Thursday, April 30, 2020

Patrick Culliton clarifies the price and purpose of Houdini–the Key

Patrick Culliton's Houdini–the Key is now sold out (but not impossible to still acquire, as you'll see below). Patrick has kept the book "in print" for 10 years to ensure those who wanted it as a research tool could always get it. (He was disappointed when his earlier work, Houdini Unlocked, was quickly bought up in bulk by collectors and speculators.) Patrick is using this moment to clarify his approach to producing and selling this important work:

"Ten years ago my book Houdini--the Key was published by me (and written, illustrated, and created, page by page, by me). 
I didn't want to print a big number of books because I considered it a book for the few, not the many. It did involve magic secrets and there are some good ones in there. I had a plan in case they all sold out. I printed 278 books, then, when it became obvious they were all going to sell, I did a second printing, without changing any of the contents, of 113 books. 
Because I didn't want my book taken over by scalpers -- it is a rare book. It's in the Rare Books Collection at the Library of Congress. It's well-made with a cover that I created that is eye-grabbing and contains little clues for serious Houdini aficionados. It has a slipcase in matching heavy duty library buckram. I knew if it got out of my hands it would completely sell out very fast. I had made a collectible, but, I didn't want collectors to have it if they weren't going to read it. I wanted people to have the book who would use it. 
So, now, ten years down the road. I have sold every one of the 391 numbered copies of Houdini--the Key
I limited the book to one per customer and I have the name and contact information of every person who bought one. Since each book was numbered, I have a complete list of the people who bought the book and which number they got. 
A bunch of my Magical heroes are on that list. And there hasn't been a single complaint."

A serious inaccuracy about the price of the book appears in Joe Posnanski's recent book The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini. In the book the author states that he acquired the book from Patrick for $295. But this was never a price Patrick charged anyone.

"I published the book at $195.00 and I sold every book on the list for $195.00 (except the ones I sold to some very fortunate -- and canny -- folks who trusted me with their money and got an advance price). That includes the book I sold Joe Posnanski. Joe is given to hyperbole "J. Gordon Whitehead was a great big guy -- 6 ft. 6" -- and in his book, he makes quite a bit out of meeting me at the Magic Castle and paying me $295.00 for my book. He didn't. Joe bought #36 of the second printing from me for the same price everybody else did: $195. 
So for Joe to write that I charged him $295 is particularly hurtful."

But Patrick has good news for those who may have missed out in the run of 391 copies:

"But, sorry scalpers, I've got thirty books that were intended for libraries that I decided I wouldn't sell to libraries (the ones that count have them). They are available to serious students at the original price of $195.00. The book is still available, brand new and beautiful, for a few more months (or possibly years if they are slow to sell)."

So head over to and send Patrick an inquiry about purchasing one of the last 30 copies of Houdini--the Key.


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Stream 'Mr. Swallow: Houdini' at Soho on Demand

Nick Mohammed's Mr. Swallow: Houdini, which enjoyed a popular run at London's Soho Theater in 2017, is now available to stream at Soho Theatre on Demand until May 20th for a minimum donation of £4.

In these worrying times of global pandemics and lockdowns, who better to lift your spirits than the eccentric tour de force that is Mr. Swallow, a man willing to pay the ultimate homage to Houdini himself by recreating the master’s legendary underwater escape (and you thought your lockdown was bad??) Mr. Swallow is once again joined by his trusty assistants Mr. Goldsworth (David Elms) and Jonathan (Kieran Hodgson) as he charts his own imitable interpretation of Houdini’s life, fusing daredevil magic (his words), hilarious comedy (also his words) and a series of musical numbers that are, frankly, to die for (…yep).

All proceeds raised will go to charity, with 70% going to NHS Charities Together to support frontline workers leading the response to the Covid-19 emergency, with the remaining 30% put into a trust for comics most affected by the pandemic and the resulting financial instability.


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

A new candidate for Houdini's last photo (update)

I'm reviving this post from March 31, 2018 to highlight a major update.

