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.