life, and that's what makes his book stand out. Great when you discussed the elements that went into HH's act, and Silverman covered that in the Matrix chapter.

  2. Another great find! What an interesting surprise to see the specific mention of his near-drowning incident. ALSO - I missed your Facebook Live discussion with Andrew Basso, but just watched it and really enjoyed it! There were so many cool things you guys discussed, and some interesting questions as well. I loved the one about the Houdini biopics and your comment that Harry would like the '53 version best ("the best piece of PR!") I also really enjoyed your story about going to see "The Grim Game" and what you might feel actually seeing Houdini perform live. I imagine most of us wonder about that. I think I've had the the same reservations, but as you say, just being in that space would be extraordinary. Also seeing the audience's reactions would be very interesting and insightful. In addition, I really appreciated the very respectful way Andrew spoke about Houdini, plus his own thoughts when he is about the do the WTC. Great job and thanks for sharing the broadcast!

  3. I just realized Bill Mullins sent me this clipping. I did not "discover" it on my own as implied in my opening paragraph. I have so many clippings that I pull down from and hold in a "story idea" folder that it's easy to forget where they came from. So sorry for that, but thank you Bill!