Over the years there have been several photos that claim to be the last taken of Houdini. Now here's another!

The best known "last photo" appears on page 179 of NOTES to Houdini!!! by Ken Silverman. It shows Houdini flagging the start of an auto race in Worcester, MA. The caption on the above photo says it was taken in New York City, which puts it before Worcester and would seem to preclude it from being the last. However, Houdini did lecture at a police headquarters in Montreal on the morning of October 19 (before his McGill lecture), so maybe this is actually a photo from that?

I found this after David Charvet shared an intriguing tip from someone on Facebook that the Detroit News ran what it claimed to be the "last photo" in a Rotogravure insert sometime in the 1930s. This isn't from the Rotogravure. This appeared as part of syndicated article by Rose Mackenberg ("Exposing the Weird Secrets of Mediums and Spirits") which ran in April-May 1929. But Rose would be in a position to know what Houdini's last photo was, so I think this is a viable candidate. If nothing else, it's likely the last photo of Houdini and Jim Collins together.

UPDATE: Reader Tom Frueh has taken up the challenge of determining where this photo may have been taken and has turned up some interesting information that supports Montreal. Below is Tom's email and photo.

I started looking more closely at the police station photo for clues as to whether it was taken in New York or Montreal. I noticed the 3 distinctive buttons on the right shoulder of the police officer, and then started searching for historic photos of Montreal police uniforms (assuming I'd find little if anything). This turned up (among other things) a Wikipedia article about the Montreal police and in that article there was the attached pic - a man named Pierre Belanger who was the Director of the Montreal Police from 1921 to 1928. This COULD be the man in the Houdini and Collins photo (with walrus mustache trimmed down), and without his hat, but whether it is or isn't, it has those distinctive shoulder buttons and the badge looks like it may have the shape of the Canadian badge Belanger is wearing.

I also searched for old NYC uniforms and didn't turn up any with these shoulder buttons (or any). Of course, that doesn't mean there weren't any, and all these uniforms went through a wide assortment of variations. The pic of Belanger also has his badge on the right (with the little Canadian beaver on top) and I thought that might also be a clue, but so far, all the other vintage photos of both Canadian and New York policeman have the badge on the left. So who knows?

Anyway, I thought those buttons might be the missing clue that MIGHT possibly put the police office photo in Montreal. But again, it's conjecture. Still, I thought it interesting enough to share with you.

UPDATE (4/28/20): Today we have a second very exciting update thanks to Martin Bérubé who recently published a piece about Houdini's death at PropsMontréal. During his research Martin uncovered this front page of the October 19, 1926 La Patrie where the original photo first appeared. The caption confirms this was taken at Montreal Police Headquarters on October 18, 1926 (and, yes, that is Pierre Belanger). So that pretty much nails this down as the last photo of the living Houdini that I am aware of. Thank you Martin!

Translation of photo caption (by David Byron): "The famous illusionist Houdini gave a talk to the Montreal police at 11 o’clock yesterday morning at the office of the chief of police. This photograph was taken after the talk. One sees, seated at his desk, the Montreal Chief of Police, Mr. Pierre Belanger. Standing behind, from left to right, Mr. James Collins, Mr. Houdini’s secretary, Mr. William Leggett, Deputy Chief of Police, and Houdini himself."


Monday, April 27, 2020

LINK: A ghost of the Gilded Age found

Sean Doran at The Mysteriarch is back with yet another found location from Houdini's The Man From Beyond. This time it's the stately home of Dr. Crawford Strange which features throughout the movie. Click the headline to find out what this was in reality and what is there today. I love this stuff!

Below are more recent Man From Beyond location finds by The Mysteriarch.


Sunday, April 26, 2020

"The Amazing Exploits of Houdini"

Last year Joe Notaro at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence traveled to the McCord Museum in Montreal where he was able to examine a file of "The Amazing Exploits of Houdini, The Master of Mystery written by Houdini himself" (but actually ghostwritten by Herbert Allingham until 1923, and then taken over by an unknown writer). This was a series of fictional adventures published in the British weekly The Kinema Comic from April 24, 1920 to November 27, 1926. Yes, Houdini's life as a hero of fiction started this early!

