Monday, May 31, 2021

Houdini planned to resume the Water Torture Cell in Detroit


Here is a remarkable letter from the collection of Wayne Wissner dated October 19, 1926. Houdini is writing from Montreal to George Atkinson, manager of the Garrick Theater in Detroit, with suggestions on how to heat the water for his Water Torture Cell.

Houdini explains in detail how he's heated the water in the past, which is interesting in itself. (The backstage Bunsen burners sound fantastically dangerous considering the number of theatre fires during this era.) But what I find most exciting is this letter pretty much confirms that Houdini planned to resume doing the Water Torture Cell in Detroit. This would be a mere two weeks after breaking his ankle while doing the escape in Albany.

Houdini's Detroit engagement was to be two weeks, so possibly he planned to resume it during his second week, giving the ankle a little more time to mend. Of course, fate intervened.

Click to enlarge.

Wayne has been sharing his letters on Kevin Connolly's CONJURING HISTORY Facebook Group. He previously published them in a collection called The Houdini Correspondence File.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

'Houdini Unbound' live stream performance today

This is super late notice, but the Don't Go Into The Cellar! Theatre Company will live stream their production of HOUDINI UNBOUND today at 9PM UK time on Facebook Live. The performance is free to view, but they also have a Go Fund Me page where you can donate the cost of a ticket. 

For more details and to link to the performance check out the Houdini Unbound EVENT PAGE on Facebook. 

Related:

Saturday, May 29, 2021

278 mystery fragment

Our friends at Houdini's 278 have discovered this mysterious fragment in the basement of the house. Similar fragments were also found in the floors between the basement and kitchen. It's very thick, so it's unclear if this is a poster fragment or from some sort of prop. But it's a fun little mystery, so I thought I'd share. If you have any guesses or recognize this pattern, sound off in the comments!


Below are links to more 278 finds.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Merlin McFly's stained glass Houdini window

In the 1980s there was a popular "singles bar" in Venice Beach, California, called Merlin McFly's. The decor was magic themed and included nine large stained glass widows featuring images of famous magicians, including Houdini! I lived right down the road in neighboring Marina del Rey, but somehow I never went inside and never got a photo. Then one day the windows were gone.

My memory of what the Houdini window looked like has dimmed, so I was excited to find this photo on the website of custom finisher Pat Barrow, who did the woodwork for Merlin McFly's. It's even better than I remember!


The windows were created in 1979 by the Bonny Doon Studio in Santa Cruz, CA. Along with Houdini there was Harry Kellar, Blackstone, Merlin, Aladdin, a fire eater and more. According to the Los Angeles Times, McFly's became not just "a magnet for Westside singles, soon also began drawing stained glass enthusiasts from throughout the country."

When the bar closed in 1992 (a casualty of the AIDS epidemic), the windows were offered for sale for $325,000. According to the blog Gourmet Ghosts, Steve Spill at the nearby Magicopolis magic theater bought them. Two years later he sold them to a collector who put them in a stained glass museum in Washington, D.C. So, presumably, the Houdini stained glass window survives today.

Here's a little side note. The 1977 movie Looking for Mr. Goodbar is about a woman's odyssey in the world of singles bars, much like Merlin McFly's. In one scene she's in a bar that has a Houdini poster on the wall. In fact, it's the same poster that the stained glass window was partially modeled on. The movie was made before the window so this can only be a coincidence. But I guess Harry is conducive to hooking up!


Below are links to some other bars and eateries with Houdini decor.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

'Houdini' by AViVA (video)

Seems like every year we get a new pop single called "Houdini." This year's entry is by Australian born, LA-based emo pop artist AViVA. Enjoy.


Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Great Grey Mystery mystery

Here's a page from the December 1918 issue of Film Fun, a New York based movie magazine. Some nice shots here of Q the Automaton from Houdini's The Master Mystery. But what's odd is they refer to the title of the serial as "The Great Grey Mystery."

Click to enlarge.

By December 1918 the first chapters of The Master Mystery had been released to theaters, so I don't know why the magazine uses this title, nor where it came from. As it says; "It's a Mystery."

