Friday, April 23, 2021

Houdini debuts 3 Shows in One, but not where we thought

Looks like it's time to revise some Houdini history. It has generally been accepted that Houdini debuted his full evening 3 Shows in One at the Maryland Theater in Baltimore on August 31, 1925. Turns out that isn't entirely correct. While Houdini did debut the show at the Maryland on that date, it was the Maryland Theater in Cumberland. Below is the ad for that very first show from The Cumberland Evening Times.

The Cumberland Maryland was located at 37 N. Mechanic Street. It first opened in 1907 and sat 1,800. Houdini appeared here for three days from August 31 to September 2. On his final day he gave a special matinee tailored to children in addition to his evening show. 

The Cumberland Evening Times also printed the entire show program. Nothing revelatory here, but nice to have this record of the earliest incarnation of the 3 Shows in One. You can see that Paligenesia is a standout of the first act. I recently learned Houdini performed the effect using a cockney accent in the style of Dr. Lynn. I bet his cockney was terrible!

Click to enlarge.

This was the only time Houdini played his 3 Shows in One in Cumberland. But Houdini had been to Cumberland at least once before. The Welsh Bros. Circus played the city on September 24, 1898, during The Houdinis second tour with the troupe. It was here Houdini famously recored in his diary, "Rain hard. No dinner."

The Maryland Theater eventually became a movie theater and remained so for decades. It finally closed in October 1963 and was razed in December 1966. Below is the site of the theater today.

Postcard image from Cinema Treasures, an essential resource for information on old theaters.

UPDATE: I embarrassed to say that Dean Carnegie already made this Cumberland discovery using Pat Culliton's Houdini The Key. Dean included it an an excellent post on his Magic Detective blog back in 2017 called A Forgotten Houdini Associate. So all credit goes to them. Sorry Dean and Pat!


  1. I beat you to this information having revealed it in 2016 (the Cumberland part). I was researching L.Lawrence Weber at the time, and you beat me to all the information on him! But then I had no idea Houdini presented Palegenisia with a Cockney accent. So I'd say it's WAH for the win!!! Great stuff as always John.

    1. Oh, I'm sorry Dean. I didn't remember that. You get the credit then. :)

  2. Wonderful material by John and Dean! Not to be confused with "Jan and Dean." ;)

    That two hour show had to have been a lot of work with logistical problems all around, but it was perfect for HH. The third segment of the show must have been a great opportunity for the crew to reset the props or pack up for the next town behind the curtains while Harry lectured on fraud spiritualists.

    I would love to see a complete list of the magic effects Harry presented. We don't see the Card Star, Flight of Time, the Robert-Houdin Crystal Casket, and Goodbye, Hello Summer, Winter. But at least we know what he started with in this Cumberland show.

  3. I'm a librarian in Baltimore and I just discovered something was off...a friend of mine had shared information with me about Houdini's 1925 season from a book called Great Magic Shows, by Arnold Furst. The book claimed Houdini had been at the Maryland Theatre in August, 1925. That didn't make sense to me because I already knew he had appeared at the Auditorium in November. I doubted that Houdini would have appeared in the same city twice during the same season...and the Baltimore Sun certainly didn't mention an appearance at the Maryland Theatre in August. Thanks for solving the mystery! I'm going to dive into some microfilm for the Cumberland papers to see the articles!

    1. Glad to have been of help! Happy you found us. :)