Joe took on the task of summarizing and sharing each adventure from the McCord file (April 24, 1920 v1 n1 to June 5th 1920 v1 n7) along with some of the illustrations by R.B. Ogle. Today he completed the series, so I thought this was the perfect time to share links to all his posts. Enjoy Houdini's amazing exploits and Joe's hard work.

The Bride and the Orangutan (April 24, 1920)
The Jewel Thieves (May 1, 1920)
"Stop Thief!" (May 8, 1920)
The Gold Melters (May 15, 1920)
In the Dead of Night (May 29, 1920) 
Out of the Sky (June 5, 1920)

For a complete list of all issues of The Kinema Comic that contain "The Amazing Exploits of Houdini" see Houdini Periodical Bibliography References From 1898 - 2015 by Arthur Moses.


Saturday, April 25, 2020

Mystifier, Winter 2001-2

Continuing my issue by issue look back at the Mystifier, the newsletter of the Houdini Historical Center that ran from 1991-2003.

The last issue of Mystifier for 2001 eliminates the "Quarterly" denotation and announces itself as the "Winter 2001-2" issue. It begins with a review by HHC curator Kimberly Louagie of the new book Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man. The White Male Body and The Challenge of Modernity in America by John F. Kasson. It's a book she recommends as "a great example of how authors can peel away specific aspects of Houdini's life and interpret the magician in a larger historical context." Louagie nicely summarizes the chapter on Houdini as:

Its 78 pages explains how how Houdini helped alleviate some of the tensions felt by men living in new urban communities. Kasson argues that men felt they were losing their independence to industrialization. Their environment has changed from an idealized frontier society to one dominated by corporate capitalism. Kasson sees Houdini's appeal and subsequent fame as an expression of men's need to reclaim and redefine their manhood in a modern world.

The newsletter, which only runs 4 pages this time, continues with an alert for visitors to Appleton about construction along College Ave. It notes the Travel Channel documentary featuring the HHC is set to air April 15, 2002. It also reveals the artwork for the upcoming Houdini stamp as the famous 1911 lithograph, a copy of which the museum has on display from the Tom Boldt collection.

A sign of the times, Sid Radner begins his "Backstage" column discussing the impact of 9/11 on friends of the HHC, including Anna Crankshaw, the great granddaughter of Margery, who lives near Ground Zero and actually witnessed both planes fly into the towers. Sid notes that many regulars could not travel to the Official Houdini Seance that year at the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit. But one welcome new attendee was George Hardeen, the grandson of Theo.

Sid also amusingly points out that he contacted John Edwards, who was finding popularity with his Crossing Over program at this time, and invited him to attend. To no one's surprise Edwards never responded.

Sid continues with a rundown of publicity the seance received, including various radio interviews he gave and coverage in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram featuring Arthur Moses. Sid closes with news of the official announcement of the Houdini stamp ceremony to be held on July 3, 2002.

Volume 11, Number 4
Winter 2001-2
4 pages

Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man: A Review
Travel Channel Documentary to Air
Stamp Artwork Announced
Backstage with Sid Radner


Friday, April 24, 2020

Houdini and the 1918 flu pandemic

I'm reviving this post from January 2015 as it certainly has taken on new meaning in this time of Covid-19.

Our friend Leo Hevia has found an interesting nugget of information about Houdini and the 1918-19 Spanish Flu pandemic. Between 1918 and 1920, the flu infected 500 million people across the world and killed 50 to 100 million of them, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. Says Leo:

"I just finished reading David Ben's captivating bio of magician Paul Fox [in Magicol No. 188] and encountered an interesting tidbit on Houdini. Fox caught the virus near the end of 1918 and was discharged from the Army in December 1918. In January of 1919, his application for membership in the S.A.M was approved at the 182 regular meeting of the Parent Assembly at Martinka's magic shop on 493 Sixth Avenue, New York. Houdini was there and signed Fox's application card. According to Dr. Wilson of The Sphinx, Houdini had also contracted the flu.
He must have shrugged it off fairly quickly because there is no mention of it in any of the bios I know. The virus mainly attacked healthy young men because their strong immune systems overreacted to the viral infection and would kill them. The young and middle-aged survived better because of their weaker immune systems. Houdini was about middle-aged by then. Could this have saved him?"