Speaking of the Automaton, last year some side panels from the 2017 Houdini Pinball machine sold on eBay. On one side you can see the Automaton and his...Automawoman?


Below are a few more links for the Automaton aficionado.

Related:

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

David Copperfield receives S.A.M. "Alliance of Harry Houdini" award

Society of American Magician's President Joel Zaritsky recently presented David Copperfield with the "Alliance of Harry Houdini Gold Tier" award commemorating his 50 year of membership in the S.A.M. As you can see in the video, the honors were bestowed in the Houdini section of David's International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas.

Monday, May 24, 2021

The American Gaiety Girls forever

While doing research on Houdini's short-lived Burlesque troupe the American Gaiety Girls, I was excited to stumble on this ad and photo. But then I realized this is from 1915, so these are not the "Gaiety Girls" of Houdini's time. But it's interesting to see that the name lived on, and this is a pretty fun ad. Oh you kid!


For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, from October 1895 to April 1896 Houdini and Bess traveled as part of a burlesque show called the American Gaiety Girls. Houdini actually co-managed the company, and I've seen at least one reference to it being called "Harry Houdini's American Gaiety Girls." But Houdini's sensibilities weren't suited to burlesque (reviewers called it "a good, clean show," which likely disappointed true fans of the genre) and the company failed after its business manager, Fred Harvey, was arrested for misappropriating funds.

Below are two ads for the American Gaiety Girls from Houdini's time that give a good idea of what the show featured (including the Houdinis).

The Boston Globe, March 29, 1896.

The Fall River Daily, Dec. 6, 1895.

Related:

Saturday, May 22, 2021

The two Harrys

Mark Cannon has published a new book about magician and Civil War veteran Harry Cooke called Lincoln's Scout: The Diary of Horatio Cooke Soldier, Spy, Escape Artist

Houdini greatly admired Cooke and the two men became friends in 1919. The book covers their friendship and includes images of Houdini's letters to Cooke, Cooke's inscribed copy of A Magician Among the Spirits, Cooke's presentation padlock and case constructed for Houdini, photos of Houdini and Cooke together at Cooke's home in Los Angeles and more.

You can purchase Lincoln's Scout: The Diary of Horatio Cooke Soldier, Spy, Escape Artist at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Houdini and Cooke pic from The Magic Detective.

Friday, May 21, 2021

'The Great Houdinis' Water Torture Cell in the wild

As long as we're on the topic of Houdini biopic props, here's an image I found of the Water Torture Cell from The Great Houdinis on display in a shopping mall in 1977. What's notable here is the cell still has the artificial front that the production added to conceal star Paul Michal Glaser's height and make the cell look a little more menacing. The cell survives today, but it has lost this front piece which made it so identifiable. This clipping is from the June 19, 1977 Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Click to enlarge.

As you can read, the cell was being passed off as Houdini's original, which of course it is not. You can read more about that little deception here. Below is the cell as seen in the movie.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Steel Straitjacket

Near the end of Houdini (1953) we see Tony Curtis' Houdini challenged to escape from what the movie calls "a steel straitjacket." It's a terrific escape performed by Curtis without a cut. The "steel straitjacket" was provided by Houdini's technical advisor Joseph Dunninger, who claimed it was used by Houdini himself. Below is a photo of Dunninger with the jacket from the July 26, 1967 Middletown Journal.


The steel straitjacket was purchased along with the rest of the Dunninger collection by Henry Muller in 1967 to supply his Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagara Falls, Canada. The jacket was displayed as the "Armoured Breast Plate" (it was no longer on display when I went to the museum in 1990). After the catastrophic fire of 1995 the steel straitjacket was housed in a warehouse along with the rest of the surviving collection.

One person who remembered seeing the straitjacket in the museum was magician and collector Rob Allen from Niagara Falls, New York. "I always remember seeing it on display there," says Rob. "I would always stop and look at it as I thought it was the most intriguing piece among the Houdini escaped pieces." Following the fire, Rob purchased some items from Henry's warehouse. But there was one item he always coveted. In a November 2007 issue of Magicol, Rob remembered:

After my first purchase from Henry, I met him numerous times, often taking things he owned to sell at Yankee Gatherings and Magic Collectors' Weekends. It was fun for me and I finally told Henry during one of our meetings that I wanted to buy the Steel Straitjacket although I couldn't afford to pay for it at that time.

