Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Houdini, orphans, and the egg bag

This has sure been an exciting month of Houdini discoveries. So let's end it with one more! On September 16, 1925, Houdini performed a special show for 850 orphans at Saint Paul's orphanage in Pittsburgh. Our friend Bill Mullins has uncovered a charming account of this show from The Pittsburgh Catholic with a terrific image of Houdini in action. The full article is below.


Famous Mystifier Entertains 850 Inmates of Saint Paul's Orphanage. Keeps Them in Laughter–Opens His Whole Bag of Tricks

        Eight hundred and fifty little hearts beat as one, bewildered and amazed, as Houdini, the world-famous mystifier, dumped his bag of tricks at Saint Paul's orphanage yesterday afternoon in a special entertainment arranged for the kiddies under the auspices of The Pittsburgh Chronicle Telegraph. It was an entertainment the kiddies will not soon forget and the afternoon likewise will linger long in the memory of Houdini.
        The standing room only sign was hung out on the door of the auditorium long before Houdini made his appearance. Practically every orphan at Saint Paul's was in the auditorium, and all anxiously awaiting the coming of the mystifier, who is appearing this week at the Alvin Theater in an entertainment featured by the exposing of methods employed by mediums in spiritualistic séances. Houdini is at home with an audience of children and for their entertainment he has a special brand tricks, mystery and illusions.
Children Cheer Houdini
        When Houdini in the auditorium yesterday, the children rose and cheered him. He was introduced to his youthful audience by father H.J. Gilbert, superintendent of the orphanage. The mystifier made a short address on magic, pointing out to the youngsters at no matter what is done, it is accomplished by trickery–and that alone.
        Calling for two assistants from among the audience for his egg trick, two tiny tots, hardly reaching to Houdini's waistline, came forward. While they held an apparently empty bag, Houdini drew forth an egg. A moment later he put the egg back in the bag and asked his startled assistants to draw it out. But the egg was no longer in the bag. They searched every nook and corner but no sign of it. Then some youngster in the audience yelled that the egg was not a real one but one that "folds up." The others voiced their approval of this suggestion. Houdini was amused. Into the bag went his hand, out came the egg and in full view of the audience he crushed it. The youngsters were too bewildered to move. 
Tots Get Treat
        After running through his bag of tricks. Houdini came to his very best one, the stunt where a large receptacle is shown to the audience empty and then, after making a few magic passes it is showed again, this time filled with candy. At the conclusion of the trick Houdini passed the candy out the youngsters, who loudly proclaimed the performance and invited Houdini to be sure and come back again next time he appears in Pittsburgh.

It's pretty wild to see Houdini doing the Egg Bag. This is a basic store bought piece of magic that even I did as a kid (badly). However, the Egg Bag seems to have been one of Houdini's go-to tricks. He did it at the first annual Magicians' Club banquet in London in 1914. It was even sometimes featured in his "3 Show in One" advertising as one of the show's highlights. I guess in the hands of a master...

Below are some more accounts of special shows Houdini did for children.

Thanks Bill!


  1. Nice Find! There is a nice Herald and Examiner photo of Houdini teaching youngsters how to make an ace disappear. It was taken on April 1st 1926 at the Home for Destitute Children, 1653 W. Park Ave. He entertained them with the egg-in-the-bag trick, card tricks, and the rabbit trick; but it was the candy kisses trick that made them his devotees. The next day (April 2, 1926), he gave a performance at the Chicago Nursery and Half Orphan Home, 2801 Foster Ave.

    1. Oh, I don't have either of those in the chronology! Thanks Joe.

    2. Nice catch Joe! And kudos to Bill Mullins for finding this article. HH definitely had a big heart and a soft spot for children. Newspaper articles about his performances in orphans and children's hospitals keep flowing down the river.

      I wasn't aware HH did the egg bag, but it's not surprising since it was a popular effect at the turn of the 20th century. It's still going on strong today as a classic of magic. We don't have a comprehensive list of HH's parlor and stage magic tricks do we? Color changing silks, water to wine, rabbit and candy production, and so on. He must have kept his kid's show effects in a trunk somewhere in 278.

  2. Thanks for sharing this story about Houdini and the egg bag trick. I've seen this photo many times but never heard what Houdini had performed. Jeff Blood

  3. I wouldn’t be surprised if Houdini saw his friend Al Flosso perform the Egg Bag at Coney Island

  4. The Egg Bag effect was making the rounds in the early 20th Century. You would have seen it getting performed a lot by magicians, perhaps too much. Dai Vernon remembered seeing a sign at a theater that said: No Egg Bag.