So it looks like we can add the 1918 flu virus to Houdini's death-defying escapes. One wonders if Bess also contracted it? She was not as strong as Houdini health-wise, and had bouts with illness her entire life.* Luckily, both Houdinis seemed to come through this frightening time.

* UPDATE: I recently discovered that Bess did contract the flu in early October 1918.


Thursday, April 23, 2020

The refurbished Water Torture Cell in 1994

Today our friend Tom Frueh shares with us photos he took of the original Houdini Water Torture Cell in the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in 1994. While we've seen pics of the cell in the museum in the '70s, '80s, and early '90s (all of which showed the cell in a sorry state of neglect), these photos show it after its first restoration by John Gaughan. Looks darn good! (And notice they finally have the lifting frame on correctly.) You can also see on display some travel cases that carried sections of the cell when disassembled.

Unfortunately, the cell only stood in this state for a short period of time. On May 1, 1995 fire swept the museum and destroyed the cell. The cell that exists today in the David Copperfield Collection is a restoration from what survived.

Thanks Tom.


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Norm Nielsen passes away

Norm Nielsen, celebrated magician, collector, and great friend to the magic community, has passed away at age 86. Over the course of 25 years Norm and his wife Lupe amassed one of the finest collection of magic posters in the world. The collection featured many rare and one-of-a-kind Houdini posters.

Lupe Nielsen, who had been running Nielsen Magic and keeping friends and fans updated on Norm's condition during his long illness, has posted a heartfelt blog about her life with Norm HERE.

Norm is survived by Lupe and his two daughters, Jenna and Alexandra Nielsen.


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Houdini's poor eyesight?

Potter & Potter have posted the online catalog for their May Magic Auction and it contains a generous selection of terrific Houdini rarities. But it's Lot 238 that really caught my eye. It's a letter written by Houdini to Arthur Buckle on November 28, 1903, in which he makes a startling admission:

"And to make matters worse, my eyesight, which has never been any too good, keeps me from writing after the daylight, and for me to attempt to write with the lights, that you generally find in the Provincal digs, it would only be foolhardy. So I am compelled to do all my writing by daylight!"

This is the only time I've ever heard Houdini say anything about having poor eyesight. And this is Houdini at age 29, so one can assume it only got worse. Of course, he had a blind sister (there are conflicting stories as to the cause), and his brother Leopold eventually went blind, so faulty vision may have run in the Weiss family.

I can only recall two other references to Houdini's eyesight being faulty. While I've never seen a photo of him in glasses, it's said Doug Henning owned a pair of Houdini's reading glasses given to him by Ruth Kavanaugh. And in his 2010 book, Houdini Question Reality, Dixie Dooley says magician Jimmy Grippo told him Houdini was blind in his left eye for the last two years of his life due to an accident.

Just another fascinating Houdini tidbit for us! Let's keep an eye out for anymore references to his Houdini faulty vision.

Potter & Potter's upcoming Magic Auction which will be held on Saturday, May 2nd starting at 10am, CDT. Due to Covid-19, the sale will be streamed live from Potter & Potter's gallery and held on


Monday, April 20, 2020

Trump can't escape Houdini comparisons

This week's Politico offers up this image of President Trump for a story called Trump's Greatest Escape. The artist has used background elements from Houdini's King of Cards poster and a Grim Game still for the body and chains. Below is the image clean and also how it appears as Politico's online cover.

While every president gets likened to Houdini at one point or another, Trump appears to be setting the record. Below are links to a few more Houdini Trumps.


Sunday, April 19, 2020

Houdini (1953) streaming free on Pluto TV

Just a heads up that Houdini (1953) is now streaming free in HD on Pluto TV. Pluto is quickly becoming my go-to app for free streaming movies. I'm not sure how long they make movies available, but it great to see there's now a free option. So if you've never see this magical biopic starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, know that it's just a click away.