"Rob, it's yours," he said. "It won't leave the warehouse. When you have the money you can come pick it up."

That day finally came. If I had not arranged to buy it, the Houdini Steel Straitjacket would have been shipped with the rest of the warehouse contents to Hollywood, where the items were auctioned by Butterfield & Butterfield in November 1999.

Happily, Rob still owns the steel straitjacket today. Here's a photo he shared. Still looks fantastic!


But the question remains. Did Houdini really use this? Like the iron overboard box from the movie--also supplied by Dunninger who also claimed it was Houdini's--I've never seen any photo or read any reference to Houdini doing this particular escape. But how great would it be if one day we did find a photo of Houdini in this now iconic restraint?

Until then, we'll have to be satisfied with the scene from the movie (this is copyrighted so may have ads). Enjoy.


Thanks to Joe Fox for his help with the post, and a big thanks to Rob Allen for showing us the steel straitjacket today.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

LINK: I was an astrologer – here's how it really works, and why I had to stop

It was 95 years ago today that Houdini resumed his testimony before a Congressional committee in Washington in support of a bill that would outlaw fortune telling in the District of Columbia. So I thought this was a good day to share this link to an excellent article from the UK's Guardian website. It doesn't have anything to do with Houdini directly, but it's an eye-opening confession and explanation of the type of deception Houdini was battling in D.C.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Bess helps clear a "witch"

In 1656 Eunice "Goody" Cole was convicted of being a witch in Boston. After serving a jail sentence she was again accused of witchcraft in Hampton, New Hampshire, where she died in prison in 1680. It only took the citizens of Hampton 258 years to realize they might have made a mistake. So on August 25, 1938 they organized a ceremony to clear Eunice's name. And guess who was there?

I'll let the report from the AP take it from here.

Click to enlarge.

It's nice to know Bess kept up her husband's battle against "the cancer of superstition."

Below are more adventures of Bess in her later years.

Related:

Sunday, May 16, 2021

LINK: Houdini and Roosevelt group photo gets bigger

Our friend Joe Notaro at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence shares an exciting find today. We are all familiar with the famous photo showing Houdini alone with former President Theodore Roosevelt aboard the Imperator on June 23, 1914. But most of us know the original photo (right) contained a group of seven men.

But now Joe has discovered a fully un-cropped version of the original photo that shows an eighth man! I never knew a more complete version of this photo even existed.

Click here or on the headline to see the full group at HHCE. Thank you Joe!

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Houdini's advice for retailers

I don't know if this is even remotely true, but this is Houdini being Houdini. He always had some wisdom to impart and newspapers were always happy to print it. Enjoy!

Boston Sunday Post, Aug. 25, 1918.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Edwin L. Scanlan remembers his neighbor Houdini

On the 50th anniversary of Houdini's death in 1976, the New Jersey Sunday Register ran an article featuring the boyhood recollections of Edwin L. Scanlan who lived next door to Hardeen in Flatbush. This was when Houdini and Bess were living with the Hardeens, and Scanlan came to know both brothers well. I love stuff like this, and Scanlan's memories provide new insight into Houdini's Flatbush years. I've excerpted choice selections below. Enjoy.

I had the rare privilege of knowing this remarkable man for 10 years, starting in 1916. My Dad, relocating his business from Philadelphia, Pa., bought a large house in Flatbush, Brooklyn that year, and it was not until we were settled did we realize that Houdini and his brother, Hardeen, a magician and escapist in his own right, shared a similar house next to ours.

Houdini owned a house in Manhattan too, but the Flatbush property was the general headquarters for the brothers, because it had the advantage of a big barn-like structure at the rear of the plot which housed the wondrous array of magical apparatus and stage illusions used in their performances, ready to be moved out as required by their schedule of engagements.

At first I became acquainted with Houdini's little dog, Bobby, and got to know the brothers through him, doing little chores and errands for the magicians. I was just going on 10 years of age at the time. They took a liking to me, especially Houdini; the Houdinis had no children. The following year (1917) I was given the job of keeping the big storage building neat and tidy – I was then in seventh heaven.

