Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Two rare props come home to the Houdini Estate

On Saturday I had the pleasure of attending a charity event benefiting Rescues Rock, a nonprofit animal welfare, education and rescue organization, at the Houdini Estate in Laurel Canyon. The "Hootenanny at Houdini" was an evening of fun and music with performances by Billy Gibbons, Lisa Loeb, as well as magician Kayla Drescher. I also had the pleasure of spending time with owners José Luis Nazar and Kathleen Martínez who shared a new house mystery with me...but I'll get to that.

Whenever I get a chance to enter the estate I'm always excited to see what might be new. Last week I reported on the beautiful new monument that now stands just outside the gates. On this night I was in for another surprise. The main house now has on display the famous Iron Box and a Houdini Milk Can. You might recall these were auctioned in March of last year. Now we know where they went!

The Iron Box is best known for its appearance in the classic biopic Houdini (1953) starring Tony Curtis. The box features in what Houdini expert Patrick Culliton (who was also at the event) calls "the best scene in the movie" when Houdini gets trapped under the ice of a frozen river. The box was supplied by Dunninger who always claimed it had belonged to Houdini himself. 

We've yet to be able to draw any firm conclusions as to its life before the movie. But as a standout feature of Houdini '53 it is a wonderful piece of cinema history and it seems fitting that it is now home in Hollywood.

The Milk Can continues to be an intriguing mystery. This was the can that was on display for many years at the Houdini Magical Hall of Fame in Niagara Falls, Canada. After the museum fire and closure it took a strange detour and wound up on display--along with the Iron Box--in a coin shop in Santa Monica (where I got a look at it in 2016).

The distinctive ring on the bottom of the can and the rectangular hasp on the collar suggests this could be the can Houdini used in the Double Fold Death Defying Mystery. Unfortunately, the lid is not the original. It was made by John Gaughan for the previous owner. The original lid was said to have been "lost" at the Niagara Falls museum. But I suspect it's still out there and I'm sure José would be interested in uniting the lid with the can. So if you have a lead, please get in touch.

Patrick Culliton and I examine the Milk Can as homeowner José Nazar looks on.

I couldn't be happier that these two gems are now part of the Houdini Estate where they can be enjoyed by guests and further studied. And, yes, that Milk Can poster on the wall is a mockup from the recent Adrian Brody miniseries. That will be replaced with a reproduction of the original in the Harry Ransom Center. The bust on top of the can is a modern creation and a beauty.

Okay, so what about this new mystery? While strolling the gardens, Kathleen and José pointed out to me what appears to be a sealed doorway. This was walled up when José acquired the property and they have no idea what it is, where it could lead, nor what might be inside. So on the spot we hatched the idea to crack it open on Halloween 2022. (We can't do this year as Kathleen with be in Egypt on her own excavation.) 

What might we discover? Houdini secrets? The old elevator to the fabled tunnel under Laurel Canyon? I don't know, but it will surely be another Houdini Hootenanny!

Thanks to José and Kathleen for inviting me to join the fun. And if you are interested in pet adoption or helping in animal rescue, please visit the Rescues Rock website.



  1. Hi John, Really cool to see these items are in a place where people can enjoy them. I hope I will somehow have the opportunity to view Copperfield's collection.

  2. I think I know where the sealed doorway goes to:


    1. Better that than the Temple of Doom!

    2. Dust off your fedora, bomber jacket, and whip for that Halloween bash in 2022. Don't you think it would make a great costume for that sealed door ceremony on Halloween?