Saturday, April 18, 2020

Theater owners review Terror Island

Today marks the 100th anniversary of Houdini's Terror Island going into wide release around the country. Below is a collection of reviews from theater owners. These appeared in the trade journal Exhibitors Herald and offer a terrific time capsule of audience reactions. Enjoy!

And my favorite:

That last line, "Houdini fails to bring out the women", is what I believe ultimately doomed him in Hollywood. The bread and butter of many theaters was attendance by women during the week days when men were at work and children in school. An action star who didn't also appeal to women--as did Douglas Fairbanks and Valentino--would be relegated to serials or programmers. It was in a serial that Houdini achieved his first success. But his problem drawing women began to show with The Grim Game, and Terror Island appears to have confirmed it, despite the popularity and strong role given co-star Lila Lee. So I believe this was enough for Hollywood to cut their losses. As far as Houdini was concerned, he could not escape being a serial star.

Just a reminder to join me TODAY at 11:30am PDT for a live stream on Instagram with the Catalina Island Museum to celebrate the Terror Island centennial!


Friday, April 17, 2020

Terror Island's train stunt

One of the standout moments in Terror Island is the when Houdini's car races in front of moving train, clearing it by seeming inches. It's a breathtaking stunt. Now here's an item in the May 4, 1921 Boston Globe that confirms it was done for real.

For your breathtaking pleasure, here's that train stunt from Terror Island (from the Kino release).

To mark the 100th anniversary of Terror Island's wide release tomorrow, I will be joining Julie Perlin Lee at the Catalina Island Museum for a LIVE Stream chat on their Instagram at 11:30 am PDT.


Thursday, April 16, 2020

Celebrating Terror Island's 100th with the CIM

I'm excited to announce that I will be live streaming with the Catalina Island Museum on Instagram this Saturday, April 18 at 11:30 am PDT. We'll be talking about Houdini, the 100th Anniversary of Terror Island, and the work we have done together for their recent Houdini exhibition. Catalina was a major filming location for Terror Island, so this is a great way to ring in its centenary.

Catalina Island Museum is a non-profit dedicated to collecting, preserving, and promoting the culture and history of Santa Catalina Island. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Machpelah of the West

In early May 1976 the Home of Peace Memorial Park & Mausoleum in East Los Angeles doubled for Machpelah cemetery in Queens New York for the ABC television movie The Great Houdinis. Founded in 1853, Home of Peace is the first and oldest Jewish cemetery in Los Angeles. Among those who rest in peace here are MGM head Louis B. Mayer and Curly and Shemp Howard of The Three Stooges.

For the 2-day shoot a corner of the cemetery was dressed with a mockup of the Houdini family plot and exedra. Here the opening scene of the movie was filmed with Sally Struthers as Bess, Vivian Vance as Minnie, Adrienne Barbeau as Daisy White, and Bill Bixby as Arthur Ford. Also shot was a scene in which Paul Michael Glaser as Houdini grieves at his mother's grave while being consoled by Bess. A third scene that didn't make the final cut featured the young Harry and Bess gathering information off headstones for a spiritualism act and then making love among the graves.

I discovered the existence of this location back in 2011 while researching this post, but I've never visited and have long been curious if I could find the exact spot where they filmed. So yesterday I finally made the trip in search of the Machpelah of the West. Below is a video and comparison pics of what I found. Enjoy.

"This place is starting to look like his dressing room." -Minnie


Tuesday, April 14, 2020

LINK: Houdini and The Tombs

The intrepid Sean Doran is back with another found movie location. This time it's the "City Prison" seen briefly in The Man From Beyond. Where and what is this in reality? Click the headline and discover for yourselves at The Mysteriarch.

Speaking of movie locations, today I made my own excursion to a location that I've always wanted to explore but wasn't sure I would find. I'm happy to report that I did find it and it's remarkably unchanged. I will share all tomorrow.