I earned their implicit trust in regards to "keeping mum." In return for my work they, particularly Houdini, taught me the fundamentals of magic when at the GHQ, though they traveled considerably, often worldwide.

I never divulged any of the secrets of the spectacular apparatus, despite the fact that it did not take me long to catch on, due to the amount of time I spent figuring things out. I also watched them perform on stage and elsewhere whenever they were in the New York metropolitan area or even in Atlantic City, one of Houdini's favorite spots. Hardeen had two sons around my age but neither one took any interest in magic.

The topic then turns to aviation. Scanlan notes that after Houdini's historic first flight in Australia ("Long before I knew him") newspapers ran articles about the danger of Australia possibly being invaded by aircraft from Japan. Scanlan continues:

Houdini was deeply impressed by these news stories and recalled them for years thereafter, when I knew him, and long after he had given up flying – "a young man's game," he would say. 

Houdini was the one who later inspired me to take to the 'wild blue yonder' – I was 14 at the time – and he said, "It's fine to build those model airplanes you occasionally turn out but learn to fly the real thing; it's never too early to start learning." Despite the fact that here was a man who was continually risked his own life, sometimes two or three times in a single day (which he took great enjoyment in doing), shackled handcuffed, sealed up in a crate or trunk and dropped off a bridge, for example, and yet he said: "life's greatest thrill is flying – alone."

I'll always be indebted to Houdini for arousing my interest in flying, alone, and even when I moved to an apartment in Greenwich Village – still in my teens – I kept in touch with the two brothers. 

Houdini could escape from anything – except from those minds and hearts of those who saw him, who knew him, who loved and admired him.

In 1976 Scanlan published a book about overcoming alcoholism, The A to Z Systemis which he mentions his friendship with Houdini and Hardeen. He died at age 82 at his home in Red Bank, New Jersey on August 2, 1990.

Hardeen's Flatbush home.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Man Who Walked Through Walls AGAIN!!


Today I'm back on the always enjoyable Transatlantic History Ramblings podcast with Lauren Davies and Brian Young talking about the recent discovery of Houdini window cards in the walls of a house in Rhode Island. Plus lots of other random stuff (including my senior cat). It's always a joy to join Brian and Lauren and a lot of laughs, so have a listen below. Interview begins at 26:15.


You can listen and subscribe to Transatlantic History Ramblings on Apple, Spotify, Google, Anchor, or your favorite podcatcher. You can also follow them on Twitter @HistoryTA.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Thurston's strangely familiar window card

When Houdini launched his "3 Shows in One" in 1925, Howard Thurston was touring with the 19th season of his own full evening magic spectacular. Houdini was certainly looking to emulate Thurston's success, and eventually hired away one of Thurston's assistants to help buck up the magic portion of his show. But it wasn't just Houdini who did some borrowing.

Below is a window card for Thurston's 23rd tour in late 1928. Look familiar? It's strikingly similar to Houdini's now well-known 1926 window card featuring Halloween imagery. There's even an owl perched over the first letter of his name. I've not dove too deeply into this, but it appears this artwork was unique to Thurston's 1928-29 tour.


For comparison, here is Houdini's window card.


So was this a delibrate effort by Thurston to evoke Houdini's show? Could this just be coincidence? Or maybe these elements are part of a basic template used by printers of the time? It's hard to say for sure, but the similarities here are unmistakable.

Reproductions of the Thurston card are available from the Museum Outlets website.

Monday, May 10, 2021

The Zanetti Mystery by Houdini

I'm re-sharing this as Joe has now completed posting all eight chapters. A standing ovation for Joe's work here! Now who's brave enough to read it?

Joe Notaro at Harry Houdini Circumstantial Evidence is sharing all eight chapters of Houdini's The Zanetti Mystery, which was serialized in newspapers beginning in December 1925 and marked Houdini's last piece of published fiction. The story nicely combines Houdini's love of mystery and detective yarns with his crusade against fraudulent mediums. The character of Zanetti can also be seen as the dark side of Houdini -- maybe what Houdini feared he would have become had he remained a fraud medium. Houdini would sometimes play Zanetti on stage during his exposure act.

