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.

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12 comments:

  1. Great post John! Thanks to Tom for the photos. The cell looks brand new with no patina. If the large poster behind the cell was an original, then another valuable artifact was lost in the fire.

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    1. Yes, I believe all the posters at the Hall of Fame were originals, including this one, a Buried Alive poster, a straightjacket escape (the one with Houdini wriggling on the floor of a jail cell while someone watches through the bars on the window), a "Houdini for president" portrait and others. Tremendous loss.

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  2. Wonderful to see the restored USD in the museum. Thanks for sharing, Tom.

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  3. Excellent pictures of the USD Tom! Thanks!

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    1. Thanks - a pleasure! (And thanks, John, for the post.)

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  4. My friend who I respected and loved, "Sidney Radner" who owned most of the "Houdini memorabilia" which included the USD-Water Torture Cell, cuffs, posters, fliers ,etc. which he received from Houdini's brother Dash/Hardeen and purchased some of it too. After the fire in the Canadian Museum, I remember his conversation with me about "all" of the above, the Houdini museum in WI not renewing the insurance on his Houdini collection there as well. It was for these reasons, Sid had his collection at auction. Thankfully, part of his collection along with a framed piece of the destroyed "water torture cell" is on display in beautiful frames bearing his name on the many plaques at "Fantasma" located in NYC. I know my friend, Sid, would be pleased that "part of his collection ended up displayed in this magic shop and Museum thanks to Roger, owner of Fantasma. This was Sidney's long time dream that his collection of "Houdinia" would be on permanent display for others to enjoy😊 I miss him very, very much! Benjilini

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  5. Interesting that the glass plate appears to be gone on these photos. Was the cell always displayed at the Hall of Fame without the glass plate?

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    1. It does appear that way in these pics, but no, the glass was definitely there.

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  6. John, didn't the fire that destroyed the USD begin on 4/30/1995? It may have extended into the morning of 5/1 but I thought it actually started on 4/30. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

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    1. You're correct. It was sometime overnight, 4/30 into 5/1. Newspapers reported it as the "early morning of 5/1".

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  7. Now that we have seen Sid Radner's USD restored and returned and on display, I sure wish someone would share photos of what, if anything, stood in place of Sid's USD during it's restoration by John Gaughan. I still have not been able to find exactly when John Gaughan received the USD for his restoration work but it must have been late in 1990 or early in 1991. The work was completed in the fall of 1991 so it might be a safe bet to say that any photos taken of the USD in the summer of 1991 at the museum would show what was there. It might be the newly discovered Canadian Water Torture Cell and it might not be. It is important for us to know. Did anyone out there visit the museum at that time and what can they tell and/or show us regarding the USD? Hmmmmmm.....

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