Xavier Riddle Houdini book released

A companion book for the Houdini episode of the PBS Kids series Xavier Riddle and The Secret Museum is released today by Penguin Young Readers.

Based on the children's book series Ordinary People Change the World by New York Times bestselling author Brad Meltzer and illustrator Christopher Eliopoulos, the series will introduce kids to inspiring historical figures and the character virtues that helped them succeed.

Brad is too scared to spend a full night in the museum's nature exhibit so the Secret Museum sends him and his friends to meet Harry Houdini! This episode-based 8x8 will focus on the traits that made our heroes great--the traits that kids can aspire to in order to live heroically themselves.

I Am Harry Houdini can be purchased on and (UK release May 1).


Monday, April 13, 2020

A week of Terror and SEX

In the run up to its wide release on April 18, Houdini's second Paramount feature, Terror Island, played an exclusive engagement at the Beacon and Modern theaters in Boston. These were showcase cinemas for Paramount-Arcraft films. But unlike the prestigious first run given The Grim Game in New York, Terror Island was consigned to the bottom half of double bill with a Louise Glaum vehicle called SEX.

SEX was produced by J. Parker Read and directed by Fred Niblo. Star Louise Glaum was a popular "vamp" of the era. According to Wikipedia, it was a morality story on the evils of marital infidelity and the wild lifestyle of New York actors. But the film included scenes of seduction and debauchery that made it the subject of controversy, not to mention the racy title. It proved to be a big hit for Paramount.

Houdini was performing in England at the time of Terror Island's release, so his unavailability to make personal appearances, as he had done with The Master Mystery and The Grim Game, may have contributed to Terror Island playing second fiddle here. But it also may have foretold Paramount's cooling on Houdini as a box office draw, although Terror Island would do respectable business in wide release. It was no SEX! But who won in the long run?

According to the excellent Cinema Treasures website, the Modern Theatre stood at 523-25 Washington Street in Boston until 2009. The original Beacon Theatre stood at 47-53 Tremont Street. It was demolished in 1969.


Sunday, April 12, 2020

Dan Cupid–Magician. A story by Harry Houdini

Here's a sweet Easter treat. This is Houdini's 1907 short story Dan Cupid–Magician. Unlike the perviously shared Bahl Yahn the Strong Man and Yar, The Primeval Man, I don't believe Houdini wrote this story himself. The prose is far too polished. But Houdini's romantic sensibilities and predictions are still all over this tale, so it's likely this was a collaboration. (I harbor a fantasy that it was actually written by Bess who, based on her letters, was a fine writer.) The story is copyrighted "C. H. Sutcliffe" who ran the McClure Newspaper Syndicate.

The below is transcribed from the November 1, 1907 Baltimore Sun, which, as far as I can find, is the first appearance of Dan Cupid–Magician. Enjoy!