Joe is sharing the original newspaper installments with illustrations by Edmund Fredrick. Chapter 1 is available now. I will add links as Joe posts each new installment below. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 9, 2021

LINK: WILD ABOUT HARRY WEEKLY #3

Click the headline to preview the third issue of my WILD ABOUT HARRY WEEKLY email newsletter. This will be the last preview I'll offer here on the site. In order to see future issues you'll have to subscribe. As a subscriber you will also receive the special WILD ABOUT HARRY EXTRA. Thanks to everyone who have already subscribed!

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Houdini's Motherly Love (video)

Here's one that seems right for Mother's Day. This YouTube video from "Ripley's After Dark" is well done. Enjoy.


You can watch all the outside videos I share here on WILD ABOUT HARRY via my Linked Videos list at my YouTube channel.

Friday, May 7, 2021

No hard feelings

One of the things Hollywood gets wrong about Houdini is showing him bellowing onstage how no one ("Not even God!!!") can hold him a prisoner. But had Houdini done this in reality, audiences would have surely turned on him and rooted for such a braggart to fail. While Houdini was a boaster off-stage, on-stage he actually presented a more humble persona. He would famously say to his audience, "I don't know if I'm going to get out of this, but I assure you I am going to give it my best." He presented himself as the underdog and audiences rooted for him.

Of course, Houdini always did escape. But he also went out of his way not to humiliate his challengers. No escape was ever presented as easy, even when it was. Houdini would frequently say he had never faced such a well-made packing case or a more expert rope tie. He left good will in his wake.

The below is a nice example of this. This ran in the The Wisconsin State Journal following Houdini's suspended straitjacket escape from the State Journal building in Madison on January 23, 1924.

Click to enlarge.

Of course, there were exceptions, such as William Hope Hodgson in Blackburn. And later in his career Houdini did do some on-stage boasting. A 1922 review in the Baltimore Evening News complained, "Houdini spends about 10 minutes telling of his greatness, then performs two tricks that he has been showing for years." But in this case he was boasting of past triumphs.

Okay, so maybe Hollywood got it half right.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Barry Spector will end his 278 magic wands with #150

Barry Spector's amazing creations using wood salvaged from Houdini's New York home (278) have become renowned, and it all started with his very first work; a magic wand. Over the past two years Barry has made and sold wands on request, but he's now decided to end the run at 150. This is to keep the wands limited and to conserve what wood he has left for future projects.


That means if you want one of these wands, now is the time to act! Barry will make just 20 more. And while there are now others crafting some very nice 278 collectibles, including wands, Barry's wands remain the most affordable and they are made with the first batch of wood out of the house by the artisan who started it all!

To get one of these last 20 wands, contact Barry at negrilman15@gmail.com.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Deconstructing Houdini '53: Dime Museum

Today I continue my scene by scene deconstruction of Paramount's 1953 biopic, HOUDINI, in which I'll attempt to make the case that it's much more historically accurate than it is given credit. Also anything else that comes to mind. Last time we examined the Main Titles. Today we FADE UP on...

Chapter 2: Dime Museum

The sequence that opens Houdini (1953) is a delight on many levels. While a fabrication from start to finish, it nevertheless still contains many elements from Houdini's real life. It's also just good old fashioned Hollywood storytelling that sets up the movie and our main characters beautifully. But let's tackle it beat for beat.

We open with a group of uniformed school girls passing "Schultz's Dime Museum," ignoring the busking of the mustachioed owner Mr. Schultz (Sig Ruman) at the door. But then one of the girls, blonde-haired Bess (Janet Leigh), encourages her classmates to slip in for a quick look. "The man said it was educational, didn't he?"

Something to consider here is the association of a school uniform with a Catholic school education. Is Houdini slyly establishing that Bess is Catholic as she was in real life? (Harry's Judaism will later be slyly established.) Irregardless, meeting Bess as a schoolgirl nicely comports with the "approved mythology" of the Harold Kellock book and Bess's own colorful version of events. But in reality, Bess was a performer like Harry when they met. Of course, with her long blond hair and full figure, Janet Leigh looks nothing like the real Bess Houdini. But I don't think Bess would have objected being portrayed by such a glamours movie star.


Inside the girls step up to the first exhibit, Bruto The Wild Man, who snarls and carries on like, well, a wild man! Showing courage and compassion, Bess steps in to stop Mr. Schutz from whipping him. "Treat him like a beast and he becomes one," she says. If we didn't already love Bess, we do now. (Notice how Bruto casually leans on the bars during this exchange.) We then reveal backstage that the Wild Man is actually Harry Houdini (Tony Curtis). In case we need help with that, a passing showgirl conveniently says, "Hi Harry."

This is all rooted in fact. Houdini did play "Projea The Wild Man of Mexico" during his tour with the Welsh Bros Circus in 1895. Harry and Bess were already married at this point and the Wild Man had nothing to do with a dime museum, but using the Wild Man here works wonderfully well and is one of the best examples of how Houdini builds its master narrative using select facts. No need to invent fictions when Houdini's real life provides such great dramatic clay.


The girls now approach the platform for "The Great Houdini" (billing he never used, incidentally). Like the main title, this should send a thrill of recognition through any Houdini buff as the production took great care in bringing to life the famous photo of "Mysterious Harry" from 1897-8. Even the costuming matches -- note the loosely rolled up sleeves. No future biopic would attempt anything close to this level of accuracy and it's a treat.


It's also worth pointing out that Houdini appearing in a dime museum is also entirely accurate. This was his bread and butter for many years. In fact, Houdini played dime museums so often he earned the nickname "Dime Museum Harry." As far as I know there was never a "Schultz's Dime Museum." Huber's located at 106 East 14th Street was Houdini's go-to dime museum in New York City.


While we're on the topic of the dime museum in general, this scene also contains uncredited appearances by Tor Johnson as a strong man; Marion Dempsey as the sword swallower; contortionists Audrey Washburn and Betty Yeaton are the Pretzel Twins; and little person "Mr. Bigger" is played by A.J. Buster Resmondo.

The Great Houdini begins his magic act with a milk pitcher trick. Here the movie establishes how it will present its magic. Tricks are performed by the real actors start to finish with few if any cuts. During these moments the movie very much stops and becomes a magic show. In fact, when I've seen Houdini with an audience they instinctively applaud the conclusion of each trick. The magic in Houdini is also almost all contemporary, or at least performed in a 1950s style. As far as period goes, Houdini has a light touch. It is filled with deliberate anachronisms, starting with Tony Curtis's hairstyle which is the actor's own. But all this is meant to keep Houdini a breezy entertainment for audiences of the day, and the anachronisms are likely not even noticed by modern audiences as the 1950s now seem pretty old-timey as well!


As the magic show continues, we take a beat with the sour Schultzs. Business-minded Mrs. Schultz (Connie Gilchrist) complains that the magic act "slows up the turnover." Mr. Schulz agrees, but says Harry has refused to play the popular Wild Man unless he's allowed to do his magic, thus establishing magic as Harry's true love. "That boy's got something," growls Mr. Schultz. "If only he'd forget the magic."

Of course, this is meant to play as high irony as Houdini will show Harry rising to the ranks of a Master Illusionist. But this beat actually reveals an inadvertent truth. Schultz's words echo the real life Martin Beck who famously advised Houdini to "drop the magic." Schultz, like Beck, can see Houdini is a natural with larger dramatics (such as the Wild Man) and that standard magic is not his strong suit. In fact, this movie suggests that Houdini's early struggles are largely due to his clinging to traditional magic instead of embracing his larger (and darker) destiny. Destiny and fate are huge themes of this movie as we shall explore.


Harry now invites Bess on stage to assist in a trick (notice how he ignores the man in the front row who raises his hand -- funny). We now get a trick from the 1890s. In fact, it comes right out of Bess's own real-life recollections in Kellock. In the book Bess related how, shortly after their marriage, Houdini divined the name of her deceased father, Gebhard, from a burned piece of paper rubbed on his arm. (This actually terrified her and the only way Harry could calm her down was to explain how the trick was done.) Here we see the same trick, but this time Harry divines Bess's own name. Again, this is a beautiful way to use something from real Houdini history to create a fictional "meet cute" moment. The only thing that mars the scene is Harry's extended hand rubbing "vibrations" beat, which now plays as inappropriate and generally slimy.