     In agony of apprehension, Williams started to arrange his modest conjuring apparatus. A few hours earlier his debut as a parlor entertainer has been a matter of joyous and ambitious anticipation. Now, the brocaded walls of Senator Morgan's music room fairly threatened to close in and choke him, while the fragrance of hothouse flowers oppressed him strangely. He wondered how he had ever dared to ask the vaudeville agent who supplied Mrs. Morgan and other fashionable hostesses with talent to let him substitute for Thorley, the eminent magician, who had fallen victim to la grippe. Of course he would fail, Mrs. Morgan would be furious, the agent would never give him another engagement, and his career would come to ignominious end. The laughter and chatter of the children dancing on the other side of the folding doors, sounded like the death knell of his long-cherished hopes.
     "Can I help you in anyway? I am Miss Morgan. The servants are all busy with supper––and I thought––perhaps"––
     Young Williams had never thought of needing help, but he faced the clear-eyed, flower-like girl, and the echo of her well-modulated voice rang in his ears, he felt that his one hope of succeeding lay in her presence. Men and women, wiser in the social world than Frank Williams, had fallen under the spell of Helen Morgan's rare sympathy and charm, and wondered how this girl of high ideals and gentle manners could be the daughter of Senator Morgan, ponderous with the arrogance of newly acquired wealth, and Mrs. Morgan, who radiated commonplace attributes as her recently purchased diamonds scintillated light.    
     At Frank's faltering thanks, Helen Morgan began quietly but deftly to carry out his instructions, placing a light gilt table here, a tabouret there and, where it would be within easy reach of conjurer's hand, a candle or a gleaming revolver. And though afterwards Frank Williams cannot tell how it happened, before the settings for his act were prepared the girl had drawn out his tail of half-tragic struggle, the prosaic, hard-headed father storming over the visionary, inexplicable nature of his youngest son, the loyal mother secretly brooding over and abetting this odd chick of her little flock, his constant endeavor to learn the secrets of magic and then to secure a hearing, even the rented dress suit, and the gold watch which had been pawned that very afternoon to buy bonbons and gilded trinkets to distribute among his youthful audience. As he finished, it seemed to Helen Morgan that she stood in the presence of a struggling genius. She had read such stories of poets, musicians and inventors. The tardiness of the conjuring world faded, and tenderly her hand rested on the white satin cover of the young man's servante. It was a bit of his mother's wedding dress, sacrifice gladly to her son's art, a rich fabric yellowed with age and finished with stripes of rare old lace.
     The performance was a great success. The children were duly mystified and more than delighted with the showers of trinkets and bonbons, which apparently came from an inexhaustible source. Mrs. Morgan had condescended to express her appreciation, a footman had served a supper of such rare delicacies that Frank had long to pack them all up with his paraphernalia and take them to his mother, and now as he walked down the broad avenue leading from the house he felt as if the house behind him was fairyland, indeed, and Helen Morgan its princess.
     But he was roused from his dream by a grimfaced butler, who came hurrying after him.
     "You're to come back to the house," was the brusque order, and, re-entering his fairyland, Williams faced Senator Morgan, a glowering figure, in the foreground, and Mrs. Morgan, a hysterical one, in the background. But in the eyes of the third he read pity, some tender pity which he had seen in her eyes when Helen Morgan had stooped to pick up his trick rabbit as the frightened animal, escaping from his pocket and trembling at the shouts of the children, had run to the girl for protection.
     "It's jail for you, young man, unless you produce my wife's rings. She left them behind the rock-crystal vase in the music room, and we don't propose to have them disappeared as you do handkerchiefs and rabbits."
     The scene which followed was a horrible nightmare to the young magician––his own protestations of innocence drowned in Mrs. Morgan's hysterics. Senator Morgan's orders for an officer, Helen's pleading for time to search, and finally the discovery of the rings, by a maid, in Mrs. Morgan's dressing room. And when it was all over Williams was thrust out in the night through the side entrance, feeling more like a thief than an acquitted man. Then suddenly a gentle hand fell upon his arm and a gentle voice murmur in his ear:
     "Just a minute, please. I want to tell you how sorry I am. I hoped this would be the greatest night of your life"––
     For one long minute the young man who had his own way to make and the girl who's future had been assured, so far is wealth could accomplish it, looked into each other's eyes. And the soul of the man, suddenly born, went out to the divine tenderness of innate womanliness which is a greater power than mere physical beauty. He spoke quietly, but with new-found confidence.
     "It has been a wonderful, wonderful night to me––and some day I am coming back to tell you why." 
*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     * 