Things then take a turn for the worse. As his act ends and Bess tries to leave the stage, the smitten Harry comes on a little too strong and good girl Bess soundly rejects him.


Looking to salvage the situation, Harry puts back on his Wild Man mask and re-approaches Bess out in the museum. However, the patrons think the Wild Man has escaped and pandemonium ensues. Harry is fired and Bess vanishes into the city streets. I like how Bess calls Harry a "Fake!" when he reveals he's the Wild Man, thus establishing that she, like Houdini later in life, is personally offended by fakery. I might also add that the real Bess did not care for dime museums, sometimes forcing Harry to perform in them solo.

As far as I know, Houdini was never fired from a dime museum, so there is no correlation to Houdini history here. But it's a great way to conclude the sequence. We love both these characters and can see they have chemistry. If only they could meet again...


Chapter 3: Coney Island (coming)

Related:

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Exclusive Houdini in Kansas poster offering

Our friend Don Creekmore is hard at work on his upcoming book about Houdini's early tours of Kansas, Escaping The Sunflower State. Now Don is offering an exclusive "Escaping The Sunflower State 1897-1898 Tour Poster" to help fund his ongoing research. Below are details.

During the cold winter of 1897 & 1898, Harry & Bess Houdini toured South Eastern Kansas with a medicine show called The California Concert Company. While no posters exist from this time, one inspired by Don Creekmore's research into his future book, Escaping The Sunflower State, has been designed. ​ 

An iconic image of Houdini is flanked by each Kansas town Houdini performed in. Until now, some of these performance locations were unknown to most! The Celebrated Psychometric Clairvoyant is a novel quote from a newspaper reporter's description of Houdini in 1897. The title of the upcoming book is highlighted at the bottom. ​ 

Only 50 posters measuring 27" by 19" were printed. Each poster will also be hand-numbered and signed by Don Creekmore. Proceeds will go towards further research and publication of the book, planned for 2023. ​Signed & Numbered Posters Priced At $44.99 each, shipping included. 

You can purchase the poster and read up on Don's latest research HERE.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Are there Houdini handcuffs at the bottom of the Harlem River?


Here is an account of a little-known Houdini underwater escape in New York City on April 3, 1912. Houdini had planned to leap from the Willis Avenue Bridge into the Harlem River. But police forbade a jump from the bridge itself, so a rowboat had to suffice. But there's another detail here that really stands out. Houdini left his handcuffs and irons at the bottom of the river!

New York Tribune, April 4, 1912.

This isn't the only time Houdini did an underwater escape from a rowboat, so I can't say whether the below image from Shutterstock is from this specific jump. But his age looks right. The escape was also filmed.


So what about the claim that Houdini left his manacles in the river? This is the only time I've ever heard of him doing such a thing. Did the reporter get this right? If so, I doubt it was intentional as these would have been his own special "jump cuffs." So he might have accidentally dropped them. That would mean they are still there!

Wouldn't it be something if these cuffs could be recovered? They would have instant provenance and be valuable handcuffs indeed. The original Willis swing bridge was replaced with a new one 2010, but the location remains the same. So maybe it's time to break out the scuba gear!

This week Houdini was playing the Bronx Theater, located at 149th and 3rd Avenue. This was his first and only appearance in the Bronx. The theater survived until 2010 when its auditorium was finally razed. The exterior of the building survives as part of a hotel.


Related:

Sunday, May 2, 2021

LINK: WILD ABOUT HARRY WEEKLY #2

Click the headline to preview the second issue of my new WILD ABOUT HARRY WEEKLY email newsletter. But you'll have to subscribe to receive the special EXTRAs.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

April 2021 in review (final)

Here's a rundown of posts by category that appeared on WILD ABOUT HARRY in April. This will be my final monthly update as I think a better summery of blog content going forward will be my newsletter, WILD ABOUT HARRY WEEKLY (subscribe here).

Most Viewed Post
Deconstructing Houdini '53: Main titles

Houdini History
Collectibles

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