     Under the chaperonage of a dowager duchess who knew how to turn her title to financial account, Helen Morgan was "doing" the London season. In a Mayfair drawing room she sat, and beside her was a man with a monocle, an English accent above reproach and a patronizing air. Of course the Morgan millions would mean the remantling of his ancestral of crumbling castles, but, then, the utter indifference of this girl irritated him even while it commanded his admiration.
     "I suppose you saw Erskine in Paris? He's been the "go" over there––made by the American set, I understand. They say it's his manner as much as his art that got the women all going. He never speaks during his performance and he has the most inscrutable eyes. Never could understand why women went in so heavily for eyes. Conjurers bore me as a rule, but I'm curious to see this man."
     Helen Morgan hardly heard what the man with the monocle was saying.
     In a secret drawer of her jewel case there lay a card, "Frank Erskine Williams," the card of the man who had never come back, never sent her a message in five years––the man who had forgotten! But, no, this could not be, for the man who had promised had a ready tongue; yes, a ready tongue, as all man had––who promised.    
     A flutter of fans and a murmur of subdued interest announced that the lion of the evening had arrived. A quick inclination of the head, a snapping of long slender fingers, and the performance was underway. With lightning-like rapidity and wonderful deftness the conjurer worked, and the breathless audience watched, not so much the tricks as the unsmiling lips, the inscrutable eyes which seemed not to see either the sea of faces upraised to his nor even the assistant who did his unspoken bidding.
     Only one person in the fashionable audience saw something more, and that a quivering, blue-eyed girl who, for one brief second, had met and held the magician's glance and seen burning in those inscrutable eyes a fire which had burned there on a night five years before––a fire lit centuries agone in the eyes of the worlds first man––Adam.
     The assistant called for a ring with which is master would work a new trick. Mechanically Helen Morgan handed him a magnificent hoop of pearls. Erskine took the ring gravely, raised a silver hammer and apparently smashed the trinket into a thousand pieces on an anvil of curiously wrought silver. Then he produced a sealed casket of water, in which swam a gold fish, and in the mouth of the fish he found the hoop of pearls. But the ring was not returned to its owner by the assistant. Instead, as the room rang with applause, the magician himself walked quietly down the aisle formed by the parting of many silken skirts and placed the ring on the girl's trembling white hand. Not even the man with a monocle noticed that the conjurer for an instant held the slim fingers in his with a pressure that threaten to crush them, nor did he dream that within the girl's palm lay another ring which she dared not look.
     Somewhat awkwardly she slipped on her long white glove. She was so deeply engaged in this operation that she did not even see the conjurer as he left the improvised stage. In the privacy of the boudoir, hours later, she held the conjurer's ring under the light of a blazing electrolier.
     "Such an odd––I was almost going to say––ugly ring," she murmured as she slipped it on her finger and turned it this way and that. A diamond, an emerald, and amethyst, a ruby, another emerald, a sapphire and a topaz formed the brilliant half hoop. Then suddenly her cheeks burned crimson. She had read the story of the many-color gems. Their first letters spelled "dearest," the message of the man who had not forgotten his promises.
     With her chocolate the next morning came an oddly shaped French-gray envelope, bare of crest or monogram.
     "Forgive my temerity of last night," ran the message within, "but for years I have been carrying that ring in my pocket, waiting for our meeting. They were the first gems I bought when success came my way and I gathered them one by one, each perfect in its way and worthy the one woman in all the world. Yet last night I heard you were to marry the Earl of Warburton. If this is true do what you will with the ring. If it is but an idle rumor drop me a single word to the Hotel Cecil––'Come.'"
     Erskine laid aside the morning papers, heralding him as the fashionable world's new-found idol, to answer a summons to the phone. The voice at the other end of the wire faltered, then grew firm and strong––"Come; I could not wait to write."


Saturday, April 11, 2020

10th Anniversary: Golden Age in bronze

In 2010 Mike Elizalde's special effects house Spectral Motion launched their amazing "Magicians Series" of bronze busts. I discovered these by surprise at Monsterpalooza and blogged about them 10 years ago today.

TEN YEAR UPDATE: Spectral Motion has thus far created busts of Houdini, Robert-Houdin, Kellar, Thurston, Chung Ling Soo, Alexander Herrmann, Adelaide Herrmann, Blackstone, Dante, and Cardini. All are on display at the Magic Castle. I've heard talk of mini busts and a new series of contemporary magicians. Mike Elizalde recently teased Ricky Jay on his Twitter. As for Houdini, I've never pulled the trigger on one of these (they are $2650), but I remain tempted and they still have a few in stock. My dream is they'll one day do a second Houdini bust at his older "Master Mystifier" age.